Sunday, April 03, 2016

Sermon; Easter 2C; John 20:19-31

What do we believe?  What are we willing to believe?

These are questions we deal with all the time, but they seem especially prominent this time of year.

Last Sunday we heard two different versions of the Resurrection.  At the Vigil we heard of at least five women who found an empty tomb.  Those women went and told the eleven apostles what they had found, but “these words seemed to be an idle tale, and they did not believe them.”  And at the later service we heard from John where it was Mary Magdalene alone who meets the risen Christ.  She tells Peter and John who run to verify the story, but it's apparently only John who believes.

Today our gospel tells a story of disbelief in two parts.  In the first part, Jesus appears to the ten, but they don't believe it's him until he shows them his hands and side.  In the second part, Thomas doesn't believe until he actually places his fingers in Christ’s wounds.

This is the Resurrection we're talking about.  Not any resurrection, mind you, but the resurrection of a man these guys had been following for three years.  The resurrection of a man who told them multiple times that he would suffer, die, and rise again.  And they refused to believe this good news until they could verify it for themselves.

Don't get me wrong – it's a good idea to fact check.  It's a good idea to do research.  It's a good idea to verify your sources.  It's a good idea to ask yourself, “Is this too good to be true?”

But as I was thinking about this, I began to think about other things we believe or are willing to believe.  For instance:

** A story surfaced over Easter weekend about a group of Muslim men attacking hikers in California while shouting religious phrases.
** Two weeks ago there were reports that temples of Baal were being erected in London and NY City to allow for Baal worship.
** Anti-refugee protesters claim that the vast majority of “refugees” are really terrorist cells.
** The Muslim owner of Chobani yogurt has vowed to drown the U.S. in Muslims.
** Vaccines cause autism.
** Cadbury is eliminating the word “Easter” from it's traditional Easter candy packaging.
** Starbucks hates Christmas.
** The Girl Scouts recruits and trains lesbian terrorists.
** Proctor & Gamble used satanic images as its company logo.

I could go on, but you get the idea.  There are any number of things people believe because it showed up on their e-mail, Facebook, Twitter, or God knows where.  People willingly jump to conclusions and believe the worst possible scenarios without bothering to do due diligence and verify even the most basic information.

Sometimes this is ridiculously simplistic and laughable, as with the outrage directed at Starbucks and Cadbury.  Sometimes it causes hateful and spiteful lies to perpetuate and gain support against anything a person feels needs to be attacked, such as those directed at the Girl Scouts claiming it's a front to recruit girls into lesbianism.  And sometimes it's harmful, dangerous, and deadly, such as the Duke Men's Lacrosse rape scandal or the Salem Witch Trials.

We have an unfortunate capacity to believe the absolute worst about people with no proof, or even a minimal amount of believably, that preys on our deepest fears.  One blogger I read on a regular basis calls this Satanic Baby Killer Syndrome.  That name is his way of pointing out both the ridiculousness and danger of getting drawn into that type of thinking.

C.S. Lewis also wrote about this issue.

The real test is this. Suppose one reads a story of filthy atrocities in the paper.  Then suppose that  something turns up suggesting that the story might not be quite true, or not quite so bad as it was  made out.  Is one’s first feeling, “Thank God, even they aren’t quite so bad as that,” or is it a feeling of disappointment, and even a determination to cling to the first story for the sheer  pleasure of thinking your enemies are as bad as possible?  If it is the second then it is, I am afraid, the first step in a process which, if followed to the end, will make us into devils.  You see, one is beginning to wish that black was  a little blacker.  If we give that wish its head, later on we shall wish to see grey as black, and then to see white itself as black.  Finally we shall insist on seeing everything — God and our friends and ourselves included — as bad, and not be able to stop doing it: we shall be fixed for ever in a universe of pure hatred.

That blogger who writes about Satanic Baby Killers had this to say about C.S. Lewis:

Far more upsetting than any supposed gullibility is the reaction of these Christians to being confronted with the evidence that their fake-news Scary Story is, indeed, fake. They’re disappointed.  They’re defensive. They’re angry.
And that, as Lewis says, is all you need to know. That is all the proof you could ever require that we are not dealing here with gullibility or innocence or even ignorance. We are dealing with self-righteous fantasizing, and with malice.*

What are you willing to believe?

Are we willing to believe the worst because the story has been repeated multiple times, or because it fits our political worldview?

More importantly, are we willing to believe a man was resurrected on the third day with as much ease and vigor as we believe Starbucks hates Christmas, the refugee crisis is really a front for terrorists, or there's a group of Satanic Baby Killers living in Merlin?

Peter, John, Thomas, and the others wanted proof of the resurrection.  Peter and John needed to see the empty tomb.  Thomas needed to place his fingers in the wounds.  But it may be that the only proof we have, and the only proof we can offer others, is in how we live our lives.  Because it's in how we live our lives that best exhibits what we believe.


*Slacktivist, June 15, 2015, “It's not gullibility, it's malice:”


Lady Anne | 8:17 PM, April 03, 2016  

All of your sermons are wonderful, but this one really strikes a note with me. I am reading "A Mother's Reckoning" by Sue Klebold, as she talks about having to read all the dreadful things people were saying and writing about her and her husband after the Columbine tragedy. Even my husband and I were guilty of wondering what sort of people could have raised a son who would do such things. What are we willing to believe, anyway? As Martin Luther said, "Put the best construction on everything". Not easy.

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