Today, I had the pleasure of worshiping with the Anglican Episcopal Student Fellowship at Harvard Divinity School. Here is the sermon I shared.
Collect (summary prayer)
Almighty and everlasting God, who in the Paschal mystery established the new covenant of reconciliation: Grant that all who have been reborn into the fellowship of Christ’s Body may show forth in their lives what they profess by their faith; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
Acts 4:32-35 (no private ownership among the disciples)
Psalm 133 (“how good and pleasant it is, when brethren live together in unity”)
I John 1:1-2:2 (“If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves”)
John 20:19-31 (Doubting Thomas; “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe”)
[NB: the NRSV reads “the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews.” While this is an accurate translation, it invites misinterpretation. The Galilean disciples had locked the doors for fear of the people of Judea, the country around Jerusalem, in which they were foreigners. It has nothing to do with the religion of the people in question – Galileans and Judeans, Jesus’ followers and Sadducees and Pharisees all worshiped the God of Israel.]
We limit not the truth of God (H82 629)
Now the Green Blade Riseth (H82 204)
I love preaching on doubting Thomas.
And I love preaching on skeptical Christianity,
so I looked back and, surely enough, I preached here
on Easter 2 last year.
So I might have to come up with something new to say.
Not that a good sermon does not bear repeating, now and again…
Last time, I preached on what we do not know,
even though some people think we do.
This time, I want to preach on what we do know,
though many think we don’t.
I want to preach on forgiveness,
how and why and to what end it works.
Forgiveness may be the hardest of the Christian disciplines,
and I call it a discipline quite intentionally.
It is a blessing and a gift, a grace and a joy,
but above all, it is something very difficult we strive for,
What is forgiveness?
It is the other side of metanoia, repentence.
It is granting someone else the opportunity to change their mind,
to change their very self,
in relation to you and to the world.
Forgiveness allows others to change.
It appears most starkly when we forgive our enemies.
We meet it in that context.
Someone has done something awful,
torture and crucifixion come to mind.
and the public
in first century Judea
made it quite clear
the kind of relationship they wanted with Jesus.
And Jesus forgave them.
It can be more complicated, though.
Pilate and Herod both wanted something from Jesus,
I can’t be certain what,
though many preachers have speculated.
They were unable to forgive Jesus
for not filling in the other half of a relationship they wanted:
Messiah, or subject, or hero, or politician.
Judas, I think, was unable to forgive Jesus
for not living up to Messianic expectations.
Thomas was unwilling, unprepared I suspect,
for the universe to be other than he thought it was.
We do it all the time;
we curse and lament,
when people don’t conform,
when the universe doesn’t conform,
indeed, when we ourselves don’t live up to our own expectations.
We call it forgiveness when we allow someone else
to be other than we thought they were.
Jesus asked God to forgive
the authorities and the public for not being
good creatures, good children.
It was a sad thing,
but I don’t think it came with the judgmental baggage
so often associated with forgiveness –
the passive aggressive addendum.
It’s okay for you to be what you are,
but you’d be better if you weren’t.
It’s okay for you to change,
but I’d love you even more, if you’d change back.
We meet Jesus after the resurrection,
in this strange space.
Have you never wondered that Jesus does not pull Peter aside
and say “I told you so…”
or perhaps, “what was up with you and Elsie…
“she asked if you were with me
and you said what?”
Have you never wondered that Jesus
does not start the conversation with,
“where were you?”
I don’t think for a minute
that forgiving and forgetting are the same thing.
Hopefully at this point in seminary,
you’ve all dealt with that question already.
Forgiveness that forgets is not love.
Why would you forget something about the person you care for?
Forgiveness means dealing with them as they are,
and accepting, if not approving the choices they made.
Forgiveness requires us to adjust
to this new situation,
this new world,
in which the person we care about has made
a different choice than the one we hoped for.
Often it was a bad choice – and all of us live with the consequences.
Sometimes it was a good choice – we just haven’t realized, yet.
Both are the same.
Both are opportunities for love, listening,
and working for a new equilibrium.
Forgiveness is so difficult, because it is never over.
Forgiveness is never complete.
It is not a fixed state, in which we rest,
but the kingdom come,
a perpetual act of hope.
The story of Thomas makes the most sense in that context.
The juxtaposition of peace be with you,
forgiveness of sins,
and blessed are they who have not seen
and yet believe.
We want to make Jesus comment,
another form of passive aggressive forgiveness;
it’s what we have come to expect from one another.
“Yes Thomas, I’ll give you special treatment
because you are a disciple, but if you were a true disciple…”
We must not take this step.
Thomas’ lack of faith is as nothing
compared to the lack of faith
Peter and the disciples showed in the Passion.
Perhaps in the Gospel of John,
we can claim that John stuck with Jesus to the end;
most accounts say no one did.
In the wake of that betrayal,
what does Jesus do?
He says, “Peace be with you.”
He shows them his hands and his side.
There’s meaning in that.
They saw what was done to him.
It’s not a pretty story.
He gives them a task.
In short, Jesus builds a new relationship.
This is the discipline of forgiveness,
we must learn to keep up with people,
when they fail to be the people we expect.
We must learn to reach out to people,
no matter how far away they seem.
It would be hard enough, just doing this,
but the task is made more complex by ignorance.
We live in a world where few people understand
love and forgiveness.
They know these words,
but they associate them with completely different concepts.
Some think of love as desire, friendship, or abandon –
all worthwhile, but not truly love.
Others think of love as lust, possession, or manipulation.
Some think of forgiveness as balance keeping or strategy.
Others see it as obliviousness or harming the self for the sake of another.
True forgiveness must be demonstrated
to be understood.
It was in showing up after the crucifixion
that Jesus gave us this gift.
It was in arriving without recrimination,
still bearing the scars,
and still wishing them peace,
that he taught us what it means to be Christians.
Desomond Tutu has a great book
called No Future without Forgiveness.
It tells tales of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission
in South Africa at the end of Apartheid.
It gives concrete examples.
I could tell you of the constancy of my family and teachers
through my own trespasses,
but I suspect each of us has to work this out
So many of the things that need forgiveness
are trespasses others do not even recognize,
slights and expectations
that seem so rational when we analyze them
and yet profoundly affect us.
So many of our blessings and hopes
We must learn that no one, not even ourselves,
live up to our expectations,
and live with that knowledge.
“Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for,
the conviction of things not seen.”
Our faith in God is a following,
not a staying in place.
I am a skeptic, because I do not trust authorities.
Above all, I do not trust the Lucas Mix of 24 hours ago.
He was a wise and learned man,
but he had some serious blind spots.
Best not to put too much trust in him.
I owe that man, the same trust and faith
I owe to each of you:
To listen charitably, to learn where possible, and to forgive.
The Holy Spirit is too busy working
for us to capture her in one moment.
Jesus is already on his way to Galilee.
Neither he, nor we, can carry the weight of past expectations.
They get in the way of genuine memory,
genuine trust, and hope.