Visions and Appearances
Second Sunday of Easter - Year B
April 23, 2006
Second Sunday of Easter - Year B
April 23, 2006
Let us pray: Guide these words O God, that they may help us to know you more clearly, and that they may lead us to understanding the challenge you hold for us as your people. Amen.
Did you hear the winning contribution to the annual Poetry Face Off sponsored by CBC Radio? It was announced this week, a contribution from Michelle Muir, an educator, storyteller, lecturer and poet from Toronto. I was really hoping I could find a copy of it to read from this morning, but it seems that the CBC keeps it closely guarded for later publication in an anthology of all the entries in this year’s competition. Instead, if you didn’t have a chance to hear it, you will have simply have to live for a while with my inadequate description of it. Poets this year were required to write on the theme of Irrestibility, and Michelle Muir took up the challenge by writing an invitation to people to come and visit her “Planet Irresistible” - a place of inclusion where people live together without guns and violence and with acceptance and respect. You really have to hear her read it to understand the full power of her work. So, if that sort of vision interests you, or if you just want to hear a powerfully delivered work of poetry, listen to CBC Radio over the next few days and weeks. I’m hoping there will be other opportunities to hear Ms. Muir and her winning entry.
I guess if I were to attempt to sum up the vision presented in “Planet Irresistible” it would be something like the ones we heard in two of our scripture readings this morning. How pleasant and harmonious when God’s people live together says the Psalmist in Psalm 133. And Luke in describing the early Christian community tells how 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.
Of course, we would not go too far into a discussion of such alternative world views without the word “utopia” coming into the conversation. “Great to imagine, but impossible to achieve” would be the familiar refrain. The doubters say that the dream is impossible to accomplish. But does that mean we should stop dreaming?
Contrast “Planet Irresistible” and the visions of a new world order described in Acts and Psalm 133 with the story presented in our gospel passage today. Here doubt is paramount as a theme. Thomas needs to see things for himself before he will believe.
It seems to me that Thomas is a symbol of a divide that exists within the Christian community. For one group within the Christian expanse, he represents the skeptical, unfaithful, non-believer, a person who does not quite make the mark because he can’t believe without proof. But in the group in which I most often find myself, Thomas is a hero - the doubter who legitimises all our own doubting.
In my circle, doubters are heroes. We ironically take as a creed this anti-creedal statement from yet another poet, Alfred, Lord Tennyson “There lives more faith in honest doubt, believe me, than in half the creeds.” Of course there is truth in this statement. Of course there is room for doubt in our faith. One might even say that faith is built on doubt.
But when it comes to those who cast doubt on our visions of a new world order, it seems to me that we change our tune. Here doubt is seen as a flaw. “What is wrong with dreaming”, we ask, “of the kind of world we would like to see, even if the road to get there is full of barricades and dead end detours?”
The gospel is one which always challenges us to think in new ways. It is never a static place. It is never a destination. That does not mean that we never see the place where it leads. We need the guiding vision within sight to give us direction, but I am convinced that if we ever think we’ve arrived then we need to think again.
I almost said, “Amen”. I wanted to end there - believing that I had made my point - that if doubting is good in one situation then it must be accepted in others as well. But something kept telling me to say more - almost in a confessional frame of mind. They say that the best sermons are best preached to oneself. And that’s what was happening to me this morning. I was hearing the same message that I was trying to convey to you. It should ever be thus. The gospel should always challenge all of us, speaker and listener alike. The gospel for me this morning is to give up my preconceived notions about Thomas and about utopian visions of living in Christian community. The gospel was working its power in me, just as it is supposed to do. The last shall be first and the first shall be last is the way Jesus put it - and in so doing - challenged us to never rest comfortably with the status quo. There will always be those who are last. The last who are promoted to first place will be supplanted by those who were first and are now last. Do you really think that if Jesus’ vision came to be that, as the traditional fairy tales tell us, everyone one would live happily ever after? Of course not. The cynic in me says that there will always be injustice in the world. There will always be work to do to bring about justice for someone, somewhere. And so I am called to reconsider the story of Thomas - to go beyond making him a hero - which I will still do - for doubt forms a strong basis to the message that I was hearing and trying to describe for you this morning, to go beyond making him a hero and listen to the message there for me about the importance of believing without proof. It really does not stray that far from what I’ve always thought. For me, faith is the answer to questions that have no proof.
So, I was challenged to think more deeply about the message in the story of Thomas. Perhaps those who side against him have a point. And perhaps those who poo-poo the vision of community described in Acts have a point, as well. This was augmented by another niggling question that kept me busy. Last night in the intermission at NACC, where Sir John Franklin students were performing most magnificently their production of Romeo and Winnifred, I noticed a poster on the wall. It was meant as a motivation to students who inhabit the halls of the school. Dream the Possible dream it said, and the subtitle further made its point - set realistic goals. What does that say in contrast to the challenge presented by the Psalmist and Luke’s description of how the first Christians organised themselves? What does the challenge to strive for Possible dreams say to that other popular motivational quotation: Strive for the stars, they are most difficult to reach, but in the striving you reach the mountain. There’s a glimpse of God somewhere in there - and most clearly in the struggle in trying to discern between the two points of view.
And finally, that’s the way I have to leave it today - unresolved, yet rejoicing in the journey, celebrating the ambiguity, revelling in the mystery of how the gospel can speak to us - in the midst of doubt and unrealistic dreams As our song a few minutes ago paradoxically described it: “There’s a song in every silence, seeking word and melody; there’s a dawn in every darkness, bringing hope to you and me. From the past will come our future, what it holds, a mystery, unrevealed until its season, something God alone can see. Amen.