April 19, 2020

You'll find a video of the entire service at

first part:  https://www.facebook.com/StStephensSLO/videos/2667771326884790/

second part: https://www.facebook.com/StStephensSLO/videos/257222012082797/

 

Click for the Service Booklet and Hymns & Psalter


2020 April19_FrIan

Second Sunday of Easter - Year A

A Sermon Preached by The Rev Ian M Delinger on April 19, 2020

 

Doubting Thomas and the human need or desire for proof. When asked the question, “Which Bible character to do you most identify with?”, Thomas is one of my top 3. At the most critical point in his, the rest of the Disciples’ and the world’s relationship with the God-Man Jesus, he’s like, “Prove it!” And Jesus is like, “Right. OK. If that’s what you need, here ya go.” Jesus keeps Thomas in His inner circle, and proves to the world that you can question and still be a good follower, and that faith doesn’t require checking your brain at the door.

 

Since this scene with Thomas, and probably even before then, there has been a tension between faith and science, the intersection of the Divine and Physical Realms, and faith in the age of science. I want to explore that this morning, particularly from my own experiences as someone with a science degree and 2 theology degrees, and as someone who is frequently challenged by people about faith and science, who, by the way, are overwhelmingly not scientists themselves. I might come off a bit rambling this morning, but I assure that there will be a faith-related point in here somewhere.

 

I first want to start with a Facebook post that popped up earlier this week. It was posted by a cousin on my step-father’s side which would take a degree in genealogy to figure out how we’re related, because those big Midwestern German farm families kind of have family bushes, and his family’s is the only Irish surname out of a stadium full of German surnames.

 

So, Xenia posted a meme that reads – I have to change some of the more explicit words:

 

It “irks” me that science tries to prove if god is real or fake. It is someone’s belief. You don’t need to take away their faith for your own personal gain. “Forget” science, it’s nothing but a bunch of “jerks” always trying to prove “stuff”.

 

And that last part is then repeated in large letters.

 

Xenia’s comment was:

 

I really needed this laugh this morning. Amidst all of the “Covid-19 is a hoax” conspiracies put forth … and me lamenting the decline in our collective science literacy … I was delighted to come across this which gave me a hearty belly laugh.

 

Both the meme and the response were disrespectful of the relationship between science and faith, one from the faith side, and one from the science side. I told the story that I often tell when I’m put in a situation to defend faith in the age of science.


The University of Cambridge is odd such that my seminary had regular undergrad exchange students from Fordham University. One kid spent the first couple of weeks declaring that the whole point of science was to prove that God doesn’t exist [among a seminary full of Oxford and Cambridge educated men and women training for priesthood]. I finally had to tell him that no (or few) science researchers were devoting their time to proving that God doesn’t exist. And when I told him that I have a degree in Chemistry, he said, “I thought Christians weren’t allowed to believe in science.”

 

Now, never mind how he got into Fordham...but a contemporary student at my seminary was a PhD Chemist who now teaches theology at said seminary. My placement supervisor at Sidney Sussex College Chapel, Keith Straughan, is a priest and medical physicist. My colleagues in the Chaplaincy Department at the University of Chester were Ian, a Masters-level Physicist, and Peter, a PhD Chemist. The Bishop of Chester, while I was in that Diocese, was a Masters-level Chemist, and the Dean of the Cathedral an academic pathologist...who was coaxed out of academia to take on the role of Dean. So...hmmm...the empirical evidence (something that scientists regularly rely on) doesn’t suggest that the sole purpose of science is to prove that God doesn’t exist.

 

And that’s been true for millennia. What anti-religious people have done since The Enlightenment is attempt to wage a war between science and faith. The scholars of The Enlightenment clearly wanted to reduce the power of religion in society, but their ability, or the ability of those who continue to reference The Enlightenment, to eliminate the presence of religion in society has never materialized. The result of this is that the Religious Right have abandoned science, but the people of faith within the science community have not abandoned their faith.

 

Let’s go back a couple of years. It’s a common fallacy that Europeans, particularly Christians, believed the earth to be flat at the time of Columbus, and that Columbus was out to prove that the world was round. If I recall correctly, my childhood history books were implicit at a minimum, but probably explicit, that Columbus’ voyage proved that the earth was round. However, the majority of Europeans already believed that the Earth was round. UC Santa Barbara historian Jeffrey Burton Russell delivered a lecture in which he said “no educated person in the history of Western Civilization from the third century BC onward believed that the Earth was flat.” He also mentioned that a round earth appears as early as the 6C BC. My guess is that there are probably more flat-earthers in America today than there were in Europe in 1492. Yet, I have been accused of being a flat-earther simply because I’m a Christian.


So, we need to always be
confident that, as persons of
faith, we are not deniers of how
the physical world works. We
were created with curiosity, and
Thomas’ indignance is legitimate:


“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.”

 

Thomas was no different than the rest of us. We instinctively want to touch and taste things. Think of an infant. Whenever he encounters something, he touches it, he feels it and he puts it in his mouth!

 

Jesus, being fully human as well as fitfully divine, knew that Thomas needed to touch His side and see His hands. Yet, Thomas remained a beloved disciple. Thomas’ request was not a betrayal of his faith in the Risen Jesus, the Divine Jesus, the Divine Son. It was evidence that we are allowed to question, allowed to want more information, allowed to gather more data that will help us deepen our faith and understand it more.

