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Sunday, April 22, 2012

While in their joy they were disbelieving....

Agnus Day
“While in their joy they were disbelieving and still wondering….” Luke 24:36-48
Easter III – April 22, 2012 - St. George’s, Harbeson, DE
(the Rev’d Dr.) Elizabeth Kaeton

In these three weeks since Easter Day, we’ve been hearing a great deal about the Resurrection. Last week, as we often do after Easter, we heard the Gospel story about Thomas. St. John takes great pains to make sure to tell us that Thomas actually put his fingers into the wounds of Jesus before he would believe. John wants to make sure that no one has any doubt that this is the real, full bodied, fully resurrected Jesus who made this appearance.

This week’s gospel brings us the story of Jesus appearing to the 11 disciples. Luke takes great pains to make sure that we know that it is the actual, physical presence of Jesus, complete with wounded hands and feet. Jesus invites the 11 to touch his flesh and bones – “….for a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have,"  he says.

As if that weren’t enough, Jesus asks a very human question, “Have you anything to eat?” Luke reports that they gave him a piece of broiled fish and, in their very presence, he took it and ate it.

So, the case is being made. Carefully. Meticulously. See? Jesus is not some “Johnny-Come-Lately” faux Messiah like those who were all over ancient Israel at that time. Jesus is the Real Deal, the real Messiah, because he was really resurrected. No, really. Really Resurrected. In his whole body. Complete with identifiable wounds. And, an appetite.

And, what are the words we hear applied to those who witnessed the Resurrected Jesus? Here are a few: Astonished. Startled. Terrified. Frightened. Doubting. Joyful. Disbelieving. Wondering.

If you listened to the words of this morning’s gospel account of the Resurrection and found yourself astonished or startled or doubting or any one of those things, you can take heart. You’re in good company. So were the apostles.

As for Jesus, well, he seems completely nonplussed by the “disbelief and wonder” of the apostles. While it seems Very Very important to the disciples, it does not seem to matter much to Jesus whether or not you believe in his resurrection. Indeed, he seems more concerned about getting something to eat than anything else.

I’ve discovered that so much of what some parts of the Christian church want us to believe is so unbelievable as to challenge your faith.  Indeed, there are some Christians who make things like the bodily Resurrection of Jesus – or the Virgin Birth, or the inerrancy of Scripture – an acid test for “true Christianity”.   

Either you believe them or you’re not a “Real Christian”.

I’ve actually been told this, just recently. At the Giant Supermarket. In the frozen food section. 

One woman informed me that she believed that I’m not a “Real Christian” because, well, for one thing, I don’t believe in the inerrancy of Scripture. 

I believe the bible is a guidebook, not a rulebook. 

Well, apparently, I flunked the test and I suppose I’m in danger of having my baptismal certificate revoked. I’m waiting for the knock to come on my door any day now.  She actually asked me if I, like Thomas, needed to put my hands in the side of Jesus before I believed. 

I said, No, I have faith in God so I don’t have to prove my belief in what you believe. I thought she was going to slug me. Or, have a heart attack. Thankfully, she walked away. In total disgust.

Here’s the thing: faith is not the same as belief. 

Indeed, there is a distinct difference between belief and faith. For me, belief is a principle, a proposition, or an idea that is accepted as true. The Resurrection, for example, is a belief that is accepted by many Christians as true.

Faith, on the other hand, is the confident assurance in the character and nature of God; a strong or unshakable belief in something, without proof or evidence. You don’t need to have a set of beliefs in order to have faith, but it helps to have faith when listening to what others want you to believe about God or Jesus.

One of my favorite stories about belief and faith comes from Astronaut Jim Lovell who flew as captain of Apollo-13. Some of you may remember the movie about that flight which featured Tom Hanks. 

Lovell was once asked by a TV reporter: Is there a specific instance in an airplane emergency when you can recall fear?

