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Homilies by Rev. Andrew Collis unless indicated otherwise.

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Homily

Easter 2, Year B
South Sydney Uniting Church
April 12, 2015

Acts 4:32-35; John 20:19-31


‘Conversion Stories’

Richard Kearney, in his book The God Who May Be, considers the meaning of resurrection with reference to the many “paschal testimonies” of the gospels. He discerns three striking features:

“We do not recognise the [children] of God when they appear to us as we wander the road of life. So full of great expectations are we that we fail to see the divine in the simplest of beings: we overlook the persona in the person. Second, the embodied God cares for our physical and material being: it is in the sharing of food that the divine becomes visible. And third, rather than glorying in some kind of I-told-you-so posthumous triumph, Jesus takes his leave ... He becomes little or nothing again” (49).

Kearney then offers an encouraging word (an Easter affirmation worth repeating throughout this season of new life and meaning):

“If you are hungry and need bread and fish, ask for it and you shall have your fill. If you see a lost loved one standing on the shore and are filled with joy, throw decorum to the wind, jump into the waves, and swim to them. If someone gives you food, do not ask for identity papers or credentials (‘Who are you?’); just sit and receive. If you are wanting in body or mind crippled, despised, rejected, downcast, disabled, despondent and your nets are still empty after many tries, do not despair; someone will come and tell you where to cast your net so that you may have life and have it more abundantly. Indeed the most transfiguring thing about this God of little things is that he gives with a gratuity that defies the limits of space and time. Now he’s gone, now he’s here, now he’s gone again. Now he’s dead, now he’s alive. Now he’s buried, now risen. Now the net is empty, now it’s full. And more surprising still, the fish is cooked for us even before we get ashore and unload our nets. ‘Come and have breakfast,’ Christ says as the boat touches land” (50-51).

...

Let’s attend to our Gospel for today. It’s a familiar text and yet there’s something elusive. Hearing it again, I feel perplexed, as though I’m yet to hear it. The text appears to pull in two directions.

One reading is critical of Thomas’ disbelief and stresses the words of Jesus as words addressed to readers, to us: “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” This reading chides Thomas for his proud individualism. Alluding to John’s image of the vine as a symbol of community, it teaches: “No individual is a free agent, but is one branch of an encircling and intertwining vine whose fruitfulness depends on abiding with Jesus” (O’Day) …

Another reading, however, lauds Thomas for honesty perhaps for bravery (he is not cowering with the Ten behind locked doors when the risen Christ first appears). This reading stresses that Jesus doesn’t rebuke Thomas for knowing what he needs. It also delights in Thomas’ confession given, as it happens, without touching the scars of Jesus’ hands and side the high Christological confession of the gospels: “My Saviour and my God!”

Which reading for you today is the more compelling?God be with you …

Perhaps the two readings, the two strands, are important. A weaver might refer to the warp and weft of the story’s fabric.It’s interesting that Thomas is nicknamed Didymus or “Twin” there are two of him! The sceptical one and the bold one.

Some commentators point out that faith in the risen Christ is no simple matter. Faith doesn’t come easily for any one of the disciples, not really not for Mary Magdalene, not for the Eleven male disciples to whom she bears witness, not for the Ten who remain in fear, behind locked doors, despite seeing the risen Christ and receiving the Spirit.

Perhaps what we’re given here is not so unlike our own experiences of conversion ambiguous, dynamic, part-scepticism/timidity/pride, part-boldness/creativity/openness to wisdom. Thomas is a figure we can all relate to. Because he is honest, he can grow and change. He can assert his needs and respond to the witness of others. Can you think of an experience of conversion that conforms in some ways to this pattern?

Where are you in the process of believing and doubting, striking out on your own and drawing close to others? Have there been major shifts in your understanding and practice of Christian faith? I think of an ecumenical or catholic shift. A sacramental shift. A liberative shift. A feminist shift. A deconstructive shift. A hermeneutical shift. A phenomenological shift. An ecological shift. A vegetarian shift. These are moments of clarity, excitement, joy moments of recognition/reaffirmation “My Saviour and my God!” turning points, from which there is no turning back.

Uniting Church scholar Dorothy Lee refers to John 20 in terms of “vivid signs of the Spirit’s activity”. She sees the text as a kind of web a web of faith and life: “By identifying with the faith of Mary Magdalene, readers are drawn into the centre, where, in company with the gathered disciples, they meet the risen Christ behind locked doors, hear the words of peace, see the wounds, receive the Spirit, and are given the mandate for mission and the authority to forgive sins. The reader encounters the symbols of Easter faith and is invited to reinterpret his or her own struggle with death from a radically new perspective” (Dorothy Lee,Flesh and Glory, 226).

What I appreciate today is the space given that all might know salvation, or “life in Jesus’ Name” as John has it. The text, the fabric, the vine, the web is meant to “help”, is meant to be helpful, that all might believe the sceptical and the bold, the fearful and the courageous, the ashamed and the forgiven that all might imagine a kindom of peace, or, as we pray, a “rule of love” that “renews the earth”. There’s a Spirit at work on the eighth day!

The eighth day is today …

As we continue to seek the risen Christ in prayer, and in hearing the word and sharing at the altar-table, and in serving the broken and needy among whom he was and is so often found our faith and confidence continue to be nourished by the strange and indefinable encounters with this One who lives and yet who remains both ever-present and ever-elusive.

All of us are on a journey, and no two of us experience conversion in precisely the same way. As Thomas experienced, Jesus comes to us in our fears and responds to our doubts that we might have the faith to take the next step. And just as happened for Thomas, the conversion of our lives leads us into the mission of transforming the world, for we too, with all the uncertainty and ambiguity of our experience of the risen Christ, are the ones to whom he gives his Holy Spirit of healing and reconciliation.

In what way is your story like that of Thomas? Sharing your story of conversion, your testimony, can offer encouragement and hope to othersAmen.