Seeing is believing
I have a dog.
She’s an old dog — heading toward 15 years old — and she lives with us at the parsonage.
Sadie — that’s her name — is a good girl. Very well trained, and a gentle dog.
But she was a rescue dog, and when she was a puppy no bigger than my shoe, she and her brothers and sisters were found in a plastic grocery sack at the airport out on Hilton Head Island, South Carolina, where I used to live.
And being a dog that suffered trauma, well, for the longest time, Sadie didn’t trust people.
She was terrified of them.
In fact, she was so scared of people, when someone so much as walked by my house, she would bark frantically.
That was her defense mechanism.
And, God forbid, if someone actually rang the doorbell, she would go into this barking frenzy, blind with fear.
I say blind, because that was exactly how to describe it.
Even if it was me coming to the door at the end of a workday.
I would hear her barking and growling the minute I pulled into the driveway.
And as I approached the door, she would get louder and more fierce sounding.
And as long as I didn’t say anything, I could be standing right in front of her, and she’d by in a hysterical barking fit.
But as soon as she hear my voice, she would stop in an instant.
I would just say “Sadie,” THEN she would realize who I was, and her demeanor would change instantly.
Ears down, tail wagging, so excited that I was home.
You see, even though her eyes were wide open and she was looking directly at me, she couldn’t see me.
Not until I did something to actually make her believe it was me.
She could see me, but she didn’t believe it was me until I proved it to her.
Of course we see a similar situation here in our reading of John 20 19-31.
Last week, On Easter Sunday, we read in the Resurrection narrative that Mary Magdalene was the first person to see Jesus.
But did she actually see him?
No, she was looking right at him and mistook Jesus for the gardener there at the empty tomb.
Mary was so afraid of what had happened that the LAST person she would expect to be standing there was the One who promised he would return.
Not until he spoke to her did she recognize him.
And the male disciples were the same.
They wouldn’t believe what Mary Magdalene claimed until they witnessed Jesus with their own eyes.
And here we are in today’s reading, and the same thing is happening.
It’s the evening after Jesus rose from the dead, and all the disciples are hunkered down in the upper room.
And everyone’s sitting around depressed and confused, and they have the door locked for fear of the Jews, Verse 19 tells us.
The Jews here means Pharisees. The same people who crucified Jesus.
And, they thought, anyone who was associated with Christ was probably in danger as well.
And so they hid.
And in comes Jesus.
Not through the door; just that he appears there.
And he shows them his nail-scarred hands and his pierced side, and they know it is really him.
But later, Thomas, one of the original disciples, meets up with his friends, and they tell him what they saw.
See, he wasn’t there with them when Jesus came into the upper room.
And Thomas doesn’t believe them.
Old Doubting Thomas, as we’ve been apt to call him because of this event.
Well, look, we might as well call them Doubting Peter, Doubting John, Downing Bartholomew and so on… Because none of them believed what Mary Magdalene had told them, too.
And it’s a week later before Thomas sees Jesus.
Jesus is standing right there, and — listen — he tells Thomas to put his finger into the scars on his hands and side so that Thomas, too, will believe.
And Thomas immediately exclaims: “My Lord and my God!”
Did you catch that?
Thomas didn’t even have to touch the wounds.
It is Jesus who brings Thomas to faith, not Thomas getting faith through proof.
That is faith.
If Jesus tells us to step out of the boat because we see some sort of platform on which to stand, that’s not faith.
No, we have to step out of the boat right into the water — and that just doesn’t make any sense at all, does it?
But that’s when Jesus shows up.
That is faith.
So we can ask ourselves: Are we really seeing Jesus?
Because we can say, well, seeing is believing.
But we’re not really seeing, are we?
Mary Magdalene wasn’t.
The apostles weren’t.
Neither was Thomas.
Or my dog, Sadie, for that matter…
The resurrection, then
We are given grace through our faith, but it’s because of our faith we can see it.
John Wesley says grace is the source, and faith is the condition of salvation.
We are saved not by the condition of our faith.
Jesus’s death and resurrection gave us salvation.
You don’t have to do anything because it’s already done. It’s there for you.
Your bill has been paid 2,000 years ago on that cross!
All you have to do is believe.
The disciples didn’t have faith until the resurrection.
So we, too, have to see the resurrection — not with our eyes, but with our hearts — and that gives us faith.
Peace, Faith and Service
What does the resurrection bring?
From our reading, we see that it brings three things:
Peace. Faith. and Service.
Let’s tackle each of those.
Verse 19: The doors in the house were locked because of fear of the Jews.
The Jews are the Pharisees, we said.
Again, they are worried that their association with Christ puts their own lives at risk.
What if the Pharisees wanted to crucify them, too?
They had become blind to what Jesus told them, and they slipped into fear.
But once they see Jesus, they are no longer afraid of persecution or despair.
The resurrection brings peace.
But the resurrection also brings faith.
In verse 28, Thomas is brought to faith because of Jesus’s wounds, even though he never has to touch them.
