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Easter 2: Acts 4: 32-35 John 20: 19-31
Last Sunday we were celebrating the resurrection of Jesus Christ and the beginning of the transformation of his dejected band of followers into a living and thriving church.
Our reading from Acts gives us a glimpse of what is happening to the early church just a matter of months after the resurrection of Christ.
‘The whole company of believers was united in heart and soul.. everything was held in common’.
It sounds almost like a Utopian dream – everyone happy, united, caring for one another. The disciples – those who have followed Christ – are now described as apostles – those who have been sent by Christ into the world with the good news of his resurrection. And the writer of Acts tells us that they bear witness to that resurrection with great power.
It seem there is a joy and a lightness of heart in these apostles which enthuses and engages everyone around them. This gospel changes lives and makes those who hear it want to care for others around them who might be less fortunate. And because of this sharing, the apostles are able to devote themselves to continuing the work of Christ: preaching and healing in his name.
We might feel rather wry if we compare this sense of unity and purpose with the church in our day. I saw a TV programme just this last week entitled ‘Deborah, 13 – servant of God’. It showed a little of the life of a young girl who has been brought up in an evangelical Fundamentalist Christian family. She falls asleep at night listening to Creationist, anti-evolutionary theory sermons. She wants to tell other young people of her age that they are sinners and that unless they repent they are going to hell. She was a rather grim, very determined and I might say blinkered young girl.
I certainly didn’t feel much unity of heart and soul with her. But we are each Christians, we are each seeking to follow Jesus Christ. How can we have reached such different conclusions about how to live, what to believe & how to talk about what Jesus Christ shows us about the love of God?
The gospel reading is perhaps more familiar to us, and certainly more comforting to read.
Jesus appears to the disciples, who have locked themselves away in fear – and begins their transformation by breathing the Holy Spirit on them.
But Thomas is not with them, and when the other 10 (for they are also without Judas) tell him they have seen the Lord, he asks for his own proof.
A week later – the next Sunday – today – Jesus appears again and offers his wounds for Thomas’s inspection. Doubting Thomas becomes believing Thomas, even proclaiming Thomas – he goes further then any of the other disciples “my lord and my God”.
And Jesus says ‘happy are those who find faith without seeing me’. This is an important story for the on-going history of the church of Jesus Christ. Soon Jesus will return to heaven, eventually those who have seen him for themselves will die off, and what will be left will be a community which believes because of the faithful witness of others, a church which continues to exist by passing on the story of Jesus to those who cannot meet him for themselves.
What strikes me is that at no point in this story do the disciples try to convince Thomas themselves. They tell him their story, but when he does not believe no-one tries to talk him round, or even worse, to throw him out of the community of disciples because he does not yet believe as they do.
Going back to the early church of Acts, the story is faithfully proclaimed – with great power – by those who met Jesus, but no sanctions are applied to even try to discover the beliefs of others, let alone to do anything about trying to bring them into line.
The whole company is one in heart and soul – but not necessarily in belief. Somehow it is possible for this church to love each other, to share with each other, and to care for each other without falling into the trap of questioning one another’s beliefs.
There is a lesson here for me – it is not for me to question the belief and the work of that young girl. We are one in trying to follow Jesus Christ, and for the early church that was enough. The matter of what people believed, of what their own experience was fo the risen Christ, was left in the hands of Christ, not taken into the hands of other believers.
If Deborah, and others like her, believe that they are loved by God, if they believe that they should live in friendship with Christ, and if they believe that the Spirit can empower them to help others, then who am I to question how they try to follow Christ.
I am happy to bear witness to my own understanding of what God has done for humanity – but it is simply not my place to question others. Like the first disciples, I need to leave it to Christ himself to sort out another person’s encounter with the truth; then like the early church, perhaps I can learn to live in unity of heart and soul with others.
Perhaps the lesson for me can be a lesson for the whole church. I am not suggesting we pretend we are united where we are not, but perhaps we need to concentrate on what unites us in heart and soul, and try to have a more civilised debate about any divergence of belief we experience. Jesus is ready to include Thomas as one of the apostles, we cannot imagine him casting Thomas to one side because of his lack of belief.
So let us come as one to this table – where we will declare that all are united in this one bread and one cup.
For the sake of Jesus Christ and to the glory of God, may it be so. Amen.