Enlarging the Single Story


In the adult forum last Sunday at St Martin’s we began to talk about the experience of our community reading of The Story. This is a re-editing of the Bible to accentuate the narrative flow that tells of the relationship between God and humanity, as recorded and interpreted within the Judeo-Christian experience.

The idea of there being the story is highly misleading. As we are beginning to discover from our reading together of The Story, there are in fact multiple stories. The Story, while trying to preserve the narrative flow achieves its purpose. However, there is a risk of an enterprise like The Story glossing over the fact that the Biblical record is not one story but a compilation of multiple stories, not always fitting together in a way that our modern attention demands. To make matters even more complex, there are not only multiple storylines but also multiple interpretations of the same storyline.

St Martin’s has embarked on a community reading of The Story as one of the fruits of a program for spiritual development called RenewalWorks. In our community reading of The Story we are starting on what will be a longer process of embedding the Bible into an unfolding of our story, as a parish, as a community.

As we gathered last Sunday in the adult forum, people began to have an opportunity to talk about how they felt about the storylines recorded in the Book of Genesis. Because The Story covers the whole of Genesis in three chapters, it glosses over huge chunks of the book in order to bring out the essential elements of the narrative flow. This device concentrates our minds. We experience not on a distanced dispassionate reading, but on an intimate feeling-full reading that confronts and leaves us feeling a range of emotions among them, shocked and angry.

The story begins well. Genesis, chapter 1 opens on a grand vista of creation with humanity as its crowning glory. Men and women seem equal and God seems to hint at the possibility of humanity being a reflection of divinity itself. But things thereafter seem to go pear shaped. From chapter 2 on, God increasingly is portrayed as authoritarian. In chapter 2, women are inferior and subservient to men. Events in the garden further stigmatize women. I was pleased to see that people were able to give vent to the visceral nature of the impact of this kind of portrayal, upon them. We then enter the saga cycles of the patriarchs, Abraham, Jacob, and Joseph, all who strike our modern sensibilities as morally compromised characters and far from the honest Joe’s of Sunday school fame.

Someone commented, why do we have to read this stuff? My answer is because we are storied beings and we are shaped by our faith-family narrative. We read this stuff because we need to know our faith-family history. But we need to know that this is where that narrative starts. It’s important to remember it’s not where it ends. It’s only where it starts. Like most things in life, it’s always helpful to start at the beginning.

I was delighted to see people struggling with their feelings and being honest with each other about how they felt. There was a level of engagement and excitement in the room that spoke volumes about the seriousness with which middle class, highly educated, professional Episcopalians like those at St Martin’s on Providence’s East Side are beginning to engage with the raw material of a shared faith journey. Don’t miss our next discussion installment of The Story’s chapters 4-6 on May 15th.


In his op-ed piece in the New York Times on April 19th, David Brooks spoke about the danger of a single story. He takes his title from his inspiration with the Nigerian writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie in her TED talk The danger of a single story. Brooks is concerned, and I believe rightly so, that the current political race to the White House is favoring candidates who are able to offer a single story to account for the state we are in as a nation. The difficulty for Clinton and Kasich is that unlike Trump, Cruz, and Sanders, their worldview is not comprised from a single explanatory narrative. We see how little appetite there is in the general population, at least at this point in the game, for anything that is not a single story explanation.

Single stories are seductive, but they also do grave violence to the multiple complexities of real life. The paradox of reading The Story is that we need to start somewhere, but the danger is we develop an overview of the flow of the narrative at the risk of reducing the history of salvation to a single storyline. Yet, to return to the point I made above, we need to start somewhere. Single storylines get us going. They are places from which to begin our explorative journeys. The problem is when the single storyline becomes the only explanatory narrative, leading us to an already predetermined endpoint along the pathway already well trod. What is needed are storylines that open, even jolt us onto new paths; ones forged through learning from the mistakes of the past instead of simply repeating them. It seems that at St Martin’s our experience of The Story is helping us to work through our realizations that God is not a single storyline, God is a complex multiplicity of storylines that offer the potential for us to set out on new paths.


