Believing Where We Have Not Seen, April 28

  Believing Where We Have Not Seen

Acts 5:27-32; Psalm 150; Revelation 1:4-8; John 20:19-30

Rev. Catherine E. Schuyler

April 24, 2019; Catskill United Methodist Church

 

30Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. 31But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.

 

I appreciate this addendum, this explanation of why this writer took the time to create this document we know as the gospel of John.  These stories were recorded for us, and for readers centuries before us and centuries after us, that we may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing we may have life in his name. This comes directly after the involved story, with exquisite detail, of Thomas’ week-long journey to belief in Jesus’ resurrection, in large part because he, like most of us, believed what his eyes and his senses told him.  He had seen Jesus alive, he had seen him arrested, and he had probably watched most of his trial and crucifixion, if at a safe distance in order that he didn’t follow Jesus to the same fate.  We don’t know why he wasn’t with the others that first Sunday night, on the third day after Jesus’ death.  Maybe he had another commitment, but it seems likely that he simply had had enough.  Jesus was gone and he didn’t feel like dragging this out.  The dream was over, and he’d rather not go over it all again with the rest of them.  So Thomas missed Jesus’ first appearance to the disciples.   He missed the welcome of peace, with its overtones both of “Don’t be afraid because it’s me” and “It’s all going to be ok from here on out because I’m here.”  He missed Jesus’ gift of the Holy Spirit to his followers and his commissioning of them, “as the Father has sent me.”  And when his friends search him out during the week and tell him about what happened, he is adamant that he’ll have none of it.  ‘Oh, baloney,’ he says.  ‘I’ll believe it when I see it.’  But he is willing to gather with them the next week.  He’s willing to entertain the possibility that Jesus is actually alive enough to rejoin the community of his friends, just in case.  That willingness is big.  If he hadn’t been there again, he would have missed his moment.  But he came to the upper room the next week.  He opened his mind and heart just enough to let God work.

 

You know the rest of the story.  Thomas is there, Jesus shows up, greets them again in peace, and turns immediately to Thomas – here, touch my hands, feel my wounds, indulge your senses, let my being convince you that I’m alive.  And then the text surprises us.  It does not report that Thomas touched Jesus at all.  It does not report that Thomas even took note of the wounds he had insisted on seeing just days earlier.  Instead the story goes immediately to Thomas’ declaration, “my Lord and my God!”  This is, in fact, the first confession to Jesus since his resurrection that he is Lord and God.  Mary called him Rabboni, teacher, when she saw him in the garden, and no-one else in the story has said a word to Jesus since he rose from the tomb.  Thomas responds in faith, naming aloud what he understands to be the significance that Jesus is alive and not dead.  You are who we always hoped you were – you are Lord and God, my Lord, my God.  It’s Thomas’ heart, touched by Jesus’ willingness to come back for him, that ultimately convinces him. 

 

Jesus then says, as much to the other disciples, and to disciples for the rest of time, as to Thomas, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”  That would be us, wouldn’t it?  Christians since those forty days between the resurrection and the ascension are those who have not seen the risen Jesus with our own eyes, have not had the opportunity to touch the wounds in his hands or in his side.  And yet we are blessed because we have come to believe. 

 

All of this points to the question, what does it mean to believe.  Jesus looks for disciples to believe down through the years; the gospel declares its own purpose ‘that we might come to believe and through believing we might have life.’  Life, that which Jesus comes to offer – ‘I came that you might have life and have it abundantly,’ says John 10:10b – that life is available through believing.  That’s John’s primary point.   That’s why he goes through the effort of putting together this story we have. 

 

But what is belief?  We use it as if it’s a synonym for thought.  It stands in contrast to action.  We believe with our minds; we act with our bodies. 

