Sunday, May 1, 2011

Suspend Your Disbelief

This is the day that the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it!


Does it get any better than this?


I am currently having a social-media-excitable moment.  Of of my church members told me today that she thought she had seen one of my tweets about the royal wedding quoted on an article on yahoo.  I just did some investigating and found it!  The article is here - thanks for the heads up Sue!


Lunch:


It's nice to keep some different sandwich fixin's in the refrigerator, like banana peppers and chick peas.  It's a nice change of pace from lunch meat and cheese.

I have had a couple of requests to continue to post my sermons on here and I am very honored to do so!  We are also starting to post them on the church website, but I like keeping them archived on here as well.  Here is this week's ...

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John 20:19-31
Acts 2:14, 22-32

Suspend Your Disbelief

Samuel Taylor Coleridge was a 18th and 19th century English Poet, literary critic and philosopher and one of the founders of the Romantic Movement. He coined the phrase and concept of “willing suspension of disbelief” as a way of helping people in the 19th century understand popular poetry and nonfiction involving the supernatural that had gone out of fashion. People were enlightened, more educated and more embracing of the rational world and science; the supernatural just did not make sense to them. “Suspend your disbelief,” Coleridge would say, “so that you might continue to enjoy these stories.”

In the Gospel lesson that we heard this morning, Jesus appeared to the disciples after his resurrection. Thomas, one of the twelve, did not believe that it was him, Jesus the Christ, the resurrected Lord, until he had touched Jesus’ hands and sides where his wounds were. Jesus said to Thomas after Thomas recognized and proclaimed that he was seeing Jesus Christ, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”

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

Suspend your disbelief.

That’s what Christianity is all about, right? We cannot see, we cannot scientifically prove and we cannot create physical evidence to back up our belief in the resurrection of Jesus Christ back then and in the presence of God in our lives today.

When I read through this scripture at the beginning of the week, Coleridge’s phrase, “suspend your disbelief” popped into my head and I put it into the bulletin and e-mailed it off to Elaine for printing. I kept thinking, “What a great message! Suspend your disbelief! Run from the tomb and yell ‘Christ Is Risen!’ even if there is no physical evidence – we are better than Thomas! We do not need to feel Christ’s wounds to know what he did for us. Suspend your disbelief.”

And then I started thinking. And pondering. And looking around. And asking questions. And then I started to wonder – isn’t that what we are already doing? Aren’t we already suspending our disbelief? Aren’t we living an ancient faith and believing in events that happened long ago and that left little physical evidence? We are suspending our disbelief. We are believing.

Scholars say that pastors should preach this passage and focus on Thomas and his doubts, but I think that if I did that I would be overlooking the fact that Christians in this generation, that members of this congregation, Rehoboth Congregational Church, are suspending their disbelief already and believing in what they cannot see.

They – you – are feeling God’s presence, listening to God still speaking, worshiping God with people you love and finding new sparks of relevance in ancient scriptures. I think we should preach this passage and focus on the words of Jesus, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe."

Because that is what the Christian church is all about. Because that is how the church has grown and continues to grow. That is why churches thrive. That is why this church thrives and will continue to thrive. Because at the heart of all of this – all of the congregational structures, the polity, the bylaws, the history and the committees – is belief. Belief in what we cannot see – but what we know is true.

The Acts of the Apostles, the book of the bible that the second scripture we read this morning came out of, is thought to be a continuation of the Gospel of Luke. Luke ends with the ascension of Jesus and Acts starts with the ministry of the apostles and of Paul. Acts records the story of the first generation of Christian leaders and followers.

In this particular passage, Peter told a group of people that had gathered what had happened when Jesus ascended into heaven to sit at the right hand of God. Peter said, “You that are Israelites, listen to what I have to say!” The notes in my study bible say that “Peter’s … speech signals the beginning of the Christian witness that was promised.” This speech was the first generation of believers who were going out on a limb and saying to those around them, “Listen to what I have to say! You have got to suspend your disbelief – and see what I am seeing, feel what I am feeling and believe what I am believing.”

That is what we are doing right here.

I posted a facebook status last night asking my friends how they know that God exists and I got a wonderful stream of responses – none of which were anything alike. But they were – and are – all very real. And just like Peter addressed a crowd of people and said, “Listen to what I have to say” – so should we.

I think that we live in a time where it is difficult to share our faith with the people around us. I think that extremists on all sides have made it difficult to both proclaim our belief and ponder our disbelief. “I don’t talk religion or politics at dinner parties,” people often tell me.

And that’s fine. But what if we talked about faith?

It is clear to me – from the various responses to a question about knowing God, from the various stories that you all have told me over the past four weeks about your journeys to and your lives in Rehoboth Congregational Church that this congregation is suspending its disbelief, asking questions and expressing doubt but still having faith. It comes in different shapes, sizes, forms and colors – but it is real and it is inside every single one of you.

Faith isn’t what version of the bible you think is the most true, or what denomination you think gets it “right” or how you think the church should run or where you stand on political issues. It is deeper than that. It is sacred. It is unique in every single one of you.

It is the tangible or intangible way that you know that God is present in your life. It is strength when you are weak; it is comfort when you cry out and it is warmth when you feel alone. It is the chill that goes through your body when you hear one of your favorite songs; it is the escape you feel when you sit down and do something that you love and it is the comfort and joy you get every time you worship and fellowship with this community. It is the pain you felt in your heart when you heard about the devastation in the south this week. It is hard to explain. But it is real. Your story – your faith journey – is real.

And now I charge you with the same task that Peter charged so many years ago – suspend your disbelief. And tell the world.

Amen.

2 comments:

  1. Beautiful flowers!! And beautiful passage about suspending our disbeliefs. It would have been interesting to see the people's responses to their beliefs on God as well. It's amaing how we can all have such different beliefs in who he is, how he is, and what not and yet he lives in all of us. Maybe not entirely for many..but he's there in some shape or form.

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