At first sight, the compilers of the Lectionary seem to have taken leave of their senses in offering us on Easter 5 the same gospel verses that ended the one read on Maundy Thursday. I mean, get real, don’t they know the storyline has moved on since then? Between Maundy Thursday and Easter 5, an event called the resurrection has changed everything.

We are here being presented with a challenge to our assumption that the meaning of a story derives from its linear flow, i.e. it follows a straight line from beginning through its middle, to the end. Hearing John 13:31-35, which is the promise at the end of the story of the events at the Last Supper five weeks on from Easter reminds us that part of the complexity of life is the we are never in the same place twice. This means the same storyline opens to fresh meanings when we encounter it at a different time, a different location, i.e. now and not then.

On Maundy Thursday, we heard John narrating events at Last Supper. We listened to verses 31-35 but we didn’t really hear them. In 31-35 Jesus goes off into one of his enigmatic Johannine explanations of the nature of his true relationship with God – something about glory and who is glorified, and by whom.

When we hear the same story on the fifth Sunday after Easter, we do so now in the fuller knowledge of what Jesus actually means by the promise of becoming gloried. On Maundy Thursday, it’s a promise of something new, the outlines of which are still enshrouded in future mists. But when heard on Easter 5 it’s no longer in the future, it is now in the immediate past-present. In this location, we hear it not as a promise but a direct invitation to participate in the experience of new life.


The story of new life is what’s happening now. The hearing of the story is now. Now it is an invitation, if we can allow it to be, to not just believe in it, but to live it. Last Sunday at St Martin’s in the adult forum we had a particular experience of living it.

How so? We live the promise of new life when we take our God story seriously. We do this when we explore it, when we allow ourselves to be affected by it. We explore our God story when we feel angry, disillusioned, or repulsed, or inspired, attracted, encouraged, and moved through our engagement with it. Our story about God contains all these possibilities because it’s a narravtive with multiple storylines, multiple interpretations on each major storyline. It’s not a single story. I followed up Brooks’ reference to Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. She ends her TED talk with these words:

Stories matter. Many stories matter. Stories have been used to dispossess and to malign, but stories can also be used to empower and to humanize. Stories can break the dignity of a people, but stories can also repair that broken dignity. The American writer Alice Walker wrote this about her Southern relatives who had moved to the North. She introduced them to a book about the Southern life that they had left behind. “They sat around, reading the book themselves, listening to me read the book, and a kind of paradise was regained.”

We are the stories we tell about ourselves. Our world takes on the qualities of the stories we tell about our experience in it. When we come to realize that there is not a single God story, but many stories of our human perception of God, we come to see that faith is not an accept all or reject all proposition. Elements in our God story can give us permission to dispossess, malign and scapegoat others. Mostly, however, our God story supports our desires to embrace, empower and humanize. In the story of raising Jesus from the dead, God invites us into a new story with wide-ranging implications for the way we can live our lives. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie again:

I would like to end with this thought: That when we reject the single story, when we realize that there is never a single story about any place, we regain a kind of paradise.

To paraphrase a line from the second reading for Easter 5 from the dream of the Book of Revelation:

See the home of God is with humanity. God will dwell with us; we will be God’s peoples.

Storied Lives

It’s Saturday morning. All around me people are rising late, plans are being made for a day that does not involve work, perhaps sport with the kids, or a visit to the farmers market, or a long bike ride in the sunny cool of a New England spring day. My mood is partly resentful, party curious. Resentful, because my Saturday morning invariably finds me sitting at the computer screen instead of riding the bike I have yet to buy along the bike trail from Providence to Bristol or up into the Blackstone Valley. Alas for me, Saturday is sermon writing day and I am curious to see what stirrings the Spirit has in mind.

As yet, I don’t know. Which is why I am easing myself into something yet to be born through idling away in self-preoccupied reflection. No matter how hard I try, how much I read around the text in the days preceding Saturday morning’s arrival, I am never ready to write until this moment. Saying this kindles a feeling of acceptance. I look ahead to emergence of a story. Sermon as story, now there’s an idea to play with!