Thanks to Google, I’ve found the transcript of Lovell’s response. This is what he said: 
Uh well, I'll tell ya, I remember this one time - I'm in a Banshee at night in combat conditions, so there's no running lights on the carrier. It was the Shrangri-La, and we were in the Sea of Japan and my radar had jammed, and my homing signal was gone... because somebody in Japan was actually using the same frequency. And so it was - it was leading me away from where I was supposed to be. And I'm lookin' down at a big, black ocean, so I flip on my map light, and then suddenly: zap. Everything shorts out right there in my cockpit. All my instruments are gone. My lights are gone. And I can't even tell now what my altitude is. I know I'm running out of fuel, so I'm thinking about ditching in the ocean. And I, I look down there, and then in the darkness there's this uh, there's this green trail. It's like a long carpet that's just laid out right beneath me. And it was the algae, right? It was that phosphorescent stuff that gets churned up in the wake of a big ship. And it was - it was - it was leading me home. You know? If my cockpit lights hadn't shorted out, there's no way I'd ever been able to see that. So uh, you, uh, never know... what... what events are to transpire to get you home.
I think faith is the algae in the baptismal water – it’s that long, phosphorous green light that gets churned up in the wake of a big ship and leads you home in the darkness even though you are like those early 11 apostles:  Astonished. Startled. Terrified. Frightened. Doubting. Joyful Disbelieving and Wondering. 

As Verna Dozier, that incredible saint of The Episcopal Church who did so much to educate the laity and clergy of this church, once said, "Don't tell me what you believe. Tell me what you do about what you say you believe."

So, not to worry if all this talk of the bodily resurrection of Jesus confounds or confuses you. And, not to worry if you find that you can’t yet fully believe in this belief which is held so dear by so many who consider themselves “true” or “real” Christians. 

You are a "real Christian" by virtue of your baptism. Don't let anyone tell you any different. 

As Patrick Overton once famously said about faith: “When we walk to the edge of all the light we have and take the step into the darkness of the unknown, faith teaches us that one of two things will happen. There will be something solid for us to stand on or we will be taught to fly.” 

And, I think, that’s really the point of the Resurrection: to fly into faith, believing and trusting in God.   



Bill said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Kirkepiscatoid said...

Oh, Lord, Elizabeth. What a thing to have to deal with in the grocery store. Those folks don't like my answer to "are you saved?" either. "Yeah, I was saved 2000 years ago on a cross on a hill in Jerusalem. And you?"

I preached today on the five E's in this story...

Encounter (they encounter Jesus)
Explanation (they have none)
Eating (Jesus proves he's real by eating in their presence)
Enlightenment (when they realize it's him they can hear what he's telling them)
Exit (he exits to fulfill the Scriptures)

That is sort of what we do, too, when we encounter the risen Christ. We encounter him, we have no explanation for why we want to grow in this relationship, we eat from it (and we turn around and feed others, too), we become enlightened, and we exit to continue to fulfill the scriptures. We are still charged to help fill the world with God-stuff.

Bill said...

Elizabeth writes: “Here’s the thing: faith is not the same as belief.”

That fits in quite well with some recent reading.

In “Christianity After Religion” by Diana Butler Bass, she quotes Harvey Cox in dividing church history into three ages: The Age of Faith, The Age of Belief, and the Age of the Spirit.

The Age of Faith runs roughly from the time of Christ until approximately 400 CE, where Christianity was understood as a way of life based upon faith (trust) in Jesus.

Between 300 and 400 faith was displaced by an increasing emphasis on creeds, beliefs and an ever thickening catechism, “replacing faith in Jesus with tenets about him”.
Cox argues that the Age of Belief lasted some fifteen centuries and began to go into decline about 1900.

Since 1900 it has hit the proverbial slippery slope.
“If the Age opf Faith was a time of “faith in Jesus” and the Age of Belief a period of “belief about Jesus” , the Age of Spirit is b est understood as a Christianity based in an “experience of Jesus.” “The Age of Spirit is non-dogmatic, noninstitutional, and non-hierarchical Christianity, based on a person’s connection to the “volatile expression” of God’s Spirit through mystery, wonder, and awe.”

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Bill - Harvey Cox is the absolute WORD on this stuff. Thanks for your post.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Kirke - Will you post that sermon? I'm sure it was very well received by the Presbys who love that sort of stuff.

Kirkepiscatoid said...

Just posted it to my blog!

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Thanks, Kirke: You can find it here:

Kirkepiscatoid said...

Yeah, and notice I've lifted that phrase "Jesus' high school graduation picture" from someone I know who is a fine sermonizer. LOL

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

I did note that, Kirke, with a loud chuckle. Good sermon. Y'all should read it.

Bex said...

The sermon I heard yesterday included the phrase, "Jesus asking for a fish sandwich," which totally cracked me up.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Bex - I was sorely tempted to do the same.....;~)

MarkBrunson said...

What we get, down here, is what I call the Hare Christnas, asking you "Have you found JAY-zus?!" in the mall, and such.

Last one, I said, "Yeah. He's over in the food court gettin' a falafel."

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Love it, Mark.