Friday, April 21, 2017

Daring to Love Again: Reflections on John 20.19-31

My colleague, the Rev'd Melanie Calabrigo, Assistant to the Rector for Saint Hildegard's Sanctuary, will be preaching on Sunday the 23rd.  We will post the audio recording of her sermon on Monday.  But in the meantime I thought I would post my sermon from two years ago, just to get your creative juices following, if you need some help doing so.

RCL Easter 2B
12 April 2015

Saint Faith’s Anglican Church
Vancouver BC

Readings:  Isaiah 65.17-25; Psalm 3; Acts 2.32-35; John 20.19-31

         In the summer of 1970, when I was seventeen years old, my father brought home the first dog to ever live in our home.  Over the years we had had cats but never a dog.  We called her Moki Ahoti, a name meaning ‘deer that wanders’ in the Hopi language.  Moki was a beautiful blue merle Australian Shepherd and she lived with my family for more than twelve years.
         When Moki died, my parents were still quite young, both in their fifties. Several friends urged them to get another dog, knowing the joy Moki had brought into our home.  My father resisted every time the conversation wended this way.  He would point out that dogs cost money in food and veterinary care.  Having a dog meant that trips had to be planned rather than spontaneous.  The list of his objections lengthened with each attempt to convince him to get another dog.
         I had been ordained by the time Moki died and lived in Denver.  On one of my trips down the highway to visit my parent, I met one of their fellow parishioners.  ‘Your dad is such a pessimist,’ he said.  ‘All he can do is find fault with the idea of having another dog.’  ‘No,’ I said, ‘my father is a cynic.’  ‘That’s what I said,’ the man replied.  ‘No, there’s a difference a real difference between a pessimist and a cynic,’ I replied.  ‘A pessimistic always assumes the worst.  A cynic is an optimist who had been hurt or disappointed and is not prepared to be hurt or disappointed again.’
         The truth of the matter was this:  my father loved Moki and her death so grieved him that he refused to go through that pain again.  He loved other people’s dogs and those dogs knew it.  But he would not let one enter into his heart in the same way as Moki, because he knew how the story would end.
         In many places today is called ‘Low Sunday’ because attendance drops after the high point of Holy Week and Easter.  Some call it ‘Thomas Sunday’ because every year we read the story of Thomas’ encounter with the risen Jesus which, according to the chronology of John’s gospel, occurred on this Sunday.  For me it’s ironic that on the Sunday when attendance drops we hear this story and its concluding words:  “Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book.  But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.”  (John 19.30-31).  Here we are, on the Sunday after Easter, with just the ‘regular folks’ for most part, ‘preaching to the choir’!
         Although Thomas figures in all four gospels and in the Acts of the Apostles, he is a more important figure in John’s gospel.  It is Thomas who, when Jesus announces that he is going to Jerusalem against the advice of all his friends and disciples, says, “Let us go also, that we may die with him.”  (John 11.16).  It is Thomas’ question that elicits one of Jesus’ most famous and difficult declaration, “I am the way, the truth, and the life.  No one comes to the Father except through me.”  (John 14.6)
         Then comes that Thursday night of betrayal followed by the Friday of trial, condemnation and execution.  By the time the drama is over, Thomas is no where to be found.  He has joined the others in hiding and is not present for the risen Jesus’ appearance to the other apostles.  When they tell him the news of the resurrection, Thomas, who is wrongly called ‘the Doubter’, refuses to believe.  Why?  Because Thomas has been so deeply hurt and disappointed by the events of Holy Week that he refuses to be hurt and disappointed again.  Thomas the Cynic won’t open the door of his heart and his hopes, even those his friends assure him that Jesus has been raised from the dead.
         ‘Been there,’ Thomas says, ‘been there, done that, have the t-shirt.  Why would I go back?’  What always amazes me about this story is that his friends will not let him go.  Given all the turmoil of the past week, it would be hard to blame them if they were to say, ‘Fine, then.  Go and sulk if you wish.  We’ve got better things to do.’  But they don’t.  Their love of Thomas, even Thomas the Cynic, will not let them abandon him to his hurt and disappointment.  And somehow they coax him to join them the following Sunday.  And we know how the story ends.
         According to tradition, Thomas travelled east and proclaimed the gospel as far as the southwest coast of India.  It shouldn’t surprise us; there were Jewish communities, many of them commercial interests, spread throughout the east and beyond the boundaries of the Roman Empire.  Thomas is supposed to have died in India and, to this day, there is a vibrant community of Christians known as the ‘Thomas Christians’.  In recent decades they have been the targets of religious violence, but they hold fast to the faith brought to them by Thomas the Cynic whose heart was warmed and whose hopes were renewed.
         My friends, I know many people who are like Thomas.  At some point in their lives they have been hurt or disappointed by the community of faith.  If we listen to their stories, these folks were often very active in their community and will speak of the place of faith in their lives.  Then something happened that led them to reject that community.  Over the years they have kept their hearts secure from the risk of being hurt or disappointed again.  It rests with us, as it did for the first apostles, to take the risk and invite these cynics, these deeply disappointed optimists, ‘to come and see’.
         Come and see what God is doing here in our small community of Saint Faith’s and those like it around us.  Here the lonely find friends.  Here the hungry, whether hungry in body or in spirit, are fed.  Here ordinary people are empowered to become extraordinary agents of God to work for the dignity of every human being.  Here God’s vision of a new heaven and a new earth is proclaimed so that we might live, as best as we able, that new heaven and that new earth in our homes, our neighbourhoods and our relationships.
         Perhaps you and I share a vocation to help cynics take the risk of loving again, of hoping again.  God knows that it is difficult sometimes to take the risk of loving another being, of loving the world, of loving oneself, of daring to hope that the world in which we live can become what God intends it to be.  But the risk is worth it.
         “God got a dog.  She never meant to.  She liked dogs, She’d liked them ever since She was a kid, but She didn’t think She had time for a dog now.  She was always working and dogs needed so much attention.  God didn’t know if She could take being needed by one more thing.  But She saw this dog out by the tracks and it was hungry and cold and lonely and God realized She’d made that dog somehow, somehow She was responsible though She knew logically that She had only set the world on its course.  She couldn’t be blamed for everything.  But She saw this dog and She felt bad so She took it on home and named it Ernie and now God . . . has somebody keeping Her feet warm at night.” [1]
         Do you know anyone who needs their feet warm again?  Bring them here.


[1] Cynthia Rylant and Marla Frazee, God got a dog (New York, NY:  Beach Lane Books, 2013).

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