Seeing Is Believing

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2nd Sunday of Easter
April 12, 2015
John 20:19-31
Peder Stenslie

We have to talk about Thomas a bit today.  We have to set the record straight.

Because of today’s Gospel lesson, poor Thomas is almost always singled out as the disciple who had doubts.  For many Christians, Thomas’ entire personality, as well as his life with Jesus, is summed up in that phrase… “he had doubts.”

The expression “a doubting Thomas” is always a negative term that we use to mean someone who is overly skeptical, who stubbornly won’t believe what they can’t see.  We tend to think of Thomas as representing one failed segment of humanity — the doubters.  But it’s a mistake for us to think about Thomas in that way.

In truth, Thomas is pretty much everyone.  He is all the disciples.  He is us.

Pay close attention and you will see that Thomas is no different from the other disciples.  Just like Thomas, none of the other disciples believed the news of Jesus’ resurrection when they first heard it.

The Bible records that all the disciples regarded those reports (which the women brought to them) as “idle tales.”  Just like Thomas, the other disciples had to see Christ before they believed.

Even Mary Magdalene, the very first to believe, the first to preach the good news… she needed to see to believe.  She went to the tomb to tend to a corpse, not to witness a resurrection.  When she saw that the body was gone, faith was not born, she needed to see Jesus to believe.

In fact, you can go further than that.  It isn’t enough to simply see Jesus.  Something more had to be added.  When Mary first saw Jesus, she thought he was the gardener.  He had to speak to her and reveal himself to her before she could believe.

For the disciples, in today’s Gospel lesson, it wasn’t until after he showed them his hands and his side that they believed.  Just seeing Jesus wasn’t enough.  They needed more.  It was the same with Thomas.  It wasn’t enough to hear that he was alive.  It wasn’t enough to see Jesus before him.  He needed to put his fingers into his wounds and his hand into Jesus’ side.  He needed Jesus to make himself known to him.

Thomas, in scripture, does not stand apart as the doubting disciple; rather he represents all of the disciples in their inability to generate faith.  And more importantly, Thomas represents all of us and our inability to generate faith.  He shows us what I think is an important and powerful truth of faith… seeing is believing.

Faith can be such an agonizing mystery.  In our lives as Christians, we must wrestles with questions like: “Do I really have faith?  Do I have enough faith?  What is faith?  How do we get it?  How does it come to us?  What difference does it make in our lives?”

These are hard questions?  And like Thomas, we don’t know the right answers to them.  Questions about faith leave us bewildered and confused.

But scripture does say a number of very important things about faith, if we listen carefully.

First, faith is our essential connection to God.  It is the relationship through which God’s power nurtures and strengthens our lives.  It is our only true lifeline in this world.  Without faith — when we try to live outside of that essential relationship with God — then sin becomes the dominant power that shapes our lives.

Another important thing to remember is that faith in the Bible never means simply belief in God or correct belief about religious doctrine.  There’s a famous quote that goes: “Even the Devil believes in God, but he does not have faith.”  Faith has, actually, little to do with what we specifically believe.

As far as faith is concerned, it is not of supreme importance that we believe certain specific doctrines or teachings.  The essence of faith (in the bible) is really trust.  Belief is important only in as much as it hinders or helps us to trust in God.  The call to faith is the call to trust — we need to commend our lives to God’s care and look to God in all things and trust that he is with us always, and that he will provide what we need for life.

Also, it is impossible to consider faith apart from God’s love.  God’s love is the foundation to which faith clings and from which faith grows.  The essence of what we need to know about faith is contained in the concepts of trust and love.

Complete trust in our creator’s love for us… that is what we are called to render to God.  You see… that IS faith.  It is what makes us truly alive.  It is what strengthens us and holds our life together, even when everything else is falling to pieces.

But how do we come to that faith?  That is an important question… maybe life’s most important question.

But again, Thomas and the other disciples show us the answer.  Thomas, Peter, Mary Magdalene… and the others… were unable to come to faith… to believe in the resurrection until they personally and physically encountered Jesus.

They needed to “see” Christ in a deeper sense than just laying their eyeballs on him.  They needed Jesus to make himself known to them in a way that changed their whole being.

We, like Thomas, Peter, Mary and the other disciples… we, quite simply, need to experience Christ.  Faith is born in us — by the power of God — as we “see” Christ… “see” God… in this deeper sense.  That’s what the disciples needed.  And they needed it again and again and again.

And God did not condemn them for their failure to believe, but gave them what they needed.  And he will do the same for us.  We need to look for Christ and the Kingdom of God in our midst, so that faith can be born in us.

There are many places we can “see” God (if our eyes are open).  God has provided for that.

Most importantly for us as Christians, we “see” God in scripture… in the good news about God’s love for his people… in the many stories of God preserving, forgiving, strengthening and leading those who are desperate and who need him…. as well as in the stories of those who are blind with arrogance, and so are confronted and confounded by God, in order that they might, at last, come to “see” him as he is.

Scripture makes it possible for us to “see” Christ… to “see” God… in the deeper sense that we need to see him… and it is through seeing God that faith is born and grows in us.

We also “see” God in the love of people in our lives who give us their very best and help us find a good way to live.  And we “see” God in the mercy and compassion of strangers who show kindness and generosity to us simply because that’s what’s in their heart.  And we see Christ in those who come to us in need.

We who drive out here to worship every Sunday… we meet Christ in you students.  We see Christ in you… and through you… he calls us to live lives of love and mercy and hope.  We also hope that in us, you too meet Christ and hear his call to lives of love and mercy and hope.

These relationships and experiences in our lives are very important to us, because they help us “see” God.  And faith grows in us as a result of these experiences.  So we must take care to seek out, not push away, such relationships and experiences.

It is through seeing God that faith is born in us. And for faith to grow in us, we must continue to see him… over and over again.  That is how it was for Mary, Thomas, Peter, and all the disciples.  That’s how it is for us.

When we fail… when we doubt God’s love for us… disbelieve his promises to us… deny him in our lives… reject his call… God does not abandon us or punish us… but holds on to us, like he did the disciples.  He holds on to us until once again our eyes are open and we see him and faith grows again.

That faith which grows in us, is not our own work, it is the creation of God… it is new life within us.  It is never something we master or control.  It is God’s gift to us, through which he will give us what we need to live with grace and courage and love.  Sometimes we cannot see it or feel it… sometimes it is like a seed hidden in the earth, or yeast hidden in bread.  But it is there, because it is the gift and power of God, which is everlasting.

Amen.