Monday, April 8, 2013

Sermon: See and Believe


Sermon for Easter 2, Year C
St. Philip’s In The Hills Parish, Tucson, AZ
The Rev. Vicki Hesse, April 7, 2013
For Readings, click here – John 20:19-31

I speak to you in the name of One God+, Creator Redeemer, and Sustainer. Amen

In John Irving’s novel “A Prayer for Owen Meany”[1],
the narrator John talks to his friend, Owen Meany.
They discuss the meaning of belief and of God. 
In one scene, at the schoolyard,
Owen points to a gray granite statue
of Mary Magdalene as twilight falls.
When it has become so dark that the statue
is no longer visible,
Owen asks John if he knows that the statue is still there.
John says that of course, he knows, but Owen keeps pushing.

“You have no doubt she’s there?” Owen nagged at me.
Of course I have no doubt!” I said.
“But you can’t see her - you could be wrong,” he said.
No, I’m not wrong - she’s there, I know she’s there!” I yelled at him.
You absolutely know she’s there - even though you can’t see her?” he asked me.
“Yes,” I screamed.
Well, now you know how I feel about God,” said Owen Meany.
I can’t see him - but I absolutely know he is there!”

This character, Owen Meany, models the kind of faith
that spills out of the gospel text we read today. 
Owen’s full and complete faith in God is shown
in how he “does not need to see,
does not need signs and wonders; yet
he believes and orients his whole life around this belief.”[2]

Today we encounter Thomas and his infamous “Doubts.” 
In the Easter gospel stories we heard of many folks
who saw and then believed. 
Mary Magdalene, Peter and The Beloved Disciple, and the disciples on the road to Emmaus
saw and believed in Jesus through their own experiences,
such as when they shared in prayers and the breaking of bread.

And in today’s reading,
Jesus appeared among the disciples and
proclaimed “Peace be with you.” 
In that visit, he showed them his hands and his side
(the disciples saw his body) and the disciples rejoiced. 

Unfortunately, Thomas was not there during this visit.  
And, because Thomas did not see Jesus himself,
he did not believe. 
"Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands,
and put my finger in the mark of the nails
and my hand in his side, I will not believe,”.[3]

Jesus returned the following week and
(again arrived through shut doors)
invited Thomas to examine his wounds up close. 
As soon as Thomas saw Jesus,
Thomas exclaimed, “My Lord and my God!”

It is unfair that Thomas takes the rap as a “doubter.” 
No one else in John's Easter account has
believed without seeing.
Well, the Beloved Disciple comes close,
as he believed simply upon seeing
the empty tomb and Jesus' grave-clothes. 
So why should we be so hard on Thomas
for seeking the same chance
that everyone else had, to see and then believe? 

Here’s the thing. 
The trouble is not that Thomas “doubted” Jesus,
the real rub is that he rejected his friends’ testimony –
the very friends with whom Thomas shared his life. 
The trouble is Thomas shattered the love and trust
within the faithful community – that love and trust
is a bedrock of expression
for the work of Christ in their midst. 
The trouble is that Thomas emphatically expressed
that he had to see it for himself –
and that was a powerful sting for his faith community. 
He basically dis’d his friends and annulled
their community values,
saying that his friends’ eyes and his friends’ fingers
were not enough.

In recognizing the trouble,
I began to wonder how I, and we,
do not trust our faithful companions. 
Have we heard ourselves say recently, as I have,
“I’ll believe it when I see it!”. 
What does that say about my beliefs?
If love and trust are
a bedrock of expression for the work of Christ in our midst,
how am I, how are we, holding back too? 
Without love and trust in my faith community,
how can I, or we, with our whole heart,
seek and serve Christ in every person or
strive for justice and peace among all people or
respect the dignity of every human being?

Perhaps, our mistrust of others is not because of
any active choice we make,
but stems from societal pressures. 
We are not enough.
We are concerned what others might say. 
When we feel fragile, uncertain, and isolated (vulnerable)
we tend to want to “see it for ourselves.”

