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Wednesday, April 27, 2011
Lectionary Scriptures: Acts 2:1-4a, 22-32, Psalm 16:1-11, I Peter 1:3-9, John 20:19-31

This week’s Gospel lesson gives us the intriguing story of Thomas, who wants to touch the wounds in Jesus’ body before he believes he has risen. First of all, let me tell you that I think Thomas has gotten a bum rap. Through all these centuries he has borne the adjective “doubting,” when he only asked for what the other disciples had already received. When Jesus “came and stood among them,” it says “he showed them his hands and his side.” (John 20:19-20) Notice also that Jesus doesn’t rebuke Thomas. He simply shows him. (vs. 25)

If Thomas is to be chided for anything, it might be that he didn’t trust the words of his friends. One could find a sermon or two—even a theological point or two—in that fact alone. So much of how we learn and grow in our faith depends on words spoken to us by those we trust, those who have gone before us, those who have seen and want us to see also. The resurrection is a community event. We witness to one another daily about it, even today, when we share the ways in which we continue to experience his living presence. Without that shared witness, believing would be even more difficult than it sometimes is. The reading from the book of Acts, contains portions of a sermon preached by Peter. The verse chosen for the lectionary reading end in Acts2:32 with these words: “This Jesus God raised up, and of that all of us are witnesses.”

We could read the Thomas story and get into what is mostly a futile debate about science and religion. Thomas demands proof, but in the end Jesus says, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.” (John 20:29) We are among “those who have not seen,” at least in a literal sense. The writer of the Gospel of John was addressing a situation (perhaps even in another country), some hundred years or so after Jesus’ death, in which new generations had arisen who were not first-hand witnesses of Jesus’ resurrection.

That writer was interested in helping his readers see beyond the physical events of Jesus’ life to the deeper meanings. Events (miracles) are presented as “signs” followed by a discussion of the meaning of the signs. Jesus even at one points seems to despair, saying, “Unless you see signs and wonders you will not believe.” (John 4:48)

So what are we looking for? Are we satisfied with the things we can touch and feel? Are they what belief is about? Or, do we dig deeper, enter into dialogue with one another about deeper meanings? I just read an article about John Crossan who participated in a debate with N.T. Wright. Up front Crossan acknowledged that Wright “takes the resurrection of Jesus literally, and I take it metaphorically” suggesting that their conversation should focus on “what his understanding means for him and what mine means for me.”

The search for deeper meanings means moving beyond that which we can touch and feel, beyond being eyewitnesses, to the discovery of what gives us life in the here and now. The Gospel of John ends with these two sentences: “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.” (John 20:30-31) The writer implies it is not a matter of piling up an endless list of “signs.” It is a matter of taking the stories (“signs”) we have and finding in them the stuff that gives us life. Many of the signs in John’s Gospel include a statement about who Jesus is. It’s interesting how many of them include the word “life.” Five thousand are fed and Jesus says, “I am the bread of life.” (John 6:35) Before he calls Lazarus out of the tomb, Jesus says, “I am the resurrection and the life.” (John 11:25) When Jesus announces that he will be leaving the disciples, he says, “And you know the way to the place where I am going.” Thomas responds, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” Jesus says, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. (John 14:4-6)

What are we looking for? The “life” that is there if we move beyond the outward signs. Science, what we can touch and feel, is important. We live surrounded by science. This blog can be posted on the internet and read by someone half way around the world because of science. It’s meaning, though, is more than science. It’s meaning is more even than words which appear on a computer screen. It’s meaning takes shape in the realm of the spirit as it touches your inner being. One hopes that at least some of you find “life” as I attempt to bear witness.

Hebrews 11:1 says, “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” We could talk about a different way of “seeing” things, seeing with the eyes of faith. No one of us was an eyewitness to Jesus’ resurrection in a literal sense, but that does not prevent us from “seeing.” I believe that we should, like Thomas, continue to ask questions, to express our “doubts,” to look for “answers.” More importantly, though, we are called to find and pay attention to the deeper meanings. No matter how many “facts” we uncover, they, in themselves, will not give us life.

The epistle, I Peter, written “to the exiles of the Dispersion in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia” (I Peter 1:1), sees “life” as a relationship of love. “Although you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and rejoice with an indescribable and glorious joy, for you are receiving the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.” (I Peter 1:8-9) I might not express all of it exactly that way, and that phrase, “the salvation of your souls,” begs for a lot of unpacking, but what I’m looking for is a universe filled with loving relationships. I continue to believe in that possibility because, even though I glimpse it only through a glass darkly, I have been touched and am sustained by a loving consciousness which seems to be in the very air we breathe. I cannot prove it or place my hands or yours literally on its pulsing heart, but with each beat I too am a witness to the resurrection.

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Kairos-Milwaukie UCC Blog

Reflections on the Revised Common Lectionary by Rev. Rick Skidmore and Rev. Jim Ogden.

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