THE B-WORD - A SERMON AND REFLECTIONS ON ACTS 4:32-35, 1 JOHN 1:1-2:2 AND JOHN 20:19-31 - REV. JOSEPH C. ALSAY, ST. AUGUSTINE OF CANTERBURY EPISCOPAL CHURCH
For many, Christianity is all about a set of beliefs that people need to mentally check off. The required ones would probably be: the resurrection of Jesus; the full divinity and humanity of Jesus; the Trinity; the virgin birth; the Sacraments; life after death. If you have some doubts and can’t fully sign on to these beliefs, you are not a Christian.
So, is there room for doubts and questions?
This congregation says that you are welcome here wherever you are in your spiritual life. Even if you struggle with organized religion. We say that we are open to questions and issues of faith and doubt.
Many people eventually face a crisis of faith. They realize that they have outgrown the belief system they had when they were a teenager. They may have been raised in a religious system that didn’t allow room for doubt or questioning. And as adults they simply can’t sign on to the kind of belief they were taught when they were young. Instead of struggling with their questions and letting the process led them to a different and possibly a deeper faith, they throw it all away. It makes me sad.
You can understand how people get fed up with organized religion. So often it can come across as having all the answers and leaving no room for doubts or querying. Sometimes the scariest people are the ones who are so certain that they have all the answers and that everyone else is wrong. You can’t discuss anything with people like that. Their minds are made up.
That’s the place Elaine Pagels was at with the church.
Elaine Pagels who is a professor of religion at Princeton; biblical scholar; and has written extensively on the early Church and the Gnostic Gospel of Thomas was jogging on a Sunday morning and decided to stop in a Manhattan Church. The previous night Elaine had been sleepless with fear and worry. Her two-and-a-half-year-old son Mark, had already faced open-heart surgery. She and her husband had just learned that Mark had pulmonary hypertension and may only live a few months or a few years.
But when she walked into a church service in progress- a Sunday assembly- she was moved. Moved by the soaring music by the prayers, moved by the ritual. She sensed that this community honestly acknowledged that which we cannot control or imagine. That it embodied hope. And somehow that made the presence of death bearable.
Elaine returned to that church. Not to sign on to a set of beliefs. Rather, in that place her defenses fell away, exposing storms of grief and hope. There she gathered new energy. There she resolved to face whatever awaited her son, her husband, herself and rest of the community.
It’s on this Second Sunday of Easter that our gospel includes the story of Thomas and his doubts about the resurrection. He needs proof. He needs evidence in order to believe. The proof is in the pudding…. Right?
That’s why I love Thomas. Because he is willing to do the hard work. The searching, the seeking, the struggling.
Blessed are those who have not seen and have yet come to believe.
As the risen Christ comes among us with words of peace and reconciliation. We see and hear this Word of life. We touch it with our hands. Christ appears in word and water, in bread and wine, and in the community gathered around these signs. The first disciples saw the nail marks in his hands and side, and they came to believe.
We too see Christ made known in our wounds and in the world’s pain and suffering.
When Elaine Pagel’s son suddenly died at age six, the community offered shelter along with words and music. Somehow it bridged an abyss that seemed impassable. With faces wet with tears, with hugs, and with resurrection hope came forth.
Even amid our doubts, we confess the “B”-word: I believe!
~Rev. Joseph C. Alsay, St. Augustine of Canterbury Episcopal Church
Various Clergy and members of St. Augustine contribute to authoring the blog on a variety of topics.