>Seeing is Believing

>I had the opportunity to join the wonderfully warm congregation at Good Shepherd for worship on April 19, where I had the honor of preaching for the first time outside my own congregation. It was actually quite fun. They are so welcoming and warm, and they were very engaged in listening. I couldn’t have asked for a nicer way to stretch those “student preacher” muscles.

Lectionary Readings
Acts 4:32-35
Psalm 133:1-3
1 John 1:1-2:2
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.

This is pretty close to what I actually prepared and preached…

Talk about bad timing! I mean, of all the times to be out of the house! I don’t know about you, but every time I hear this story, I have to ask – Where in the world was Thomas? After all, they had locked themselves up in there. Was he out looking for something different to eat? Had he given up on the whole waiting thing? That seems unlikely, since he had obviously returned by the next part of the passage. The thing is, there’s no way of knowing. And apparently where he went wasn’t important, just the fact that he was gone.

But we know that the consequence of Thomas’ absence is important because the Holy Spirit led John to include this passage. That should lead us to ask these three questions…
What do we learn about God?
What do we learn about God’s people?
What does that mean for us today and here?

Through the actions of Christ, we can learn that God is faithful.
Jesus came to the disciples, and then Jesus came back for the one. Just like the good shepherd who left the 99 to go back and find the one lost sheep, Jesus came back for Thomas. And when he did, just like that shepherd, Jesus embraced this wayward disciple, providing Thomas exactly what was needed to help his unbelief. He showed Thomas the wounds.

God does the same for us- knows us intimately, pursues us uniquely, and accepts us completely. In that acceptance, we see God’s infinite grace and healing love, which God gives us so that we might have faith and believe. In this passage we see Jesus reminding Thomas that it takes faith to believe… and that faith is bound up in hope and trust and mystery… “
Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”

And yet… how very much like Thomas we all are.

After all, is it so wrong to want proof that what your friends say is true? I mean, what if poor Thomas was the gullible one (there’s always one) who was always on the prank end of the joke?

And who wants to be the only one left out? Especially when you consider what an incredible moment it must have been for the disciples. The risen Christ breathing the power of the Holy Spirit into the lives of his followers, commissioning them to continue His mission. Thomas could never be part of those first person memories and retellings – because he wasn’t in the room.

And maybe we should consider this… the poor guy has forever been pegged as Doubting Thomas. This is probably not fair, considering the ways that Peter managed to sink instead of walking on water- when Jesus was right there in front of him, no less.

On the other hand, there is something important about Thomas having this moment with Jesus, which was very different from the others’. Let’s go back to his first appearance to the apostles. Jesus said… “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “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.”

When Jesus comes back and speaks to Thomas, he doesn’t go back through that process again. You see, Jesus had already included Thomas in the commissioning and in the receiving of the Holy Spirit. He simply says 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.”

When Thomas answers, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus responds.. “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”
Thomas would have been among the first to hear without seeing- and yet come to believe. Just like every generation of Christ-followers who have come since, including ours!

Now, imagine if the disciples had stayed locked up in that room, waiting for who knows what…. It would have been as if the crucifixion and resurrection had never happened at all. But instead they heard those wonderful words: As the Father sent me, so I send you…

God so loved the world that God sent Jesus- not to condemn the world, but to save the world.
Not to condemn the people who live in the world, but to save them. Not to condemn you and me, but to save us.

Jesus came so that we – each and every one of us – might no longer be slaves of doubt, of sin, of fear and of hatred. But that we would be children of light- courageous, loving forgiven, and forgiving. And through the power of the Holy Spirit, we are sent to do likewise. To bring others into the light. Into the Kingdom of God. Into the family of God. Into the Body of Christ

We are indeed the embodiment of Christ.

Not just the we in this room, of course, but the larger WE that includes all believers across the barriers of time and space…

  • The members and pastors of churches across Central Florida Presbytery and within the PC(USA) denomination.
  • My sister and a friend of ours who does campus ministry – both of whom live in Alaska.
  • My dear former co-worker who now lives in Yorkshire, England.
  • My grandparents who helped raise me in the faith and now worship among the great cloud of witnesses.
  • The thousands of Thai people who came to know Christ through the drama and arts school founded by the Eubanks, missionaries from my home church in Texas.
  • I dare say that you are thinking of people in your circle of friends and family who are also a part of this body.
  • Add to that list people like John Calvin, Karl Barth, Mother Teresa, GK Chesterton, St. Augustine, Claire of Assisi,
  • The child in the nursery who will one day stand and proclaim her faith. And her children and their grand-children.

