21 April 2010

Easter 2 C - The Faith of Thomas

Easter 2 C – The Faith of Thomas

Sunday 11 April 2010

John 20: 19-31

By Stuart Pike

Today's world tries to preach to us about confidence and self‑assurance. It's in the media ‑ it's in T.V. commercials. There's always the self‑assured man or woman on T.V trying to sell us something. Our politicians want us always to remain assured about the political well‑being of our country, of our Province and of our Community. Don't worry, be happy is a social institution these days. Be cool ‑ calm ‑ collected. Anything less than confidence and such collectedness is considered to be a weakness.

But, you know, these days there are also a lot of people who do not feel this way about their lives ‑ or about their political future, or even about their faith. It is hard for people to have faith in the doings of Human beings these days, and for many, it is even harder to have faith in God. And because everywhere we're being preached at by our society, by our psychologists, and even by our religion that it is weak to have doubts, there are lots of people who walk around with guilty feelings. They doubt their future, or they doubt themselves, or they doubt their faith.

Today's Gospel lesson tells us the familiar story of Thomas, who has come to be known by many as doubting Thomas, because of his refusal to believe that Jesus had appeared to the other disciples. He said that unless he saw the print of the nails in his hands, and could actually touch them, and the wound in his side, he would not believe. Thomas wanted visible and touchable proof.

So, down in history, Thomas is called doubting Thomas. It's a shame in a way because the other disciples were shown Jesus' hands and feet when Jesus appeared to them. We don't know how many of them would have believed without seeing. I guess I have a kind of sympathy with Thomas, because he was called the Twin, and, of course I am a twin, and I don't like to see a fellow twin being hard done by. They did not prove that they had any more faith than Thomas did. They had the proof as well, and that is only what Thomas wanted.

None of the Disciples had really shown that they had the kind of faith that Jesus asked of them. They were only together it appears because they were hiding, because they feared being persecuted. After their leader had been taken and crucified, they felt that they might be next. It wasn't until after Jesus breathed on them, giving them the Holy Spirit that the Disciples seemed to take great courage and risk to spread the message of the Gospel. It was the Holy Spirit that really made the difference in the lives of these first Christians.

I think there are at least two important things that we can learn from this reading, then. First of all is the reaction of Jesus to Thomas the Twin. This was the same Thomas that stood by Jesus when he wanted to return to Jerusalem, for what would turn out to be the last time. The Disciples, then, knew the risk and they were mumbling about how dangerous it would be for them all if they returned to Jerusalem. It was Thomas the Twin who spoke up and said, "Let us also go, that we may die with him." I think it would be better to remember him as Courageous Thomas, than doubting Thomas. But, you know, even when Thomas did doubt the witness of the other Disciples, Jesus didn't punish him, or embarrass him. He simply showed Thomas his hands and his side and told him not to be faithless, but believing.

So many people these days think that if you ever have any periods of doubt mixed in with your faith, then you must be a sinner, or else you must never admit your doubt, even to yourself, or people think that you will take the express elevator straight down. This is not the way that Jesus deals with people who doubt. Jesus deals with all people with compassion and understanding. It is o.k. for you to have times when you doubt. In fact, I think that it is natural. It is only by admitting to ourselves that we have doubts, and by facing them squarely, that we can grow further to greater faith. Our journey in faith includes times when we have doubts and fears, and then times when we have faith that is stronger than factual knowledge. The important thing is to take our doubts in prayer to God, rather than trying to hide them from God.

The next thing that it is important to see is that the Holy Spirit being given seems to be related to faith. It was only after Jesus breathed on them that they had the great faith.

Well, Jesus says to Thomas, "Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe." This includes all of us, if we believe in Jesus Christ as Lord. How encouraging this is for us who don't have the advantage that the Disciples had. Jesus understands how hard it must be to hold on to such faith.

But at the same time, Jesus makes it easier for us by giving us the gift of the Holy Spirit, so that we can have this great faith. We have the advantage that the Disciples didn't have right then, until he breathed on them, and gave them the Holy Spirit. We have the ability to be even more blessed in this way, than the Disciples were, by being able to believe without having seen with our eyes.