At St Martin’s, we have begun a community reading of The Story.  Some are clearly asking themselves, why?  My answer is because the perceived wisdom about a community’s spiritual deepening involves something called embedding the Bible. I think this might be a very good idea. The Story, is a rendition of the Bible with all the bits that divert attention away from the narrative flow, skipped over. The Story preserves the flow over time of the Judeo-Christian account of the human relationship with the divine. The Story is aptly named because there is always a narrative element in our self-understanding.

Despite this, there is a modern idea that our understanding of the world results from direct observation. But direct observation has to be put into a framework that gives rise to meaning. All such frameworks are narrative. Joining up so-called objective observation results in the weaving of explanatory narrative. This weaving of explanation is always an internal, psychological process that results in the telling of a story. We are the stories we tell, has become my oft-repeated mantra.

The opening chapter of Genesis begins an epic story. To our understanding of narrative, the flow of the story is often frustrating to follow. There are so many loopholes made by statements seemingly without explanation. It seems enough to simply assert that an improbable thing happened. It’s also a story many of us are not sure we like very much for many of the characters, including God, are not much to our liking.

From the opening grandeur of the first creation story in which humanity arrives as the crowning glory of creation, it goes downhill fast. Beginning with humanity being made no less than in the image of the divine community of creation, a piece of the creation seemingly intended by God to be not only self-reflective but reflective of divinity itself, the story descends from this lofty height into one in which human beings are reduced to being naughty children who need to be punished for being disobedient; so much for the equality of the divine image. It seems that being made in the image of the divine community has two inbuilt restrictions that contradict the original intention. Adam and Eve are free to romp around the garden of creation but the fruits of the trees of eternal life and the knowledge of good and evil are off limits. It seems there is a limit to how much God, who self-refers using the plural pronouns wants us to be like them.

Yet, for Christians and Jews, this is how the story starts. Talking with my neighbor Rabbi Voss-Altman from Temple Beth-El this past week, I was reminded how differently Jews and Christians hear our common story. And maybe that’s the point of story. A story shapes us not only through its construction and articulation but fundamentally through the way it is heard.

For Christians the story that begins with Genesis reaches its crescendo in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, whom we believe fits into the trans-generational story as the Christ or anointed one- the long awaited Messiah. This is the point at which the Christian and Jewish hearing of the story take different paths having reached a fork in the road. From here two new stories branch away from each other.

Sunday-by-Sunday, through the Lectionary we are given four selections from the overall story of salvation, each taken from a particular stage of the story. In the Old Testament and Psalm lessons (I deliberately use lesson rather than reading because we are intended to learn something) we have snippets from the Jewish stage of the story. In the New Testament lesson, we hear from the emerging Christian understanding of the story. In the Gospel, we are given a snippet from the story of the life of Jesus.

In John: 10,  John is telling part of the Jesus story intended for the ears of his community of Jewish Christians using the metaphor of the sheepfold. He writes in such as way as to offer his listeners a story that helps them understand the world they find themselves in. Being rejected by the authorities of the Second Temple, John’s community needs to find an explanation for their exclusion and persecution. They find it in the rejection of Jesus himself by the very same authorities. Later generations of Christians down into our own time have heard this story, not as John intended it, but as a justification for the development of anti-Semitism. So my question is how do we, a community now intent on the so-called embedding of the Bible as the foundation for a new phase of our spiritual deepening, hear this story?

In an age of rationalist reductionism the battle cry is: where’s the proof?  We live in a world where according to the rationalist point of view, we no longer have need of story. This viewpoint seems oblivious to the fact that a belief that humanity has now grown beyond the need for stories to explain the world is itself, a story.

