The Rev. Elaine Breckenridge
Easter 2A, April 27, 2014
Listen to this….Sermon 2014.04.27 EHB
Happy Easter! Today we celebrate the second Sunday in this joyful season of Easter. We all need to be reminded that Easter is not one day, but it is in fact a season of the church year which lasts fifty days. The Great Fifty Days they are called. Easter is just beginning.
And so the Gospel reading in front of us is always a surprise every year. There is nothing joyful about it— just the opposite in fact. The disciples are huddled in fear, behind a locked door, refusing to the believe the testimony of Mary Magdalene who had seen Jesus earlier that same day. Much to everyone’s surprise, Jesus appears to everyone but Thomas. As the story unfolds, in many ways, Thomas is the focal point of the story.
Thomas. Poor Thomas, dubbed by so many as “the original doubting Thomas.” But perhaps Thomas was simply in the wrong place at the wrong time. When the Risen Jesus appeared to the rest of the disciples he was out, probably doing something practical like getting the rest of them food. At any rate, he missed that first resurrection contact with Jesus.
Do we blame him then, for not sharing the same joy and enthusiasm that the other disciples had? “We have seen the Lord! ” they exclaim. “Well I haven’t” says Thomas. Why should he take their word for it?
Thomas does not take the word of his friends’ experience to be the truth. As so he has been demeaned as a skeptic, the scientist who demanded empirical evidence as the basis for his belief in the resurrection.
The truth of the matter is that he seeks to have his own experience of the Risen Christ, and when he does, then he believes. That means this Gospel is a story about religious experience, not a story about doubt and believing. Contrary to trends in some versions of Christianity, faith is not about right answers or right believing. It is about religious practice and experience.
Karen Armstrong, arguably one of the most influential theologians in the field of comparative religion, writes often on the difference between belief and practice. She says that a believer is often defined as one who has adopted correct ideas about God and faith, making belief as the first step in the spiritual journey. And yet it is only since the Enlightenment that faith has been defined as intellectual submission to a creed. She, with other teachers of spirituality in the major religions of the world, insist that before a person can really have faith, they must live in a certain way. You must learn to live a compassionate life, transcending selfishness and come to recognize the sacred in others.
Now living a certain way would mean having a religious practice of some kind–praying, participating in corporate worship services and personal rituals, learning. In sum, it is religious practice or experience that gives rise to faith. Creeds, doctrines, theological reflection are important but they do not make us Christian.
So what does makes us Christian? Again it is doing certain things not believing certain things. And we do things like baptizing and participating in the on-going life of Christ by being faithful in the prayers and in the breaking of the bread. What makes us Christian is the fact that we live in certain ways.
And that way involves respecting the dignity of every human being, working for justice and peace, seeking and serving Christ in all persons, proclaiming the Good News of Jesus Christ in word and action. Do we do it well? Not even close. But we try to resist evil and yet when we do fall into sin, we repent, we turn again, we return home and like Thomas we learn to say out loud, “My Lord and my God”, as we experience yet another glimpse of the Risen Christ.
The Christian faith is about gift and response. This morning at 10:00 we will baptize a child. Now many people question the practice of infant baptism because they say, a child isn’t capable of belief and a child isn’t capable of making that choice.
Well therein lies the beauty of it all. We don’t choose Christ, Christ chooses us. It’s called grace. And grace is a free gift. As parents, grand parents, god-parents and as members of the church, we are simply instruments of Christ as we share the gift. Witnessing and participating in a baptism is a sign of our love. It says that today we will receive a child and we will mark him as Christ’s own forever. We will brand him with the cross of Christ in olive oil and if he is ever lost, that brand insures that he will find his way home. In baptism, he will be named, both as James and as God’s beloved child. And as he grows older, we hope that he will hear for himself that God calls him by name and invites him to make a home for himself in the church.
Now this morning at 8, I know of another person who has had the experience of being called by name. His name is Peter and this morning Peter Burkett is also receiving the sacrament of baptism. His story is a bit different than James, because he is coming to the water, fully conscious, ready to make a mature commitment to Christ. Moreover he is excited about it. Baptism for him is a choice but it is a compelling choice. Even on my first Sunday here, Peter was asking me about baptism. Talk about seeking, he wasn’t about to stop knocking on my door until I agreed to set a date for this baptism.
And isn’t it wonderful? It’s wonderful because we the people of St. John the Baptist are being presented with a unique opportunity to see both gift and response. We are on the same day proclaiming that baptism is Christ’s gift to us and so we share that gift freely as we baptize James. And we are seeing a faithful response in the commitment of Peter who will boldly say, “ I do” when asked, “Peter, do you want to be baptized?”
Today is a reminder that faith is not about believing as much as it is about living in a community of faith and becoming Christ like. And like Thomas, it is also about seeking. Those who have met the Risen Christ, do so because they have made it a habit to look. Seek and you shall find. Seek and Christ will find you. Amen.