Thursday, April 16, 2009

See and Believe?

Here's my sermon for Sunday- I'm preaching at a church in LaGrange, GA near the GA-Alabama border. Looking for any and all feedback!

See and Believe?

John 20:19-31 19 When 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." 20 After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. 21 Jesus said to them again, "Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you." 22 When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, "Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained." 24 But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. 25 So 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." 26 A 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." 27 Then 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." 28 Thomas answered him, "My Lord and my God!" 29 Jesus said to him, "Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe." 30 Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. 31 But 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.

The second Sunday of Easter- we have been through the power of Holy Week – gathered around the table to partake of bread and wine and spent quiet moments reflecting on the violence surrounding Jesus’ crucifixion and death upon the cross. We have celebrated Christ’s resurrection on Easter Sunday morning, sung our joyful hymns, and heard the story of the women at the tomb who come to realize Christ is no longer dead, but alive once again. We proclaimed – “Alleluia! Christ is risen! He is risen indeed!”

But now, a week has gone by. Life is returning to normal: back to work & school, continuing to whittle away at our long to do lists, and the pressures of everyday life begin to overwhelm us again.

But, Easter is not over! The story continues with this passage from the Gospel of John this morning. And, we are presented with a question that bears our careful consideration – do you need to see in order to believe?

Some of us are like Thomas in this story. He had a hard time believing the disciples were telling the truth about seeing Christ again. Thomas wants to see the risen Christ for himself, not simply relying on the stories of others. He wants to see, to touch, to feel Christ with him once again. Thomas really just wants what the other disciples were able to experience behind those closed doors – an encounter with the risen Christ.

And, some of us are like the disciples behind the closed doors. They were afraid and locked themselves away. And we, like those disciples, have a tendency to live in our comfortable realities of this world, despite that the Easter story has essentially turned the world upside down. We often live behind our closed doors, where we do not have to face our fears, huddled together, not quite ready to live into the gift of the Spirit, as an Easter people. Our temptation is to celebrate Easter and then go back to life as usual, like nothing really happened. But, the story does not end with Christ being raised from death unto life. There is much more. Christ appeared to the disciples, breathing the power of the Holy Spirit upon them, sending them into the world to proclaim peace and good news to all people.

This is our story. A little bit of Thomas and a little bit of the other disciples. We have doubts, we have fears, and we have all of the emotions of the ones whom Christ had chosen to follow him. We want to see in order to believe. There are times we wish we could actually see Jesus, touch him, hear his words for ourselves – you know, straight from the source. That is what Thomas wanted. The disciples who witnessed the first encounter behind the closed doors probably wanted to see Jesus again. We want to see the risen Christ too.

And so, Jesus appeared to them for a second time, and this time, Thomas was with them. And, after placing his hands into the wounds on his body, he proclaims, “my Lord and my God”. Jesus’ response is to ask the question – do you believe because you have seen me? What a powerful question, not only for Thomas, but for us. Must we see in order to believe? We live in a world filled with skepticism and doubt. We seem to always want a little more proof. We look for answers to the hard questions of life and of faith. And, we want those answers. It is like we need to see in order to truly believe.

The answer Jesus gives to his own question is “blessed are those who have not yet seen, but have come to believe.” There is an element of trust implied in this answer. Thomas and the other disciples need to trust he is indeed with them, even if they are not able to physically see him or touch his body. And, this is true for us as well. Since we were not present for the resurrection or the appearances to the disciples behind closed doors, we need to place our trust in this written word, that Jesus is the Son of God, and in our belief, we will have new life. We cannot place our hands on the wounds ourselves, but we can look for places in our lives where we have witnessed the risen Christ.

When reflecting about this, I am reminded of glimpses of grace - we have these every day in our lives, those times when we are able to feel Christ’s presence with us. My dear friend Whitney started a blog almost three years ago that chronicles her glimpses of grace, encounters with the risen Christ, in her daily life. These range from a warm cup of tea on a chilly day, to her encounters with interesting people, to the discovery of new things and old treasures. We are indeed surrounded by these glimpses into the realm of the holy and transcendent – those times when we can indeed see and believe Christ is indeed with us. Over these last few days, I have been reminded of these moments in my own life, as graduation from seminary is quickly approaching. I think of the people who greatly enrich my life, the moments when I can truly feel & hear God speaking to me, times when I can feel Christ’s presence surrounding me, especially in times of great anxiety about what the future might hold. These moments of holy space point us towards the risen Christ and where we can truly see him in our daily lives, amidst the suffering, the hard places in our world.

The words Jesus speaks to his disciples – “peace be with you”, he also speaks to us this day. Christ meets us where we are, even behind our closed doors. He meets us in moments of real honesty, real life and this is truly when we are able to recognize Christ, and that we are not alone in this world, but have always been found by God. That is the power of this story – the story of Christ’s death and resurrection. For we are indeed disciples of Christ in this world, blessed by God, and having received the gift of the Holy Spirit, we are sent out to proclaim the peace and mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to a world in great need of hope. We not only hear the words “peace be with you”, but we are charged to share them with all whom we encounter in our daily lives. This is what it means to live as Easter people – living into our calling as disciples, sharing the good news, believing what we have seen for ourselves, all the while, trusting in what others have seen before us. And, in doing so, the story continues on.

Blessed are those who have not yet seen, but have come to believe. Blessed are you have not yet seen and yet continue to believe. Indeed, blessed are you. Thanks be to God. Amen.

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