Together, WE are the body of Christ. And we stand here – each of us bearing the scars of those sins that were healed by God’s grace. And we are surrounded by people who need to see the proof of the Resurrection, just like Thomas…

  • A friend who became a widower and unemployed in the space of 6 months and can’t seem to hear God any more.
  • A teenager who understands the doctrine of Christianity but isn’t sure that it’s any better than any of the other religious options out there.
  • The business owner who understands the command to love God with all his heart, soul, might and strength, but not how to live that out in an office full of people who don’t know God.
  • The woman whose investments have almost disappeared and whose expenses have gone way up over the past few months, even while Social Security benefits stay the same. She wonders, “Where is God when the bank threatens to foreclose?”

There are so very many Thomases who need to see Christ for themselves. How can we give them that proof?

We must live in the power of the Holy Spirit… our very lives must be those of Easter People.

A good place to start is in our reading from Acts this morning…
They were of one heart and soul- they loved and believed and worshipped together. They lived in unity, in right relationships with one another and with God. The apostles gave their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus –they proclaimed the good news of God’s saving grace. Everything they owned was held in common, so that there were no needy among them.

When I came to visit Good Shepherd about a month ago, I was struck by just how well you seem to be living these things out in your community. The hospitality with which you welcomed me and my son and the support that you gave to the youth as they led the worship service that day was evidence of God’s love flowing through you to others. You participate with joy in your worship, proclaiming your faith and proclaiming the Gospel in liturgy and in song. And as you support the Crop Walk, Relay for Life and missionaries in Madagascar, you are working to assure that those outside your walls do not go without. I pray that you would continue to grow in your love for one another, for God, and for the people in your community.

I also pray that each of you has an opportunity to be Christ for someone in your life. A few years ago, when I lost my job. Well, honestly, my job was taken away from me and given to someone else. I was out of work for a couple of months, and during that time, God was working on my heart, using this time to draw me closer. I was working with our youth group, and I was hired as an administrative assistant at Campus Crusade for Christ. But because of the pain caused by my former employer, I was really just going through the motions in my relationship with God. I was dutiful enough- volunteering, worshiping, going to Sunday school. Even working at one of the largest parachurch organizations in the US.

One morning I found myself driving to work singing along to a song on the radio. This isn’t unusual, really. More often than not, if I’m in the car alone, I’m singing. Loudly. This particular song was popular at the time- a song by Third Day, one of my favorite Christian bands. The chorus repeats these words several times: “Show me your glory. Send down your presence. I want to see your face.”

At some point, I realized that I really was asking God to show me. It wasn’t a song any more, it was a prayer. It was the deepest cry of my heart right then. Just like Thomas, I had reached a point at which I needed proof. Proof that God really did hear me and really did care about me and my little part of the world.

I pulled into the parking lot, pulled myself together, and went to my desk. I was ready to get to work, not really thinking about what had happened in the car. I put down my bag and started setting out my things and then I saw it. A cookie, but not just any cookie… it was a my favorite kind of cookie. One of those big, soft chocolate chip cookies that make me remember my Oma’s kitchen. That was pretty amazing, even of itself

And then I saw the note. It said, “Dear Laura, on the way in to work this morning, God told me to stop and get this for you. So here it is, with love from God and me.” My co-worker, Scotty, who had really only known me for a couple of weeks and with whom I had never discussed cookies, had signed it.

But it was clearly an answer to my most heartfelt need… provided even before I had expressed it. You see Scotty had been to the store, arrived at the office and written the note well before I was singing and praying in my car. It was her openness to the moving of the Holy Spirit that allowed God to speak directly to me in the form of a cookie. Seeing was believing. And the verse “Taste and see that the Lord is Good” has had a deeper meaning ever since.

God is good and faithful.
God’s people are the embodiment of Christ.
And as the Body, we are called to provide evidence of God’s grace and love to the world. In the way that we confess our faith in word and in deed, in the way that we love, and in the way we care for one another.

Blessed are those who do not see and yet believe. Yes, let’s tell them.

But let’s help them to see it, too!

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