Sermon 2 Easter Yr A
March 28, 2008 Leave a comment
2 Easter Yr A, 30/03/2008
Rev. Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson
“Resurrection Faith: Thomas’ and Ours”
A saintly man who was a professor in a science department of a university, once was asked by a junior colleague, an agnostic, how he managed to reconcile his religious belief with his scientific knowledge. He answered in some words of another scientist, Thomas Edison: “We don’t know the millionth part of one per cent about anything. We don’t know what light is. We don’t know what gravity is. We don’t know what heat is. But we do not let our ignorance about these things deprive us of their use. 1
Belief, faith, trust…. In our gospel today, we learn of the slow awakening of belief for the apostle Thomas the doubter. I suspect that many of us here today can empathize or identify with the doubting disciple, Thomas. Ours is an age of scientific advancements, which are, without doubt, very impressive. Unfortunately, what science has taught us is that nothing is a provable fact or real unless we can examine things with our five senses; using a method of normal repeated experiments to analyze the data and draw our conclusions, based on our observations in the experiments.
In the closing verses of our gospel today, John raises for us the whole issue of believing. What do we believe? Or maybe it would be more appropriate to ask: Whom do you believe? During this season of Easter, we are confronted with the belief of the early Christians in the risen Christ. The resurrection, for those early Christians was a whole new reality, which they had never experienced before. It is, among other things a great mystery of our faith; a reality that is not easy to explain completely. If we approach the resurrection of Jesus today from a scientific worldview, we are in trouble, for the resurrection is not meant to be based on a series of repeatable experiments, observing normal data. Indeed, the resurrection of Jesus is quite the contrary—it is not a normal event, rather, it is a supernatural out-of-the-ordinary; extraordinary event. That is why we cannot base our belief—or for that matter our disbelief—in the resurrection on normal scientific data, analysis, observations or conclusions. Thomas Edison was right, what we believe from a faith or religious point of view need not be understood completely before it is of use to us. Another way of putting it may be to say that where our science ends, our faith begins.
That does not mean, however, that in matters of faith we leave our minds at the door and stop using them. Not at all, there are many profound matters of our faith, which challenge our intellect a great deal. What it does mean, however, is that our faith involves a whole series of realities going beyond our intellectual, emotional, and other faculties of our five senses. There is a multidimensional aspect of our faith, which, if you like, might be called “the sixth sense;” wherein we are dealing with deep and holy mysteries.
Jesus tells Thomas and all future would-be Christians: “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.” Now likely those of us trained to approach reality from a scientific worldview will respond to Jesus by asking: “But how does one come to believe without seeing?” I would answer that question in at least two ways. First, I would say that belief, faith in Christ, God and the resurrection come to us always as a gift from God. God is free to give us this gift of believing; initially then, it is God who speaks to our lives, who reaches and touches us in our deepest places so that we are able to say: “Yes! I believe in the resurrection of Jesus Christ and in my own resurrection.” In this answer, it’s really not so much the “howness” that’s important, as it is the “whatness or thatness” of God’s gift of faith. You see, faith is always relational. It is always based on and deeply rooted in God’s relationship with us individually and collectively. God speaking to us and being present with us and for us in many and various ways—for most of us that means the Word and the sacraments; for others of us it is through prayer or Bible study; for others it might be through fellowship with others and deeds of loving-kindness; for others, it might mean something else.
That leads me into my second answer. In addition to faith and believing in God, Christ and the resurrection as a gift from God; we are called on to trust that the original eyewitnesses of Christ’s resurrection were telling the truth—they were not telling lies or writing nice myths and fictitious stories. To believe then in the resurrection, without seeing the risen Christ ourselves means: the eyewitnesses were telling the truth about the risen Jesus; we can trust their testimony. Here John helps us to understand this aspect of our believing and faith when he clearly states his purpose of writing his Gospel in verse 31: “But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.”
In other words, in writing his Gospel, John wishes to pass on; to communicate to future generations of readers the story of Jesus Christ as he experienced it. In this sense, we all are like John, God has given us the gift of believing and faith not to keep it bottled up inside, but to spread it, share it with others. In this sense, the words of John in these last verses of our gospel today challenge all of us by causing us to consider personal questions like: “What am I doing to be a witness for God? How good an advertisement am I for Jesus and his resurrection? Do people really know that Christ is risen by observing my words and actions every day? What does the resurrection of Jesus mean for my everyday living and overall attitude towards life?”
How blessed do you feel today to be here worshipping the risen Christ? The meaning of the resurrection is that through a variety of ways and means Jesus is present with us. We experience his resurrection and an inkling of our own resurrection each and every day. This happens when we wake up each morning and are given a new fresh day and fresh start to share his love with others. We too experience little resurrections whenever or wherever we encounter a new found hope or inspiration after we’ve been struggling with doubts or fears or failures. Christ is so much larger than our doubts, fears and failures. He is able to use them in our lives and in the lives of others to deepen our faith and believing. We experience new resurrections whenever we are given a clean bill of health after fearing that we might have some sort of fatal disease. We experience new resurrections in life whenever we are able to grow in trusting God with all of our life, not just in church on Sunday mornings. Our faith, if it is healthy is always on a journey into a deeper maturity, which helps us to grow in our experiences of and appreciation for Christ’s resurrection and the promise of ours.
Actually, faith is a response of the whole person. It is not something that one has once and for all—like a book on a shelf, a pearl in a drawer, a diploma on a wall or a license in a wallet. It is not merely a practice, a statement or a structure. It is mysteriously both God’s gift and our responsibility. We must recover and nourish it daily, in spite of our personal sins and stupidities, and in the face of the world’s arrogant self-sufficiency. 2
May we grow in our trust of the risen Christ, who is able to work miracles in us to spread the Good News of his resurrection to others.
1 Cited from: F. Gay, The Friendship Book, 1985, meditation for May 7th.
2 From: Richard A. McCormick, “Changing My Mind About the Changeable Church,” in The Christian Century, August 8-15, 1990 Vol. 107, No. 23, (Chicago:The Christian Century Foundation, 1990), p. 736.