Jesus says to Thomas, “Do not doubt, but believe!” But it’s not always easy to believe, for the disciple Thomas back then or for us now. You can understand Thomas’s difficulties in our Gospel lesson for today; Responding to the other disciples claimed that they had seen the Lord; that he was alive! Thomas has been through a lot: he was with Jesus at the raising of Lazarus, when a good friend dead three days was revived, brought back to life; he was there on the journey to Jerusalem, when cries of praise with waving palm leaves and songs of triumph turn to crowds calling for execution. Thomas likely was one of the disciples watching a distance from the crucifixion, watching their best hope die and not wanting to believe what they were seeing. God knows where they went after that. With that much life and death and life, blessings and betrayals all jumbled together, Thomas and the other disciples can be forgiven for wanting to hang their heads and hide.
Because sometimes faith is the last thing you want, because keeping hope alive can really hurt, because sometimes love seems to lose and you end up feeling lost. Sometimes resignation feels easier in the long run. After the pain, after the death throes, you make peace with defeat and death, you let it go, accept the fact, cut the losses, close the door. But if Jesus' back, then life opens up again! And that’s not easy to live with for Thomas; so he can be forgiven for seeming to resist hope. When you’ve been knocked down that many times, why bother to rise up again; why risk love and hope and faith?
Still Jesus meets Thomas in all his unbelief and Jesus says, “I am here in this broken body, alive after all this tragedy, a new triumph, a new life awaits.” And so Thomas takes up the burden of belief and begins again to live with the possibility of resurrection, believing and living in a world where love lives, where faith unfolds old burial clothes as it is born into new beginnings, where hope can rise up and make all things new. And Thomas reaches out for Jesus’ open, welcoming, broken hands and takes on the possibility of a life lived with new faith. And we are here to witness this and to follow in that path; and the question I want to ask today is “How do we, like Thomas, learn to live with resurrection faith?”
I want to talk about how we stretch out our faith using one imaginary page with four sides, each side with two words - eight in all: four latin words that Marcus Borg uses in his book, “The Heart of Christianity” and four english words that I’ve come up with, and to see if these eight words can open up some images and ideas to increase our personal faith, our understanding, our common ministry, as the church, the living body of Christ.
The first word Borg uses for faith is “Fiducia,” related to fiduciary, a place we can trust. He uses a wonderful image here, saying we must learn to trust in God in order to live in God just like a young child must trust in the water before they learn to swim: you have to relax into the possibility that the water, that God, will carry you.
My word here is “Formation.” The task here is learning again and again that we are formed in the image of God; and that God’s love, God’s heart, God’s hand, creates, redeems, encourages us; all that we are and all that we do, every moment of our lives. In Christian formation, through prayer, study, and sharing, we come to see and believe, that God delights in us as we are and as God calls us to be who we are.
Borg’s second word for faith is “Accensus,” related to what we assent to, say yes to, how we formulate and figure out our faith; and my second word here is “Education.” Just as in formation we learn who we are (God’s beloved), then we have to work, to study, to find out “where we come from, where we’re going, and why all the traveling” and that takes time and effort.
I joke that no one would go to the gym for an hour and a half a week and expect to get fit (although I do just that!). In the same way no one would go to church for an hour and a half a week and expect to know much about the deepest wisdom, ethical, prophetic, political, poetic, compassionate, tradition that Western civilization has ever produced. We grow muscles, dexterity, stamina and faith as we learn our part in glory of our tradition, this ancient family company that works for mercy and justice, carries healing and compassion, brings the captives home, and has for over 2000 years, and this has to be seen, read, understood, rejoiced in in order to be believed.
The third word I use in this four sided model is “Celebration.” We are here because God comes to keep us company In Jesus Christ and that’s good news, especially in times when life turns corners and takes us on a new road, when we get lonely and need company, for, quoting one playwright:
In a world where so many are alone it would be an unforgivable sin to be lonely by yourself
And every church stands as a sign that no one is alone. Jesus sees lonely crowds and feels compassion and so do we. That’s what it means to be church, the body of Christ. We come together to celebrate the Eucharist, to celebrate when a baby is born, when a couple marries, when life comes to an end: we set the space and fix the meals and tell the stories and gather the community in tragedy and triumph, in good times and bad, we honor the dignity of every human person, and we celebrate the gift of God in keeping faith, in celebrating and sharing that good news to all humankind.
The word Borg uses for this kind of faith is “Fidelitas,” We are here to keep God’s good news in growing faithful relationship with partners, family, friends and strangers who need us -- and maybe everybody needs us, needs what we have to celebrate. For as one parish put it in their mission statement: “God is love, we deliver!” And that good news has room for everyone.
Borg’s fourth and final word for faith is “Visio,’ related to Vision. We come to see better to envision more clearly, to live into our life as God’s faithful friends over time. This comes as a gift, taken up in hope and love, exercised with discipline and devotion, and leads us to a faith that works and changes and grows.
So my last word is “transformation.” because that’s what happens. When we come to see how deeply God forms and calls us, when our ongoing education open us to see what a large company of faith, wisdom and practice we are part of, when we increasingly understand the ways we are called to celebrate God’s kingdom coming and God’s will being done; then we come to realise in doing our daily deeds and sharing our daily bread, we’re slowly but surely changing the who world.
So faith in Jesus Christ can mean accensus, fiducia, fidelitas and visio; can lead us to formation, education, celebration, and transformation. This takes time and work and company and God’s good Grace; but we’re ok, because the Gospel assures us we already have that! We might worry that we’re too new or too old, but God’s truth is we have all the time in the world and quite a bit more as well. One theologian says that our Christian life is “a marinade rather than a glaze; we are being transformed by being soaked in the gospel!” So over time, letting God’s love, God’s hope, God’s faith soaks into our hearts and lives, we come to see the world the way God sees it from the start, soaked in Christ’s incarnation, teaching, healing, his gathering, in his love and his loss and his triumphs over death. Sharing this ministry and his spirit, his hands reaching out to Thomas, to us too, and Jesus asks us to live faithfully into the light of resurrection, for that is what we are called to do as God’s beloved creation, God's spirited friends, the body of Christ. Amen.