April 26th, 2020

The Evidence of Faith

Text: John 20:1-31
Title: The Evidence of Faith
As we continue to examine the appearances of the Risen Christ, the text this morning addresses the somewhat thorny question of “How do you come to believe?”
Even a cursory review of the human experience indicates that skepticism is an integral part of our human nature. The old saying rings true – “Don’t believe anything you hear, and only half of what you read!” Especially true in any political season, and even more true as the entire world is facing a pandemic. Certainly, we should consider the source, use our own God given analytical skills, and remain open to the verification of the facts.
The veracity of “old sayings” rings every truer today. “Seeing is believing.” “The proof is in the pudding.” “I’ll believe it when I see it.” But the truth is this – the only thing we can really “see” well is the past. This is why Eastertide is so important in the life of the Church, the Body of Christ, and in the life of the individual believer. Once I took a ride on one of those “excursion” trains, riding through the mountains. As the train when around a long curve, I could look back and see the mountain we had just gone around rising above the tracks. Just so in our faith. There is a mountain of meaning rising behind you on the way you have come, and is rising there still, proven now through retrospect. Hindsight is 20/20 – where we see God at work, in our past, and in the history of the world.
Just so:
We are looking back upon our lives – as an infinite being in God’s mind. God knew us before we were ever in our mother’s womb. Our Lord has gone to prepare a place for us in the life to come. Our souls are eternal – coming from God and returning to God. His Kingdom come, His will be done!
We are looking back upon the life of the Church – the global witness that is unprecedented in the life of the world. While true that His Church on earth has had it’s fits and starts, it’s successes and failures – in an honest review of the work and witness of His Church, I can think of no other band of faithful that has advanced the human condition, served in the most difficult of circumstances, and sacrificed for the sake of others. “Tend my lambs” and “Feed my sheep”.
We are looking back upon the history of the world – and the everlasting human struggle and search for meaning. What is the origin of life? Why are we here? What is life all about? What are we living for? He said, “Follow me.”
Indeed, we see a mountain of meaning rising behind us, and rising still. This mountain is faith. Faith is not the same experience for all – and it is not generated by the same “evidence” for everyone. Faith, by its very nature, is varietal. This is the lesson from our text, the 20th chapter of John. Versus 1 – 10 tell the story of the disciple “whom Jesus loved” came to believe in the resurrection simply by entering the tomb. No visions, no voices, he didn’t even know the relevant scripture passages (v. 9 “for as yet they did not know the scripture, that he must rise from the dead.”) You see, he simply believed. Think of this as a direct revelation – it is the very ACT OF GOD!
Next, in verses 11 – 18, comes the story of Mary Magdalene. She required something else, however. She does not even recognize Jesus when He appears to her. It is only when she hears the familiar voice call her name, “Mary.” This is the same Jesus she has known – the tones of His voice engraved upon her heart. As it is said, “The sheep follow Him, for they know His voice.” This represents those who come to faith by The Word – both the written word, and especially hearing the Living Word. “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”
The scene shifts in verses 19 – 23. The disciples, except Thomas, are gathered in fear. They receive His Word of Peace; they are shown His hands and side; and He breathed on them and said to them “receive the Holy Spirit”. They are given 2 gifts – the Holy Spirit and the ministry of forgiveness. And they believed. Representing for all time those who come to believe by the Holy Breath, the Holy Spirit still reveals our Faith.
Then comes Thomas (vs. 24 – 28). No testimony will convince him. No witness will bring him to faith. His story is as if to say that only the Lord imparts faith and Thomas wants to see Him face-to-face, to touch and handle things unseen. A week later he did, and the doubt of Thomas dissolves into a creed: “My Lord and my God.” He came to faith by the Touch. Not unlike the beautiful fresco by Michelangelo in the Sistine Chapel of the creation story – God is still reaching out to touch someone, imparting life itself – faith.