BrenĂ© Brownprofessor of social work at Univ. of Houston,
studies how our response to vulnerability
gets in the way of relationships and mutuality. 
She says, quote,
“Vulnerability is …the first thing I look for in you,
and the last thing I'm going to show you." 
If we believe that to love and trust each other
in community is as a bedrock of expression of Christ,
we need to engage this paradox of vulnerability. 
Counter-intuitively, the more vulnerable
you are with someone,
the more likely you are to find a connection. [4]

In the Gospel,
it seemed that Thomas did not want
to appear vulnerable among his friends.

He felt uncertain and
isolated as the only one who had not seen.
That mistrust broke down their community.

And, DESPITE his actions,
despite Thomas’s dis’ing his friends,
despite his questions,
Jesus saw him.
And Jesus believed in him. 
In that moment,
Jesus engaged his own vulnerability –
his hands and his side – his wounds. 
In that moment, Jesus made the first move
toward reconciliation with Thomas
without any effort on Thomas’s part,
and Jesus saw and believed him.

Diana Butler Bass[5], explores how
the word “believe” has undergone
a striking change in usage over time. 
“To believe” translated in Latin as opinor or
something like 'opinion.'

Yet, in religious usage, “to believe” translated in Latin as credo,
Something like "I set my heart upon' or 'I give my loyalty to.'
She writes,
“In medieval English, the concept of credo
was translated as 'believe.'
That means roughly the same thing as,
in German, belieben,
'to prize, treasure, or hold dear.
That comes from the root word Liebe, 'love'. 

Thus, in early English,
to 'believe' was to 'belove' something or someone
as an act or trust or loyalty. 
Belief was not an intellectual opinion..."

Thus, Jesus saw Thomas. And “beloved” him,
which emphatically and strikingly fueled Thomas’s response,
“My Lord and my God!”

Sufi mystic Rumi once said,
“The wound is the place where the Light enters you.” 
In this interaction, Jesus saw Thomas’s wounds of pride
and entered them with light and love. 

Today’s good news is that Jesus sees us and “beloves” us. 
Jesus sees our wounds and enters them with light. 
Jesus sees us and believes in us in deep, profound ways.

Meister Eckhart[6] once said,
“There is a place in the soul
that neither time, nor space, nor any created thing can touch."

That means that God, in Jesus,
knows that your identity despite your wounds. 
God, in Jesus, lets light into that place in you
where you have never been wounded,
where there's still a sureness in you, and
where there is a confidence and tranquility in you.[7]
That’s love.

Fr. Greg Boyle is a Jesuit priest in Los Angeles
who heads Homeboy Industries,
employing former gang members in a variety of businesses.
Jose is one of those former gang members
and is now a man in recovery.
Jose explained at a recent training that as a child,
he had been beaten. Every. Single. Day. 
He said that he had to wear three T-shirts to school–
well into his adult years
because he was ashamed of his wounds. 
But now, Jose says, his wounds are his friends.
“I welcome my wounds, I run my fingers over my wounds.” 
Jose says,
“How can I help the wounded
if I don't welcome my own wounds?"
In Jose’s life, in his broken journey
of fleeing gangs and now seeking to better the world,
Jesus came and saw his wounds,
saw that place in his soul
that neither time nor space had touched,
and “beloved” him.

We all have wounds.
Jesus, welcomes them and touches them and heals them. 
God, through Jesus, has already made the first move
by inviting you here today, behind these shut doors,
to know him and be his beloved.

 In the novel A Prayer for Owen Meany,
Owen believes in God and God’s work in his life,
without clear-cut evidence or proof. 
His lifelong friend John does not have the same belief
or strong opinions. 
What John does have is a confidence in his friend –
and that carries him
through his own skepticism and into a new life.

In this way, today,
we know how blessed we are
who have not seen Jesus and
yet have come to believe – and belove,
as Jesus has believed in us, first. 


