April 3, 2016 sermon (Easter 2)
Believing without Seeing?
Do you believe in angels? How about Father Christmas? Fairies? Do you believe that King Arthur was a real person who became a legend later or just plain fiction? Ok let’s become a little more serious now; do you believe in unicorns? What? You don’t believe in unicorns? Who are you people? Unicorn is the Scottish national animal, you know!
As we have seen in this little experiment, believing in something we’ve never seen before can be a problem, you of little faith who don’t believe in unicorns. But don’t worry; we’re not alone. Last Sunday, I mentioned that the disciples were traumatized by the death of Jesus and the possibility that they might have “seen things”. Well in today’s story, the risen Christ comes to visit his disciples. They were behind locked doors because they were scared they might be arrested and killed like their teacher. When Mary Magdalene told them that she had met the risen Christ, they probably didn’t believe it although John’s gospel is silent about it. By the way, there is no mention in the Bible or in any other documents that Mary Magdalene was a prostitute, so if you hear someone say it, don’t believe it. On the other hand, there is concrete evidence that she was one of the most influential leaders of the Early Church. Moving on. They might have thought that she was so traumatized that she imagined it. But that evening, he came to the rest of the disciples too. After they saw the wounds on his body, they certainly believed it… except Thomas who wasn’t there at the time. Thomas said, “No no, I’m not going to believe you guys unless I see for myself”. So he did.
This visit is not only significant because the risen Christ came to the disciples and they believed in his resurrection, but also because this is the moment in John’s gospel when Jesus gives them the Holy Spirit by breathing on them. Earlier in the gospel, Jesus had promised to send them the Holy Spirit after he leaves them; now is that moment. He breathes on them, which makes sense because the Hebrew word “ruach” which is translated as The Spirit (as in the spirit of God) literally means wind. Just hope that he didn’t have bad breath when he breathed on them. Anyway, although the disciples were scared because their master will leave them forever, now they have a helper in an invisible form that can be with them all the time. Even Luke Skywalker from Star Wars got occasional help from the spirit of his master Obi-Wan Kenobi, so he was never truly alone. Neither will the disciples of Jesus.
Now let’s pay attention to what Jesus says to Thomas when he finally believes. “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.” Blessed are those who have believed without seeing the evidence… If we were in a trial and he said that, I would have to respond by saying, “Objection, your honour; I beg to differ!” To me “believing without seeing” is not possible in the strictest sense. I might have mentioned this in one of my past sermons, but do you believe in air? Do you believe in the law of gravity? How do you know they exist; have you ever seen them? No we can’t see them. However, we can see the effects they have on diverse objects; that’s how we can believe in them. Newton had a revelation about gravity because he experienced an apple falling from a tree, whether this story is true or not. We can believe in the invisible force of gravity because when we drop something, it falls. Exhibit A; look at this (drop a pen). Do you believe in air? Of course we cannot see air but we can feel the flow of air when it moves fast; it’s called wind. We can see the branches dancing to the wind. Exhibit B; look at this (fan a piece of paper). We can’t see the wind or gravity but we can see what it does to different objects; this is the “seeing” part of our discussion that helps us to believe in invisible things. Now, I know none of us has seen a unicorn before so we tend to believe it’s not real; but I have seen unicorn poops, so I believe in it. Well, strictly speaking, they were rainbow colored cookies that looked like poops… but whatever.
We can believe in invisible forces of nature because we can see their effects on objects; likewise, every one of us who believes in God and in Jesus, we didn’t believe without seeing anything. Throughout history, we have witnessed the people of God sacrificing their privileges and even their lives to serve others. We have seen brave people who stepped up to speak out against injustice and “act”; hence the title “activists”. There have been a lot of disciples of Jesus who embodied the radical love of God taught by Jesus in their lives. In my home country, a lot of people are abandoning the Christian Church because a lot of Christians live an ugly life instead of being disciples. How Christians live out their faith is the testimony that others need to be able to believe in the invisible God, or Jesus the Christ. Divine revelations come in different forms but the point is, they come to everyone who believes. For example, Moses met God in the burning bush; I met God in the burning boom box, when I was called into ministry. Some people get inspirations from witnessing great people do great things; they might think, “wow, how can those people be so selfless and yet so happy? There must be something special about their beliefs.”
So I am arguing that there is no such thing as “believing without seeing”; because we always witness or experience something that makes us believe. We cannot see God or Christ, but we can see the power of God’s spirit affecting the disciples like the law of gravity or the wind. At the end of Matthew’s gospel, Jesus commands his disciples to make disciples of all nations, baptize them in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teach them to obey everything that he had commanded them. How shall we do this? Shall we witness to Jesus by preaching, “If you don’t believe in Jesus you’ll go to hell” or “God hates fags” at a gay pride parade? Or by attacking abortion clinics, calling the doctors “baby killers”? Yeah, right?
How do we witness to invisible forces, again? We make sure the invisible force affects visible things, of course including people. How do we witness the risen Christ to the world? By making sure our bodies, words, and actions are the embodiment of Christ. Jesus preached God’s radical love and compassion; to be a witness, our lives should be the embodiment of that love, spreading God’s all-consuming love and compassion instead of hate and judgment. As I often say, “it is our turn as today’s disciples”. Let us go out and be the witnesses to the risen Christ by spreading the love of God that we learned from Jesus. Amen.