We hear the Temple authorities asking Jesus to substantiate his claims, to our modern ears an absolutely reasonable request. Jesus could have responded with: you want proof, let me give you proof. Don’t you remember that when I was in X I was able to do Y? Don’t you remember when I was at M, I said C and do you recall what then happened, J was no longer blind? You don’t want to believe the evidence of your own eyes and ears. Look it’s no good me telling you anymore, because you have no intention of accepting who I am, so don’t fudge this by pretending that you are only seeking simple verification.

This part of the conversation is very familiar to our ears as we every day face the questions: is the story true if so how do we know it’s true – how can we convince others its true, because if we can do that then maybe we might really be able to believe its true ourselves?

These are not just the external questions that our rationalistic world asks us for proof of the truth of what we believe. Being shaped by the modern world, these are also our internal questions. Unless we reject out of hand the story of modernity – and some do –we have to struggle in the tension as people shaped by rationalism and yet, also the heirs of an older story, or at least wanting to be shaped by a different story.

The thing about story is that they are neither true nor false. I don’t mean that stories can’t embody truth or falsehood. I mean more that stories should be judged as effective or not effective. Does the story we live by help us understand the world and our role in it in ways that enhance our quality of experience? Or do they hamper us in this endeavor? Jesus continues to tell the Temple authorities that the only way they can be satisfied about him is if they stop asking for proof and come into relationship with him.

The Gospel stories are not unproblematic.  Many Christians still choose to hear Jesus’ response in John 10 as a validation of Christian exclusivism, i.e. you are either in the sheepfold or outside it, you are either one of the sheep or you are not. Trying to make sense of this as something to live by in the 21st-century, what I hear in this exchange is Jesus saying that his identity is not a matter of propositional truth, it’s a matter of relational truth. Jesus is repeating God’s invitation echoing down the ages: my people come into relationship with me and let us sit down together.

I said on Easter Day that resurrection is not something to be believed it is to be-lived. What I mean is that the Christian story is not propositional but relational, truth. It makes sense through the way it shapes our relational choices, i.e. who and what is important in our lives, what enriches our experience of life, through whom and how do we give back in life. The Christian story is not the only relational story. Billions of other lives are given meaning by other relational stories, some more complete than others, at least seemingly so from our own storied location. All we can say is that Jesus is our relational story. Our only claim is to be able to say that this is our story. Jesus is the religious story that brings new meaning and an ever-expanding depth into our lives.

Everyone needs a story to live by. The question is not which story is true, but which story makes us fruitful. Is it effectiveness in our lives? Can our Christian story bring us into a relationship with the divine dimension that guides and informs us in negotiating the complex relationships with the world around us? Through living out this story the choices we make and those we reject will determine the quality of our fruitfulness, i.e. determine how we make a difference for good in this world.

From Saul to Paul

I have always had ambivalent feelings about St Paul. As one reads the New Testament, Paul emerges as a contradictory figure if one believes the tradition which imputes him to be the author of 13 of the New Testament’s 27 book. Herein lies the problem. For if this is true, Paul clearly changed his mind a lot.

Ancient conventions dictated that disciples wrote in the name of their master. A number of letters in the New Testament once attributed to Paul’s own hand are clearly of a later date, reflecting later developments in church communities, now large and secure enough to concern themselves with matters of good order and hierarchies of authority. These are not the communities Paul writes for in the middle decades of the 1st-century.

Therefore, scholars now universally agree that Paul did not write First and Second Timothy, nor Titus or Hebrews. Many scholars question his direct authorship of Second Thessalonians, Colossians and Ephesians. This leaves seven undisputed letters: Romans, First and Second Corinthians, Philemon, Galatians, Philippians and First Thessalonians as displaying the characteristics of Paul’s own concerns. I want to cry out -would the real Paul please stand up.

Paul was once Saul. Saul was a man who had blood on his hands. Saul was the young man who was more than complicit in the stoning to death of Stephen, the first Christian martyr. Saul not only approved of Stephen’s death but held the cloaks of theimages-1 men who murdered Stephen; hard men consumed, like Saul with righteous indignation. Saul is the man who breathes fire and murder as he relentlessly pursues the followers of the Way, seeking out both men and women for imprisonment and in some cases death. History contains a sorry record of the results of righteous indignation masquerading as religious faith.

