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First Presbyterian Church of Guymon

Blessed Believer

 

Grace and peace to you from our resurrected Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, the first of those who will be resurrected from death to eternal life, who lives and reigns with the Holy Spirit at the right hand of God the Father!  Alleluia! 

                Today we’ll be reading about the difference a single day can make for the people who lived through it and for us 2,000 years later.  I’ll be reading this morning in the Gospel of John, beginning at Chapter 20, verse 19.  Hear the word of the Lord: 

19 On the evening of that first day of the week, [Sunday], when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jewish leaders, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” 20 After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord.

21 Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” 22 And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive anyone’s sins, their sins are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.”

24 Now Thomas (also known as Didymus), one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came. 25 So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord!”  But he said to them, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.”

26 A week later [again, Sunday] his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” 27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.”  28 Thomas said to him, “My Lord and my God!”

29 Then Jesus told him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”

Blessed Believer

(Not exactly as preached)

 

This past Monday the 118th Boston Marathon was held.  It was a year and a week since 264 people were injured and three were killed by the explosion of two backpack bombs placed near the finish line of last year’s Marathon.  Besides the regular competitors, this year’s race was opened to the 5,000 people who were still on the course at the time of the explosions, for the friends and relatives of the victims and for those who made the case that they were “profoundly impacted” by the attack.   

Normally marathons are for the strong and fit.  But this year there were people with a lot of scars present on the course.  There were those with the invisible emotional scars of grief and fear.  People who’d helped each other after last year’s  explosion, ran together as friends this year.  There were dozens of people who had spent the year recovering and learning to use prosthetic legs or feet so they could cross the finish line of the race they’d started the year before.  Some had scarring from burns. 

All of us have scars too – some you can see and some that you can’t.  But seen or unseen, all scars tell a story. 

On that first day of the week, the disciples were hiding behind locked doors, and all of them were wounded in their hearts and spirits.  They had heard from the women that Jesus was alive, and two of the men had seen the empty tomb, but it had been a stressful and confusing week and they didn’t know what to believe.  The Bible says that they were hiding because they were afraid of the Pharisees and the Temple guards, but maybe – just maybe – they were also afraid of Jesus if what the women said was true.  After all, they had failed him miserably.  Peter had denied him three times, and the rest had deserted him (except for “the disciple whom Jesus loved,” who had been at the cross and had taken Jesus’ mother into his home). Perhaps the last person the disciples wanted to meet on that evening was Jesus, risen from the dead to confront them with their failures.  But Jesus is not be stopped by locked doors. He comes through those doors and appears right in the middle of his frightened sheep. But he doesn’t confront his disciples with their failures – the first thing he does is speak peace to them, and we are told they are overjoyed.

One of the ways that our wounds are healed and our scars are diminished, is when we receive the peace that passes understanding.  Our Savior doesn’t meet us with accusations or pointed questions – he doesn’t ask us what we were thinking when we did that thing; he doesn’t tell us how disappointed he is with us.  After all, we know what we did, don’t we?  We probably don’t know why we did it, and we know we’ve disappointed him.  It would go a long way with our own children if we could stop our constant scolding and learn this way of being a parent to them.   And another thing we can learn from Jesus is to restore people after they’ve disappointed us.  He restores the disciples – and us – by giving them another task, another opportunity to get it right.

He tells them that, “As the Father sent me, I am sending you.”  How did the Father send Jesus?  John 3:16 says that God so loved the world that he sent his only Son that whoever believes in him might have eternal life.  So here Jesus is saying that Jesus so loves the world that he’s sending the disciples – and he’s sending us – to help him finish the mission that his Father gave him.  He came to tell the world about God’s love and now – because we are his brothers and sisters, adopted into the family of God – we have the same assignment.  It is impossible to exaggerate the greatness of our calling. 

Remember, that for eight or nine weeks we’ve been reading about how Jesus was teaching us the ways of living in the Kingdom of God.  Blessed are the meek, the poor in spirit, the peacemakers. If you hate someone, it’s the same as killing him.  If you covet someone else’s spouse, it’s the same as committing adultery.  All of those things that he told us so we would be prepared to not only live as the children of God in the Kingdom of our Father, but so in the meantime we could act as ambassadors of our homeland.  So what was Jesus’ mission?  Was there any day that Jesus did not speak to someone about what life is like in the Kingdom of God?  Was there any day that he didn’t pray for the Father to give him the power to do whatever would be put before him and to deal with whomever he might encounter?  Didn’t he see everyone through the eyes of charity and compassion, even when he spoke a word of warning?  And he did speak words of warning.  So, Church, that is our mission.  We are to live the same way, praying for the enabling of the Holy Spirit, looking for people who need to hear about Jesus from us, speaking words of both encouragement and warning with compassionate hearts.  Yes, it is impossible to exaggerate the greatness of our calling.

The next part of the story is about Jesus’ second appearance to the disciples a week later.  Both of these appearances occurred on Sunday, and it’s why the church gathers on Sunday, because of this pattern that Jesus set.  It’s fine that some churches have another service on Wednesday or Saturday nights, but we can never dispense with Sunday because every Sunday is a little Easter.  Sunday is the day for focusing on Christ.

