Bible Readings : Acts 4:32-35, John 20:19-31
A Question of Belief: reflections on the Lenten Study
We pray: As your Church, as your Easter people may we be open to your prayer for us. In Jesus name. Amen.
The first verse of an Easter hymn by Shirley Murray goes like this:
Church of the living Christ,
people of Easter faith –
speak to the Man who walks
free from the dark of death!
The Christ who burst the tomb apart
comes questioning the Church’s heart.
And I guess in some ways that is what our reflections over the Lenten time were about – questioning, laying on the table what it is that is our heart as a church community – what troubles us, what questions we have, what re-imaging we want to make of what we believe, what we hold firm and foundational and what excites new understandings. What is the Spirit saying to the church, to us?
I tell you those Monday evening discussion roved far and wide, turned unexpected corners and were I think fairly stimulating and helpful to all. So today, as we consider what it means to live in a post Easter faith, I thought it would be helpful to offer back to the full congregation some of the thinking that came out the discussions around Bill Loader’s letter to Dear Kim...not a cohesive resume but rather some of the things that really resonated.
But as we do so, I would ask you to consider these reflections in the light of this Easter story and our commission from the risen Christ to re-member him and to continue to live out his love in the world as we talked about last Sunday. Today’s reading is an interesting backdrop too – poor old Thomas labelled for all time as the doubter – it’s really so unfair to focus doubt onto just this one honest person when all, I suspect, doubted at some time or other. I wonder if in perpetuating the myth of this solitary doubter, it makes it easier for us to see doubt as a sin rather than as a very normal and human way of exploring faith and life. Because that was for me one of the pivotal understandings that came out of these Lenten discussions – we were given permission to express our doubts, our questions, our conundrums if you like. We came at issues from many different perspectives, heard of differing struggles and interpretations and were able to express doubts and have self labelled ‘dodgy’ thinking affirmed
And so what follows are the musings of some of those who attended, including my own.
So some thoughts – first of all from Philip.
Tui told me of one particular thought that was important for her – and I quote: “ The sessions, and discussions with other attendees after the sessions, challenged the way I conceptualised words like 'theology' and '[bible] commentary'. Living as we do in North Dunedin we are blessed with a close local department of (academic) theology. I was surprised to realise that I had come to view words such as theology and commentary as belonging to the academic and/or ministerial world (where people use big words that I often do not understand) rather than be something that I might do or think in more simple language. I guess I haven't viewed what I read as commentary - just seen it as books I read, and my thoughts I have just seen as my thinking, not "doing theology". It has made me wonder about whether non-theologians need to actually reclaim theology back for ourselves for the good of us all.” End of quote. She is so right – we each and every one need to reclaim theology as a personal space, not leave as something that other people do – for it is imperative in a world that questions the value of faith that we know what it is we believe and share our understandings clearly and relevantly.
Affirmation of life after death but not needing to know anymore – that was a part of the studies where John Allen welcomed his reticence. In the words of Loader, “Yet in the choice of denying or affirming life after death, I come down on the side of belief. My starting point is God and I am confident that in death I am not cut off from God. I believe that, as with Jesus, I go to be with God. I don’t think I need to know any more. God is enough, the rest is imagery. It was enough for the disciples to know that Jesus was going to be with God, and that they too would be with God. Time and energies spent speculating on what that might look like is time taken from being Christ in this world. Trust as Thomas trusted when he knew the presence of the risen Christ was before him.
When we came round to talking about the bible there was this incredibly wide diversity in how we read and understand it, as well as which parts speak most directly to us. It helped to remind ourselves of some ways of thinking of the Old and New Testaments:
· that they are made up of gathered writings over time selected or rejected by the early church for various reasons,
· that it is not the infallible word of God but the rather a witness to the life of faith in God and, in the NT, as made known in Jesus Christ. People wrote from their understanding and knowledge and faith into the situations they found themselves at the time.
· It’s all about context – what is the spirit of Christ saying to the Church in the 21st century in Opoho, as Jesus words and deeds spoke into the church of 1st century Palestine
We talked about different ways of reading the bible – verses, chapters, books – and the contradictions and those parts that just spoke directly to us of God’s love and faithfulness.
It was interesting that here and in other places Loader speaks of his early life as a Christian where he had a reasonably fundamentalist view of faith, a view which he now considers in opposition to the teachings of Jesus, and that by trying to literally believe all that is said in the bible, he was subjecting love and compassion to law making – just what Jesus spent his time rejecting.
And the final topic I would like to share – this was one that came out of our last discussion on what it means to be Christian. John’s sermon from Palm Sunday generated a frank sharing of our relationship with forgiveness – not so much with our receiving but our struggle with giving. We talked around what forgiving someone actually meant:
· Should it only be given when repentance was expressed? The answer to that was no.
· Does it mean that you forget what happened? Also no.
· How should we deal with hurts that go very deep?
· Where does our unconditional love sit?
· Is there some who are beyond redemption?
· How much around forgiveness is about our spiritual well being?
· And more.
We didn’t find all the answers and I am thinking this a place where we need to continue to explore and open up. I thank you for that.
May we continue to be open to Christ’s questioning of our Churches heart and may we respond with wisdom and with courage. For, as the last verse of the hymn says:
We are the Body now –
our feet must mark the Way,
our speech declare the Word
and live it day by day,
the resurrection story ours,
disciples gifted with new powers!
Rev Margaret Garland