Seeing is Believing

Prepared for First Presbyterian, Apopka. Primary Scripture: John 20:19-31

It is the evening of the morning when the women found the empty tomb. Mary Magdalene had spoken to Jesus that morning, coming face to face with him in garden, then coming home to tell the disciples the good news. But still that evening, out of fear for what might happen to them, the disciples were waiting behind locked doors.

When HE appeared.

Jesus.

Saying the words we say to each other on a Sunday morning – Peace be with you. Then he showed them his hands to make sure they understood that it was really him, that they could believe what they had seen, that they could believe what they were seeing.

And Thomas missed the whole thing.  Talk about bad timing! I mean, of all the times to be out of the house!

Just like the men had a hard time believing the women when they returned from the empty tomb, Thomas wasn’t able to believe Jesus had appeared, proving the story was true, not based solely on the words of his friends. I get the feeling that he wanted to believe, that he wanted to see Jesus himself, not just as proof that the stories were true, but as proof that Jesus was the messiah.

According to what John tells us, there are no real guarantees from Jesus that he’ll be back to show his scars again. But like the shepherd who left the 99 to search for the one lost sheep, Jesus came back for Thomas. Jesus came back for the one. 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- God 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, too, 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… He says, Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.

I read this account and can’t help but think how very much like Thomas I am… maybe 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 (because 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 that must have been for the disciples.

The risen Christ, breathing the power of the Holy Spirit into the lives of his followers, authorizing them to continue the mission. Thomas could never be part of the 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.  I’m not sure that moniker is fair, considering the fact that Peter managed to sink instead of walking on water- when Jesus was right there in front of him, no less.

There is something else that is more important about this moment between Thomas and Jesus, a moment very different from when he encountered the others the week before.

Let’s go back to that first evening visit to the apostles.  Remember, Jesus said, As the Father has sent me, so I send you.  Then 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 whole process. 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, with recognition 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 could have been among the first to hear without seeing- and yet come to believe.  He would have been just like every generation of Christ-followers after the ascension, including our own!

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… And they went.

In fact, according to tradition, Thomas went as far as India to tell of God’s love. Because they went to bear witness, because their stories were written down and copies and retold, you and I have heard and come to believe the good news:

That 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 to doubt, slaves to sin, to fear and 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.  To invite others 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 all the churches here in Apopka and across Central Florida.
My missionary friends who live in Alaska and the Dominican Republic.
My dear former co-worker in Yorkshire, England.
My grandparents who helped raise me in the faith and now worship with others I know and love among the great cloud of witnesses.
The beloved and departed saints from this congregation, whose names I hear as you tell your stories, and whose stories I have not yet heard.
Add to that the children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren of the families represented here today. The generations yet to come…

Together, WE are the body of Christ.  And we gather here to represent that big WE – each of us bearing the scars of sins that were healed by God’s grace.

Let me say that one more time…

Together, we are the Body of Christ.  And we stand here – each and every one of us bearing the evidence of just how cruel this world can be… marked by the healed or still-healing wounds that bear witness to our humanity. The wounds that bear witness to human depravity.

We are Christ’s hands, feet and sides, pierced by the choices we’ve made, words that have been said, roads that were followed.  We are his back, bruised and bleeding from choices others have made, some intentionally, some without realizing just how far the collateral damage would reach.

And yet, because we stand by faith to confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, and because we stand united in that confession, as bruised, battered and scarred as we may appear, we remain the Body of Christ.

And there are so very many Thomases who need to see Christ for themselves.
Which means they need to see Christ in us.

Jesus made it pretty clear what that means for us. He commands us to love one another, and on the night he was betrayed and arrested, he showed us what this looks like. Jesus, the teacher, the rabbi, washed his disciples’, his followers’ feet. He wanted to be sure they understood, that is he, the one they called Lord and Teacher, could humble himself to wash their feet, they too ought to wash one another’s feet.

We must be humble enough to forgive one another and to seek forgiveness. We must treat one another with dignity and kindness, even when it would feel better to pay back the disrespect and pain we’ve been dealt We must mourn with those who mourn and rejoice with those who rejoice and sit with those who just need company.

Jesus also commands us to love our neighbors. Time after time, he taught that we show love by caring and doing for the least of these, those who have been rejected and neglected, those who have been knocked around by the world. The truth is, we are surrounded by folks desperate for a glimpse of love…

The man who became a widower and lost his job in the space of 6 months, who can’t seem to hear God any more.

The teenager who understands the doctrines of Christianity but isn’t sure that it’s any better than 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 do so in an office full of people who don’t know God and are willing to do whatever it takes to make more money.

The married couple whose lives have become so busy that they feel more like room-mates and need a reminder of what love looks like

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?”

The young people who question the way families, churches and even businesses treat  people without compassion in the name of Jesus.

When I first came to visit this congregation- way back in September – I was struck by just how well you seem to be living these things out in this community.  The hospitality with which you welcomed me, making sure I would join you for the fellowship time in Ranson Hall… and this bears witness to 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.  You work to assure that others do not go without – through the meals served every Friday, through contributions of time and support to Loaves and Fishes, through money raised for 2 cents a meal, the Great Hour of Sharing and our missionaries in Africa.

As God’s people, we are the embodiment of Christ. And as the Body, we bear witness to 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. And so I pray that we would all continue to grow in our love for one another, for God, and for the people of Apopka and the world.

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