That is what baptism is all about. Because we believe that the most important thing that happens at baptism is that the gift of the Holy Spirit is given to the one being baptized. This is a gift that will live inside of us forever, and will show itself at key points in their lives, at the moments of great faith, at the deepest times of our lives. At the happiest of times, and during the darkest times, everyone who is baptized can hang on to this, or turn to it. All we have to do is search for it in ourselves. This is something that is too deep for us to understand, but which can be known and felt, even though there might be times of doubt. This is something which cannot be denied the person who is baptized.

It is the realization of our baptism which gives us the faith we need without having the proof of the marks of nail and spear. When we realize that our baptism changes us into a new creation, we can understand how we can believe without seeing physical proof. That's what faith is, you know ‑ it is believing without proof. For if you have proof of a thing ‑ you don't need faith, and you don't have faith. We live by faith ‑ the faith given to us by baptism.

It is better than proof ‑ for it is a miracle in itself, and by this faith miracles can happen. And the assurance of God to the person of faith is more unshakable to that person than proof. I know, for by my own experience of God in my life, in the ways that God has touched me, I'd prefer to have faith than proof.

But always remember that our journey of faith is a journey ‑ it is full of ups and downs as we travel the long path of faith in our lives. There will be times when our faith is stronger, and there will be times when our faith is weaker. There are always the times of doubt that come to us. But these times are not times to hide from God, or from ourselves. These times are times to turn to God in honesty, that our faith might be revived. God will not let us down when we doubt.

Faith is knowledge within the heart, beyond the reach of proof. Gibran.

20 April 2010

Easter Day 2010

Easter 2010

St. Luke’s Church

4 April 2010

By Stuart Pike and Sharyn Hall

Stuart: Alleluia, Christ is Risen!

Sharyn: He is Risen indeed, Alleluia!

Stuart: This is the traditional Christian greeting for Easter. Despite everything Christ went through during Holy Week - despite all we have gone through in our lives, the Passion of Christ and his death is not the final ending.

Sharyn: Light and life wins. Our worship at Easter marks the turning point from the darkness of the tomb and death, to the light of resurrection. New life.

Stuart: But we begin in the tomb.... You know, the tomb is where many people live their lives.

Sharyn: What do you mean?

Stuart: Well, we are living in the tomb when we forget to live as an Easter people. The tomb is the place of forgetful faith. For many their sense of the real world is the tomb. It’s where disappointed lives live. Joy is forgotten. Suspicion, cynicism, and pessimism are in the tomb.

Sharyn: Oh, I get it. Hopelessness, fatigue, boredom and the mundane, sparkless life are in there too, right?

Stuart: You got it. It isn’t always all negative. Sometimes it just hasn’t got a lot of positives in it. But lots of people live a kind of hum drum life in the tomb. And while some people don’t really live their lives in there, everyone has had at least some experience inside the tomb.

Sharyn: I know what you mean. There’s another thing about the tomb, though.

Stuart: What’s that?

Sharyn: Well, tombs are dark. And when you’re living in the tomb, your vision isn’t very good. It’s hard to see things which might even lead you out of the tomb.

Stuart: You’re right. When you live in the tomb it gets harder and harder to leave it. You might just think that is the way life is. You can really get used to it. If fact, in a weird kind of way, you can even get comfortable in there. Living in the tomb doesn’t place very many demands on you.

Sharyn: Right. If you don’t have much hope, there’s not a lot to live up to. And you don’t have to push yourself very much.

Stuart: But the biggest downside about the tomb is that God’s not in there. Jesus busted out of the tomb! God lives outside.

Sharyn: But the good news is that Jesus broke open the tomb for us too.

Stuart: We need to remember to keep that tomb open, and even to walk out into the light of day.

Sharyn: Easter day!

Stuart: We can’t let anyone close up that tomb. Let’s tell Lois Cheny’s story called “Once upon a time.”

Stuart: Once upon a time
There was a God
Who so loved the world
That he gave his son,
His only son.