Jesus says, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”
What does that mean for us?
Resurrected Jesus doesn’t come popping into our own living rooms to prove himself to us.
So being a first-generation believer is not a prerequisite for faith.
But the resurrection brings us to faith.
Finally, the resurrection brings us to service.
In Verse 21, Jesus tells them “As the Father has sent me, so I send you.”
Jesus commissions them. He breathes the Holy Spirit into them.
Because the Holy Spirit is the same as having God inside of you.
And why do they need God inside of them?
Because Jesus tells them “I send you.”
It’s proof that, among other things, their lives here have a very special purpose — and they have been filled with the Holy Spirit so they too can do the work Jesus started.
The ministry. The sharing of the Good News.
And with the Holy Spirit, they become bold in the Lord so they can set out to do this service Jesus commands them to do.
You see that? Service. That’s what the resurrection does.
It calls us to action.
What that means for us
And so what does this all mean for us?
The resurrection brings those same things to us: Peace, Faith and Service.
Because Jesus died for our sins, which reunites us with God and gives us proof that Jesus is the Christ, the Messiah, our Savior, we are able to go out and live without fear.
We can believe without a doubt and grow our faith because of Jesus’s resurrection.
And it’s because of the resurrection, and the peace and faith it brings, that we are able to go out and share the good news as well.
We have nothing to be afraid of.
The Holy Spirit, who convicts us, is there to speak for us.
It’s our advocate.
And so as a response to this amazing gift, we go out and do the work of the people.
The work that Jesus wants us to do, and we want to do in order to give God the glory.
To say Thank you Lord!
And to allow others to feel this wondrous love!
Light the fire again
So, let’s be realistic.
Sometimes we forget.
Sometimes we lose faith.
Sometimes we feel fear; we feel anything other than peace.
And we don’t respond the way God calls us to do.
We’re not a very good witness in the world.
Because we forget about the resurrection.
We think that the resurrection isn’t relevant in our lives anymore.
Hey, that was 2,000 years ago, so…
But what if Jesus just showed up in your living room and said “Touch my hands.”
It would mean something to you, I’m sure.
Well, that’s why we’re here. That’s why we tell this story.
Over and over.
We need to be reminded of the story of the resurrection so that we can feel the power of the resurrection.
We find it in our worship.
And in our prayer.
In our reading of the word.
And even in our fellowship.
We’re called disciples because that word shares the same root as discipline.
Not in a tough, hard way.
Just in that we have to discipline ourselves to always remind ourselves of the power of the resurrection.
The Gospel. The good news.
And we do that in this community we call the Body of Christ.
Here with our family, just another word for Church.
So if the power of the resurrection feels flat to you, then you need to become more engaged in the word and fellowship and worship and prayer.
Discipline yourself to pray twice or three times — or more — a day. Start your day with a prayer and end it with one, too.
Then add more and more prayer.
Discipline yourselves to read two-to-three chapters of the Word each morning.
If you can do this, you’ll have read the entire Bible in a year.
When you sing in worship, read the words of the hymns as prayers — because that’s truly what they are.
Praise is a form of prayer.
And be in this community.
Open dialogs about your faith, no matter where you are in your faith walk.
And engage in Bible study, mission and outreach, serving on a variety of boards, engaging in activities.
This is how you grow your faith.
Because when you do these things, the Holy Spirit shows up to show you how great God is.
To point you in the right direction.
To convict you.
To give you evidence of Christ.
In other words, to give you increasing faith.
Sure, Jesus can pop up in your living room — I’m quite certain he’s capable of this…
But that’s not what faith is.
“Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see” (Heb 11.1).
My dog Sadie doesn’t have this faith.
She doesn’t believe that maybe the guy coming up the driveway is the one who loves her and takes care of her no matter what.
And instead, she’s blind with fear. Not at all having peace.
But we’re different. We have the Holy Spirit.
And we have faith.
We know the truth, and the truth sets us free from that fear.
In fact, it gives us strength. Perseverance. Confidence.
Want more? It’s not likely Jesus will pop into your living room.
I can’t promise that, but it’s not likely.
But Jesus shows himself time and time again in an array of ways.
In the soft morning sunshine on the daffodils that after such a long hard winter, rise from the ground.
The banter of babies in their mother’s and father’s arms.
They are promises of an abundant future.
They give us hope in their fearfully and wonderfully made creation.
And it’s here, when we pass the peace, break bread, sing hymns alongside one another and pray for those in need.
Why do we do this? What do we see?
We see a good and loving God who has, time and time again, blessed us with these reminders that it is because he lives — because of the resurrection — we are able to stand here and proclaim Hallelujah!
It is everything.
We just need to see it.
But not with our eyes, no.
We need to see Christ, as Mary, the disciples, and Thomas saw him: With their hearts.
Because that’s where Jesus lives.
Right here in our hearts.
That’s where the Holy Spirit dwells.
Jesus gave his life on the cross for us.
But he breathed the Holy Spirit into our lives, so we would be together always.
Here on earth.
And eternally, in heaven.