Such a lovely room

Such a lovely room

Sunday, April 7, 2024

YEAR B 2024 easter 2

Easter 2, 2024
Acts 4:32-35
1 John 1:1-2:2
John 20:19-31
Psalm 133

In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Taken together, these lessons could be called, “Aspiration vs. Everything Else.”  With the subheading: Shouldn’t we at least try?  But first off, we should talk about the Path of Totality!  There’s going to be a big event tomorrow afternoon with a full solar eclipse over our heads . . . if we can see it.  There are those who say, unless I can see the moon blocking out the sun, and endanger my eyes by staring at the sun for a half hour, then I will not believe.  

If you’re unfortunate enough to have spent any time on Twitter lately, you know that there is already talk of conspiracy theories, and false flag operations, and chem-trails regarding the eclipse.  And there are definitely people saying, if I don’t see it, it didn’t happen.  But other people have traveled across the globe for the chance to experience this event.  Some have the aspiration to experience it, and some have the aspiration to be taken away by the rapture that it supposedly foretells.  But, bottom line, even if it’s a cloudy day tomorrow, shouldn’t we at least try to see it?

Which brings us to the reading from Acts.  You know, the radical leftist Marxist utopia of the early church.  How did that reading make you feel?  Uneasy?  Scared?  Skeptical?  Dismissive?  It sure sounds a lot different from the church we know today, doesn’t it?  But I should tip my hand and tell you that in the very next chapter of Acts, Ananias and his wife Sapphira sell some land and give just some of the money to the apostles.  And you know what happens to Ananias?  He falls down dead, that’s what!  This early Christian utopia falls apart one verse after the reading we heard.  It is aspirational, but not practical.  They kind of overshot the goal of living in community here.  But it also raises that same question, shouldn’t we at least try?

And then the reading from First John.  “If we say that we have fellowship with God while we are walking in darkness, we lie and do not do what is true.”  And, “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.”  Fair enough, writer of First John.  But then we also get, “I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin.”  Huh?  You just said if we say we have no sin we deceive ourselves, but then you say you’re writing to us so that we may not sin?  What gives?  Well, in this case, living a sinless life is aspirational, but with a safety valve.  Like, John is giving us this information so that there is a possibility that we might not sin, but when we inevitably do, we have an advocate.  The idea that we might not sin is aspirational.  And raises that same question, shouldn’t we at least try?

And then we come to our gospel reading, from John’s gospel.  You’ll recall, the disciples are cowering in fear and doubt in a locked room, and Jesus appears to them and says . . . Peace be with you.  They rejoiced when they saw it was Jesus.  But there is no indication in the text that anything changed for them.  They just . . . rejoiced.  Because the next week, they are cowering in fear and doubt in a locked room, again.  But when they tell Thomas about their experience, he says, “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.”  

I think we automatically hear this as defiance.  Like Thomas is saying, “I am choosing not to believe,” rather than, “I am unable to believe.”  Personally, I take it more as a confessed inability.  That is, Thomas sure would like to believe.  But he knows himself; he knows his weaknesses; and he knows that he needs to have the experience himself because—let’s face it—this story he was just told is hard to believe!  Thomas aspires to believe; but he cannot.  His belief is aspirational, but needs the experience.  What does he need in order to believe?

Jesus.  He needs Jesus.  And the next week?  Jesus shows up, and again says . . . Peace be with you.  And then he gives Thomas exactly what Thomas needs.    “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.”

Does Jesus throw Thomas out for his lack of faith?  Or turn his back to Thomas for not believing the incredible story about his appearance?  Of course not.  And, perhaps more importantly, he does not require anything of Thomas.  He doesn’t say, “I told you so;”  he doesn’t call him Doubting Thomas.  No, Jesus meets Thomas right where he is and says, “Stop doubting and believe.”  But that’s just our bad translation getting in the way.  Because what Jesus says is, “Do not be faithless, but be faith-filled.”

And just like that, Jesus speaks the faithfulness of Thomas into existence, because the next thing we see is his profound confession of faith:  My Lord and my God!  Jesus tells Thomas that he is filled with faith, and he is.  Thomas does not set out to acquire this faith.  He does nothing apart from hear the words of Jesus, and he goes from being faithless to being faith-filled.  Jesus speaks, and it is so.  And not in a half-hearted way, either.  Thomas hears these words, and immediately proclaims Jesus as his Lord and God.  Didn’t see that coming, right?

Which brings us to the overarching lesson for you and me from these texts.  The aspirational side of our life of faith together.  Those first disciples aspired to live in a world where no one was hungry, where no one went without.  And with what happened to Ananias and Sapphira, we can see that world is not possible.  Because some people are going to end up dead!  But it doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try.

And in the reading from first John, we heard that if we say we have no sin the truth is not in us, but he’s telling us that so that we may not sin, which we will certainly do, as he just told us.  To be without sin is aspirational, but it doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try.

And with the story of Thomas, we can hear that he truly wants to believe, but he knows himself well enough to know that he is unable to believe without the physical proof in front of him.  His desire for faith is aspirational, but he needs Jesus to give him that faith.

All of which leads me to the Baptismal Covenant, which we just renewed at the Easter Vigil.  After the part that sort of reworks the Apostles Creed, we come to the outlandish promises that we can never keep, but which we say anyway.  Together we promise to

Continue in the apostles' teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of the bread, and in the Prayers.
To persevere in resisting evil, and, whenever we fall into sin, repent and return to the Lord.
To proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ.
To seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving our neighbor as ourselves.
To strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being.

Every time we attend a Baptism, and several other times throughout the year, we make those impossible, beautiful, lofty, aspirational claims . . . and they come with a safety valve: the phrase, with God’s help.  That’s what gives us the gumption to make these promises together.  With.  God’s. Help.  All these promises are indeed possible, with God’s help.

Thomas freely admitted that he could not believe without Jesus, without God’s help.  And Jesus shows up, and Thomas says, "My Lord and my God!”  He’s the only disciple who makes this profession of faith.  The one we often call Doubting Thomas turns out to be the most faith-filled disciple, with God’s help.

Lots of things in this life are aspirational rather than practical, but it doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try.  And with God’s help, we might find we actually can do the impossible.  To paraphrase from the Rite of Ordination, May the Lord who has given us the will to do these things give us the grace and power to perform them.  With God’s help.


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