Sharyn: And they took that son
And they hung him on a cross
And that son died.
And they buried the son;
Sealed him up tight.

Stuart: But God said,
"Oh no you don't!"
And he rolled back the rock,
He unsealed his son
And his son came out,

Sharyn: Came out walking and breathing
And he was Alive.
And he's alive today
And he walks around
And he stalks around
Breathing hope and life.

Stuart: Every morning just before dawn
For thousands of years
Little grim people
Preachers and bankers and
Storekeepers and students
Sneak up to the grave and
Roll back the stone, to seal it up tight.

Sharyn: And every morning
God roars "Oh no you don't!"
And he flings back the stone.
And out walks Jesus
All over again;
Out stalks the
Grinning, striding Jesus.

Stuart: Tight-lipped
Little people
Hover all day
Around the tomb
And cover it with
And bow before it
And walk before it
And sigh before it;

Sharyn: And pray to it
And sing to it
And weep to it
And lean on it.

“Once Upon a Time” Lois Cheney from her book, God is no Fool.

Stuart: And no one
Or at least
They pretend not
To notice,
The living
Out on the Edge calling
"Hey!" "Hey you!"

Sharyn: So do you think Jesus calls out to us, “Hey you?”

Stuart: Yes he does, especially at Easter. We just need to be outside the tomb so we can see and hear him.

Sharyn: If we do, where will he take us?

Stuart: I don’t know. Into God’s ways. But God busted Jesus out of the tomb - that means God is a God who is free. I don’t know where he’ll lead us.

Sharyn: It sounds like an adventure.

Stuart: I’m sure it is. And that’s living as Easter People.

Sharyn: Alleluia! Christ is risen!

Stuart: He is risen indeed! Alleluia!

Stuart & Sharyn: Amen.

Easter Vigil

Sermon for Easter Vigil 3 April 2010

The Exultet

By Sharyn Hall

“Rejoice heavenly powers! Sing, choirs of angels!

Exult, all creation around God’s throne!

Jesus Christ, our King, is risen!

Sound the trumpet of salvation!”

This service on the evening before Easter is the night we welcome again the new fire of Christ into our world, into Christ’s church, and into our own everyday lives. The darkness of death has been overcome by the light of the risen Christ. His resurrection brings the promise of new life beyond death in the light of God’s everlasting presence.

A unique feature of this service is the long text called the Exultet, which is sung when the light of the Paschal candle has dispelled the darkness around us. The name ‘Exultet’ is derived from the original Latin word, which was the first word of the text, now translated as ‘Rejoice!’ This hymn-like text is also called the Paschal Proclamation and it can be traced back to Easter Vigil liturgies of the seventh century. About thirty surviving medieval manuscripts of the proclamation are beautifully illuminated with pictures appropriate to each section of the text.

The Exultet is a song of joy and praise. It calls all creation to rejoice because Jesus has been raised from the dead. The Exultet also is a song of salvation. The text describes God’s salvation of the Hebrew people from slavery in Egypt. The miracle of the parting of the Red Sea and the pillar of fire which guided the people in the desert are remembered as signs of God’s great love for all people.

On this night, the people have been saved from the power of death by the glorious resurrection of Jesus. The song proclaims, “This is the night when Jesus Christ broke the chains of death and rose triumphant from the grave.” This hymn of praise reminds us what the resurrection of Jesus means for each one of us and for all of humanity.

“The power of this holy night dispels all evil, washes guilt away, restores lost innocence, brings mourners joy; it casts out hatred, brings us peace, and humbles earthly pride.” This holy night of resurrection dispels what draws us away from God – evil, guilt, hatred and pride, and restores what brings us closer to God – innocence, joy and peace in our lives.

The resurrection of Jesus affects not only humanity, but also all creation, because our reconciliation with God will mean our reconciliation with God’s place for us in God’s whole creation.

“Rejoice, O earth, in shining splendour!”

“Night truly blessed when heaven is wedded to earth!”

The Exultet rejoices that on this night the broken relationships between God and humanity and creation are healed.