These are four stories of people coming to the same faith in different ways. That is the personal nature of faith. For some, faith is born and grows quietly as a child sleeping on a grandmother’s lap. For others, faith is a lifetime of wrestling with the angel. Some cannot remember when they did not believe, while others cannot remember anything else, their lives having been shattered and reshaped by a decision of faith.
Now the Risen Jesus says, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe” (v. 29), and so all hearers of John’s Gospel, past and present, are gathered together in their belief. Jesus makes clear that the gift of faith is not only for those disciples He shared His earthly life with, but a gift for all time. Jesus is concerned for you and I.
We know the Scripture, that He must rise from the dead. Like Mary, we have heard His voice in our hearts calling us by name. We have received His Word to us, as proclaimed by these eyewitnesses, and we have found our lives shaped by the Spirit. Like Thomas, we have suffered through seasons of doubt and are invited to see Christ “face-to-face”, to “handle things unseen” and to “grasp with firmer hand eternal grace.” Yet, when all is said and done, we must, like the beloved disciple, believe without seeing.
The Risen Christ leaves behind only two things: an empty tomb, and a community of faith empowered by the Spirit. We are called to trust that, amid the noise of our life, the voice we heard calling our name is His voice; the Word of Peace, more compelling than all other words, is His Word; the Spirit which activates our memory of all that He taught us, is His Spirit; and the words which flow from the center of our lives, “My Lord and my God!” are a sign of His presence with us. There are no unassailable pieces of evidence, no proof-texts from Scripture. There is only the community of faith, gathered in joy and trust around the one who said, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe.”
So how do you live the spiritual life in today’s world? It has been well said that 3 conversions are necessary in the life of the believer: 1) to Christ – being born from above for eternity. 2) to the Church – His Living Body. And 3) to the Cost – that is finding your calling and living out your purpose here and now. It is like a 3-legged stool – sure you can balance on one or two legs – but for solid support, it takes all 3.
Once you have a taste of these 3 conversions, then ask the Holy Spirit to write these instructions upon your heart:
1) Live for today, with neither regret nor guilt over the past, nor of the fear of the future. A forgiven past is but our education for helping others with similar problems, and a deep knowledge that tomorrow never arrives. Today is the only thing you can do something about. Hence, our motto, our prayer is this – Dear God, help me to do the next right thing. It is a vigilance for the day, one day at a time, being in God’s presence in the present!
2) Love what is best in others, and never fear their worst. This is what Israel forgot. Their judgement of others gave others power over them. They didn’t understand the prophets: “Vengeance is mine alone, says the Lord.” Judgement of others is not our job, leave that up to God. And, “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” That is to say that the only proper fear is of being without God in our life. It is the Christian experience that banishes fear. Ask this question: Who controls your life – others or God? The mutual bond of His great love for us, and of our great love for Him conquers fear.
3) “The Lord will provide.” Rely on God’s providence. He knows our physical needs and they will be met. More importantly, He has provided everything necessary for spiritual living. His grace is sufficient for me!
4) Love God with all your heart, mind, strength, and soul. The heart is the seat of our emotional life. So, every once in a while, we need to feel the Spirit move – bringing to us His Holy Tears and His Holy Laughter. The mind is the seat of our intellect. Theology – the study of God – is important as it stretches our minds towards the Kingdom. Loving God with all your mind helps us to sweep out the cobwebs and dust that fog up our clear thinking about God and His world. Loving God with our physical strength calls us each to get up off the “couch of comfort” and to do something for God and others. And our eternal soul loves God when we find ourselves at a well of living water, wherefrom those who drink shall never thirst. It is our prayer. It is our communion. It is our fellowship.
So whether we come to the most beautiful Faith by the Act of God’s self-revelation; The Word of Life that calls each by his or her own name; The Breath of God that imparts the Holy Spirit; or by The Touch that handles things unseen – it is all the same. In all faith revealing God himself for the purpose of Godly living! “Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in his name.”