Thomas had doubts.  He had missed the previous week’s gathering and had missed seeing Jesus.  He had only the word of his friends that Jesus was alive, and it was such an incredible word that he hesitated to believe.  We shouldn’t scold Thomas for his doubt – some doubts are good, especially here.  Because Thomas asks the same question that everyone who hasn’t seen Jesus asks – how can I know the resurrection is real?  Because it isn’t the empty tomb that convinces people that Jesus is alive, it is an encounter with the Risen Lord. 

I know a pastor who said that he believes in the resurrection because he’s seen it so many times.  What he means by that is he’s seen so many people whose lives were changed when they came to believe. 

Jesus showed Thomas his wounds – and you’ll notice that the Bible doesn’t say that Thomas touched them when Jesus invited him to, only that when he saw them he called Jesus, “Lord” and “God.”  His doubts were banished and his belief was complete.  “This is my body, broken for you.”  It was the same way for the disciples who met Jesus on the Emmaus Road.    They didn’t recognize Jesus until he sat down to eat with them and broke the bread – “This is my body, broken for you.”  See my scars.

Once when I was traveling with a youth group we spent the night in a large church.  When we were exploring the building we found a beautiful stained glass window with the figure of Jesus about to ascend to heaven.  But something wasn’t quite right about the picture of Jesus and we had to look at it for awhile before one of the young people said, “Maybe it’s not Jesus.  He’s got no wounds on his hands or his feet.”  That teenager had never seen, but he believed, and when he saw he knew what he should be seeing, and he didn’t see it.   A little while later we found the church’s font – a large metal bowl with a closed lid that had a lock on it.  What do you think was the message that sent?  That the Holy Spirit was locked inside like some genie?  Or that the water inside was too precious for the likes of us? 

When Jesus showed himself to Thomas, he pronounced his final Beatitude:  Blessed are those who do not see and yet believe.  This has been a problem for Jesus all along – all of the people who saw his signs and miracles, and yet still didn’t believe.  Remember the man born blind?  He was blind from birth – just like we all are spiritually blind from birth - but he had faith, and because he believed in the power of Jesus, his vision was restored and he could see. 

The Pharisees saw that miracle.  The parents of the blind man saw that miracle.  But none of them believed.  The world is full of people who just will not believe.  Sometimes we call it the sin of Unbelief, but unbelief is not a sin, because sin can be forgiven, but unbelief can only be corrected.  Sometimes you will hear people say that hell will be full of sinners, but that’s not entirely true -  Hell will be full of unrepentant unbelievers who will go to hell willingly.

It sounds strange that anyone would choose Hell over Heaven, but you can read about it in Revelation.  When the final judgments of God come upon the earth, the Bible says that people don’t call out to God for forgiveness – they’ll call out to the mountains to fall on them and hide them from God.[1]   After the plague judgments are released, John wrote that, “The rest of mankind who were not killed by these plagues still did not repent …they did not stop worshiping demons, and idols…Nor did they repent of their murders, their magic arts, their sexual immorality or their thefts.”[2]

After bowl judgments it says that people still won’t turn to God – that instead, they will curse God and refuse to repent.[3]  It takes a lot more work – an act of teeth-gritting, fist-pumping, rebellious will -  to hear the word of God and see God’s work in the world and still refuse to believe. But blessed are those who do not see and yet believe.  It is not that hard for an open mind and a humble attitude to believe the evidence of Scripture, the testimony of believers and God’s work in the world.

Dear people of God – it was the Holy Spirit who drew you to belief and it was that same Spirit that brought you here to church today.  You have heard that Jesus commissioned us to have a share in completing his mission on earth.  He has chosen us.  We are his witnesses.  That’s the way the news is spread.  As others rely on the word of the apostles, people rely on our word, too.  “David Read, the pastor of Madison Avenue Presbyterian Church in New York told his congregation: ‘One of the reasons I believe in the Resurrection is my mother told me.  And to this day a strong element in my belief is the number and quality of the people who told me.’  You – today – are a person of that quality, not because you are a paragon of virtue but because you ‘ate and drank with the Lord Jesus after he was raised from the dead.’  Tell your children and your grandchildren and your friends.  Tell your cleaning lady and your mechanic and your co-workers.  I know it isn’t easy, but tell them, even if you stumble over the words, because the Holy Spirit will be in your words.  But if your words fail you, then you can start by showing them your scars and telling them the stories that come with them; because if you tell the whole story of your scars, eventually you will get around to how God raised Jesus on the third day, and that’s how you were healed. 

He is alive and with us here at this moment.”[4]  Go and tell someone that the Risen Christ has come back to Guymon!  

Let’s pray:      Holy God, you raised Jesus from the grave and restored him to us.  You have allowed us a share in completing his mission in the world.  Thank you for the scars of our Savior, and for the scars that we bear in our own bodies and the stories of how you were with us when we received them, how you never left us alone and how you have healed us.  Help us remember that everyone has scars whether we can see them or not. Make us truly understand this so we can be kinder.   We look for you to put those people in our path so that we can tell them that Jesus is really and truly alive.  We pray this in the name of our brother and Savior, Jesus, our Risen Lord.   Amen. 

 

[1]Rev. 6:16

[2]Rev. 9:20

[3]Rev. 16:10

[4]Fleming Rutledge, The Undoing of Death, 306

 

 

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