Those Who Have Not Seen and Yet Believe
Acts 4:32-35; Psalm 133; 1 John 1:1-2:2; John 20:19-31
Bigfork Community United Methodist Church
April 8, 2018 – Second Sunday of Easter
I get the feeling that the readings are about us this week. I might be missing something or seeing something that isn’t there, but let me tell you why. I look forward to your feedback.
In this season after Easter, we have many readings from the church, the body of Christ on earth, in that precious period just after his death …and resurrection. What a time that must have been.
We have a household of men and women – the First Family – who have seen their leader…their teacher…their rabbi…their master…put to death.
The Romans have gone to extra trouble to make an example of him. He was whipped and scourged, mocked and crucified with his own people turning against him…leaving him alone.
But there have been rumors. Mary found the tomb empty that first Easter Sunday morning. Peter and the beloved disciple ran to the tomb and saw the burial clothes neatly folded where the body of Jesus had been laid. Mary Magdalene returned to the house after Peter and the beloved disciple, saying that she had seen Jesus after the two disciples had left.
She spoke to him. She only recognized him after he called her by name, but then he told her to come and tell them he was not dead. He had risen from the dead and was going on to be with God.
He had told them on Thursday that he would go ahead of them and prepare a room for them in his Father’s…and our Father’s house. It seemed so strange at the time. Now it seemed even stranger.
This morning we read of the family still being in hiding, behind locked doors for fear that the Jewish leaders would have them arrested and tried as well.
How terrifying their dilemma must have been. They have witnesses who testify to Jesus’ victory over death. It is too wonderful to understand. God’s learning is too high for them still. The wisdom of the world has been rendered foolish…again.
On the other hand, there are people looking for them to kill them because the truth is too wonderful for them to understand, too…there is too much power in this story to shrug it off now. Better snuff it out.
They are twice-humbled as they sit there…by a wonderful new understanding of their situation in the universe…and a terrible new understanding of their situation in Jerusalem.
They are in a humbler place than Moses was when he was out there in Midian, tending his father-in-law’s goats. But then again…come to think of it…that was when Moses saw the burning bush.
Such a sighting of the divine being, God, is called a theophany. Suddenly you realize you are in the presence of one who is all-powerful, all-knowing and all-loving.
You can speak at times like that, I suppose, but it’s a very good time to watch closely and listen carefully. You are about to be changed by this. You are at the tipping point and this is going to nudge you one way or the other.
Jesus stands before them to reassure them that this was nothing they should fear. In fact, they no longer have anything to fear. They have stepped into a new world with the risen Christ.
It seems necessary that people need to be humbled to transcend their circumstances and realize that they are in the presence of the Almighty.
Finally…after ruminating about the past and worrying about the future all their adult lives…they are delivered into the present moment …the only moment anyone can do anything…and they realize they have more power now…because they have come to now…than anyone in the world has ever had.
He sends them forth as God had sent him forth into the world and the baptism of the Holy Spirit that John the Baptist has promised the Messiah would perform is done briefly, with a breath.
Abraham Lincoln had grown to such a stature in 1858 that he would never be able to have anything like a normal life after that. He had contended with Stephen Douglas in a mighty race that had ended in Douglas’ re-election to the United States Senate.
Lincoln had won the popular vote by over 4,000 votes, but the legislature got to elect Senators. The Democratic majority held firm and Douglas was returned to office.
The night Lincoln got the final news Republicans were asking him to not run for anything again. He could always get the nomination, but he never won the election. It was January 5, 1859.
Lincoln mused to a friend that he expected everyone to desert him now, except his law partner, Bill Herndon. He got up and started to walk home.
There were no sidewalks and the path was muddy and slippery. He slipped, both feet came off the ground, he made a twist in mid-air, caught himself and landed on both feet.
He exulted to himself, “Just a slip and not a fall.” Then the superstition of the moment brightened him and straightened him as he repeated, “Just a slip and not a fall!”
