Sermon preached April 27, 2014
Texts: I Peter 1:3-9; John 20:19-31
Here is your morning music quiz. Name this super group that made only one album together: Blind Faith, “Can’t Find My Way Home”: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IN1J5sMv28Q
Blind Faith included Eric Clapton, Steve Winwood, Ginger Baker. They made but one record together and it included this lovely song “Can’t Find My Way Home.”
Blind faith – is that what faith is all about, blind faith? Some might see that very thing in this morning’s gospel reading from John, that well-known story about Thomas. He’s even acquired a nickname – “doubting Thomas.” Thomas had not yet had the experience of the other disciples. He had not yet encountered the risen Jesus, and he was not going to take the word of others. Then Jesus appears again, and among the words he speaks to Thomas are these – “Do not doubt, but believe.”
Some Christians argue that a kind of blind faith is the essence of faith. “God said it. I believe it. That settles it.” It was a phrase I encountered in a Bible promises book some years ago. Questions were not encouraged. Doubt was dissed. One was not to ask if there might be a difference between the word of God and the words which have come to us in the Bible, or how we might discern the voice of the Spirit through the text.
Is this what faith is all about? I don’t think so. Thomas had been asking questions, reserving judgment, and he was still welcomed by the disciples. It was a week after he began asking questions that Jesus appeared to him. He was not ostracized by the disciples during that time. It seems to me if we exclude questions, we are excluding people who might just want to know a little more about this Jesus, this Christian faith of ours. I would go even further. Sometimes it takes a measure of faith to ask questions, to raise doubts. The twentieth century theologian Paul Tillich wrote in his book Dynamics of Faith: Faith includes courage. Therefore it can include the doubt about itself…. Serious doubt is a confirmation of faith (20,22).
The essence of faith in Jesus Christ, of Christian faith in God is not a blind, unthinking, uncritical faith. Yet, I would also say that faith in Jesus Christ, Christian faith in God is, at the same time, a blind faith of another sort. There are two parts to this important blindness of faith.
The first important blindness of Christian faith is well-expressed in these words of Helen Keller. The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched. They must be felt with the heart. The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched. They must be felt with the heart.
Jesus says to Thomas, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.” The writer of I Peter writes, “Although you have not seen him [Jesus Christ], you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and rejoice with an indescribable and glorious joy.”
The heart of Christian faith is a trust that things unseen are among the most important in the world. We trust that there is a God, a power in the world whose nature is love, and therefore to act lovingly is to work with the very grain of the universe. We trust that the way of life is the way of joy, genuineness, gentleness, generosity and justice. Now sometimes we see goodness being rewarded, or we see goodness being its own reward, but not always. Still we trust that the best and most beautiful things in the world are unseen, or perhaps not easily seen. We live differently because of that. We come here regularly to attune ourselves to the unseen, to listen more carefully for the whisper of God’s Spirit. We pay attention to our inner life. We live trusting that in the end what will matter most about our lives are the other lives we touched in ways that are not always visible, that are hard to describe. So there is this kind of blindness to genuine faith.
Another dimension to the essential blindness of our faith is well-expressed in these words of Albert Schweitzer. No ray of sunshine is ever lost but the green which it awakens into existence needs time to sprout, and it is not always granted for the sower to see the harvest. All work that is worth anything is done in faith. I think I have mentioned that I have for a long time collected quotes. My first notebook with quotes written in it is from high school. It had once been my “Mass Media” class notebook from my senior year. The Schweitzer quote is in that notebook. But I particularly remember the quote because I used to sometimes also write quotes on school folders, including in college, and one of my psychology professors noticed this quote one time and asked me about it. He said that he did not work that way. He really needed to see results.
I like to see results, too, but sometimes we don’t get that opportunity, particularly when we are talking about the good we may do for others. We in the church are here for each other. One of the things Jesus does is bring people together. Bishop John Shelby Spong writes, “the business of the church is to love people into life” (Resurrection, 288). That’s an audacious description of what we are about here. And sometimes we will point to places where we can celebrate where we have done just that, and many times we simply have to keep loving and hope that we are indeed loving people into life. We may never know, but we trust.
We trust that, in the words of the philosopher Alfred North Whitehead, God is one who acts with “a tender care that nothing be lost” (Process and Reality, 525 old edition). Whether we see the results of our kindness, our loving, our caring, we continue being kind, loving and caring, trusting that in God none of this is lost.
We trust that some of the best and most beautiful things in the world are unseen and yet what matter most. We trust that the good we do is never lost. In these ways, there is, indeed, a certain blindness to our Christian faith. It is not a blindness that refuses to ask questions, to entertain doubts, to look at the world. Rather our faith trusts that some things that are terribly important cannot be seen, or at least not be seen easily. So we live differently. If loving is the answer, then who’s the giving for? Do you believe in something that you’ve never seen before? – to quote lyrics from one song.
Or to put it in the words of Blind Faith:
Blind Faith, “Presence of the Lord”: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IfIcxfArHj4