Sermon 12 April 2015
Rev’d Katene Eruera
In the texts today, we are drawn into the drama that is unfolding for the earliest believers of Jesus, and of what that belief means for them personally.
We are very familiar with the story of doubting Thomas but before we turn our minds to his doubt, it may be fruitful to contemplate some other lessons from scripture today too:
In the reading from Acts this morning, Peter begins to proclaim Christ crucified and risen. The reading is part of the story of Pentecost, and if you were to look at the passage immediately before it, you will find that at a crowd of ‘pious Jews from every nation’ had just heard the sound of the Holy Spirit falling upon the Apostles, and gathering together to see what the sound was, witnessed the Apostles speaking to them in their different languages – Parthians, Medes, Elamites, Mesoptamians and so on. The Apostles, in different languages, were declaring the mighty works of God.
Peter then addresses the crowd, firstly denying a suggestion that the Apostles had perhaps drunk too much that morning, and speaks and witnesses to the resurrection:
You, with the help of wicked men, had Jesus killed by nailing him to a cross. God raised him up! God freed him from death’s dreadful grip, since it was impossible for death to hang on him’ (Acts 2:23-24 (CEB) ).
And then step by step Peter lays out to the crowd the case for believing in the crucified and risen Jesus. (see Acts 2:14a, 22-32)
When I was a child, there was a programme on TV called Ripley’s Believe it or Not? In that show, the host Jack Palance would invite the TV audience to watch stories about bizarre events or strange historical facts and items so strange and unusual that readers might question the claims. You would have to guess whether a story was true or not, and at the end of the show, Jack Palance would tell you whether it was true or not.
Here’s a story about a trout in Canada that grows fur: Fur-Bearing Trout (also known as Beaver Trout) possess thick coats of fur that help to keep them warm in the cold northern waters where they live. According to legend, the fur-bearing trout was first encountered by Europeans when Scottish settlers emigrated to Canada during the seventeenth century. One settler wrote home remarking about the abundance of “furried animals and fish” in the new land. Asked to provide more information about the furried fish, he duly sent home a specimen. Fur-Bearing trouts mounted as trophies can be found hanging on walls throughout the Great Lakes region of North America. Believe it or Not?
In essence, this too is what the Resurrection comes down to in the history of its telling and witnessing: people will either believe it or they won’t. But as Augustine of Hippo has famously said: ‘We are an Easter people and Alleuia’ is our song.
Could I ask you to reflect upon this story of Peter proclaiming Christ crucified and risen by thinking about the power of the Holy Spirit as it fell upon the Apostles that day. How does the power of the Holy Spirit impact upon us personally, how is it active in our lives and secondly how does it impact upon us as a religious community?
The Roman Catholic theologian Fr Thomas Dowd describes it well, and I’d like to draw on his thoughts to offer some insights for your reflection1:
He writes that the theological idea is that the Holy Spirit dwells in all of us, that is to say in the hearts of the just, and as such we are able to live our own personal version of Pentecost and become as scripture describes it: a ‘temple of the Spirit’ (see 1 Cor 6:19). The actions of the Holy Spirit in our lives tend towards faith, hope and charity, an enduring spirit of wisdom, personal gifts to be used for the common good, and fruits such as love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.
Just as individual believers receive virtues, gifts, charisms, and fruits, the Church as a “body” also has its own set of Spirit-inspired characteristics. There are four “marks” of the Church that are generally considered to be signs of the continued action of the Holy Spirit. These are:
- universality, and
These four things reflect blessings that come from the active presence of the Holy Spirit in the Church. Where there is unity, which starts in unity of faith but has its highest achievement in unity of love, there is the Holy Spirit. On the other hand, if Christians are divided amongst themselves, and are not loving one another, somehow the gift of unity offered by the Holy Spirit has been rejected. Where there is holiness, especially holiness in the lives of believers and in the culture in which they live, there is the Holy Spirit. On the other hand, if believers are turning a blind eye to evil or sin, or if the culture is hostile to holiness, then somehow the gift of holiness offered by the Spirit is not being received.
Where the Church consists of people from all languages, races, cultures, and social classes, the gift of universality is being lived. When the church is living internal separations between people of different languages, races, cultures, and social classes, then the gift of universality is not being lived.
Where the Church is making an effort to live faithfully according to the teaching of the apostles, and doing its best to continue the mission of the apostles to invite others to faith in Jesus, the gift of apostolicity is being lived. The abandonment of apostolic teaching, or a lukewarm enthusiasm for the faith, are signs the gift of apostolicity is not being welcomed and lived.
What do these 4 “marks” mean in practical terms? It means that if you were to take all the persons living in the Holy Spirit and place them together to form a society, and you were to take all the persons who are not living in the Holy Spirit and place them together to form another society, you would observe that the “Holy Spirit society” was more united in purpose, had less crime and other morally-related social ills, and was more open to people of all backgrounds.
Today’s Gospel is very familiar to us, yet perhaps we might look at it with fresh eyes. In addition to following Thomas’ journey of doubt, and disbelief to faith in Jesus, could we ponder on his initial absence from the disciples when Jesus came to them. Where was Thomas? Why was he absent? Because he wasn’t there, he didn’t see or hear or receive Jesus’ peace. (see John 20: 19-31).
Thomas missed out when Jesus breathed his Spirit upon the disciples, therefore he didn’t understand, his faith was shaken. There was nothing to hold onto but his doubt. But when he saw and touched he believed. He was witness to the Resurrection.
Had they been left to their own devices, the disciples may have remained silent and fearful behind closed doors. But Jesus came to them, wished them peace, and breathed new life into them. This same Jesus comes to us, breathing the power of the Spirit into us, enabling us to overcome our doubts and fears so as to witness to the Gospel. We, for our part, are to receive that Spirit and cultivate its presence in our lives.
Finally, do you remember the story of the fur-bearing trout: Do you believe it or not? Unlike the Resurrection, this story is one that is not true. But in 2006, the BBC did report a finding that scientists made near Easter Island of a furry lobster! Believe it or not!
– Dowd, Thomas. Introduction to Theological Studies: The Who, What, Where, When, Why and How of Christian Theology. 2005. Accessed April 10, 2015. http://www.adventus.org/en/wp-content/documents/theology201part1.pdf.
– “Furry ‘lobster’ Found in Pacific.” BBC News. March 8, 2006. Accessed April 10, 2015. http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/sci/tech/4785482.stm.