The readings on which this sermon is
be found at: http://web.me.com/frsparky/iWeb/r025.htm
s025g11 Second Sunday of Easter
‘blessed are those who .. have come to believe’ John 20.29
I wonder what we are being invited to believe.
Are we being invited to believe that we will find God when we visit a
church, when we hear the scriptures read, when we receive the sacrament
of Holy Communion? Are we invited to believe that we will
receive preferential treatment if we recite and understand the creeds –
preferential treatment in this world or the next?
The common feature of all these is that they tell us as much where God
is not likely to be found as where God might be found.
Jesus’ demonstration to Thomas says that we will find God in flesh and
blood, and flesh and blood are found in many places other than
churches, scriptures and Holy Communion. Jesus
demonstration to Thomas is that we find God not in the ethereal,
spiritual or religious, but in the physical, the material, in ordinary
And so the object of belief that the church often portrays is actually
unbelief that God can be found elsewhere. In the same way,
the devout in Jesus’ day did not believe that Jesus ought to associate
with the tax-collectors, prostitutes and sinners. They
didn’t believe God could or should be found there.
I recall that Jesus’ first miracle, according to John, was the turning
of the water into wine. Here Jesus transfigured what was
ordinary and common into something else ordinary and common, yet
something which brings rather more pleasure. There is nothing
ethereal, spiritual or religious about 180 litres of water, or wine.
So when people say that they believe in Jesus, for me it begs the
question of what that really means. When people describe
themselves as spiritual again it seems to me to be implying that it is
So when I read this story of the risen Jesus and Thomas I read it as an
affirmation that the real and earthly Jesus continues to be with us and
with all people. Without this affirmation we might be
tempted to look up into the heavens to find divine presence, as the
disciples gazed up at the ascending Jesus, rather than to look around
us amongst the tax collectors, prostitutes and sinners – not amongst
the professionally or voluntary devout. Again, the tower of
Babel was all about humanity’s efforts to ascend to the heavens, when
God bids us get along with those around us.
And it seems important to me to affirm that Jesus was and is found
associating with sinners, so the emphasis on sin and forgiveness in the
church might lead us to assume that we find the divine when we are
cleansed and forgiven. Again, this says as much about where
the divine will not be found as where the divine will be
found. Indeed while we believe that the church is on about
doing away with sin, we are failing to appreciate that Jesus was on
about accepting sinners.
Christmass tells us that we have an incarnational faith and the Easter
affirmation is that the incarnation wasn’t defeated, but that the
incarnation triumphed over the forces of evil that would deny it,
forces that most often masquerade as religious.
So we have been brought up to wear our Sunday best to church, to
acknowledge that those who wear white dresses up the front on Sunday
mornings are spiritually superior, and that God only associates with
white, straight males with short hair who speak the Queen’s English,
have proper table manners and who believe certain things, mostly that
God associates with them and not with others. I am not just
sure where justification for this is found in the bible :-)!
This blessedness because we have come to believe is not a personal
blessedness denied to others, but a blessedness inherently shared with
others because others also do not have to be white, straight males with
short hair who speak the Queen’s English, have proper table manners and
who believe certain things, mostly that God associates with them and
not with others. This blessedness comes through acceptance
of others, and is likely to result in others accepting us. And
where there is mutual acceptance, there comes the possibility that
faith will not be a contributing factor to world and personal disputes.
Recently I was told of research that shows that spirituality is a major
factor in the treatment of cancer. Those who have a spirituality
have an inner resource which can help them through this particular
journey. And this made me think - how can those on the
outside engender a faith in someone who has been stricken with
cancer? But as I say this I realise that this implies that
my ‘belief’ somehow suggests that the sufferer doesn’t have a
spirituality. It says that my belief is more about where I don’t
believe God is at work. I too suffer from the misconception
that somehow I ‘have’ faith and others don’t. The task
seems therefore to explore the faith or spirituality of the sufferer,
to affirm that faith or spirituality and so to help them find within
themselves strength for the journey. So again, acceptance
of people, as they are, is integral to health, their health and our own.
In all of the gospel accounts of the resurrection the role of women is
emphasised, and it has come to me that the male disciples had to
contend with the fact that they had to hear the good news from
women. Men had to accept that women carried the word of God
to them, and so implicitly the ‘old boy’s network’ is inherently
inadequate. And what was the message that the women
brought? In Matthew’s gospel the women were told to tell the
disciples to go to Galilee where they would see the risen Christ.
So the message was not to affirm the especial importance of women, but
that the risen Christ will be found elsewhere. The ‘old
boy’s network’ was not to be expanded just to include women, even
though this is a worthy beginning. The communion was to be
expanded to include all people, of whatever hue, sexuality, gender,
language, and custom. The essential belief for this new
community is that this God associates with all and so all are included
without hesitation, without discrimination and without expectation.
But so often in the church the message is about the exalted status of
the messenger, and the unique and and unavoidable way to God that this
messenger offers. ‘No one comes to the Father but by
(Jesus)’ becomes ‘no one comes to the Father but by my exclusively
correct interpretation of Jesus’ which is essentially indistinguishable
to the statement: ‘no one comes to the Father but by me’ - the priest,
pastor, minister or preacher. Others have been effectively
excluded, when this is precisely where the risen Jesus is to be found.
‘Blessed are those who .. have come to believe’, and it is an
invitation, for just as a love that is forced can’t be called love, so
faith that is enforced by the holding out of personal spiritual
blessedness or the threat of personal spiritual punishment is fear
masquerading as faith. But ‘blessed are those who .. have
come to believe’ is true because it allows us to accept others without
hesitation, without discrimination and without expectation.
The only blessedness worth having is a corporate blessedness, shared by
one and by all, and this is precisely what I believe God would have for
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