April 8, 2018
The Gift of Faith
Acts 4:32-35; Psalm 133; 1 John 1:1-2:2; John 20:19-31
Christ is risen (The Lord is risen indeed). Here we are in the second week of the Easter season - that blessed 50 days during which we celebrate the gift of the resurrection and the gift of faith.
So remember, It’s still Easter, the time for which we were preparing throughout Lent. The greatest season in the church year, a time, during which we should be gathering to rejoice and give thanks. But sometimes we seem to discard thoughts of the miracle of Easter as we crumple up and throw out the empty packaging from Easter eggs and Easter candy.
Thoughts about this being a season of great blessing really connected with me during the week as I read and thought about today’s passage from the Acts of the Apostles.
It paints a utopian picture of the early church. I suspect it was not quite as perfect as it sounds, or if it was, it likely didn’t last a long time. But the example is compelling and instructive. While it may seem unrealistic to us today, it does give us a picture of what the Kingdom of God is all about; what Christian community should be about. It’s about sharing and living in faith.
Love and generosity seem to be the fruits of the people who came to have faith, through the witness of the disciples who had seen the Risen Lord. Faith is a gift, and like all gifts we can accept it or reject it
As I was reading the passage from Acts I experienced one of those connections that happen so often when we engage scripture. This week in the Stewardship Development Group, we were spending time studying and thinking about Planned Giving. I saw a connection between how the members of that early church community were supporting one another and the concept of Planned Giving. They were establishing a church that, so far, has lasted for 2 millennia. Planned giving is different to our normal regular offerings in support of current ministries. Planned giving is about looking to the future of the church.
As we get older we start to think more about what our life has been about. We begin to look for meaning in our lives. We start to think about whether our life has made any difference. Or we may ask ourselves ‘How will my life continue to have meaning after I am gone?’. The grandiose way of saying this is to ask ‘What will be my legacy?”
One of the things the church community can do is to ask us to think about what is really important to us. As people of faith we should be asking ourselves and one another how important our faith and our church are to us. How important has it been to have the church in our lives? How important is it to us that our church continues long after we have died?
One of the ways we can demonstrate the importance of the church to us is by remembering the church in our wills. Apparently many Anglicans don’t leave bequests to the church, not because they don’t want to, but simply because no one ever asked them, or even asked them to think about it.
But before we consider our intentions about things like our wills, we need first to think deeply about a critical question. How important is our faith in our lives? By our faith I mean our beliefs and especially our trust in God.
What I am going to say next is vitally important. If you remember only one thing from my sermon this morning remember this.
We relegate our faith to the periphery of our lives at our peril. Let me say that again, We relegate our faith to the periphery, the sidelines, of our lives at our peril. Unless our faith is central in our life, we will never become the person God created us to be. Unless our faith is at the heart of who we are, we will never discover abundant life. If we allow our faith to become a side-bar of our life we will never experience true fulfilment.
I’ll say it one final time, we relegate our faith to the periphery of our lives at our peril.
Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying we shouldn’t have doubts. I’m not saying we shouldn’t have questions, or struggle with the Gospel. We should.
That’s why I give thanks for Thomas. As others have pointed out, Thomas expresses what many of us feel at times. I could fully believe, be free of doubt, if I just had some sensory proof. If we could just see or touch Christ we would find it so much easier to believe. But faith is all about believing and trusting without physical proof. If we, like Thomas, could, see and touch the risen Christ, we would not need faith. But it is through faith that we grow. That’s what Jesus meant when he said to Thomas - “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe”. I think the really important phrase here is “…have come to believe.” Faith - belief is a process. The seed of faith is sown in us. We need to water that seed, nourish it, for it to grow.
John reinforces this point when, at the end of the chapter, he says “Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and through believing you may have life in his name”.
“That you may come to believe…and have life in his name”.
As we come to belief - as we come to faith, we discover an abundance of life. An abundance of life that can only be experienced when we have come to trust God; when we have come to know God’s love for us through the risen and living Christ.
This is why the church is so important. It’s through one another that we grow in faith. I am strengthened by your faith and commitment. My faith is nourished when we worship together, when we pray together, study together, laugh or cry together. The key here is together. We need each other. Christianity is about community. Yes, we can worship God when we are alone, we can experience God in the wonder and beauty of nature. But we are made whole by being part of the Body of Christ, by being part of this community of faith. We don’t come to be church just for ourself, we come for one-another. When any one of us is absent, we are all diminished. Keeping the faith is not easy, we need each other’s support and encouragement.
Our friend Thomas is such a comforting example for us, as he expresses the difficulty of believing. But I do have one problem with what Thomas said, and it is at the heart of our sinfulness. When the other disciples told him about how Jesus had appeared amongst them,Thomas said, “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”.
Now I understand his desire for proof - and if he had said “Without physical proof I cannot believe”, or “I find it hard to believe” - I would sympathize, it is hard. We live in an age that demands proof.
But he didn’t say that he found it hard to believe, he said “I will not believe”. And there is the problem. He decided not to believe. It was an act of will. An act of wilfulness. It’s reasonable for us to have doubts. It’s natural. It’s only human to desire proof. But it’s a serious problem when we say we will not believe - when we refuse to believe.
Fortunately for Thomas, and thankfully for us, he was granted the privilege of proof; the privilege of a physical encounter with the Risen Christ, a real gift. The gift that Thomas gave us, is that on encountering Jesus, Thomas, not only acknowledged the miracle of the resurrection, but recognized just who the risen Jesus is - as he spontaneously declared “My Lord and my God”. Thomas was the first to declare that Jesus the Christ is God! The Centurion had declared Jesus to have been the Son of God. Jesus talked about God as his Father or Abba. But Thomas declares the risen Jesus to be Lord and God. Not only is there no longer any doubt for Thomas, but through him the Good News of God in Christ has been revealed and declared to us.
And we are called to share that Good News. First with one another -strengthening each other when we experience doubt, helping one another to grow in faith. We are also called to share the Good News with the world. To do this, we need to put our faith at the centre of our lives. And to do that we need the church. We need the church - and we are called to be the church. And we should want the church to be there to support future generations, so that they too may come to believe, and grow in faith.
Let us pray for our faith in God to be the centre of our lives. Amen