I…We believe

a sermon, based on John 20.19-31, that I planned to preach with the people of Epiphany Episcopal Church, Laurens, SC, on the 2nd Sunday of Easter, April 23, 2017. However, as happens on occasion, another word was given to me, I pray and I trust by the Spirit, to share with the folk. As it was extemporaneous, I have no text of this word to post.

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In our Book of Common Prayer, among many prayers, there is one bidding that God grant a wise heart, sound mind, and righteous will.[1] This supplication, for me, expresses a common human longing for right perceiving, thinking, and acting that is the heart of the quest for truth. Truth in which we can believe. Truth on which we can stake our lives.

Who among us in our life’s pursuits, in our pursuit of life doesn’t seek to know what’s true? And who can know what’s true without knowing how it will be found? And who can know that it has been found without frequently, perhaps constantly entertaining, risking doubt?

Thomas is my ideal human being, indeed, my ideal of being human. For Thomas was a faithful doubter. Faithful in asking questions.[2] Faithful in refusing to accept the testimony of others of a “truth” outside of his experience. Faithful in his soundness of mind in knowing what would constitute proof, therefore, truth for him: “Unless I see…unless I touch”, in other words, unless I experience, then “I will not believe.”[3]

Thomas, his way of perceiving, thinking, and acting, highlights what I consider to be one of life’s inherent tensions; that simultaneous, internal counter-pull between our desire and need as individuals to think and feel, discern and learn for ourselves and, in all of our relationships and in every realm of our existence, personal or professional, to share common beliefs and concerns.

Concerning the latter, Thomas also exhibits an ideal humanity. For Thomas was faithful in more than his doubting. He wasn’t a contrarian. He didn’t doubt simply to prove he had a point of view, but rather to find truth. Thomas could have dismissed his fellow disciples’ testimony, “We have seen the Lord” as a collective sympathetic hallucination stirred by their loss and longing. He could have denied it all and continued on his path of singular, solitary grieving.

But no. A week later, Thomas rejoined his fellow disciples, choosing to put their testimony to the test. Daring to see if there was a truth with a larger “t” than his reality. Daring to see if there was a truth more than individual, but also relational. Verily, daring to question his doubt.

Doubting Thomas, Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio (1571-1610)

In his daring, Thomas saw for himself what he desired, what he needed to see. In seeing, he believed. In believing, he staked his life on it. According to one legend, Thomas proclaimed the gospel of Jesus Christ as far eastward as India; there being martyred at the point of a spear.

I treasure our individual pursuit and discernment of truth; enabling, empowering each of us to say, “I believe!” Yet, speaking specifically as Christians in community, it is equally important, I daresay necessary that we always pursue and discern the truth of God in Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit so that we, staking our lives on it unto the point of our dying, can say, “We believe!”

 

Illustration: Doubting Thomas, Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio (1571-1610)

Footnotes:

[1] The full text of the prayer For those who Influence Public Opinion (The Book of Common Prayer, page 827): Almighty God, you proclaim your truth in every age by many voices: Direct, in our time, we pray, those who speak where many listen and write what many read; that they may do their part in making the heart of this people wise, its mind sound, and its will righteous; to the honor of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

[2] See John 14.1-6a (my emphasis), where, as I read it, Thomas dared to ask aloud the question that resounded in the hearts of all the disciples: (Jesus said) “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house there are many dwelling-places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also. And you know the way to the place where I am going.” Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life.”

[3] John 20.25

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2 thoughts on “I…We believe

  1. WE BELIEVE….what a powerful end to your sermon Paul!

    I’d like to even say “We Believe” as I’m dying. I’m different from Thomas as I’ve never been a doubter, BUT I do appreciate the perspective you gave me on Thomas. That he wasn’t just doubting, he was questioning to discern the truth! He saw, he believed and then he staked his life on it. My faith is strong, and I’ve held on to it and relied on it for my entire life. I love the outdoors and all of God’s creations.

    The things that I need to confirm for myself typically involves God’s amazing works of nature. When I saw a photo of the Grand Canyon for the first time I was about 8 years old. I remember saying to myself “I have to see this to believe it!” I didn’t get to see it until I was an adult, but I got there. I remember standing there for what seemed like forever just in awe!! I said to myself “now I believe!”. I approach all of the other natural wonders that I’ve seen the same way. It makes me love God even more, because not only did he create all of us, he created some amazing places too! I’ve seen and felt God’s love and I believe! In my journey this weekend that’s just ended, I saw some amazing things – bright green frogs, huge orange fish and trees that have been alive three times longer than I have. I see God every day in people and in nature, and for that I’m grateful. We Believe…

    Thanks and much love Paul!
    Loretta

    Liked by 1 person

    • Loretta, I love the image/idea of your beholding trees that are three times older than you, leading you to marvel afresh in the goodness and grace of God! This compels me to wonder how often have I observed something that, in the same vein, might have evoked my praise of God, but I simply overlooked it and pressed on with whatever was on my schedule or agenda. You’ve given me a fresh look at moving from “I believe” to “we believe”! Thanks k you. Love

      Liked by 1 person

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