Carla J. Bailey, Senior Pastor
April 19, 2009
It seems to me that spring actually arrived to northern New England last Sunday. It just swept in with its warm breezes, blooming crocus and daffodils, and tender buds. And it is certainly welcome after these long weeks of winter. You know, when the liturgical year runs its course, Sundays are always set apart as celebrations of the Resurrection, 52 Easters. So the somber weeks of Lent get a weekly reprieve for the celebration of Easter, and the prophetic themes of Advent are interspersed with the Sunday celebrations of the Resurrection, and so is Pentecost and ordinary time. Last Sunday, we added a splash of color and sound and breakfast, but every Sunday is Easter, every Sunday promises new life, every Sunday offers forgiveness and renewal and the second or third or four hundred and sixty seventh chance to begin again! Last Sunday was wonderful, but so is today and so will next Sunday be, and every six days, the Genesis poetry reminds us, all that creating and upheaval and change rests, and a new life begins. Now there’s a good reason to say alleluia.
There are two kinds of people in the world, people who say there are two kinds of people in the world and people who don’t. I couldn’t find the origin of the phrase but I could certainly find hundreds of the two kinds of people categories. Actually, when you “google” two kinds of people in the world, you get 30,900,000 hits! In the interest of brevity, let me just tell you a few of my favorites out of the first few hundred. There are two kinds of people in the world - those who make money and those who cost money. There are two kinds of people in the world - problem solvers and problem makers. There are two kinds of people in the world – Beatles people and Elvis people. There are two kinds of people in the world - those who come into a room and say, “Well, here I am!” and those who come in and say, “Ah, there you are!” (Frederick L. Collins) I like Woody Allen’s definition. “There are two types of people in this world: good and bad. The good sleep better, but the bad seem to enjoy the waking hours much more.” Or actually, according to Mary Kay Ash, there are three kinds of people in the world – “those who make things happen, those who watch things happen and those who wonder what happened.” And my favorite – there are two kinds of people in the world - and I know how to tell them apart!
With today’s story from John in mind, let me offer this observation – as tempting as it is to define the two kinds of people in the world as those for whom Thomas is a patron saint and those for whom he’s just another doom-saying, Eeyore of pessimist, the lessons of his story may be just a tad more complex than that. I have always felt a strong kinship with Thomas and with this particular post-Resurrection story. Thomas understood Jesus’ suffering and the signs of the suffering were what he needed to believe that it wasn’t all just a meaningless, heady experience. But Thomas also gives us insight into the experience of hanging on to suffering with a very tight fist. And it tells us some things about all the Christians who did not know Jesus while he was still alive, and that would be all of us.
The story the disciples told about Jesus’ appearances were not enough for Thomas. He needed to see Jesus himself, specifically his wounds, his hands and feet where the nails penetrated skin, bone, sinew and muscle, and his side where a sword laid open his flesh. Thomas could have asked to see Jesus in the breaking of the bread, as the disciples on the road to Emmaus saw him. He could have asked to hear Jesus speak, perhaps tell another of his great parables or pray with his disciples, or perform a healing miracle or exorcise a demon. Thomas might have said, until I see Jesus’ face, his eyes especially, to see if this stranger really was our rabbi, teacher, and friend, I will not believe. But those were not the identifying characteristics Thomas sought or needed. He wanted to know if the apparition of which his fellow disciples spoke was truly the one whose life had been ripped away by sword, wood, and nail. Was this the Savior of the world? the promised Messiah of Israel? Why then that agonizing, cruel, physical, bloody suffering?
A few weeks ago at a gathering of all the deacons of our church, I asked for ideas and questions they might have about their faith about which they would be interested in learning more, talking more. I asked the question, hoping to gather some ideas about future “Conversations with Carla”, but also because I don’t often get the chance to hear what’s on your minds from week to week as you live, read, listen. It was quite a list those deacons generated. I do not want to minimize the breadth of the responses by putting them into a “two types of people in the world” framework. But if we were to think of Thomas, as many do, as the patron saint of doubt, his story represents a fair population within our wonderful, thoughtful, curious, and hard-working deacons. The issue that surfaced in many ways, and with many variations but of the same inquiry has to do with the world as we know it physically, scientifically, contrasted to the world of faith. Is it ok to doubt? And how much? How does science in all of its complexity and rational process, relate to faith? Why are such stupid decisions made by people who say their decisions are based on faith? Did God create the world or did the world create God? Where exactly is the proverbial leap of faith – the edge of the chasm between knowledge and faith? And if it continues to move, that edge, is the chasm getting narrower? And does it stand to reason that knowledge will one day make belief unnecessary? Will humans, as a species, evolve out of faith altogether?
The last time I took a science course, except for the bird-watching class I had to pass to receive my liberal arts degree in college, for which the only requirement was to be up at 5, binoculars in hand, three mornings a week, was high school biology in 1969-70. And I did well in that class, only because I discovered that if you made a lot of posters, the biology teacher could use the backs of them for his other life as the football coach, using them for diagrams of plays. If I’d had a better biology teacher I might have taken a different career path, teachers being the bearers of the keys to young minds. But, as it is, I became much more interested in the ways science impacts human decision-making – how ethical decisions are made concerning science, and what is the moral framework in which scientists work. What motivates scientists? Is the drive to understand a transferable motivation? Can those who are driven to understand the physical world, be persuaded to apply that same energy to questions of will, emotion, creativity? So all those questions from our deacons that have to do with science and faith are daunting to me. Were it not for beloved Thomas, who struggled to reconcile two worlds that were, in his mind irreconcilable, mutually exclusive, or, at the very least, unrelated, I would say you need a pastor with an advanced degree in biology, chemistry, physics, AND neuro-science!
But there is Thomas, who, in this one, painful encounter with the Risen Christ, learned the reconciliation between the known world and the world of faith.
That’s what Thomas teaches us when he needed to see Jesus’ wounds. And perhaps that’s what Jesus meant when he said, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.” Maybe Jesus knew that to be alive means, inexorably, holding together within ourselves both this world and the next, life and death, bodies and spirits, the physical world and the world of God. Maybe Jesus meant that God is among, within, surrounding and infusing all physical things with life and life is, well, complex. Maybe Jesus hoped that believing in what is not visible, that is the resurrecting, living power of God, is what is required of all who would be faithful disciples.
Oh, by the way, there aren’t two kinds of people in the world. There are actually 6,774,339,065 kinds of people and one God, and, amazingly, only that one God is necessary. Amen.