[1] Inspired by Feasting on the Word, Second Sunday of Easter, Nancy Claire Pittman’s Homiletical Perspective p. 397.
[2] Ibid., p. 399
[3] Portions inspired by Greg Carey’s “Why Our Bodies Matter” in April 3, 2012 Huffington Post, at
[4] Cited at “The Takeaway,” on September 17, 2012 at on April 5, 2013
[5] Diana Butler Bass, Christianity After Religion (New York, Harper-Collins, 2012) p. 117
[6] the 14th-century German mystic
[7] Krista Tippett interview of John O’Donohue, cited at  on April 6, 2013

Monday, April 1, 2013

Sermon: Road Trip

D. Bonnell Road to Emmaus #2 at
Sermon for Easter Evening

St. Philips In The Hills Parish, Tucson, AZ

The Rev. Vicki Hesse, March 31, 2013
For Readings, click hereLuke 24:13-49

May the words of my mouth and the meditation of all our hearts be acceptable to you, O Lord, our strength and our redeemer. Amen

I love to take road trips.   
There is a certain, um,
spark to the idea of going 
on a long journey,
like four- or six- hour drive; or
maybe making the three-days drive across the U.S.
“Road trips” for me, are liberating. It’s a time out of time;
permission (for me) to eat keep-me-awake junk food,
to drink buckets of coffee,
to listen to scary talk-radio programs and
to hold non-linear conversations –
you know, talking and discussing the meaning of life. 

Sometimes those conversations surprise us,
as Irish poet and philosopher John O’Donohue says,
“…are not just two intersecting monologues…
but…are conversations in which
you overheard yourself
saying things that you never knew you knew..

[conversations in which]
you heard,…from somebody, words that
absolutely found places within you
that you thought you had lost…

[conversations that]…
brought the two of you onto a different plane…
that continues to sing in your mind for weeks afterward…”[1] 

That’s what I love about road trips. Fresh perspectives.

When you are at a fuel stop, have you ever noticed
a familiar car fueling up beside your car? 
Maybe you go over and talk to the people with that car,
“I notice your license plate is from Alaska,
how did your journey bring you to this place?”
You are likely to get one of two responses,
“None of your business” or “Well, it all started this way…”
Sometimes, we humans just need a little nudge
to spill out our hopes and dreams,
disappointments and lamentations,
even if it’s a stranger who asks.

That could be what happened
on the road trip in our gospel reading today.
The two disciples were on a 1st century “road trip,”
from Jerusalem to Emmaus, talking and discussing,
“…about all the things that happened.”
This stranger approached and asked them
what they were discussing.

And they stood still. Time stopped.
They just needed a nudge from a complete stranger
to reflect for a minute. 

Has that ever happened - you think
you are having a conversation with one someone
and suddenly, unsuspectingly, God enters.
Not as a topic but as a freeze frame –
some fresh idea, or weird viewpoint –
and we suddenly find our lost selves, standing still. 
Time stops. We have come to a crossroad of
our “horizontal” human story and God’s vertical perspective. 

At that crossroad, it is not the pathway that stops us,
but the moment at hand and
the eternity that has just invaded time.
I think that’s what might have happened to the disciples.

They stood still. They knew something shifted,
but they did not recognize Jesus. 
They looked down, scratched their feet in the sand,
rearranged their backpacks, and wondered if or how much
to share with this stranger. 
They thought again – who could possibly not know
about these things that had just unfolded in Jerusalem.

So they share their story with him. 
And, like a opened faucet, their story came gushing out in a
semi-comprehensible stream of consciousness… 
a quagmire of confusion, sadness, dismay, betrayal
and anger, they told the stranger

About mighty prophetic Jesus, his crucifixtion, and his death,
About their hopes that Jesus would redeem Israel,  
About how three days had now passed after his death,
About the women of the group who had been at his tomb early in the morning did not find his body,
About the angels the women did see, who said he was alive,
About the others in the group who also did not see his body.

They paused to catch their breath,
awaiting a reaction from this stranger
to whom they had just poured out their heart.
They still did not recognize Jesus.

As with us, sometimes. We do not recognize Jesus.
We get so wrapped up in our life and what is happening…
how can we recognize Jesus in the midst of a
Good Friday world? 

We might feel blindsided by the another person’s meanness,
by yet another unnecessary violent death,
by human rights violations,
by uncivil public officials,
by inappropriate law proposals…
or we might even be so blinded by the light of joy
in a grandchild’s birth, whatever it is that weighs on our hearts,

that we might not even consider
where is God in all of it? WIGIAT?