In fact, the Lincoln Douglas Debates had been recorded verbatim by an Illinois newspaper and they had become very popular. Other newspapers began to print them, too, and by the time the election was finally decided, the whole nation was reading the great debate about slavery, the burning issue of their time.
It was not the end of things for Lincoln, but the beginning.
The disciples will find this out, too, as they are emboldened by the visit from their master…all of them except Thomas, that is. But we will come back to him later.
We will read of Peter’s fearless and convicting proclamation at Pentecost. No longer hiding behind closed doors, but addressing whoever happened to be within hearing about the fact that Jesus had been the Promised One and they had killed him.
It must have been a great sermon to all who were there because over 3,000 chose to be baptized that day.
They were alive and their hearts were on fire to share the good news they had received. It’s like a great basketball game I saw in Fort Benton in 1966. We had them down by one point and there was a jump ball at our end of the court.
We stood back and let them tip it and throw it and a guy by the name of Schoonover got the tip, threw the ball three-quarters of the length of the floor and made it.
Defeat had been turned to victory and the whole town became believers that night.
We started a capital campaign about a year ago now. We had a mortgage of $377,000 and we wanted to pay it off so that the $3,000 we were sending to our mortgage holder could be invested in ministry in our community.
We planned and we prayed, “God, what in the world do you want to accomplish through me today?” Lead Gifts were encouraging and we began to intentionally celebrate all the ministries that our little church was already engaged in.
We came up with over 30 of them and after we went through that surprisingly long list one Sunday, people still came up to me after that service to name a few more. We had failed to see all that we were doing, but once we did, what might be possible became much more believable.
We have new ministries going already and I was happy to share with you earlier today that we had our first 20+ meal night last week. The Masons and the Bigfork Beagle now want to take Thursdays to serve.
That makes it a program sponsored by us, the VFW, Rotary, the Rotary Backpack Committee, the Mama Bears, our Education Committee and now the Masons. A local bank called me for information and is also thinking about it.
The Power of Good is still strong in the world, and while we are still into the Word, we are also into the world in a new and powerful way. And it is only a beginning.
We read from Acts today that the new-found power of the spirit caused a community to form all of the surprising good things that were happening among the Apostles.
In fact, where we begin to read, Peter has been proclaiming Christ crucified as the Savior of the world in Solomon’s portico, a conspicuous public place in the Temple, and the captain of the Temple and the Sadducees hade them arrested.
But the crowd was with them by then and they were released. Once again, just like the day Jesus appeared to them all, they are living for the cause which is more important than anything in the world and they have all things in common.
Their collective wealth is all put to the great cause before them. No one begrudges anyone anything because suddenly…as another gift from the Spirit…there are no needy persons among them.
They are not there to receive from the church but to build the church. They have been given what they need so they can do what only they can do…which is to witness to the power of truth of Jesus Christ to all the world.
We find ourselves, like them, being drawn further into the world as we grow more fully into the Word… and as we grow ever more fully into the Word, we find ourselves being drawn ever further into the world.
“We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us,” we read from the First Letter of John this morning.
We call to a worried and weary world. There is goodness aplenty in our Book and that goodness is beginning to seep out into our lives and our community. Word and world are becoming one.
We speak light into a dark world. “God is light; in him there is no darkness at all,” John writes to us today. “We write this to make our joy complete.”
Even skeptics have to pause and wonder at what they see. Thomas was as surprised as anyone at the sight of the risen Christ.
But we don’t get to see that. It has happened, but something like it can still happen in the world…in our community…in our church…and in our hearts. Jesus blesses us as those who will never get to touch his scarred hands in this world. “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”Sometimes it takes believing to make something visible. And what we have made so far is just a small beginning.
It’s much like the way John concludes his Gospel: “Jesus performed many other signs…but these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.”
Where are we going? I’m not certain? Where are we heading? I don’t know. All I know is we are on our way. Amen.