The readings on which the sermon below is based can be found at:
s160g07 Second Sunday of Easter 15/4/2007
'Blessed are those who have not seen ..' John 20.29
It is interesting to me how frequently we read these words and gloss over some of it's curiosities. It is clear that the 'normal' laws that govern all material things DIDN'T apply to the risen Jesus, for he came and stood among the disciples, despite the doors being locked both times. Yet the risen Jesus invites Thomas to touch his wounds, words that have been taken to 'prove' Jesus was raised physically that the 'normal' laws that govern all material things DID apply to the risen Jesus. How often have you heard this passage taken as if to prove Jesus was raised physically?
When one looks at the accounts of the risen Jesus we often find an initial lack of recognition and only later do those who had known him realise that it is he. The risen Jesus is at once transformed from who he once was, yet, after a time, recognisably the same person. If we read Luke's account one could assume that the risen Jesus was in two places at once! (Luke 24.34)
The risen Jesus appears to Paul in quite a different form, though this is after the ascension, but this adds to the variety of modes of appearances.
This very variety should cause us to pause and be careful of just what we claim for the risen Jesus. There is no point in making a belief in a particular form of resurrection appearance something that marks one person off as a true believer as opposed to others. The words of the Bible in fact cannot be read carefully to come to one definite conclusion. We are not called to leave our brains at the door of the Church as we come to worship!
As I have gone through the church, time and again, particular people have had experiences of the divine and their mission becomes to get everyone else to have the same experience of the divine.
Many people can point to a particular time in their life when they have 'been converted' they have had a particular experience and made a conscious decision to follow Christ. Not infrequently such people will say things that will imply that this was when they 'became a christian', and I suppose that the profundity of their experience makes such a statement all but inevitable. Yet the implication is that no one else is a Christian unless and until they can say that they've had a similar experience a similar conversion. How many other good and faithful church people have been 'put down' by such an implication let alone the multitude of other good people who don't go to church or who attend mosque, synagogue or temple who are similarly alienated because they haven't 'seen' like this 'real christian'?
Other people find their experience of God within the ritual and sacramental life of the Church, and again their mission becomes to get everyone else to agree. The priest, male of course, must be appropriate vested, genuflect the required number of times, and whatever ..! Again how many other good and faithful church people have been 'put down' by such an implication let alone the multitude of other good people who don't go to church or who attend mosque, synagogue or temple who are similarly alienated because they haven't 'seen' like this 'real christian'?
In 'charismatic' circles their experience of God is sometimes through the outpouring of the Holy Spirit giving the gift of tongues, and again their mission becomes to get everyone else to experience God like this. Again how many other good and faithful church people have been 'put down' by such an implication let alone the multitude of other good people who don't go to church or who attend mosque, synagogue or temple who are similarly alienated because they haven't 'seen' like this 'real christian'?
And there is nothing wrong with being converted, experiencing God sacramentally, or through an outpouring of the Holy Spirit except when others are marginalised, alienated, put down, or blown to smithereens like the terrorists elsewhere. It is only a matter of degree. And try to convince a terrorist, an evangelical, a sacramentalist, or a charismatic that their putting down of others is wrong and see how far you get!
Other people 'see' the divine in nature, in the universe, in the animal kingdom, some in crystals. For me every time I produce a sermon I find some new insight, some new revelation of God. For me every time I meet another person and converse with them I find some new insight, some new revelation of God.
I have to ask a question. What is more important to believe that God raised Jesus to life in a particular mode - and God will not like us unless we believe in this particular mode of resurrection appearance?
Or is it more important to believe that God raised Jesus to life and God will not like us unless we have 'seen' this?
Or is it more important to believe that God loves all people, regardless of what they have seen or not seen?
The first two of these contain no prospect of peace for the world. It is only the third that does contain a prospect for peace for the world.
All three of these options are fundamentally about the nature of God. And Jesus was killed because he came and told everyone that the nature of God was radically different from the one they thought was correct. Jesus claimed that he, in his association with tax collectors and sinners, was demonstrating the real nature of God. No longer could anyone claim that God's activity was restricted to the devotional exercises of the holy huddle, but could be found everywhere. This made those who thought they had a monopoly on God angry indeed, angry enough to have Jesus killed.
So the resurrection that we celebrate today is God's reply, that God will not be monopolised by the devout to the alienation of others.
Though I must ask the question: Do we celebrate this fact or seek to deny it? Is our celebration only for people who have 'seen' like us.
To return to my text: 'Blessed are those who have not seen .. (and I might add) like you Thomas ..' The risen Jesus says to Thomas, and of course to us, "Blessed are others .. who have come to believe that God loves all people, blessed are those who know that the efforts of the religious hierarchy to monopolise God was ever doomed.
For in fact those who seek, in the name of God to get others to 'see' as they have 'seen' are implicitly saying that they have a monopoly on God. They believe that God only has a blessing for them and for no one else. This is not what the risen Jesus says.
Bishop Jack Spong draws our attention to the fact that if Jesus ascended into heaven at the speed of light, vertically above Palestine, then in fact he would now be nearly 2000 light years away by now. The eighth brightest star in the sky is called Rigel or Beta Orionis and is estimated to be 1400 light years away. The diameter of our galaxy, the Milky Way is about 100,000 light-years so the ascending Jesus won't get to the edge of our galaxy for another 98,000 years! This is not what the Ascension is meant to mean!
The risen Jesus says to us blessed are others and blessed are we if we go down this path for we do not have to get everyone else to 'see' like we do a fool's errand if ever there was one for God already loves others as they are. Blessed is the world that no longer fights over religion. Perhaps it will find other things to fight over, but at least it will not be fighting in the name of some god or other!
Again I must ask the question: Do we celebrate this fact that God loves others besides us or do we seek to deny it? Is our celebration only for people who have 'seen' like us? Do we have any good news for others or can they really go to hell? We need to remember that our whole raison d'etre as the Church is the proclamation of what God really is like the death and resurrection of Jesus is not a game or a nice story for devout folk like ourselves - the peace of the world depends on our answer!
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