The readings on which this sermon is based can be found at: http://frsparky.net/a/r160.htm


s160g13   Second Sunday of Easter   7/4/2013

‘Do not doubt but believe’   John 20.27

I wonder if the affirmation Thomas made on seeing ‘the mark of the nails in his hands, and put (his) finger in the mark of the nails and (his) hand in his side’ was the desired outcome of this encounter.   Did Jesus want Thomas, and by extension each of us, to believe that Jesus is our Lord and God? 

I have been reflecting on conversations and prayer, and how we rarely, if ever, ask for things from someone else.   Sometimes I have observed that prayer is to avoid asking help from someone already around us.   In another side of my life I have had occasion to visit a school where there is a sign outside a staff room, which said: ‘If the question doesn’t contain ‘please’ the answer will always be ‘no’’.   And I thought, what a good thing it is to instil this into young people.  But then I wonder about the church where we pray to God to get others to change their ways, we want the minister to use the pulpit to get someone else to support our particular ministry and we initiate programs for reform backed by Synods or whatever to force others to participate.  All this to avoid asking, of having to say ‘please’ and ‘thank you’, and to avoid real communication?

All of which makes me wonder: what is resurrection?   If we proclaim Jesus as our Lord and God - how does this impact on our human relationships?

Jesus shows Thomas his hands and his side.   Resurrection is not about victory without cost.   Yet sometimes the cost is not huge.   It may be as easy as swallowing one’s pride and asking for, or accepting, help from someone else.   It may be as easy as including ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ into our vocabulary.   (And I do not find these any easier than anyone else.)   It may be as easy as accepting the equality of the genders and that the love of LGBT people is as real as ours.   None of these cost us anything except our sense of superiority and entitlement.   If resurrection is about us not ever to have to ask for help, then I think that we’re sadly mistaken.

Sadly mistaken, because resurrection that is joyful is being able to ask for help, as well as give it.   Sadly mistaken - because in the end a ‘self-made’ person is often sad and lonely.   Sadly mistaken - because a congregation / diocese / church with all the answers will inevitably become bored and boring.

And I begin to wonder if the Cross is all about the failure of religion to be an agent of affirmation and inclusion, it follows that resurrection is about new life, about being born again into society without religion which inherently alienates and excludes some others?   Resurrection is about new life where there is no need to be ‘in charge’, no need to be superior to others, where relationships are equal and mutual?

Perhaps this perception of resurrection is unbelievable: ‘you may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one’. :-) (1)   Yet is any other conception of resurrection actually energising?   Or more to the point - is any other conception of resurrection energising for others as well as for myself?   If it is only energising for me personally is not my worship of MY Lord and MY God essentially selfish?

Is it easier to believe that one solitary person in the whole history of humanity has risen from the dead or that God wants a world without religion that inherently divides people in God’s name?   Or do we fervently believe that Jesus was raised from the dead, and therefore are blessed ‘christians’ who believe this - in order to avoid being affirming and inclusive of others?

Do we really believe that God, the Bible, Jesus and the Church are all about the superiority of MY faith?

One of my other regular reads is Huff Post Religion, and one that caught my eye is an article on the increasing acceptance of gay marriage amongst evangelicals in the United States.  ‘Tim Keller said .. "(Jonathan Rauch) says that's not going to happen very fast.   Now he hopes it happens eventually.   He did say that.   But he says to think that in two or three decades the needle -- how many white supremacists are there anymore that are really out there?   Not many.   And to think that the same thing is going to happen about reservations to homosexuality is just la la land."’  

It is clear that ‘the faith’ is not fixed and immoveable, ‘once delivered to the saints’ (3) even among conservative evangelicals and catholics.   Indeed we are seeing that modern secularism is freeing evangelicals and catholics to think and express faith in different terms to what they have been taught, without fear.

Is it more unbelievable that the church might not continue to be a source of repression of those distinctively human attributes of reasoning and expression, which are more distinctly human than flesh and blood of which Thomas was invited to test the reality?

Indeed is not the resurrection the guarantee that God has overcome and is overcoming religious repression?

Is not the Easter imperative to believe and make overcoming religious repression a thing of the past, not just for us, but for all other people?

On the day after Good Friday I heard Kim Hill interview Sean Faircloth: the Director of Strategy and Policy for the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science, and author of 'Attack of the Theocrats!   How the Religious Right Harms Us All - and What We Can Do About It.'    He spoke about the impressive advance of charity and humanity in recent centuries accompanied by a corresponding decrease in religious practice where so often the churches have been hindering rather than helping the process.   He spoke this in terms of race relationships, of the subordination of women, the refusal to allow women to control their own reproductive cycles, and the alienation of LGBT folk.  

Does God ask us to believe the unbelievable about the physical resurrection of his son 2000 years ago and if so for what earthly purpose?   Or does God invite us to believe that religious repression can be a thing of the past - which has profound consequences for our relationships with those around us. 

Again I recently read an article in the 'Independent' and a commentator, Mark Salmon explained: 'Homophobia is defined as having an irrational hatred or fear of Homosexuals, it should not be used about those who disagree with them, or who do not say yes to everything they want or who disapprove of them, Homosceptic possibly, homophobic definitely not.'   And the words 'irrational hatred or fear' jumped out at me.

I suppose that there are lots of rational fears we have as humans such as the fear of death.   Irrational fears abound too, such as those given expression by fairy tales.   But there are other irrational fears that religion propagate, like the fear of hell and the fear of failure.   Does our religion exacerbate these fears or does it dispel such fears?   Does our religion promote irrationality and compliance in the guise of faith?   And are biblical injunctions marginalising women, alienating LGBT people and condemning people of other faiths and no faith, promoting irrationality as a virtue?

If the resurrection doesn't relieve us and all others of such fears, what on earth has it achieved?  

The risen Jesus invites Thomas to touch the wounds of crucifixion, to embrace uncleanness, and to repudiate devotion and orthodoxy, without fear.   And the risen Jesus invites us too to embrace life, in all its messiness and contrariness without fear, for this is resurrection, not just for Jesus, but for us and others as well.

(1)     John Lennon ‘Imagine’.
(2)     http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/03/26/evangelicals-gay-marriage_n_2956917.html?utm_hp_ref=religion
(3)    Jude 3
(4) http://www.radionz.co.nz/national/programmes/saturday
http://www.independent.co.uk/voices/comment/the-church-of-england-is-in-desperate-need-of-a-modern-dictionary-8547430.html