HeQi_039This Saul while traveling to Damascus has an encounter with Jesus that contains all the elements of the theophany that stopped Moses in his tracks before the burning bush. Saul is blinded by a divine light. He hears the voice of the Lord searing every fiber of his consciousness. Following his devastating encounter with the voice of the Lord, his companions pick him up off the ground and lead him, a man now helpless into the city. Here,  Saul spends a symbolic three days neither eating nor drinking and probably not sleeping either. His three days of blindness are symbolic of Jesus’ three days in the tomb. With the arrival of one Ananias, a messenger sent by the Lord, Saul arises and receives back his sight and much more through the anointing of the Holy Spirit.

A Damascus road experience has found its way into the language as an idiom for a 180-degree change in someone’s life or view of the world. After his experience on the road to Damascus, Saul has a kind of death, resurrection, and Penetcost experience rolled into one. Now he too can claim to have experienced the risen Lord. Like Peter and the other disciples he is changed, no longer a persecutor of the Church, but one of its apostles. Saul becomes Paul. 

During the 40 days of Lent, we walked with Jesus on his road to Jerusalem and the cross. Our human experience well acquaints us with grief and suffering, and so we have little difficulty identifying with Jesus on the road from Galilee to Jerusalem. Eastertide is a season that also lasts 40 days, but is for us a road less travelled. Resurrection is beyond the normal repertoire of our emotional experience. How can we emulate the transformation of the disciples into apostles? This is a process we are totally unfamiliar with because the road from the empty tomb is very much a road less travelled. How can what happened for the first followers of Jesus, happen for us?

And so, I breathe a sigh of relief that Lent and Easter are behind us as the temptation to return to business as usual takes hold. I know this feeling intimately, and it disturbs me because if it’s just to return to business as usual what has been the point of the spiritual effort I’ve made during Lent and Easter? I don’t want to return to business as usual. I’ve invested a lot and I long for some kind of change. After all is this not the promised result of the resurrection – new life, lived abundantly?

Luke describes this process of transformation through the narrative he weaves in The Acts of the Apostles. At times, his account smacks a little of Early Christian propaganda. Yet, behind the dramatic inflation lies the reality that lives were changed by the resurrection. New attitudes were embraced, and as in the case of Paul, a 180-degree change in worldview took place. Paul left behind the God of righteous anger and rage, the God who needs us to find an endless supply of scapegoats to carry our own unacknowledged guilt and fear – and encountered the God of acceptance and love.


I am struck by Jesus’s question to Saul. He asks not why do you not believe in me, but why are you persecuting me? Jesus questions not Saul’s faith but his action.  After Damascus, Paul is changed, his view of God and his sense of himself is utterly altered and he begins to live a different life.

Our experience of the world is articulated through the stories we tell, both to ourselves and to one another. We are shaped and our world is given meaning by their telling. This is a good and a bad thing, because if the story is a poor one, by which I mean it does not have enough room in it, we become constrained in our sense of identity and worldview. On the other hand, if the story is an expansive one, allowing us space to grow then our sense of self and view of the world expands to include more and more of what is needed.


The resurrection is an expansive story. It’s not a story to be believed or explained but to be lived. In living it, the resurrection story shapes the way we understand the nature of the world around us. So the question I ask myself is one I also put to you – how do we live the resurrection story?

What might some of the signs be of living into the resurrection story?

  • Do we believe that some objects are more special than others or that all objects are made holy through their use and debased by our misuse of them?
  • Do we believe that actions speak louder than words?
  • Do we accept that belonging precedes believing, or put another way believing flows from belonging?
  • Do we agree with Tertullian that one Christian is no Christian, meaning being Christian necessitates membership of the community that is Christian?
  • Are we committed to being present within the community when it gathers for worship to hear the Gospel message and to break the bread?
  • Can we live as those who genuinely respect the dignity of every other human being?