 

The need to know facts and to question faith, the need to allow science and faith to live together is not just an issue for us; it guides how we interact with others in our community as Christians. When working with and talking about newcomers to the church, we talk about 2 couplets. One is belonging versus believing, and the other is knowledge versus experience.

 

Knowledge of theology and doctrine is certainly highly valued within the church. We have a wide variety of activities we engage with in order to nurture our faith. Take, for example, bible study as a form of gaining knowledge and also a source of faith. We don’t just read the black-and-white text; we look at the historical context, the literary context, how the text has been redacted, examine the audiences and the motivations of the writers, and so many other aspects of reading literature and history. All of that is gaining knowledge, and that knowledge is helping us understand our relationship with God, deepening our faith. Our study of scripture does far more than simply reading the black-and-white text. Out of that gaining knowledge, we nurture our faith.

 

But we also need experiences, experiences of the divine. For that we have our rituals, our Sacraments, our time together. But now, our rituals, Sacraments and time together are compromised or put on hold.

 

At the beginning of the state-wide shelter-at-home order, conversations about whether or not to do the Eucharist virtually began and are continuing. One of the questions asked was, “What if someone who isn’t of the faith comes across your video of the virtual celebration of the Eucharist? How comfortable are you with that?”

 

Well, let me take you back a couple decades. The Episcopal Church used to require that a person go through Confirmation Class and be Confirmed prior to receiving Communion for the first time and regularly. When I was a child, that was relaxed, and I was able to do some pamphlets on what Communion is and then received my first Communion I think around the age of 8. By the time I graduated from college, the new guideline for The Episcopal Church, which still stands, is that all baptized Christians are welcome to receive Communion.

 

I followed neither the thought process nor the procedural process to how we got where we are. But what I do know, is what I witnessed of my 2yo niece. When my sister and I both lived in San Jose, we both worshiped at the Cathedral for a while.


When my then-2yo niece was
watching the priest consecrate
the Bread and Wine at the
Eucharist, maybe at the
elevations of the Bread and
Wine, my niece exclaimed,
“Mommy, that’s Jesus!”


She had no knowledge of the theology or doctrine of the Sacrament of Holy Communion in The Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion. Expressions like hers is why I believe that Jesus told us that we need to have the faith of a child. That niece is now 22 or 23, has vastly more knowledge of the theology of the Sacrament, and she still participates in her church in Los Angeles. She’s the niece who sang for us last summer.

 

As a person with a chemistry degree and 2 theology degrees, it’s not my knowledge of the physical world and science or theology that makes me a Christian and a priest. It’s my faith in a creator and loving God, and my experience of God in the world. My scientific curiosity leads me to want to look for more signs of God working in the world, it makes me want to look for the wounds of Jesus in hurt people, it makes me want to share that experience of grilled fish on the beach with Jesus with every person. Every time I read scripture, particularly the Old Testament, I have a deeper understanding of God as experienced by the people in those stories, not by their incredible knowledge of the facts of God and being able to touch God and see God concretely, but by experiencing a God who loves and cares for them and who only wants a response from them.

 

So, when I hear a child exclaim, “Mommy, that’s Jesus” when she sees the Sacrament, I think to myself, “If she gets it, what are we adults getting wrong?” Are we allowing people to explore the meaning and experience of God like my niece and like Thomas? Or are we prescribing a pathway that both, ensures that a person is fully indoctrinated, and becomes a straw man for critics to knock down? If we were to let and a child’s natural inclination and natural tendencies guide how we bring them up in the church, would we have more young people in the church? Would we have more people who stay in the church? Is it possible to nurture one child who is curious and wants more knowledge while at the same time nurturing the child who wants more experiences and doesn’t really care about the facts or the doctrine or the theology or the history? Can we nurture a child who is curious both in knowledge and experience but wants to question and ask “why” and then say “Well, I don't believe that”? What do we say to the child or the adult or even the lifelong Christian who says “I’m not sure I can buy into that, but I still believe”? Or who says, “Show me, and I will believe”? Or who says, “I want to belong, but I don’t yet believe”?

 

This story of Doubting Thomas is only unique in that it is a precious moment after the Resurrection. In so many of the Bible stores, there are human beings who have questions and who have flaws and who don’t know what they’re doing. Yet, God still considers those people God’s people, people whom God loves very deeply and simply wants to be in relationship with. Just because our current scientific knowledge of the physical world can’t prove that God exists, it doesn’t mean that our experience of God in our lives and in our hearts is invalid. Let’s use our natural curiosity – that curiosity that leads scientific researchers to do what they do – to discover God in our lives and in the world. Let’s allow the natural curiosity of those outside our circle to question, explore and discover as we share our experience and knowledge of the Creator, the Liberator, and the Sustainer.

 

This story of Doubting Thomas has more implications that just our own doubts and questions about our faith in the Risen Christ. It supports a healthy relationship between science and faith. It encourages our natural curiosity as humans, who don’t and won’t have a full understanding of the Divine Realm. It helps us understand how to be better at sharing the Good News of the Risen Christ with people who are not yet people of faith.

 

Millions of people believed that The Enlightenment would be the end of religion. It wasn’t. The Thomases in the world probably have something to do with that. As people of faith who were not in that boat or on that beach, we live with the Easter Joy that:

 

Although we have not seen Him, we love Him; and even though we do not see Him now, we believe in Him and rejoice with an indescribable and glorious joy, for we are receiving the outcome of our faith, the salvation of our souls. (1 Peter 1:8-9)


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