|The men from Texas had questions|
It’s the second Sunday in Easter. We begin by singing our Alleluias…And a classic Easter hymn: Christ the Lord is Risen Today . We read Acts 4:32-35
32Now the whole group of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one claimed private ownership of any possessions, but everything they owned was held in common. 33With great power the apostles gave their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all. 34There was not a needy person among them, for as many as owned lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold. 35 They laid it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need.
Then the Hebrew psalm our friends from Theatre Dzieci used to frame their Passion: Psalm 133 Hinay ma tov umanayim, chevet achim gan yahad….how good and pleasant it is when brothers and sisters dwell together in harmony..as one….the banner SPSA hung to welcome B’Nai Jeshurun. And then our gospel, John 20: 19-31
19When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, (better religious authorities) Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.”20After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord.21Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” 22When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”
24But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. 25So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.”
26A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 27Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.” 28Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” 29Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”
30Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. 31But 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.
And so begin our reflection:
This series is about Rising…the ongoing process of exploring what it means to live in the Resurrection. Today we begin with Seeing is believing…
Today our guide is one of my favorite Biblical characters, Thomas. Or as he is popularly known, Doubting Thomas.. First, there’s nothing wrong with doubt. All of us from Martin Luther King, Jr., Jr to Mother Theresa know what it is to doubt. The spaces carved out inside of us by doubt only increase the depth of our faith as we move through those times.
Thomas himself is much maligned. He had his own gospel, by the way, which didn’t make it in. There was a theological style conflict between followers of John and followers of Thomas that shows up in John’s Gospel. Keep that in mind. Thomas is pretty much rehabilitated at this point. His Gospel was included in the Jesus Seminar’s Five Gospels. And Union Seminary’s Hal Taussig’s A New New Testament. Our friend Mario Biagini from the Grotowski Work Center turns Thomas’ sayings into old school gospel call and response songs. However….
Thomas Is not going to believe unless he sees, touches the marks. Words are fine, Thomas wants flesh and blood proof. For him it was Jesus’ going to the cross that made him Jesus. And here’s what’s important to me…keep seeing the images of the risen Christ we get in the Bible. Last week, Mary mistook him for the gardener. This week, the risen, resurrected Christ still has his wounds. You’d expect a flawless, perfect body, wouldn’t you? But no…because it is those wounds that make Jesus who he is. Like the voice that spoke to Mary, it is the cross that identifies him.
It’s like that with us…even in resurrection living, the wounds stay with us…they make us who we are…every experience, every hurt, every pain…it’s not about retaining a sense of being a victim, it is about knowing that even when healed, the wounds remain…they make us who we are. Jesus’ acknowledges Thomas but says blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe…which would be namely, us.
But wait a minute, is it really us? Or are we like Thomas, needing to see in order to believe? Don’t we need to see something in order to keep doing this? What do we need to, want to see?
I heard a panel of young adults talk one time about what they needed to see in a church to want to belong. The answer was quick, radical discipleship…What is that? they were asked. The answer was, I’m not sure but I know it when I see it…
All right then…
Seems to me that’s what the Acts story of the early church is all about…what is seen…listen again…
2 Now the whole group of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one claimed private ownership of any possessions, but everything they owned was held in common. 3 With great power the apostles gave their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all. 34 There was not a needy person among them, for as many as owned lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold. 35 They laid it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need.
That’s pretty explicit, isn’t it? The closest I’ve heard to it is..
From each according to his ability, to each according to his is a slogan first used by Louis Blanc in 1851 (although an earlier version of the saying appeared in Étienne-Gabriel Morelly's The Code of Nature) and popularised by Karl Marx in his 1875 Critique of the Gotha Program.
No metaphor here. That is a hard saying. How can we possibly live up to that?
What do people see here? Before we get too depressed…consider this…
Last Sunday when we served Easter dinner to the women at the homeless shelter at SPSA, there was a real dinner…table cloths, glass ware, silverware…ham…and lamb…because sister Kate Baum believes everyone deserves Sunday dinner…the other nights at the shelter the guests are served sandwiches and pizza.. What do they see when they see West-Park?
The top of our baptismal font, used when we baptized Brandon Ayala two weeks ago….came from the mother of an occupier who was returned to his life by having lived at west-park…he was lost, then found…what does she see when she sees West-Park?
Or the immigrant food service workers who had West-Park members welcome them and stand with them and help them in their struggle with Hope and Teddy on the front lines as West-Park people…what did they see?
Last week, I attended a gathering of veterans of nearly 40 years of struggle for lgbtq inclusion in the PCUSA. Across the country, hundreds if not thousands had their lives changed, their lives saved, through the witness of the West-Park session…and it’s More Light statement (see below)…what did they see? (Hope, for one thing…)
This Tuesday is a mass action called for by the Mass Incarceration Network (they meet here regularly, did you know that?) Did you know that at the 2014 PCUSA General Assembly a call to action from this church became an overtire from NYC Presbytery calling the whole church to action on this issue?
It’s easy to forget these things. So what do we need to see day by day, week to week, Sunday to Sunday to make it clear what we believe? That’s a question…what would we need to do here every Sunday so that anyone who walked in would see? Let that question live with you awhile….share your reflections with each other…
Let’s make it visible for each other so that others may see….
We concluded our service singing Dona Nobis Pacem in three languages, English, Hebrew and Arabic… Dona nobis pacem,pacem, dona nobis pacem
Sim shalom, sim shalom,sim shalom, Sim shalom aleinu
Rabu habna salamann tamman, rabu habna, salamann
It was moving to look around our circle and see our Texas visitors from last week back again. And some folks from Montana who found us on line…one was a retired long time missionary…looking for a breath of fresh air. (And I had felt anxious…been in New York City too long…)
|Visitors from Texas....back again|
Our Session met to catch up on things. Went out to get coffee and ran into our Texas visitors…the men had some serious questions about the resurrection…great sidewalk conversation.
The day would end with a flamenco singing lesson….
West-Park More Light Statement
In harmony with the General Assembly of the United Presbyterian Church, West-Park Church affirms the civil rights of all person. Further, in keeping with our General Assembly’s guidelines, this community of faith welcomes as members homosexual persons who both seek and have found Christ’s love. This local congregation will not select one particular element from a person’s total humanity as a basis for denying full participation and service in the body of Christ. Nor will this community of faith condemn or judge our brothers and sisters who declare their faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior and promise disciple- ship to Him. We affirm that in meeting each other in Christian love. God’s spirit frees us all to live and grow, liberated from the oppression invoked upon us by our- selves and others.
Within this context, West-Park Presbyterian Church reaches out to Christian and non-Christian homosexual persons with a ministry of support, caring and openness—a ministry in which the creative, liberating power of the Holy Spirit rules and guides.