Seward United Methodist Church
Tuesday, October 22, 2019
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Faith and Sight

John 20:19-31

Are there things you believe without seeing? Well, yeah. There are things we all believe without seeing. I believe everything in the universe is made up of little tiny bits called atoms, even though I can’t see them. Science says so. And I take it on faith, since I can’t see them, not even when I squint really hard.

Can we see Jesus risen from the dead? No. But then again, yes. We can see him risen and living in the Body of Christ, the Church. “Well, that’s not the same thing.” True, but that doesn’t mean it’s not real.

Let’s look at our text for today:

“On the first day of the week…” The first day of the week would be Sunday, the day of the resurrection, the day after the Sabbath. Early on in the Church, it became the practice to worship on Sundays. That was remarkable, considering the first Christians were all Jewish, used to worshipping on Saturday. And Gentiles who became Christians didn’t care what day it happened. They had no Sabbath to uphold. So that was quite the change after more than a thousand years of tradition.

The disciples are meeting behind locked doors. They are not expecting a resurrection. In fact, they are expecting to be the next victims of the religious authorities. And they can’t even get out of Dodge. No one left the city during the week-long Passover Festival, so if they left, they would attract attention. They’re trying to fly under the radar, so they have to wait to leave with all the pilgrims at the end of the week.

Suddenly, Jesus is with them. There is a mystery to the resurrection body. It sure sounds like Jesus just comes in through a locked door, suggesting his body is less than corporeal. But they touch Jesus, and Jesus eats, confirming he is physical, corporeal, not a ghost. So there’s a bit of a mystery here. Something I heard once that has stuck with me is the suggestion that Jesus’ resurrection body is able to pass through a door, not because it’s less real than the door, but because it is more real than the door. I’m not sure that’s a sound argument, but it sounds neat. I’ll ask him when I get to heaven.

“Peace be with you.” Well, peace is with them, because Jesus is with them.

And then Jesus shows them the scars in his hands and his side. Generally, I think the resurrection body will be perfected; that any infirmities in our bodies in this life will

not be there in the resurrection. Our bodies will be glorified. But Jesus’ body, apparently, always carries the marks of the crucifixion. Why? Because they are part of his glory. The letter to the Hebrews tells us that, “He was made perfect through suffering.”

They rejoice, and then John tells us about Jesus sending them and breathing on them. Perhaps this is John’s version of a very condensed Great Commission and Pentecost. Remember, he is a Hebrew story-teller. Telling the story in chronological order is not important to him. Meaning trumps order to the Hebrew story-teller.

The whole breathing on them thing recalls Genesis 2:7 where God brings Adam to life by breathing life into him. Well, now the Church is being brought to new life, as they are filled by the Spirit. The Spirit is needed for them to speak from God to the world.

The Church needs Jesus. Jesus is our sending authority and the source of our power. But Jesus also needs the Church. We are the Body of Christ, the instrument through which Christ works in the world.

“If you forgive anyone’s sins, they are forgiven.” Now, we can’t forgive sin. Only God can do that. But we are authorized by Jesus to proclaim forgiveness on behalf of God. That is also part of our Great Commission; to proclaim the forgiveness of sins.

But we learn one of the disciples wasn’t there: Poor, doubting Thomas, who is always remembered for this story; and usually nothing else. But if you look in John 10, you find that when all the other disciples were too afraid to go back to Jerusalem, Thomas said, “Let’s go, and if we have to, we’ll die with Jesus.” Maybe the reason Thomas wasn’t there was because he was the only of the Twelve brave enough not to hide from the religious authorities! That would change our understanding of him!

Regardless, he wasn’t there. He wasn’t part of the community of Jesus followers. And when Jesus shows up, he usually shows up in the midst of the Body of Christ. We should not avoid meeting together with the fellowship of believers, because that’s where we should expect to encounter Jesus. And sometimes, in our times of distress, when we are tired or angry or grieving or hurting, that’s what we do. We avoid the Body. And that’s when we need the Body of Christ the most.

Well, Thomas still has his doubts. He won’t accept the testimony of other disciples as proof enough. He wants to see and touch Jesus for himself.

Doubts are inevitable. No matter how strong our faith is, I think we all have those moments when we wonder, “Is it really true? Should I really believe this, or is it just a waste of my time?” We all struggle with doubt at times. And faith is not the absence of doubt. Faith is the choice to trust and obey in spite of doubts.

Jesus meets Thomas at the point of his doubting. God is not afraid of our doubts. I think the real question is not, “Will we have doubts?” but “How do we doubt?” Do our doubts drive us to seek out answers? Or do our doubts harden our hearts?

Thomas said, “I won’t believe until…” He left an opening. Compare that to Israel in the story of the Exodus who, even after God had come through so many times, still kept saying, “We should have stayed in Egypt. God brought us out here to die.”

The center of the story is always Jesus and how Jesus responds to Thomas’ doubts. Jesus met him at the point of his doubting. Don’t be afraid to bring your doubts to God and give him the chance to meet you. But don’t harden your heart. If you demand proof, you may not get it. Faith is faith, not absolute certainty.

Jesus said to Thomas and all of us, “You believe because you have seen. Blessed are those who believe without seeing.” From the first readers of John’s Gospel and down to this very day, that’s all of us. We believe without seeing.

Or do we? Christ is still risen, present, and living in the Body of Christ. The coming of Christ was a historical event; something that happened in a particular time and place. But it also transcends history, because Jesus is alive and present wherever the Church, the Body of Christ is.

And Christ is present in the Church’s re-telling of the story every year through the Word that is written, the Word that is spoken, and the way that the Holy Spirit speaks through the Word.

If we want to see the risen Christ, then we should come to the place where he is alive and active: The Body of Christ.

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