Monday, April 13, 2015

Why do you believe in God?

Sermon for 2nd Sunday of Easter

Why do you believe in God?

Why do you believe in God?

Maybe you’ve had some mystical,

burning-bush experience like Moses.

Maybe you’ve had a dramatic conversion experience

and you can point to the difference God has made in your life.

Maybe you are struck by the beauty and grandeur of creation.

Or maybe, you were just raised that way and it makes sense to you.

Do you ever doubt your belief?

Or maybe you are one of those who find belief in God difficult,

plagued by questions and doubts.

Do you ever doubt your doubts?

In this morning’s gospel we hear about Thomas

who has been tagged with the nickname, “Doubting Thomas”.

Thomas is a lot more complex than this nickname would suggest

and some have tried to rehabilitate him and drop the nickname.

But, since our Lord himself says to Thomas,

“Do not doubt, but believe,”

I think the nickname is going to stick.

And I am glad.

I am glad there is one among the original disciples

who has a reputation for doubting.

I am glad because I am someone for whom belief in God

does not come easily.

I often feel like I have more questions than answers.

Belief is sometimes difficult for me,

but unbelief has proven impossible.

I’ll tell you why I believe in God.

I believe in God because of the suffering and injustice in the world.

I know that the suffering and injustice in the world

is supposed to be the great stumbling block to faith in God.

But, I’m just peculiar enough to find that to be the reason to believe.

Let me explain.

When I tried to be an atheist

I ran up against the reality that

to be an atheist forced a contradiction –

a contradiction between my mind and my heart.

Either I went with my mind

and followed logic to its utmost conclusion or I followed my heart.

But the two could not be followed together.

When I tried to be an atheist

and followed the logic of my mind

I was forced to admit that the beginning of all that is,

and the beginning of all that I am,

is an accident.

The end of all that is and all that I am is also

more or less an accident.

Everything in between is a meaningless series of events

suspended between two accidents.

Nothing, ultimately, has any meaning.

Nothing, ultimately, has any purpose.

All we are left with is our personal preferences

and prejudices as to what is good

and what is not.

I know that most atheists try to get around it,

but they are kidding themselves.

Albert Camus was more honest. In his book, The Rebel, he wrote that

if we believe in nothing,

then it does not matter ultimately

if we stoke the fires of the crematorium, as did the Nazis,

or if we serve the lepers in Africa, as did Albert Schweitzer.

It all comes to the same thing.

He goes on, “Evil and virtue are mere chance and caprice.”

Camus expended a lot of energy trying to face into this

and find a way to live humanly in spite of it.

But, he did so without sentimentalism

and resolutely rejecting what he considered false hope.

In the end, there is evidence that

he began to question his atheism.

The flipside of the question

“How can there be a good God

when there is so much suffering in the world?”

is the equally disturbing question,

“If there is no God – and no meaning –

why do I care about the suffering in the world?”

Why should I?

If there is no God at the heart of it all,

one can only conclude that

we have evolved ourselves into an existential cul-de-sac.

At some point in our evolution longings for meaning and purpose,

for believing there is good and evil,

were useful in our survival as a species.

But now we know that those longings

are but a trick of evolution

and baseless.

Our inclination otherwise is

only conditioned sentimentalism.

But, that is a dry and weary land where no water is

and humans cannot live there.

However much my mind might say that there is no meaning,

my heart cried out in contradiction, “No!”

My heart insisted that there is meaning.

It’s not a matter of indifference.

I began to doubt my doubts.

I suspected that my response to news about people abused,

tortured and killed

is not just a matter of my own personal preference.

Rather, the response of my heart is in tune

with the response at the heart of the universe.

That offense, the offense we take in the face suffering and injustice,

does not prove that there is a God,

but points us towards God.

More specifically,

it points us toward the God we meet in Jesus Christ

in this morning’s gospel

The disciples had responded to the call of Jesus.

They had heard his teaching and witnessed his deeds.

