Sunday, April 15, 2012

2 Easter 2012

2 Easter 12

We meet Thomas again today. Some people say poor Thomas gets a bad rap. We don’t call Peter “Denying Peter.” So why does Thomas get stuck with his moniker, “Doubting Thomas?” But we have met Thomas before. Most of us live in his world, the world of doubt. Doubt is very familiar to us. We have been disappointed before. Why should we believe? Why should we trust? When we have trusted and believed, we have been disappointed. We have been let down. With Thomas we say, “I won't ... unless...” Unless this. Unless that... We join Thomas. We are doubters.

The disciples were surprised when Jesus cursed the fig tree that had no fruit. They were surprised that the fig tree withered. But Jesus wasn't. He lived in a different realm, on a different plan. He said, “If you have faith like a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain 'Be lifted up and cast into the sea,' and it will be thrown into the sea.” (Matt. 21.19-21)

The socialist reading from Acts today sometimes throws us off. “They shared all that had in common and no one was needy among them.” Clearly the early Church holds out an ideal that is difficult for us to strive toward: one of radical sharing and caring for one another. We do, however, share generously with the church and those we know who are in need.

But we skip over the part that is so instructive. The reading from Acts also says, “The whole group of those who believed were of one heart and one soul.” This ideal might even be more difficult to reach than sharing our possessions. It was the one heart and the one soul of the believers that allowed the apostles to give their testimony to the resurrection with great power.

That word “believers” describes who we are. We do not like to see ourselves as “doubting Thomases.” But as we know, doubt is very familiar to us. It is even more familiar to our culture. It seems that believing or not doubting is seen as a form of mental weakness or a mental lapse today. But doubt, as Jesus says, it not what moves mountains. What moves mountains is faith and belief.

How do we bridge the gap between doubting and being able to move mountains? It is a process of spiritual growth in our lives.

That spiritual grown takes places in stages. The first stage or step is repentance and conversion. The refrain is so familiar to us. “Repent, for the kingdom of God at hand.” We cannot even begin to enter the edge of that kingdom without repentance. The formula for conversion is so simple yet it so easily escapes us. “Sorry. Thank you. Please.” We need to know this formula well and apply each day of our lives. “I am sorry for my sins. Thank you for dying for me. Please fill me with your Holy Spirit.” Sorry, thank you, please.

Repentance and conversion are the first steps. When Jesus spoke about the faith needed to move mountains, he quickly turned to speaking about prayer and about how when we pray, we must forgive others as we have been forgiven.

The next realization is that once we are safe within the house of love built by the Holy Trinity for us, we have a responsibility to invite others to join us in this house of love.

This part of the journey of spiritual growth is spelled out beautifully in our psalm today,

Oh, how good and pleasant it is, *
when brethren live together in unity!
2 It is like fine oil upon the head *
that runs down upon the beard,
3 Upon the beard of Aaron, *
and runs down upon the collar of his robe.
4It is like the dew of Hermon *
that falls upon the hills of Zion.
5 For there the LORD has ordained the blessing: *
life for evermore.

The psalmist is speaking about ordination here. Oil is placed on the head of the ordinand. Oil is placed upon our heads in Baptism. This is where we receive our commission to be a kingdom of priests and our commission to be missionaries bringing others into our fellowship.

It is here that the Lord has ordained the blessing the psalm says. The blessing is “life for evermore.” This is a powerful blessing. It is here in this fellowship of love and common belief that we receive this blessings. We have received this blessing. Next we are asked to extend it to others.

Repentance, fellowship, priestly and missionary consciousness.

We are on our way. But the last step is the big one. It is the step of faith. Here we are with Thomas and the other disciples in the Upper Room. Except we are not there. Somehow, like Thomas, we find ourselves missing at a critical moment.

Did you ever wonder where Thomas was? Why did he miss the meeting? Did he think he had something more important to do? Maybe he had to mow the lawn. Or maybe there was some illness in his house. Or perhaps he considered giving up on the whole thing. Anyway he wasn't there when the Lord appeared.

Thomas, we have seen the Lord,” the other disciples said. Thomas says, “Well I don't believe it. I am not gona believe unless...unless I can touch him with my own hands. I need more proof about this whole business.”

Eight days later, Thomas is there. The Lord gently addresses his objections. “Thomas,” he says, “ here I am. Touch me.” He says this to each one of us, by name. “Here I am. Touch me.” Thomas has seen enough. He doesn't need any more proof. He falls to his knees and exclaims, “My Lord and my God.” Jesus gently admonishes him, “Do not doubt but believe.”

This is Jesus' word to each of us. “Do not doubt but believe.” This is the next step in our spiritual journey, the development of that faith with which we can move mountains.

Easter faith, however, is not about certainty. The reality of Easter is the complexity of living in a new way in a broken world. It means giving up our “unlesses.” I wont do this unless. It is about allowing God to use us just as we are to move mountains. This takes faith, faith like a mustard seed. In the end “Believing Thomas” had this kind of faith.

Christian history tells us that in the Kerala region of India, Thomas started ‘seven and a half’ churches. Some of these churches continue today. These churches stand as testament to the alternative vision of Easter life that Thomas had learned in the Upper Room. In India, he was far from the certainty of his home in Palestine. He had moved from his feeble spasm of “unless” to sharing his faith with divine power.

So can we.

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