Sunday, April 3, 2016

2 Easter

April 3, 2016

John 20.19-31

+ I have been re-reading an incredible biography of the poet who speaks loudest to me in these last few years. I’m not certain if I’ve talked about him from the pulpit before (I think I must have though). But I love him and have loved him even before he died in 2000.  I am speaking of the great Welsh poet (and Anglican priest), R.S. Thomas. If you do not know R.S. Thomas—get to know him. In addition to be being one of the most important contemporary Welsh poets, Thomas was a parish priest for his entire adult career, serving at some obscure and quite wild parishes in Wales.  Long after he retired as a priest, he was interviewed and made some interesting observations about faith.

He said, “I don’t know how many real poets have ever been orthodox.”

(I could name a few, actually)

He went on to say this: “The message of the New Testament is poetry. Christ was a poet, the New Testament is a metaphor, the Resurrection is a metaphor.”

(That particular statement about the Resurrection created quite a controversy at the time)

Thomas went on: “…I feel perfectly within my rights in approaching my whole vocation as priest and preacher as one who is to present poetry, and when I preach poetry I am preaching Christianity and when one discusses Christianity one is discussing poetry in its imaginative aspects.”

I love that statement, as controversial and cutting edge as it still is after all these years.  And I have long held very similar views regarding the poetry of our faith.

The fact is, yes, we all have doubts. I have doubts too.

Last week, in my sermon, I mentioned that I am often asked the question, “Do I believe that God raised Jesus from the dead?” My answer was another question (something I hate having done to me): “why not?’

But the fact is, yes, I do doubt sometimes. Did God raise Jesus from the dead? Will God raise us from the dead one day?

Those are hard things to believe in at times.  Those are hard things to wrap our minds around at times.  But, you know what else is hard to wrap our minds around sometimes? Poetry.  And that is probably why I love all of this. Theology. The mysteries of our faith.

If we only look upon it all with skeptical eyes, it all seems so unreal. But if we look upon it as poetry—poetry unfolding in our own lives—then—oh then! Then it becomes amazing!

Yes, I will say this, this morning.  There is definitely no white-bearded male god who sits on a throne in heaven. R.S. Thomas would agree with me on that one. You know why I don’t believe in that image of God (outside of the fact that there is nothing scriptural about that image):  That image of God is not poetic.  I do not believe in a god that is so made in our image.  I don’t believe in a god that is simply a projection of our own image and self.   Who would want that god?  

The fact is, the God we believed in as Christians, the God of Jesus, is not like that.  That God is not that easy to quantify.  That God is not that easy to pin down and define. In that sense, God—and understanding of God—is truly like a poem. There are layers and nuances to it all.

So, who is this God of Jesus?  Who is this God we believe in?  Maybe it is the God of our creeds.

When I am done with this sermon, we will all stand and profess what the Church believes in the Nicene Creed that lays out quite clearly what it is we believe as Christians.  That Creed is not easy. It’s actually quite complicated. In it, we say we believe in complicated things like the Incarnation, the belief that, in Jesus, God has become actual flesh and blood. Or to use the words of the Creed:

We believe that Jesus is “God from God, Light from Light,/true God from true God…”

(Poetry)

Or the Resurrection.   We say in the creed that we believe that Jesus having been murdered ‘[on] the third day…rose again…”—in his flesh and blood.

Whether we believe these things literally or metaphorically or, as R.S. Thomas would say, mytho-poetically (I kinda like that!), we are saying more than anything else, we are trying to understand God and how God works in our lives and in our history.

If we approach our creed too rationally,  it will boggle our minds. But….if we approach our creed as a poem, then, it comes alive for us.

Do we literally believe these things? I don’t know if you do or not. But this is what I do know:  beneath all these words and images and concepts—within the very poem that is the Creed—there is something good and pure.  There is a God who reached out to us in the person of Jesus. There is a God that this person, Jesus, saw as a good and loving—a God who cares for each of us. And in the life of this person Jesus, God did some great things. And we believe that because God did great things in the life of Jesus, God does continues to go great things in our lives.  We believe because we know, in our hearts, that there is truth somewhere in all of this.

That is why the poem of Creed speaks to us.  We know something amazing really did happen and that because it did, life is different—life is better, despite everything that happens.  We didn’t see Jesus while he was alive and walking about.  We didn’t see first-hand how God worked in him and through him.  We didn’t see God raise him from the tomb.  

We don’t get the opportunities that Thomas had in this morning’s Gospel. Doubting Thomas, as we’ve come to know him, refused to believe that Jesus was resurrected until he had put his fingers in the wounds of Jesus.   You can tell Thomas didn’t have a poetic bone in his body—at least, before encountering the Resurrected Jesus.  Afterward, my guess is that he became very poetic.

It wasn’t enough that Jesus actually appeared to him in the flesh How many of us would only jump at that chance? For Thomas, Jesus stood there before him, in the flesh—wounds and all.   And only when he had placed his finger in the wounds, would he believe.

But, the fact is, for the rest of us, we don’t get it so easy.  Jesus is probably not going to appear before us—in the flesh.  At least, not on this side of the Veil—not while we are still alive.  If he does appear to you—in any shape or form—please let me as your priest know.

The fact is, we are not going to have the opportunity to touch the wounds of Jesus.
 To believe without seeing, is not easy.   It takes work and discipline.  A strong relationship with God—this invisible Being we might sense, we might feel emotionally or spiritually, but we can’t pin-point—takes work—just as any other relationship in our life takes work.  It takes discipline.  It takes concentrated effort.

Being a Christian does not just involve being nice on occasion.   Being a Christian doesn’t mean just being ethical and moral.  Being a Christian means living one’s faith life fully and completely as a Christian.  Being a Christians means being a reflection of God’s love, God’s Presence, God’s joy and goodness in the world. Being a Christian means being God’s poem all the time.  

And when we do that, God is present among us.  We can’t prove it.  We can’t quantify it.  But we know it.  And we feel it.

Now, for Thomas, he saw.  He touched.  It was all clear to him.  We don’t get that chance. Thank God, we don’t get that chance!

 “Blessed are those who believe but don’t see,” Jesus says this morning.

We are those blessed ones.  We are the ones Jesus is speaking of in this morning’s Gospel. Blessed are all of you. You  believe, but don’t see.

Seen or unseen, we know God is there.   And our faith is not based on seeing God here in front of us in the flesh or proving the existence of God, or finding scientific proof for the Resurrection.  Because we have faith that one day, yes, we will see God.

Yes, God will raise us, like Jesus, up from our own death.  Because Jesus died and was resurrected, we too will die and be resurrected by Jesus’ God. What comes after that…again, we don’t know. The poem of our lives will continue, though. At least from what we see in the resurrected Jesus, it will be wonderful.  And that wonderful reality awaits us too. That is where our hopes lie. That is the true Easter hope and joy.

Death is not the end. It is, in fact, only the beginning.

Blessed are we who believe but don’t see now.   The Kingdom of Heaven is truly ours. 



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