Sunday, May 1, 2011

Easter 2A: Witnessing our faith

Lectionary: Acts 2:14a,22-32; Psalm 16; 1 Peter 1:3-9; John 20:19-31

I share with you today a prayer attributed to one of my favorite saints. Some of you will remember that I wore her costume last All Saints Day: St. Theresa of Avila, 16th century Spanish mystic.

“Christ has no body now on earth but yours, no hands but yours, no feet but yours,
Yours are the eyes through which to look out Christ's compassion to the world
Yours are the feet with which he is to go about doing good;
Yours are the hands with which he is to bless [people] now.”

St. Theresa’s prayer speaks to us about how we witness our faith. This kind of witness requires that we make ourselves accessible to God and be part of a faith community that keeps us grounded and fed and sends us out to serve.

In today’s story about doubting Thomas, Jesus demonstrated three very important lessons for our work as witnesses:

1) that God accepts us where we are and leads us to where we need to be;
2) that there are many ways to come to faith and many ways of being faithful;
3) that God is present in the gathered community of faith.

Thomas was a believer – a follower of Jesus. He thought he needed to touch the crucifixion wounds in order to believe in the redeeming act of God in the resurrection. But as it turns out, all he needed was to be in the presence of Christ.

Notice that Jesus didn’t get mad at Thomas for doubting. Instead, he invited Thomas to come into his presence and confront his doubt – because Jesus knew what Thomas really needed: his presence.

And no one kicked Thomas out of the disciples club for not believing right. They preserved their friendship with him, kept him close to them, and let God do the rest.

Thomas shows us that there are many ways to come to faith and many ways of being faithful.

Some people know about Jesus from their earliest childhood. Whether or not they ever “see” Jesus will depend upon how accessible they make themselves to God throughout their lives and how God wishes to work in them.

Some people will have resurrection experiences, like Theresa of Avila who saw visions of Christ in his bodily form, or John Wesley whose heart was strangely warmed when he encountered the presence of Jesus in prayer – much like those disciples on the road to Damascus.

Others will say they never experience the presence of God. They don’t “see” Jesus. To them, Jesus said, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”

In writings discovered after her death, Mother Theresa of Calcutta confessed living most of her life in a dark night – a state of feeling totally absent of the presence of God. She struggled to believe, but never stopped serving as she knew her faith called her to do.

There are many ways to come to faith and many ways of being faithful.

In our Collect today, we asked God to help us “show forth in our lives what we profess in our faith.” So we must ask ourselves: what do we believe?... and is what we believe apparent in what we do – at work, at school, at home, at the ball field, …in church?

There is a TV show hosted by John QuiƱones, called: “What would you do?” The show presents scenarios in which persons are secretly filmed witnessing such things as abuse, theft, fraud or cheating. Its purpose is to record whether or not that person will intervene to right the wrong being done, hence the title, ‘What would you do?’ Will you do something or just sit there and ignore it?

What we do witnesses our faith. So does what we say.

How many of us have been called upon to witness the basic truth of our faith to anyone – to articulate what we believe? What is our witness, that is, what do we say and what do we do when we are with someone who doesn’t believe? What is our witness when we are with someone who believes but condemns those who believe differently? What is our witness (what do we say and what do we do) when we are in the presence of someone who has been hurt or condemned by a “believer”?

On Good Friday we prayed for these very things. In the Solemn Collects (BCP, 279) our Deacon bade the congregation to pray:

For those who have never heard the word of salvation
For those who have lost their faith
For those hardened by sin or indifference
For the contemptuous and the scornful
For those who are enemies of the cross of Christ and
persecutors of his disciples
For those who in the name of Christ have persecuted others

That God will open their hearts to the truth, and lead them to faith and obedience.

…because to have faith is to believe in God, and to obey is to hear God’s will and do it. As Peter said to his listeners in Jerusalem, we are witnesses to the redeeming work of God in Jesus Christ. We are not the ones who do the redeeming work – God is.

As witnesses, we aren’t called to coerce or threaten or frighten or cajole anyone into believing. That wasn’t Jesus’ way and it isn’t ours. We are called upon to be the presence of Christ in the world today – a presence that accepts people where they are and gently puts them in the presence of God who will guide them into all truth.

That’s why I keep saying ‘Invite your friends to church.” Bring them into the presence of God we know here when we worship together, or study the Bible together on Wednesday nights, or do Centering Prayer together on Thursday nights, or partying together all the time!

We are the hands of Christ in the world today – hands that reach out to catch someone who is falling, even when that means sacrificing our own comfort for their sake.

We are Christ’s feet in the world today – feet that will go to those places where hope needs to be spoken and compassion needs to be given.

We are the body of Christ in the world today.

I ask you, therefore, to pray with me now, that as we gather today to worship God and be fed by Word and Sacrament, we will recognize and accept the grace God is offering us and allow God to make us into one body, one spirit in Christ, that we may worthily serve the world in his holy name.

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