You can see these as a list of requirements to be fulfilled or as signs of God’s invitation to come into the promise of a new story. This is nothing short of an invitation to become:

  • the eyes that behold Christ in everyone we meet
  • the lips that speak nothing but the Gospel of love
  • the ears that hear the cries of the poor
  • the hands that reach out to others in need
  • and the feet that run to those who love us without stumbling

For some of us like Saul, being changed by an encounter with the risen Christ is a dramatic and devastating indictment on our former lives. Yet, for most of us, we encounter the risen Christ in the subtle opportunities for change amidst the routines of everyday life. We encounter the power of the resurrection story:

  • when we chose to be more courageous and less risk adverse
  • when we become more accepting and less judgmental of difference
  • when we face down our fears and cease being driven by them to seek others to blame

Today as we look at our world, among those who claim to speak for God it’s not hard to distinguish Saul’s voice from Paul’s. So many politicians and church people speak with the voice of Saul. This is the paranoid voice that demands the protection of religious liberty as the fig leaf for continuing to discriminate against LGBT people. This week Pope Francis confronted those among his brothers who would champion purity of doctrine heedless of the need for compassion in the face of human emotional and spiritual pain.

For Saul, persecution, imprisonment and murder were all necessary tools to protect an angry God not able to withstand the imagined trauma of human questioning. For Paul, all that was needed was the law of love made manifest in vulnerability. After his experience on the Damascus road, Paul knew that it was because of his vulnreability and weakness that God chose him to be the greatest apostle of the law of love.

Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I have become a sounding brass or a clanging cymbal. And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, but have not love, it profits me nothing.

Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up; does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil; does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

Love never fails. But whether there are prophecies, they will fail; whether there are tongues, they will cease; whether there is knowledge, it will vanish away.  For we know in part and we prophesy in part. But when that which is perfect has come, then that which is in part will be done away.

Perhaps thinking of his former self, Paul says:

When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child; but when I became a man, I put away childish things. For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part, but then I shall know just as I also am known.

 And now abide faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love. First Corinthians 13 NKJV

Issues of Trust


Sermon for Low Sunday – Easter II from the Rev. Linda Mackie Griggs

In no way will I believe.

doubting-thomasyou wonder where Thomas was on the first Easter evening, when his friends had locked themselves away in fear? Was he simply the last to arrive by coincidence? Had he gone out to get some food for his grieving friends? Regardless, when he arrived and heard that Jesus had come and gone in his absence, his reaction was not tepid. In fact, the original Greek has been watered down in translation. He doesn’t just say, “…I will not believe,” he says, In no way will I believe. It’s as though he said it in underlined boldface italics.

What is the writer of John’s Gospel trying to tell us here? The conventional wisdom over the millennia is that Thomas doubts the Resurrection until he can see the proof in Jesus’ body. And people have staked out their territory on either side of the argument about whether or not Thomas got a bad rap for being a doubter. And it’s a good topic for pondering and exploration—the value, or risk, of doubt and question in a life of faith.

But perhaps something else is going on here; something hinted at by the emphatic quality of Thomas’s response to his friends’ news of the Resurrection. In no way will I believe.

The Gospel of John was the latest of the four canonical gospels to be written; in the late 1st- and early 2nd centuries. It was probably written and edited over time not just by someone named John, who may have been John the disciple, but by others of his community; which is why we sometimes hear of the “Johannine School”—(that’s your new phrase for the day.)

The Johannine project was all about identity; specifically two forms of identity. The first was the identity of the Christ. This gospel is where we find the first evidence of the theology of Jesus and God as the same and coeternal, that is, Jesus and God existed from the beginning and together, Father and Son. We hear this in Jesus’ farewell discourses at the Last Supper, where he says, “I am in the Father and the Father is in me…” In the same passage Jesus also speaks of sending of the Holy Spirit, just as in today’s story where he breathes on the disciples and says, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” So it is John’s Gospel where we see major stirrings of the identity of Christ as part of the Trinity. This is the theology that we see codified in our creeds. So it was very important that the hearers of this Gospel understand Who Jesus Was: The Word. The Christ. The Son of God, with God and in God; human and divine.

