Jim Holland Sermon April 8th, 2018 - Unity
I recently returned from walking the Way of St. James in Spain. This was my third Camino. It was a time of profound connection for me; connection to the earth, connection to the divine, and connection to other pilgrims. Something about the history or the walking or the compression of time, or the wine, or some other ineffable thing or collection of things seemed inevitably to create a sense of community out of the diverse and motley group that choose to walk the pilgrimage. And it was this sense of community that occupied my thoughts and feelings for the two weeks that I was on the Camino de Santiago.
What is the sense of unity that we always talk about, and that many of us yearn for? What does it mean to be “one”, to be Christ’s Body? We know what it feels like to be in community (hopefully), but it isn’t always possible to put into words.
Today’s Gospel may shed some light. Consider for a moment the encounter between Thomas and Jesus. After spending three years or so with Jesus, Thomas, who could have been any o the disciples, or any of us, comes home to hear from his fellow disciples that the resurrected Jesus had just been there. Thomas thinks about this for a while, then says … no way, it couldn’t happen. It defies logic and reason. I will believe it when I see it. And how does Jesus respond when he appears again in the upper room and speaks to Thomas? He doesn’t judge him for not believing. He doesn’t explain anything, he doesn’t give any rationale for why he is there. He does not theologize or give a history lesson. He simply says “Thomas, put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. See that it is me. Do not doubt but believe.” He offers not explanation, but his presence.
Perhaps this is the meaning of community, that the real gift we have to offer one another and the gift we have to offer God is simply our presence. With all of our failings, all our judgements and fear and lack of faith and confusion and irritations, in the end all we can say to our friends our parents, our children, our spouse is, I am here. I’m not always sure why and maybe that isn’t what’s important, but I am here. It sometimes doesn’t seem like much and yet it is everything.
Woody Allen said it succinctly; “90% of success in life is just showing up”. I doubt he realized how profound his statement was, or maybe he did. But showing up in every moment, in whatever shape we are in, with whatever negative or positive thoughts fill our heads, and whatever love or fears our heart, that is what we are called to do. It is in the end what love is about. Because we don’t always feel loving or lovable, and we can’t always just decide to change the way we feel, but can always be present.
I suspect that we often feel that we must be in a certain state to come to God in prayer or to come to church or to be with our friends. And we do, but it isn’t what we usually think. We don’t have to be cheerful, or happy, or generous, or compassionate. Not that there is anything wrong with those things. However, the only condition we have to be in to connect is the condition of openness and acceptance. I like the old pious icon of the Sacred Heart of Jesus the picture of Jesus with his doey eyes and his heart exposed on his chest, and if it isn’t clear enough Jesus is pointing to his heart. That image for me says it all. It’s not in the head its here in the heart that what is ultimately important happens. Walking the Camino with others from all over the world is like a little slice of heaven. There is a bond that forms very quickly, and with that trust, and understanding and generosity, but I think the power and the pleasure of the experience is precisely in the way that everyone simply and completely is present to one another. Perhaps it is the lack of distraction or busyness. Whatever it is, it is a very joyful way to be. I often think that this joy of being together is what church has the potential to be, and sometimes is.
So we are here, we have shown up today, and that is cause to rejoice and celebrate. And the scriptures tell us that God cannot help but respond to our presence, that it is the nature of God to respond. That nothing can hold God back from us when we are truly present to God and to one another.
As we continue to worship together, let us pray for the courage to open ourselves fully to all God has to give us, and to the hearts those who have come to worship with us.