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. 

Amen


[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 http://huff.to/YYKAMC
[4] Cited at “The Takeaway,” on September 17, 2012 at  http://bit.ly/Y3OnFb 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 http://bit.ly/10qMdT5  on April 6, 2013

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