Sometimes, we do not recognize Jesus,
even though this Holy One takes all our road trips with us.
We might not recognize him, but he is there.
Waiting for us to invite Love in.

And, so, Jesus joins the disciples on their
Road Trip toward understanding. 
Jesus recalls their ancestral story –
beginning with Moses.

It seems like he pulled out his pocket Torah scrolls,
complete with the Prophets, and
gave a multi-faceted PowerPoint presentation
on the “messianic completion.”[2] 

Jesus, the stranger, connected the intellectual dots
for the disciples from the faith tradition of their past
to the hope that all people have, yearning for fruition –
the unfolding history of salvation to the ends of the earth.

In so doing, Jesus began to reveal himself to them. 
But they still are not ready to recognize him.

Then, Jesus walked ahead of them
as if he were going on his way. 
Was he feigning departure, just waiting to see
how the disciples might respond? 
[So it is with us – Jesus is right there,
waiting for an invitation to enter our lives.]

But the disciples urged him – strongly – the gospel reads,
to “stay with them” in their home. 
They continued to talk and to share their road trip stories. 
At table, they shared a Eucharistic meal. 
Jesus took the bread they had on hand, and
in the blessing and breaking, in that meal they shared,
their hearts were rekindled and their eyes were opened
and they recognized Jesus. 

The words they shared
“absolutely found places within the disciples
that they thought they had lost…
it was a conversation that brought them
onto a different plane…”[3]
Jesus accompanied them on a Road Trip
To a fresh destination:
From their heads to their hearts,
From explanation to experience,
From point in time to eternity,
From isolation to community,
From death to life. 

In that meal, they recognized Jesus.
They knew that his death was not the end of the story,
only the beginning.
And they couldn’t wait to tell their friends.

In that same meal, week after week,
our eyes are opened and we recognize Jesus. 
He often does not come to us through our head,
or in our isolation, or in explanations. 

Jesus opens our eyes and comes to us on our journey. 
During Road Trips.  In community.
At meals. In experiences. Beyond death. In mystery.
With open eyes, we recognize Jesus.
And Jesus recognizes us.

We might feel blindsided by the another person or situation,
yet in our Baptism our eyes are opened. 
We are sealed by the Holy Spirit
and marked as Christ’s own, forever.
And, regardless of that other person or situation,
we are seen and recognized by God.
We are worthy of God’s love and belonging.

We might be distraught by the news
of yet another unnecessary violent death,
yet God in Jesus also continues to battle
suffering and injustice through his own needless
suffering and death. 
Life-giving God, in Jesus,
stays present in peace-making conversations.

We might be dismayed by the
“powers and principalities of the world,”
but on those road trips toward broken dreams,
Jesus is with us on the way. 

Jesus heals in the midst of illness and
pours out joy abundantly in the midst of sorrow.
God, in Jesus, shows up in our lives and
brings moments of eternity to bear. 

Our part is to remember that we are an Easter people!
Death does not have the final word! 
There is more to the story!

When we, too, share bread at the communion table,
or at a coffee bar, or in someone’s dining room,
or the soup kitchen or on the dusty river walk,
or on the road trip.

Those are the times when we can recognize Jesus. 
Those are the times when we travelers feel alive.
Those are the times when our hearts burn with
knowledge of him.

God recognizes us in those ancestral salvation stories,
as they are revealed in scripture and the breaking of bread.

To quote Marcel Proust,
"The real voyage of discovery
consists not in seeking new landscapes,
but in having new eyes." 

With our new eyes, this Easter,
may we recognize that Jesus has defeated death.

On our Easter road trip,
we can invite that stranger Jesus to accompany us
in our stories and experiences to give us fresh perspective. 
May this Easter’s conversation continue
to sing in your hearts and minds for weeks to come…

Jesus the Christ is alive, with us, here,
in this experience, in this eternity,
in this community, in this life.
Alleluia, the Lord has risen!
The Lord had risen indeed! Alleluia!

[1] Transcript for The Inner Landscape of Beauty, an interview with Krista Tippett and John O’Donohue, recorded January 26, 2012. Cited at

[2] Inspired from Feasting On The Word, “Third Sunday of Easter Year A,” p. 420.
[3] O’Donohue interview, cited above