To Believe or Not to Believe
Readings: Acts 5:27-32; Psalm 2; Revelation 1:4-8; John 20:19-31
The passage from the Acts of the Apostles shows the early Christians beginning to leap into action. Peter and the other apostles have had an amazing conversion from the frightened and ragged band of people who scattered in every direction following the crucifixion. They are speaking out about their faith with a sense of total and exuberant conviction. In fact, they feel compelled to speak the truth as they see it. So caught up are they in what they have experienced that these simple fishermen find themselves addressing the council, the religious authorities of the time, learned people.
It was not an easy time for the Jewish faith! What do you do with converts to a new sect who are so totally enthused and filled with purpose! Peter and the apostles are totally swept up in their cause. “We must obey God rather than any human authority,” Peter says to the council. How would that go over at synod? His sense of commitment to the gospel is unswerving and complete. There are consequences to having such a sense of commitment, but he and the others are willing to take the risk. They face persecution. But what has happened to them is so powerful that there are no other options for them. They have witnessed the risen Christ. It is good news that must be proclaimed and shared. Their faith is compelling them to share what they have experienced so that others can also share the experience.
What a different picture it is from this morning’s Gospel! It is evening on the first day of the week. Early that morning a few of the women had come back to the meeting room with a fantastic story to tell the disciples. They had gone to the tomb to prepare Jesus’ body for burial. The stone had been rolled away giving them easy access to the tomb. Two men in shining clothing had asked them why they were looking for someone who was alive in a place set apart for the dead. The women were convinced of Jesus’ resurrection. Yet obviously the story had little impact on the disciples. For there they were that evening sitting in fear in a locked room.
Not until Jesus is there, standing amongst them, are they able to put aside their hysteria and begin to feel that “shalom”, that wonderful sense of the Lord’s peace that he proclaims to them. They have betrayed him. They have run away in fear. They have been unable to believe what the women so quickly accepted. And yet Jesus is there offering peace. Now they see for themselves.
Except for one! Thomas! Ever dubbed 'Doubting Thomas”! But can you really blame him?
Thomas is not one who could not believe, but one who longed to believe. He had seen Jesus destroyed. He is unwilling to trust. For one thing though the disciples tell him with some enthusiasm that they have seen the Lord, they are still sitting safely behind locked doors. It does not make sense to him. There they are with the best news in the world sitting around moping.
If you saw Jesus in all his resurrected glory would you be sitting around moping? Does it make any sense? It is not difficult to believe in Jesus Christ. But it is often difficult to believe that his followers really believe. Maybe if we did less sitting around in church and more talking about Jesus with our friends, they might know that we do actually believe. They might see how faith has changed our lives. They might see that we live out what we believe.
It seems that, because of my chosen profession, whenever I go to a party with my secular friends the topic quickly turns to religion or religion bashing. Often what people want to talk about is the issues of our day. What do I think about abortion? Divorce? Homosexuality? They want to trap me into saying the wrong things.
Sometimes the questions are directly concerned with faith. Mine, not theirs. For most people are quick to point out that they are not “religious”. “I do believe in God, you know,” they love to point out. Or “I believe in God!” And then the clincher, “I don’t believe in organized religion!” For them being religious is a contagious disease. Even my telling them that my religion is totally disorganized doesn’t seem to sway them.
But I have noticed that most people who corner me and want to talk about the faith are searching for something. They are interested in spiritual matters. They have read something controversial and they want to discuss it. What disturbs me most about that is that often the same people who are unable to accept the gospel message, who are quick to point out its irrelevancies, its inconsistencies, are ready to accept as truth what is written about it. For example, they seem to believe that a novel such as the “Da Vinci Code” is fully researched truth. Why is it that so many people are willing to believe a novel but are unable to comprehend the mystery of the Christian faith?
Is it our failure to communicate the message of the gospel? Is it our lack of commitment to the gospel? Do we lack the kind of enthusiasm of Peter and the other leaders of the early church? Are we still sitting behind doors shut for fear? Are we afraid to speak the gospel truth? In what sense does church life show a closed door to the community? Do we reach out to new people? Do we want to open new books and delve into new liturgies and new music? Do we want to hear about the troubling issues of society? Or are the doors of our minds and hearts shut?
Is it simply too difficult to open our hearts and minds to the faith? We see so much around us that bears no resemblance whatsoever to the resurrected Christ. Problems, tragedies, conflicts. How can we come to believe? And after all it is two thousand years since these events took place. Don't you envy Peter and the disciples? After all, they saw the risen Christ. They talked to him. They were challenged by him. “How much easier it would be for me to lose my doubts, to really believe, if only I had walked in Peter's sandals?” I can hear you saying it.
And yet I know that while I often experience doubts there are times in my life when I have been so convinced that Jesus was real that it carried me through. There was the time when I was as low as anyone can get. I had nowhere to turn. Because of an abusive situation I had to walk away from family, friends, everything! It was the only thing I could do. The night I walked away, I ended up in a Roman Catholic Church that happened to be open, praying. A priest saw me there and began to talk to me. He did not really understand my situation, but he listened. He was Christ for me that night. I made the right decision for myself, confronted the demons as it were, and found a safe place to stay until it was safe for me to return home.
We can believe when we hear the stories of resurrected life around us. We can believe when we see how the wounds life brings can be transformed. We can believe when suffering becomes life giving. We can believe when others tell us how they have experienced the power of the risen Christ. We can believe when we accept the grace given to Thomas and to each of us to touch, to see, to feel. Beyond suffering and pain there is a power of life that brings us close to God and lets us speak words of forgiveness that are valid in heaven and on earth. And we may well find ourselves being Christ for someone in need.
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