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April 18, 2004

"Touching Is Believing" - April 18, 2004

Second Sunday of Easter, Year C
Acts 5:12a, 17-22, 25-29; John 20:19-31

The Second Sunday of Easter is always the Sunday of Thomas “the twin,” sometimes called “doubting Thomas.” And here at St. Martin’s, it’s also a day when we baptize children, so I find myself reflecting on the connection between the Baptismal Covenant and this Sunday’s gospel, in particular Jesus’ statement, “Blessed are those who have not seen and who have come to believe.”

In many ways, it’s a puzzling statement. It certainly goes against some modern sensibilities. A lot of the scientific quests of the 20th century seem predicated on the assumption, “blessed are you who, because you won’t settle for somebody else’s word for it, finally see for yourself.” A lot of us grew up with that assumption, so Jesus’ statement, “Blessed are those who have not seen and who have come to believe” is counter-intuitive. It goes against a modernist view that stories are for children and fools, that what we really need, what life is all about, is “facts,” things to which the authorities – the newspapers, the pundits, the four out of five dentists – attest, things that are measurable and therefore feel more certain.

But, Greek geek that I am, I have to take a look at the wording that the gospel uses. When Jesus is talking about “believing” here, he’s using variations on the word pistis. Pistis is often translated in our English bibles as “faith,” but it would be more accurately translated as “trust” or “allegiance.” Pistis, the “belief” that Jesus speaks about here, is NOT saying yes in your head to some kind of doctrinal statement or creed. Throughout the gospels, Jesus seems pretty uninterested in that kind of thing. That’s especially true in John, in which Jesus talks about “the truth” not as a creed, a confession, or a theology, but as a person – specifically, as the person of Jesus. The pistis, the “faith” that Jesus commends in today’s gospel, is not trying to convince yourself that an idea is true; it’s an allegiance, a willingness to invest in a relationship, to be true to a person.

That speaks powerfully to correct folks on the opposite end of the spectrum from the “blessed are you who must see for yourself” crowd. I’m talking about those of us who are tempted to say, “blessed are you who are willing to sign off on this handy creed I’ve got of things all right-thinking Christians believe, even if every experience you’ve got of love and of life go against it.” And by the way, I don’t think that either end of any theological or political spectrum has a monopoly on this way of thinking. But this way of thinking, the kind of “belief” that means trying your darndest to talk yourself into assenting intellectually to an idea, is at best a distraction from what Jesus is talking about, from the kind of faith that we’re talking about when, in the Baptismal Covenant, we say, “I believe.”

The whole continuum, the whole debate between the “blessed are those who won’t agree to something without proof” and the “blessed are those who will agree with what I think is the right interpretation,” has little to say in the end about faith, about the kind of belief to which young ________________________ are being committed today in baptism. What we’re committing our children to this day, what we’re recommitting ourselves to this day, isn’t about agreeing or disagreeing; it’s about trusting and uniting. There’s a leap of faith being taken today, but it’s not one of saying yes with our lips and our brains to an idea or an ideology; it’s of saying an irrevocable yes with our hearts and our hands to a person and a community.

But I’m going to side with Thomas for a moment here. Don’t say yes to Jesus before you’ve met the risen Jesus for yourself. Would you marry someone before you’d met them? Probably not. And those of us who are married know well that when you get married, you’re marrying into a family; best to meet the family too. In Jesus’ case, it’s not as hard as some might think.

If you want to meet the risen Christ, it’s as simple as hanging out where he hangs out. Invest compassion as well as time and treasure with those with whom Christ suffers today. Find a stranger on the road you can invite to break bread with you and your fellow travelers. Listen deeply for Christ’s voice where two or three are gathered in his name. In short, don’t rely solely on books, or even on solitary prayer to find Jesus. Connect with Christ in community. Thomas was absolutely sure of one thing before he saw the risen Jesus for himself. He knew that if Jesus was alive, Jesus would be seen in the flesh.

Thomas was right. We still encounter Jesus in the flesh. We might not see him with our eyes, but we’ve got something in common with Thomas: the surest way for us to encounter the risen Jesus and to know him as Lord and God is by touching (and being touched by) Christ’s Body.

And that brings me back to baptism and our Baptismal Covenant. We can’t live the life of the baptized outside of community, without other human beings with whom we can form relationships of justice, whom we can love, whom we can forgive, and from whom we can receive what Christ wants to give – the fruit of the Spirit in abundance. I love to hear conviction in the congregation’s cry of “We will!” in our vow to support the baptized as they live into the covenant they’ve made, or their parents have made on their behalf. Our journey isn’t always easy; Jesus’ call to proclaim Good News with our lives, to seek and serve Christ in ALL persons, to strive for justice and peace among ALL people and respect the dignity of EVERY human being, is as much in tension with our culture as it was in first-century Palestine. The new disciples will need our support. And we need theirs. We need all of the gifts, the creativity, and even the wounds of Christ’s Body to know life in Christ.

We need to meet the risen Jesus to know eternal life in our own lives. We need to be nourished with the Body of Christ, and not just on Sunday mornings. The more demanding our lives, the less we can afford to go it alone. However and whenever you can do it, I urge you to be every bit as demanding as Thomas. Touch the Body of Christ. It’s a gift that is all the more precious for being broken. Do it in the Connect? class, which starts tonight. Do it as you break bread with friends at a weekday lunch. Do it at home and at work, as you seek and serve Christ in those around you and as you intentionally surround them with prayer. Do it and you meet the risen Christ.

It must have been hard for those who saw Jesus before his death on the Cross to understand how they could see his face in the face of a child, or an old woman, or a community, to trust that they could meet the risen Jesus amongst their bickering fellow disciples, or amongst the enemies they feared. They thought they knew Jesus’ face, having seen him in Galilee.

Blessed are those who have not seen, and who have come to trust. When we are willing to touch the wounds of the Body of Christ, as we are willing to bare our own wounds to our brothers and sisters in Christ’s body, we find the life, the healing, the joy we long for. We find Jesus.

Thanks be to God!

April 18, 2004 in Baptism, Faith, John, Year C | Permalink

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