It is a cosmic vision of Christ’s resurrection, which reminds us that the Easter message is both the promise of eternal life and the promise of renewed life on earth. The mission of Jesus was to bring the people to God, and to restore the broken relationships among the peoples of the world. He established his mission in his life, in his death and in his resurrection, and he also urged his disciples to continue his mission with the guidance of God’s Holy Spirit.

The mission of Jesus seemed dead with his death on the cross, but with his resurrection, faith in God’s eternal love was re-born. From that faith grew the Christian church, a community of people with human faults and weaknesses, but with the desire to continually renew itself in the mission of Jesus.

“Rejoice, O Mother Church! Exult in glory!

The risen Saviour shines upon you!”

The light of Christ is our guide as we strive to live God’s way in this world. The risen Christ is God’s promise to us that life with God is everlasting.

“May the Morning Star which never sets find this flame still burning:

Christ, that Morning Star, who came back from the dead, and shed peaceful light on all mankind, Your Son who lives and reigns for ever and ever.” Amen.

Maundy Thursday

Sermon for Maundy Thursday 1 April 2010

I Corinthians 11: 23-26

By Sharyn Hall

In St. Paul’s account of what we call the Lord’s Supper, Jesus urges his disciples to eat the bread and drink the cup, not only once, but often, in memory of him. Twice he says, “Do this in remembrance of me.” Usually we concentrate our theological interest on the words, ‘in remembrance of me’, as we debate the issue of transubstantiation. However, I wish to emphasize the words, “Do this.”

Jesus lifted up bread and wine, gave thanks to God, and offered the bread and wine to his disciples as the gift of himself. We receive the same gift every time we come to the Lord’s table to eat and drink with him. It is a miraculous gift, which keeps on giving (to use a colloquial phrase).

But this gift is also a covenant uniting God with humanity in a new agreement of mutual love and mutual acceptance. The old covenant between God and Abraham was an agreement of future conduct, which gradually was bound together by imposed laws. The new covenant, which Jesus embodied in his Last Supper, is not imposed by rules of behaviour. The covenant offered by Jesus is open to be freely embraced as a new or renewed relationship with God.

Because it is freely given, this new covenant is fulfilled by those who seek it. This covenant is a gift, which each person is free to receive or reject. Jesus offers us a tangible gift, which we can see and touch and smell and taste. It is a gift, which we can hold in our hands. As I watch people come forward to receive a morsel of bread or a wafer in their outstretched hands, it seems to me that God’s gracious Spirit is also reaching out to draw people closer to God. I can see an image of humanity in those hands – young and old hands, delicate and scarred hands, hands of many sizes, shapes and colours.

This evening we will recall the action of Jesus washing the feet of his disciples by washing each other’s hands, those same hands, which will reach out to receive the body of Christ. In our culture, hand-washing is a frequent act because we do so much with our hands as human beings. We work, eat and express our thoughts and emotions with our hands. Our identity is imprinted on our hands. It is a remarkable fact that among billions of people in the world, no two fingerprints are identical. Our hands can express our individuality and our independence, and our hands can express our need for other people in our lives. The act of washing another person’s hands can be an act of kindness, respect and love. To allow our hands to be washed by another person can be an act of trust, humility and recognition of our need for others.

We can wonder about the hands of Jesus. He grew up working with Joseph as a carpenter or builder. Likely his hands became strong and rough and weather-worn like many other men and women. With his hands he offered bread and wine to his disciples to give them hope, courage, healing or forgiveness, all gifts which Jesus has given to generations of Christians. Every time we eat this bread and sip this wine, we acknowledge that this gift is more than ground flour and fermented grapes. In whatever way we try to comprehend the mystery of this sacrament, we are drawn toward God by taking into ourselves the bodily gift of Jesus.

Unlike the old covenant, this new covenant cannot be broken. Some people would argue with that statement, declaring that only worthy people should be accepted into this new covenant. Beware of criteria for worthiness, lest such barriers exclude us all! Jesus said, “Everyone the Father gives to me will come to me; I will never turn away anyone who believes in me.” Jesus offers us a relationship with God, which is generous beyond measure. The new covenant of Jesus is an open invitation to accept the hand of God reaching out to us. Thanks be to God. Amen.

