Can We Trust God?
Second Sunday of Easter - Glebe-t James United Church
Acts 4:32-35 John 20:19-31 The Rev. Dr. George Hermanson
Jesus’ appearance to Thomas is one of the most challenging stories in the Bible. Thomas’ simple statement; “Show me” echoes down the ages and compels us to examine the basis of our faith, just as he examined his. We hear it in the phrase, "show me the money." He has been criticized as the doubter, the one whose faith was not sufficient to the task of believing in the resurrection. However, to call Thomas a doubter is to miss the point of the story. I find in Thomas a person of modern sensibilities and one who can serve as a model for our own questions of faith. It is more a question of trust. What is it that we can trust? Without trust it is hard to act.
We know our daily life is based on trust. We trust the other to stop at the stop sign. We trust people to drive slowly through a school zone. We have signs to tell us to do that, but it is still a matter of the person being willing to agree. All the police in the world will not make us slow down. To demand more police, to slow traffic down, will actually foster what it is intended to overcome, reinforcing the public mistrust the laws seek to remedy.
Freedom demands cooperation, and that means mutual trust. This is to see the other not as an other but as a person, that the stranger and those different are part of our community. It is to transcend us and them, to us. This is essentially a religious question. For it is a question of moral leadership.
Now Thomas is our connecting point. For we are like him. We stand with Thomas. We are the community of John's time, a minority in our hostile culture. We are the church that is reforming and struggling with how it will be the church."Show me the money," is the expression when we express skepticism about the truth of someone's statement. Where we really do not have trust in the witness. Before we commit ourselves to something, we want to know whether it will work thus worth the energy or commitment.
William James writes about first hand and second hand faith. While important second hand faith does not give us the energy for action. It is first hand faith that builds trust and energy for the flourishing of life.
We share the same issues with Thomas. He wanted first hand faith. Like him, we don't want second hand faith. It is not good enough for the flourishing of life. Nor did he want blind faith, for that is too easily misused. Blind faith does not encourage us to probe the surface reality we experience. Blind faith allows to cruise through life without really living its joy and danger. Blind faith appeals to our prejudices or ideology or the way things are without questioning.
Thomas wanted the experience of deeper vision or sight. We see this in the play on the words seeing, touch, thrust. He wanted to access the inner workings of reality. Like Thomas we, too, want a real experience of God. Like Thomas, we want to access that experience of God, the experience we need to change our perception about what is real.
The three easy-to-miss words mark the fact that this story will not end in a feeble spasm. Instead, the momentum Thomas will bring the burgeoning Christian movement will be far-reaching. Think of the tradition of Thomas founding churches in India.
"After eight days," the text notes, Christ appeared to Thomas. References from the Old Testament encourage us to consider the divine blessing and commissioning that occur on the eighth day. The eighth day is the fulfillment of priestly ordination, the day for dedication of the firstborn, a day to mark in circumcision the covenant relationship, a day of gratitude and offering. Could it be that Thomas will be marked on this eighth day and commissioned for service?
When Thomas has his closed-door encounter with the raised Christ, unbelief isn't the issue. Perception is. He applied critical faith.
Critical faith is based on trust in God. It is first hand faith. It is to have faith that God is working toward beauty and the good, and will not turn aside from this task. God is dependable. Critical faith knows we can deepen our faith by asking critical questions of our tradition and inherited belief statements. Critical faith knows that all life is lived in faith. We know this by the language we use. We speak of optics or the lenses; templates; models; patterns; metaphors; and myths. Such images tell us we have a faith statement that guides us in our search for truth.
We do that in living by practice, by living in new ways, thinking new thoughts, imaging new reality. This is critical faith. We can test the truth of God by the walk of faith. We can test the truth of our faith by how we live.
If we truly believe that Jesus preached an inclusive kingdom where God loved all of creation then that will concretely change the way we live. The experience of Risen Lord brings a new, second creation to those whose animating spirit has been blocked, thwarted, or disillusioned. We are in wonder so we live with wonder.
God is here, in present reality and when we let that guide us, God will become even more present in our living. God is related to all that now is, touches all living in this moment. God is not only related to all the past and present, God opens the future. Resurrection is the statement that God is faithful to us and God has chosen us.
To begin here is to see a Mystery of love so deep and compelling that we cannot escape it, even when we deny it. This mystery of Grace that affirms us and trusts our free human will. God is faithful and has chosen us. It is to know we are acceptable. This is the ground of moral leadership, for we are called to be witnesses to God's grace so that when others look at us they can take courage. If we live that vision, we become a beacon to others.