They had come to believe and hope

that he was the one who would redeem Israel

and through Israel redeem humanity

setting everything right.

He was the Messiah.

But, then he was arrested, tortured and crucified.

Now he was dead. Dead.

And with him their hope had died.

They were huddled in hiding with the door locked.

The air was thick with despair.

And it was thick with fear.

If they had tortured and killed Jesus,

wouldn’t they likely do the same to his closest associates?

The air was also thick with guilt.

One way or another each of the disciples had denied

or abandoned Jesus in his hour of need.

Jesus whom they had loved.

Then, beyond all imagining,

into this stifling atmosphere Jesus himself appears.

We can expect they were more than a little spooked.

Remember, they had denied and abandoned Jesus.

If this is his ghost come back to haunt them,

they might well expect him to be angry

and intent on retribution.

But, rather than condemning them, Jesus says,

“Peace be with you.”

This word of Jesus to the disciples

after all that has transpired

is an undeniable word of grace and forgiveness.

With his peace he offers reconciliation and addresses their guilt.

He gives them his Spirit

that they might be people of forgiveness and reconciliation.

That’s a God I can start to believe in.

But, there’s more.

Jesus shows them his hands and his side.

He later invites Thomas to touch the wounds.

How remarkable that Jesus returns from the grave

with the wounds remaining.

Don’t you think – if you were going to make this up –

that you’d have Jesus come back whole and without a mark?

But, he doesn’t. He comes back with the wounds.

I believe that it is more than just a means of demonstrating

that the one appearing before them

is truly Jesus who was crucified.

The wounds identify Jesus,

but they also reveal something about Jesus

and, thus, about God.

We believe that, in some sense

beyond our complete understanding,

Jesus is God enfleshed.

In taking on human flesh,

God in Christ has entered into the mess of human reality,

the reality of sin, suffering and death.

The wounds indicate that

having entered that reality he entered it to the uttermost –

abandoned, tortured, and brutally executed.

This is not “god” as an abstract idea.

The God we know in and through Jesus

has placed himself in solidarity with the reality of human history

with all its terror and tragedy.

This God is not aloof.

This God has taken on sin, suffering, and death in the incarnation

and taken them all the way to the cross.

This God bears the wounds.

This God bears the wounds of all of history.

This God bears the wounds you and I have suffered

as well as those we have inflicted.

William Temple, Archbishop of Canterbury during WWII, wrote,

"The wounds of Christ are his credentials

to the suffering race of men [sic] . . .

Only a God in whose perfect Being pain has its place

can win and hold our worship."

This is a God I can begin to believe in.

But, Jesus doesn’t simply bear the wounds.

In resurrection, he returns with the wounds transformed.

This is not a case of “Let’s pretend that didn’t happen.”

His torture and death were all too real,

as is the torture and death that have marked

so much of the human story.

A belief in immortality alone does not address this tragic story.

But, the Christian hope is not that we might simply escape

from the unhappy reality of sin and suffering.

It is not that it will all just be forgotten.

Our hope is that sin and suffering will be transformed

into the resurrection glory we see is the Risen Jesus.

The wounds are testimony that transformation.

Such a God, a God of transformation

is a God I can hope in.

In this morning’s gospel,

Jesus enters into the stifling atmosphere of the room

where the disciples are locked in fear, guilt, and despair.

He breathes the fresh air into the room

and into their hearts dispelling their fear with his peace,

their guilt with his forgiveness,

and their despair with the new hope of transformation

and new creation by way of resurrection.

He brings them new life.

And he sends them into a sinful, suffering world

to be resurrection people, new creation people –

people who bear witness to peace, forgiveness, and hope.

He breathes that same fresh air of his peace, forgiveness, and hope

into our fear, guilt, and despair.

He fills our suffering with his presence

and the promise of transformation.

He calls us to be resurrection people.

The God we know in Jesus –

a God who bears the wounds –

might not resolve all our questions or doubts.

But, if this is who we’re talking about,

I can join Thomas and say,

“My Lord and my God!”

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