ST. STEPHEN’S PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH APRIL 23, 2017
WAIT UNTIL YOU SEE
Romans 10: 6 – 13; John 20: 24 – 29
David took a high paying contract with a company in Sweden because he and his wife Lisa were saving for a house. Lisa worked so they agreed to a long distance relationship with frequent emails. As the weeks went by, Lisa expressed doubts about David’s faithfulness, given all those beautiful Swedish women. “I admit,” David responded, “I’m tempted but I fight it. I always think of you.” Later, Lisa sent David a harmonica. He replied, “Thanks, I’ll practice every night.” Finally, David returned and Lisa met him at the airport. As he rushed to embrace her, she stopped him, “Before you do that, let me hear you play the harmonica.” Since Lisa was unable to see David, she had a choice: she could trust him to be faithful or she could find a way to get proof.
In our scientific, tangible world “proof” is often a requirement. We want claims to be backed with evidence. When it comes to Jesus, it’s easy to relate to Thomas. If we’d been there when the disciples effusively told Thomas, “We have seen the Lord” (John 20: 25), there’d be a lot more people with the word “doubting” as a prefix to their name. We’d have “doubting Sabrina, doubting Sue, doubting Les.” It’s incredible to be told someone has risen from death; it’s even wilder to hear the person miraculously appeared in a room. Wanting solid evidence doesn’t seem unreasonable. But what proof do we have? Jesus will return one day with a great trumpet blast but, in the meantime, he hasn’t appeared to play the harmonica. As late-comers to the faith we’re distanced from Jesus’ resurrection by time and space, making it abstract data. The Gospels are the only way we can relate to the awe and excitement of the disciples. To what can we compare their experience? To the joy one feels when glorious refreshing rain ends a long drought? Or the elation and relief one has when the doctor says, “you are now cancer free”? Or the storm of emotion that bursts out upon hearing the news that war is over and freedom has won? Maybe, but for us the response of the disciples to Jesus’ resurrection requires active imagination and given I’ve never lived through drought, cancer or war, I need to imagine what I’m trying to imagine. On the other hand the disciples had a first-hand experience. For them, it was really real.
It’s hard not to feel envious. Wouldn’t it have been wonderful to witness the risen Christ? Wouldn’t believing be easier? Instead, we’re asked to believe without proof. And we’re not the only people who wrestle with faith or desire evidence of Jesus’ resurrection. Most people do. So I wonder why Jesus ever ascended. Wouldn’t it have been easier to convict and convert people over the centuries if they too could have met the risen Christ, touched his wounds, or ate supper with him? Perhaps a better question is, “Would even seeing, touching or dining with the risen Christ be convincing enough?”
The thing is, there’s a difference between being a witness and having what you witness impact your life. Seeing a car accident is different than being in one. After his resurrection, Jesus made 14 recorded appearances to people, individually and in groups (once to 500 people). Many believed Jesus had risen from the dead. Even so, there were some who doubted; some who, literally, couldn’t believe their eyes. There were others who witnessed Jesus risen from the dead, thought it was pretty cool and soon forgot about it. It’s one thing to acknowledge Jesus is risen, it’s another thing to grasp and trust what that means for you personally. Many of us own a harmonica put that’s not the same as playing the harmonica. When Jesus 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” (vs. 27) Thomas didn’t turn to the other disciples and say, “Oh, okay, you were right: Jesus is alive.” He turned to Jesus and said, “My Lord and my God.” (vs. 28) Thomas recognized the risen Jesus was God; the God who loved him, died for him and came alive to conquer death for him. In that moment Jesus became the focus of his worship and devotion. Jesus was now Thomas’ Lord, which meant he was the Master of his life – the one he would follow and serve. Faith is more than poking a wound. Paul writes, “For one believes with the heart and so is justified, and one confesses with the mouth and so is saved” (Romans 10:10).
But without tangible proof, how do people come to “believe with the heart”? Paul asks the same question, “But how are they to call on one in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in one of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone to proclaim him?” (vs. 14) Well, there’s the historical record of The Holy Bible which gives the eye-witness accounts of the earliest believers. John summed up this chapter, “Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. But these are written so that you may come to believeJesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and through believing you may have life in his name” (vs. 30 & 31). Unfortunately, reading the Bible isn’t something most people do. They’d much rather someone walk through their door and show them some proof. That’s where we come in. Jesus has a multitude of people who have been raised with him walking the earth, empowered by his Holy Spirit. That includes you and me and every person of faith who is risen with Christ. The life of each believer is the evidence for others that God loves them, that Jesus died and rose for them, and that they can be saved by grace through faith. Our lives are the proof Christ gives to others. When people encounter you, they encounter the risen Christ. As the saying goes, “Your life may be the only Bible a person ever reads.” Wow. That’s a big responsibility; it’s a little overwhelming. Yet, for the Doubting Thomases of our day, we are the tangible proof that Jesus is risen. The trouble is, we aren’t always the most solid evidence.
While working as a barber a zealous and slightly unstable Christian man lathered up a customer for a shave, came at him with the poised razor, and asked, “Are you prepared to meet your God?” The frightened man fled with the lather on his face! While that’s an extreme example we’ve all known Christians who have done more damage to the Kingdom than good with their style of witnessing. Paul is clear that, “…faith comes from what is heard, and what is heard comes through the word of Christ” (Romans 10: 17). Christ needs to be proclaimed for people to come to faith. While we should be prepared and willing to speak about our faith, we also need to be integrated people whose faith is revealed not only in our words, not only in our actions but in our essence – in our personalities. The other day we were listening to a woman talk about her neighbours. From everything she said they’re horrible people; they’re judgemental, angry, demanding, unforgiving, stuck up and unable to take responsibility when they’re at fault. Terry remarked, “And we think the world’s a better place without Judeo-Christian values.” The woman reacted, “They are the Christians in the neighbourhood! They go to a community Church and are forever talking about their faith.” Clearly, there’s something missing between what they profess to believe and who they are. They’re poor evidence that the risen Jesus is “their Lord and their God.” So while we need to speak about our faith, we need to do so in the most loving ways possible; taking an interest in people for who they are, not as hunting trophies and not because we want more bodies in church, but because they’re loved by God. Christians need to learn to “play the harmonica” – not literally. What I mean is: we need to study and learn, grow and change in order to have something to show for our faith – something that verifies we believe. We’re to care for others and to welcome them without judgement. We’re to practice self-control not criticism. We’re to be servants whose faith is displayed in our works. We’re not to indulge in the baser things of life. We’re to focus on Christ and what’s pleasing to God, without being repressed and rigid; we’re to enjoy this life and this world. We’re to do our best but we’re also to have the humility to know that our best isn’t that great – we’re not perfect. While people place high standards on us and while Jesus expects us to live by dying to our self, we need to help people understand we aren’t faultless. We too sin and fall short of the glory of God and that’s why we’re Christians in the first place; not because we’re better than others, but because we too are in need of salvation. When we live with grace for ourselves and for others, we model a more authentic faith. We become the evidence that Christ has conquered sin and death and is alive. That he is our Lord and our God.
It can be difficult to believe without evidence. Jesus said to Thomas, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe” (John 20: 29). While that bodes well for us, we do live with anticipation. There will come a day when we will meet Christ risen and glorified, and the seeds of trust blossom in our hearts. Every trace of doubt will disappear. “Now we see in a mirror dimly, but then we will see face to face” (1 Cor 13: 12). We’ll no longer need proof; we won’t even need faith. It will be as exciting and as convincing as the day of resurrection was for the disciples. But know this, on that day, you may be asked to play the harmonica.