Palm Sunday

Sermon for Palm Sunday 28 March 2010

By Sharyn Hall

The Gospel of Nicodemus, a dialogue between the Devil and Death

‘Who is the King of Glory?’

The people shouting ‘Hosanna!’ on the road to Jerusalem believed that Jesus was the King of Glory. Jesus would bring glory again to the nation of Israel. Jesus would overthrow the Roman oppressors. The people were shouting ‘Hosanna’, which means ‘Save Us!’ They wanted Jesus to be their warrior king like David. To them, evil was the cruelty of the Romans and the hypocrisy of their religious leaders. To them, death was the only certain answer to their lives of hardship and hopelessness, but here was God’s Messiah entering Jerusalem on the foal of a donkey like the prophet Zechariah had predicted. This Jesus of Nazareth would bring salvation to God’s chosen people.

Jesus understood their hopes and expectations. He knew that they longed for freedom and prosperity. He also knew that they would be disappointed because that was not his mission. His mission was to renew their relationship with God, and to draw them back to God’s commandments to love God and to have compassion for all people. As Jesus entered Jerusalem, he was facing the two greatest fears of humanity – the fear of evil and the fear of death. The jubilant people around him had no idea that their demonstration of defiance toward the religious and political authorities would bring certain death to Jesus. They could not imagine that God’s Messiah would be savagely beaten and mercilessly crucified, but Jesus knew what would come in Jerusalem.

He wept in the Garden of Gethsemane because he was human, and he knew that his death would be agony. It was not death that he feared. He feared the hardness in men’s hearts, which justified such cruelty. By riding into Jerusalem, Jesus challenged the power of evil and the fear of death to control humanity. That was his gift of salvation. He gave the people hope that evil could not overcome God’s goodness, and that death could not blot out God’s presence.

In his ministry, Jesus healed the sick, the blind, the deaf – all manner of human bodily weakness. He demonstrated that physical pain and suffering could be healed by God’s mercy. He confronted the vulnerability of human hearts to greed, hatred, cruelty and injustice. With his compassion for the beggar at the gate, his friendship for the tax-collector, his forgiveness for the prostitute, he reminded the people that God’s love is not bound by human laws, and yet the people did not understand. They did not understand that Jesus would give them salvation for their souls, salvation from the power of evil and death to control their hearts and minds.

Evil and death are a reality of human existence, but Jesus taught that God does not abandon humanity to suffering. With God, we can find strength to go on as Jesus did in the Garden. With God, we can find courage to challenge evil and to face the fear of death.

Jesus does not ask us to be heroes on our own; he asks us to choose God’s way. He did not choose to be a hero to the crowds who shouted ‘Hosanna!’, as he entered Jerusalem; he followed the path chosen for him by God. The famous American writer, F. Scott Fitzgerald, once wrote, ”Show me a hero and I’ll write you a tragedy.” As Jesus entered Jerusalem, many Israelites saw Jesus as their hero, but as events unfolded, they saw only tragedy for themselves and for this preacher from Nazareth. In their life of hardship and despair, the people quickly became disillusioned. To them, Jesus would be another dead hero on another cross by the city gates. Jesus of Nazareth had shown such promise as a healer and teacher. He even had power over death to raise Lazarus from the tomb, but his power seemed no match for the hatred and injustice of human authorities.

We Christians of the 21st century honour Jesus as a hero, because he rode into Jerusalem with courage knowing that injustice and certain death awaited him. He entered Jerusalem because it was God’s will that he confront the powers of evil and death for the sake of God’s humanity. We can imagine why the Devil would tremble to meet this human being whose power was rooted in his devotion to God. To the people in the streets of Jerusalem, the story of Jesus would turn from triumph to tragedy on the cross, but to generations of Christian disciples, the unexpected ending is God’s glorious beginning.

Thanks be to God. Amen.