Sunday, April 15, 2012

Homily for Easter 2

DOUBTING THOMAS by Bob Kessel after Caravaggio

Do not doubt but believe.

The risen Christ and the doubting Thomas.

This is the whole climax of John’s Gospel. In this interaction, the whole essence of faith, and what belief actually is and how it works in illustrated in one scene.

Jesus has visited the disciples and given them the gift of the Holy Spirit. This is in many ways the Pentecost of Johns Gospel. This must have been a huge joy filled occasion.

But, Thomas, was not there.
We don’t know what he was doing, but we can hazard a guess that he was on his own, mourning the death of Jesus.

Thomas, of all the disciples shows the most human qualities. He is impulsive, he is forthright. He doubts.

He is called the twin, or didymus. Didymus can mean twin, or double tongued. It can mean being in two minds. It is the idea of there being another side to what there is. The two sides we are dealing with here are faith and doubt.

So, the disciples come and tell Thomas in all their joy, “We have seen the lord!”

Thomas is sceptical. “What do they mean, seen? What have they actually seen? How can it possibly be Jesus? We all saw him die on the cross.”

Thomas has so many reasons why it could in no way be Jesus that they have seen. They must be deluded, or have been conned by some charlatan.

He states his criteria to them. 

"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."

Physical proof. Unless he can see or feel, he will not believe.
Seems fair enough.  That’ll show them.

A week later, Thomas gets his chance.
What he had suggested, probably in an attempt for them to see reality, happens.

Jesus appears, and says:

"Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side.   Do not doubt but believe."

Jesus is saying “Whatever you need Thomas, whatever it will take, whatever it is you have asked to believe that I am Christ who has conquered death, who has risen and is now here in front of you. If you need to touch, here I am. Thomas, I will do anything it takes for you to believe.”

Thomas is obviously overwhelmed. He doesn’t need to touch Jesus. He only needs to see him, and he says:

"My Lord and my God!"

Jesus has managed to bring Thomas from doubt to faith.

From a fading belief to a full profession of the Christian: belief in the divinity of Jesus.

The thing here is that Jesus wants Thomas to believe. He wants him to be with him where he is.

This is same for us, for everyone. Jesus wants us to be with him. He knows that we are all different. He knows that we all here today in different stages of our journey.  He meets everyone where they are. He meets those who don’t know him, and patiently waits.

But Jesus doesn’t let him off the hook so easily:

"Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe."
And it is here that we come in. This is really said to us. It was said for the first believers who were not present at the appearances of Jesus after his resurrection. It was said for all those who have followed since.
But we have all been like Thomas at some point.
Moments where we have doubted parts of the faith, or even doubted the whole thing.
Dark times where it seems there is no point, and God has forsaken us.

Doubt is a part of life.
Doubt is a part of faith.

It is impossible to have faith without doubt. They are two sides of the same thing.
Without doubt there cannot be faith.
To have doubts means we have accepted that faith is not static but is a journey.

Thomas was despairing because the one who he was following had been put to death.
In that darkness he was doubting all he had been through. 
But from that doubt, he found faith.
From within his doubt, Jesus pulled out faith.
Within our doubt, we find faith.

Jesus says to Thomas, “Do not doubt, but believe.” 
He wants Thomas to believe, he wants us to believe.
Jesus is prepared to meet us where we are, and that can, and often is, in a place of doubt.

Unlike Thomas we don’t Jesus physically coming to find us. But what we do have is the knowledge that those who have not seen and yet have come to believe are blessed.

To stay in a state of doubt is not what we want to do, and it is not what Jesus wants us to do. As he says to Thomas: Do not doubt, but believe.

However, there is the idea that from within doubt there is belief, within the despair there is hope. From within doubt, faith will arise.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Homily for Maundy Thursday

For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you.

We have begun the Great Three Days.
And here we are, in the upper room.
This evening where Jesus shares his final meal with the disciples.
This evening where Jesus washes the disciples feet.
On this evening Jesus shows us what it means to serve, and also, he teaches us how to accept being served.

Jesus shows the disciples what dignity there is in the Kingdom of God by serving them in the most menial way he could.

He is possessed by a special sense of his divine commission and authority. And how does he express this? Does he ask for a throne to be placed in the middle of the room? Does he ask for a crown?
He got up from the table,
took off his outer robe,
and tied a towel around himself.

Then he poured water into a basin
and began to wash the disciples' feet
and to wipe them with the towel that was tied around him.

We shrink from this.
We are ok with being humble before God.

We don’t want him to be humble in his dealings with us.

We want him to be glorious.
We want to be in that presence,
but when we are we may sometimes think we are entitled to pride ourselves on that achievement,
We may begin to think we might be better than others.

But, the worship of Jesus makes a nonsense of such ideas.
The worship of baby for whom there was no room at the inn.
The worship of jesus who humbles himself to kneel and wash feet.

If worship is genuine, any sense of pride is eliminated. Jesus who we worship is humility incarnate.

This divine humility shows itself in service.  As Jesus says “the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve,”

But our humility doesn’t come from serving, but rather our willingness to be served.

There can be much pride and condescension in our serving.
It is only really true when it is spontaneous and comes from a place of love.
Any offer we do that is planned or forced is flawed and comes from our own will,
rather from that of God.
We are doing our work, not God’s.
It is self centred not God centred.

It is difficult to show our humility in our service.

Our humility will come from our willingness to be served by others, and by God.
To accept be served by someone is to admit dependence on them. The desire to not owe someone, or to be beholden to them is ultimately unchristian. It is as unchristian as to take all and offer nothing.
 As Jesus loved the disciples, we are to love each other. Also, we are also to accept that love. That is in many ways more difficult. It is difficult sometimes for us to let someone do something for us. It is difficult because we are proud. We like to think we can do on our own. Our sense of self is diminished when we feel we need help. Our sense of who we are can crumble when we can’t accomplish something we need to do, or something we used to be able to do.

To let others serve us is to show great humility. As Jesus showed divine humility by washing the disciples feet, we can show our human humility by allowing others to serve us. To allow ourselves to be vulnerable and admit that we sometimes need help. To admit there are things we can’t. As Jesus served the disciples, we are to serve those around us. And as the disciples accepted that service, we are also to accept being served.

Love is not a one way street. To love one another means also accepting love from one another. It is sometimes hard for us to believe that someone else may love us for who we are.
Jesus loves us for who we are.
He asks us to love one another, and he also asks us to allow ourselves to be loved by one another.