Sunday 8th April 2018 Sermon
John 20 19-29
The Easter Weekend magazine had an interview done by the comedian Benjamin Law. His method of interviewing is to ask well known people their views on dicey subjects such as death, sex or religion. He rolls a dice to determine which subject. For the Easter weekend he chose to interview Kay Goldsworthy, the Anglican Archbishop of Perth and at the moment the only woman archbishop in the world. The dice rolled onto religion and one of Benjamin’s questions was “Do you experience doubt? And is that an asset or a liability for a leader like you.” Kay’s answer was ‘yes,’ and that’s a healthy thing – it’s doubt that fires us to think further. Doubt can be the beginning of searching for God’s future.
Kay is twinning with the disciple Thomas whose name means twin – perhaps because every disciple needs to be a twin in doubt. In John’s gospel we first hear about Thomas (John 11:16) when Jesus is determining whether to go to help his friend Lazarus near Jerusalem. Thomas says to the others. ‘let’s go with him even if it means we will die.’ Later when they are at table in Jerusalem Jesus speaks of his impending death and the way he will take. A worried Thomas asks How can we know the way and Jesus’ answer ‘I am the way, the truth and the life’. Later again after Jesus’ death and rumours that he is resurrected Thomas says he could not believe unless he sees and touches for himself. He is given the opportunity, but instead rather than touching Jesus he kneels and worships.
Thomas gets the reputation of being a doubter, doubting Thomas. Yet as we meet him in John’s gospel he is a firm follower of Jesus and one who asks questions that draw out some strong teaching from Jesus. His doubting of Jesus the Living One draws him into a closer following as a disciple.
Doubting, questioning and following, a continuing pattern for many of us today. Some things though make it harder today – the Bible is written in a time when most people believed in a flat earth, heaven above and hell below- we can’t possibly accept this view, we know the wonders of the solar system, and the multiverse. We have to reinterpret this outdated geography that we find in some of the Biblical stories. We can’t take a literal view of the stories but need to see them as parable metaphor, figurative or poetry.
Then of course the Bible writers and interpreters have been influenced by patriarchy, a hierarchical system that gives more status and power to men over women and children and nature. This means that far more attention is given to men than women in the Biblical stories. Most feminists today when we look at the Biblical text do so with a hermeneutics of suspicion. This means we ask questions like where are the women? Why are they not mentioned or named? Have they been wrongly judged or trivialised? Is a male God the head of this patriarchal system. What damage does that do to women? Can we find other pictures for God, such as non gendered mystery, or the beautiful picture of the divine as Sophia, one who is wise and hospitable sharing bread and wine. With these kinds of doubts about the text we can come up with a liberation theology for women, a place for women and children in the centre of God’s love.
Not only patriarchy but colonialism also means we need to ask questions about who is in control, how has that control been exercised, how has culture and religion been devalued by the colonisers. Particularly in Luke’s writing in the book of Acts scholars have asked has Luke collaborated with the Roman Empire or put forward the beginnings of a Christian empire? These questions about colonialism lead to a more inclusive faith, taking seriously how power has been exercised to put down or exclude. These questions come to the fore today in our country as the Commonwealth games remind us the British took sovereignty of this country without any treaty with its first peoples.
Ecological theology asks questions about how the earth has been presented in the Biblical text and where can we hear the voice of the earth? At Easter thinking of the wounds of Christ we can also think of the wounds of the earth. Have we concentrated too much on the human without recognising how we are all interconnected, how important is the whole web of life? These kind of questions lead to respect and love for the earth and all its creatures and plant life.
Lgbtiq theology or gay theology asks questions about what makes a person human and what does it mean to be created in the image of God, what does it mean to love, how can the church be fully inclusive, can we understand the divine as fully inclusive. In the Biblical text how do we read and value the various friendships we find.
Of course there are many more ways of theological thinking, speaking, and acting, and many more really important questions to be asking for the sake of humanity, for the sake of this planet, for the sake of divinity, for the sake of the future.
This is why doubt and faith, doubt and justice, doubt and equality belong together. We need a hermeneutics of suspicion when we read the Biblical text and when we seek ways to live out the text. We can twin with Thomas who found a life of faith – he was not condemned for doubting, he was given opportunity – legend has it that he took the gospel to India and founded churches there.
Our salvation and the worlds requires a healthy dose of doubt, today is the octave of Easter day, the eighth day as John’s gospel says, the symbol of a new beginning in creation, a new beginning for us all, doubting and believing, suspicious yet called to Holy wisdom, Sophia’s way.
Rev. Coralie Ling