Christians have argued for centuries about which is more important, what we believe or what we do.  There are many Christians whom I deeply respect who are tired of the emphasis the tradition has placed on belief.  Stop arguing about the picayune details of exactly how atonement works or precisely why God becomes incarnate!  Get out and feed the poor and heal the sick; love your neighbor as yourself; do justice and love kindness!  Stop talking and get moving; live your faith instead!  Yet here in John, where Jesus so emphasizes love that he summarizes all his teaching to his disciples at the last supper with “love one another as I have loved you,” the question of belief is central to the storyteller’s notion of all he’s got to say.  It matters that we know as utterly true that God doesn’t simply offer us ideas for discussion, but offers us love, power and purpose for our lives precisely because Jesus is alive.  I came that you might have life through believing, through owning as foundationally true, that Jesus – and all that he’s about – is the Son of God.

 

Because belief isn’t just thought.  It’s the bedrock foundation of what makes us function, day after day.  We each live with many beliefs, some of which we share with others, some of which are ours alone.  We were challenged this Spring about our belief about this church.  The roof of this church building has leaked for decades, but it’s getting worse, much worse.  Something had to be done.  But to do it, we had to believe a) that it could be done, and b) more fundamentally, was it worth doing?  Was this church, and the love we share and the ministry we offer and the mission and vision God still has for us worth the effort and the money to put this building in working and safe order?  We couldn’t have gotten even this far into this capital campaign if you hadn’t believed in all that this church is and all that we are yet to be. 

 

There were Doubting Thomases.  There were those who said we just couldn’t do it.  We didn’t have it in us.  There weren’t enough people to make it happen.  It was an understandable fear.  We are not a huge congregation.  The good news in today’s gospel story is that Thomas needed only to see Jesus to realize he could dare to believe all that had been said.  Those who were concerned about whether we can make this project successful I trust will be convinced.  We are well on our way to accomplishing our goal; we’ll celebrate next Sunday the progress we’ve made.

 

Simply by undertaking this campaign to fix the roof, we claimed a belief in the God who called this church into being almost two hundred years ago, the same God we have trusted to be with us and guide us in our time, whether it’s been sixty years, twenty years, or only a short time, we believe that we do not sustain the work that happens here alone.  We are an Easter people, set to work with power given by the Holy Spirit, that same Spirit Jesus breathed on his disciples so many years ago.  That trust is the reason we worship, it’s the reason we feed people, it’s the reason we organize blood drives and make soup for Mission dinners.  Because Christ lives, we face tomorrow in this church, day after day, recognizing the power of the Spirit among us in our friendships, in our worship, and in our work.   Alleluia!  Alleluia! Alleluia!  Amen.

 

 

Acts 5:27-32

27When they had brought them, they had them stand before the council. The high priest questioned them, 28saying, “We gave you strict orders not to teach in this name, yet here you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching and you are determined to bring this man’s blood on us.” 29But Peter and the apostles answered, “We must obey God rather than any human authority. 30The God of our ancestors raised up Jesus, whom you had killed by hanging him on a tree. 31God exalted him at his right hand as Leader and Savior that he might give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins. 32And we are witnesses to these things, and so is the Holy Spirit whom God has given to those who obey him.”

 

Psalm 150 (UMH 862)

Praise the Lord!

Praise God in his sanctuary; praise him in his mighty firmament!

Praise him for his mighty deeds; praise him according to his surpassing greatness!

Praise him with trumpet sound; praise him with lute and harp!

Praise him with tambourine and dance; praise him with strings and pipe!

Praise him with clanging cymbals; praise him with loud clashing cymbals!

Let everything that breathes praise the Lord!

Praise the Lord!

 

Revelation 1:4-8 

4John to the seven churches that are in Asia: Grace to you and peace from him who is and who was and who is to come, and from the seven spirits who are before his throne, 5and from Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth. To him who loves us and freed us from our sins by his blood, 6and made us to be a kingdom, priests serving his God and Father, to him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen. 7Look! He is coming with the clouds; every eye will see him, even those who pierced him; and on his account all the tribes of the earth will wail. So it is to be. Amen. 8“I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.

John 20:19-31

19When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 20After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. 21Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” 22When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” 24But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. 25So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to 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.”

26A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 27Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.” 28Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” 29Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.” 30Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. 31But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.