April 8, 2018

2018 April 8

Easter 2 - Year B

A Sermon Preached by The Rev. Ian M. Delinger

 

As you know, I am a scientist. I have a Bachelor’s Degree in Chemistry. I don’t remember much of it, other than I can tell you the chemical formula of water and that soap has a polar end and a non-polar end, which is what makes it work. I would say that I think more like a scientist than, say, an artist. Pastor Karen is also a Chemist, and actually worked in science. Believe it or not, I have worked alongside many scientists who are not only Christians, but priests, including:

 

  • a Medical Physicist.
  • a Masters-level Particle Physicist.
  • a PhD Chemist.
  • a PhD Physiologist and member of the Royal College of Physicians and the Royal College of Pathologists, who is Dean of a Cathedral.
  • The Bishop of Chester, who is a Masters-level Chemist.
  • And many of you may remember that the previous Presiding Bishop of The Episcopal Church was a researcher Oceanographer.


I mention this because both the Second Lesson and the Gospel suggest that something isn’t real unless we can see it and touch it:


“We declare to you what was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands.”


Seeing, hearing and touching the historical Jesus was of paramount importance to the writer of the 1st Letter of John. He knew what we all know: Using our 5 senses is how we examine physical objects. All you need to do is go to the Saturday Farmers’ Market and watch people select their fruits and vegetables:

 

  • With the sense of sight, a buyer will inspect the color and shape of the produce to see how ripe it is, like with a tomato.
  • With the sense of touch, a buyer will feel the produce, maybe even press the flesh to discover how ready it is, like with an avocado.
  • With the sense of smell, a buyer will put the produce up to the nose and draw in the scent, like with cantaloupe.
  • With the sense of hearing, a buyer will thump produce, like watermelon, to find out if it’s pitch perfect.
  • With the sense of taste, a buyer will take a sample that the producer has put out.


Our senses are programmed to discover what is put in front of us and determine whether or not it is friend or foe. This opening to the Letter of John is the same. Whoever wrote the Epistle – because we know it was not the same person who wrote the Gospel of John – knew the importance of the eyewitness accounts of the earthly life of Jesus. The writer associates himself with those who saw what Jesus did, heard what Jesus said, and who touched Jesus and uses it to establish his credibility.


Thomas is similar. Thomas wants the physical proof that this man who he thought was dead and locked in a tomb was indeed the Risen Jesus standing in front of him and speaking to him. Thomas and the other followers of Jesus were not only amazed – they were frightened. In next week’s Gospel, it says, “They were startled and terrified, and thought that they were seeing a ghost.” So, Thomas, who has now seen and heard the Risen Jesus, pokes Jesus’ wounds. Once he has touched Jesus, he believes. And what does Jesus say?


Jesus said to him, "Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe."


This is the hard part for us. We are separated from these events by 100 generations. We have to rely on the billions of people in those 99 previous generations to have accurately preserved the eye-witness accounts of the Miracles of Jesus and of His Crucifixion, Resurrection and Ascension. This is why the writer of 1 John is so assertive that he is associated with those who have seen, heard and touched. And not all of the details are there. A lot of in between stuff is missing, at least for me…the scientist…who wants a complete picture. There are a lot of questions I want answered, and as was alluded to in the Gospel, there might have been someone who could have answered those questions:


“Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.”


What are those many other signs that weren’t written down? What other tidbits do I need to know in order to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God? The Christian faith and its history are full of questions! And we vacillate between demanding water-tight answers and apathy. Sometimes we get answers that we don’t like, and aspects of our faith and history make us uncomfortable and we distance ourselves, either from that little bit that we don’t like, or from expressing our faith altogether. We then fall into the trap of trying to remove from our daily lives that which might be uncomfortable or challenging. But,


if we are never confronted with

the difficulties of faith, we never

move along our journey of faith,

because it is easier and more

comfortable to stay where

we are.


Learning from Thomas, we have an invitation from Jesus, to ask questions and explore. Thomas said, “OK, Jesus, prove you’ve been resurrected.” And instead of Jesus responding, “Excuse me! But do you know who I am?”, Jesus invited Thomas to gather his own evidence. And from there, more was opened up to him.


There is a writing that is attributed to Thomas that is not part of The Bible. It’s called “The Gospel of Thomas”. It’s a list of one-liners attributed to Jesus. One of them is:


“Jesus said, “Know what is in front of your face, and what is hidden from you will be disclosed to you. For there is nothing hidden that will not be revealed.”


That suggests that if we take the time and effort to know what is presented to us, we can then start to see beyond the material, into the metaphysical and experience the spiritual. That’s what a scientist does: The scientist gets to know what is in front of their face, and as the knowledge of what is there becomes more and more intimate, new aspects of it are disclosed. Chemists looked at a blob, and got to know that blob. The more they got to know that blob is when they discovered that the blob was made out of molecules. So, they looked at the molecules, and the more they got to know the molecules, the atoms that make up those molecules were disclosed. And then subatomic particles, and now fermions and bosons. And the depth of knowledge continues, as do the discoveries – the disclosures.


Why can’t this approach be used with Jesus? Think about what Thomas gained by getting to know what was in front of his face, and what he would have lost if he would have run away. But 100 generations later, we’re starting to get a bit impatient. How could this be true?


There are those who are determined to prove this whole Christianity thing wrong, to say it has been the greatest lie ever told. I have been asked, and I am sure you have to, “What if everything you believe in turns out to be a farce?” Ah, but think about it: “What if everything I believe in turns out to be true?”


What if everything you believe in

turns out to be true?


I don’t stop believing because I might be wrong; no good scientist stops searching because an experiment failed!


I continue to believe because there might be a Spirit out there who gives me the strength and the gifts to do the things that lift the poor out of their misery, the things that engage others with the Divine, the things that strengthen community and society. I continue to believe because there might be a Messiah who came to earth to save the world, but in doing so, came to save me, little insignificant me, because I matter just as much as the rest of you, and the rest of God’s Creation.


The prospect of the

disappointment of being wrong

pales in comparison to the

prospect of the inexplicable joy of

truly receiving all that God

promises through the virtue of

The Resurrection that we have

come to celebrate!


The prospect of that inexplicable joy of receiving the Kingdom of Heaven is worth the struggle of my journey of faith! So, the writer is writing us these things “so that our joy may be complete.”


The 6C Irish missionary Columbanus wrote:


If you search by means of discussions for the God who cannot be defined in words, God will depart further from you than before. If you search for God by faith, wisdom will stand where wisdom lives, ‘at the gates’. Where wisdom is, wisdom will be seen, at least in part. But wisdom is also to some extent truly attained when the invisible God is the object of faith, in a way beyond our understanding, for we must believe in God, invisible as God is, though partially seen by a heart that is pure.


So, meditate on the Letter of John and discover how the heart that is pure can both reveal what is true and partially see God. Get to know whatever small bit of God is in front of you – perhaps Jesus in The Eucharist. And as you get to know what is in front of you, if there is anything hidden from you, it will be disclosed. For there is nothing about God that is hidden from us that will not be revealed by the Holy Spirit through our faith in Jesus Christ.


Alleluia. Christ is risen.
The Lord is risen indeed.

Alleluia!

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