Monday, 1 April 2013

“The importance of just showing up”: a sermon (2 Easter, John 20:19-31)

Woody Allen was once asked what he thought was the secret of his success as an actor and as a film director.

He replied that, in his opinion, “eighty per cent of success is just showing up.”

It makes sense.  In any field of human activity, initially “showing up” to participate is the bedrock minimum requirement for achieving any measure of success.

For example, I am the first person to admit that I have not been a success as a professional footballer.  But then again, I never showed up at the try-outs for any team.  Those players who are stars in any team sport all showed up a team’s try-outs at some point in their lives, or else they would have never made the grade to play for  Glenorchy, Geelong, the Socceroos, the Opals, the New York Mets, Glasgow Celtic, or whoever.

Similarly, my own failures as an operatic tenor, as a politician, and as a brain surgeon can at least partially be put down to the fact that I never auditioned for a professional opera company, that I never sought any party’s pre-selection for a parliamentary seat, and that I never applied for a place in a medical course.

So, “just showing up”, putting in that first bit of effort to demonstrate some initial interest, is an important part of success in any field of human activity.

An important aspect of our gospel lesson, the story of poor old “doubting Thomas”, was the fact that, at a key moment, Thomas didn’t show up.

John tells us that, when the risen Jesus first appeared to the disciples, Thomas wasn’t there.  He didn’t show up.  And, as a result, he didn’t believe.

It was a dramatic appearance that John described.  It was the evening of the day of the resurrection.  The risen Jesus appeared among the disciples.  He “showed them his hands and his side”.  (This is important when we come later on to Thomas.)  Jesus then commissioned the disciples for their new roles as witnesses to the resurrection and as agents of God’s reconciliation.  In language that has been echoed in many ordination services in the centuries since, Jesus said: 

“As the Father has sent me, so I send you. … Receive the Holy Spirit.   If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”

But Thomas, for whatever reasons, wasn’t there.  He didn’t show up.  

The other disciples saw him later and told him, “We have seen the Lord.”  But Thomas told them, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.” 

Now, this was not an unreasonable request.  Thomas did not ask for some flashy religious special effects.  John told us that Jesus had already shown the other disciples his hands and side. Thomas did not ask to see anything the others had not seen.  He just didn’t show up when the others had seen Jesus.  So Thomas found faith difficult.  The other disciples had moved from the gloom of Good Friday to the joy of Easter.  Thomas was still stuck in Good Friday.  Thomas had not yet known an Easter faith.   (But then, Thomas hadn’t shown up when he needed to.)

A week later, the disciples were together again.  This time, Thomas showed up.  The risen Christ again appeared to them.  This time, disbelief didn’t seem to be an option for Thomas.  (But then, this time Thomas showed up.)  Perhaps we can also say that a big percentage of faith can also be found (or, at least can begin) in “just showing up”.

Today, the second Sunday of the Easter season, used to be called “Low Sunday” in many churches.  The term isn’t used much any more, but there is often a sense of flatness in the worship on the Sunday immediately after the great celebration of Easter Day. 

Last Sunday, church services all over the world were well-supported.  There were people present in church who were not weekly worshippers.  And it’s great that they were there.  It wouldn’t be Easter without them.  It’s good that they continue to show up in church on special occasions.  It’s good that most churches encourage their less frequent worshippers to feel that they are an important part of the faith, whether this is at Easter, or at Christmas, or whenever we celebrate the baptism of a child.  A big percentage of faith can be found (or, at least can begin) in “just showing up”.

Today, on this second Sunday of Easter, once called “Low Sunday”, we’ve got the core.  We’ve probably got the core of the core.  And it’s good that there are those who continue to show up week after week, … even on those Sundays when you may want to do something else, … or on those Sundays when you have a houseful of relatives, … or on those Sundays when you were out on Saturday evening.  It’s good that there are those of you who continue to show up week after week.  A big percentage of faith can be found (or, at least begin) in “just showing up”.

There are many who say, “I can be a Christian by myself without going to church.”  Yes, it’s possible.  Yes, there are people who do this.  But, for most of us, it’s like playing football without being part of a team.  I suppose you can do it, but who would want to if they had any other options?  For all the imperfections of any congregation, and of any denomination, it is far harder for any of us to follow in the steps of Christ on our own.  Given the choice, who would want to?

Like Thomas, perhaps we can also find that a big percentage of faith can be found (or, at least can begin) in “just showing up".

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