The second priority for John’s Gospel is the identity of the community, and that’s our main focus today. Jesus’ Great Commandment was to love one another. This was a signature point behind the washing of the disciples’ feet and the mandate to wash the feet of others; and in Jesus’ last words to his mother and the Beloved Disciple as he hung on the cross; “Behold your mother—behold your son.” Jesus gave them to each other as family, indicating that family extends beyond blood ties. Our love of Christ bonds us in Beloved Community. Those ties are important—vital to the spread of the Good News and the realization of God’s Dream.

And what does all of this have to do with our friend Thomas?

Consider what has happened within his circle of friends. One of their number turned Jesus in to the authorities for trial and crucifixion. The heartbreak and despair of Jesus’ death was compounded by the knowledge that it was brought on by betrayal. Betrayal of Jesus. Betrayal of trust. Is it any wonder that Thomas, who wasn’t fortunate enough to see the resurrected Jesus, disbelieved the testimony of the others that he was alive? His trust, and that of the disciples, had been broken by Judas, and the wound was raw. Why in the world should he trust his friends with such a crazy story, of a risen Jesus who comes through locked doors and offers his wounds as proof? Seriously?

In no way will I believe! Does he shout it? Pound his fist on the table?

The issue here isn’t Thomas’s faith in Jesus—it’s Thomas’s trust in his friends. When Jesus comes a second time to the locked room and invites Thomas to touch his hands and side, Thomas doesn’t do it. He doesn’t need to. He instantly registers Jesus’ presence and identity with a simple declaration, “My Lord and my God,” no further argument. But. The damage in the community of disciples has been done; first by Judas, who violated trust, and then by Thomas, who, once burned, refused to believe the word of his friends. This is a cycle of broken trust that threatens the Beloved Community. And this is the lesson that John offers us when Jesus says, “Blessed are they who have not seen and yet come to believe.” It is not just an admonition to the post-Resurrection Christians who were not around to see the Risen Jesus; although of course that’s part of it. But it is also a warning to the community that the Great Commandment to Love One Another is woven throughout with the importance of trust; to be trustworthy and to trust one another. A community that lacks this vital ingredient is wounded from the start.

People and institutions violate our trust. This is a tragic fact of human nature. I’ll wager that everyone here can name a time when we have felt betrayed, or have violated someone’s trust in us. It hurts a relationship, and healing is often a tremendous challenge. Sadly it is also in our nature to attribute human qualities to God. Hence, if humans and institutions can fail us, then God can too, right? Well, no… But. Admit it; at least for some of us there does seem to be a disconnect between faith in God, and trust in God. Even though they are defined almost exactly the same, even to the point of using the word trust to define faith and faith to define trust. It may seem to be a distinction without a difference, but to me it does seem possible to have complete faith in God’s overarching power and presence while at the same time not trusting that God is still at work with us and within us. Especially in instances when we feel that our trust has been violated.

This may have to do with the concept of time. Our chronological time demands that things happen how we want and when we want them, while God’s time is broader, more fluid, and the ways in which God does work just don’t conform to our expectations of how and when things should turn out. (I like to say that God doesn’t follow instructions well.)

And so our trust falters. When we are called to be patient–to wait and trust that God is still at work in our lives, we can become disillusioned. Because we’ve been burned before by our fellow humans—by our community–somewhere deep down we feel that God will burn us too.

Thomas’s story is a cautionary tale. His outburst of mistrust was rooted in the tomb, in the darkness of fear and disillusionment. John points us to Thomas, not so we can impugn his faith in God, but so we can let him teach us. Let Thomas’s story teach us that our encounters with darkness and betrayal need not define us or those around us. Let it teach us that our faith and our trust in God can be one, as Jesus and the Father are one. Let it teach us that our calling—our identity– as people of the Resurrection is one rooted firmly in the light of the Risen Christ.

Blessed are those who have not seen, and yet have come to believe.



















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