April 23, 2017 sermon (Easter 2)
Acts 2:14a, 22-32/ John 20:19-29
Believing without Seeing?
Have you ever heard of a website called The Onion? It’s a fake news site that publishes a lot of parody and fake news articles. As you can imagine, they are funny. Here is the title of one of their most recent articles; “Whale Won’t Shut Up About Time It Was Beached”. The following is an extract from the article; “Noting that the marine mammal looks for any excuse to bring up the incident, sources confirmed Friday that a local humpback whale still won’t shut up about the one time he was beached. “Whenever someone even mentions the shore, the coast, sand, anything, he immediately chimes in with the same story about the time he got stranded out of the water for ‘a whole day,’” said a member of the whale’s pod.” Note that I had to omit some bad words while quoting this article. It’s for fun, and we know that this article is obviously not about a real event. But sometimes, they publish articles that do not obviously look like jokes. When they parody extreme right-wing politicians who are already known for saying outrageous things, the outrageous things that the Onion makes them say in their fake articles actually sound real. We only know that it’s a joke because we see that the source is the Onion, and not Huffington Post or New York Times. If we read their articles without knowing the source, we can be confused. We don’t know what to believe anymore.
In today’s gospel story, Jesus’ disciples experience the same problem; they don’t quite know what to believe. It is understandable considering the confusion of the events they were going through. The followers of Jesus were scared since their teacher got arrested and killed. They were so scared that they were behind locked doors. They were scared and confused. Then suddenly, Jesus came and stood in front of them. What can one say in front of the scared and confused disciples? “Peace be with you.” Then he shows them his wounds. It doesn’t say in our text why, but very likely it is because they couldn’t believe that it was really Jesus. After all, when he appears to them again when Thomas was present, Thomas dramatically says that he won’t believe it unless he can see and touch the wounds. We can read between the lines and see how confused the disciples would have been. They might have even thought they were going mad due to the trauma of losing their teacher in the most gruesome way possible.
The first thing I want to point out about today’s text is that giving the disciples the Holy Spirit is a way of preparing them for their future mission after Jesus ascends to heaven. He had been training them throughout his public ministry, but now that he is to leave them forever, they need to learn to do things without their teacher. Even though the teacher will be gone, the disciples must continue the mission, the ministry of God’s kingdom that Jesus started in his earthly lifetime. But don’t worry; he will not leave them alone. He is leaving them with the Holy Spirit, the helper in a spirit form that can be with them and guide them all the time.
The ministry of preaching and working for God’s kingdom has a highly eschatological tone. In case you forgot, “eschatology” is about the end; the end times when Christ will come in judgement. This kingdom of God starts with the community of disciples following Jesus “here and now”, and will continue forever in the otherworldly realm. In the Acts of the Apostles that we read today, Peter is preaching after the events of Pentecost; after receiving the Holy Spirit like tongues of fire. Since the crowd thought they were drunk when they were in fact under the “influence” of the Holy Spirit, Peter explains what happened to Jesus. Although we only read a part of this sermon, in the part we skipped, Peter quotes the prophet Joel; “In the last days it will be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see vision, and your old men shall dream dreams… And I will show portents in the heaven above and signs on the earth below, blood, and fire, and smoky mist. The sun shall be turned to darkness… Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.”
As you can see, this text describes the end times that the Bible describes in more than one part. The kingdom for which the disciples of Jesus should work, although it starts from here and now with the community of the disciples living by and preaching the gospel of Jesus, it points toward the future and otherworldly realm where God’s people will participate in God’s glory. The disciples of Jesus are the witnesses of the Risen Christ and of the reign of God that Jesus preached. This is the author of Luke’s gospel and the Acts of the Apostles proclaiming the inauguration of God’s reign through the power of the Holy Spirit, working through the disciples. The Gospel of Luke is about the acts of Jesus; the Acts of the Apostles is about the acts of the Holy Spirit through the disciples of Jesus. These two books are actually one book in two parts, and as I mentioned last Sunday, written by the same author.
Speaking of disciples being witnesses, the second thing I would like to point out today is what Jesus says to Thomas at the end of today’s gospel reading; “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.” It is challenging to believe in something we cannot see. How do we believe in the force of gravity? How do we believe in air that fills this empty space in front of us? How can the first disciples believe that this man standing in front of them is their teacher who had been killed? How do we believe in the invisible God or the stories of Jesus that we haven’t witnessed? First of all, we know that we can’t believe everything we read or hear; none of us believed the whale story, right? What we believe is grounded in faith. We believe in gravity because we have faith in science. We believe in the stories of Jesus because we have faith in God. But even the faith that makes us believe in these things is grounded in something else. Jesus mentioned believing without seeing, but not seeing doesn’t mean the absence of evidence. Disciples of Jesus being the witnesses is the evidence that helps us believe without seeing. A lot of followers of Jesus in history testified to Jesus and the values for which he stood; they lived out the teachings of Jesus with love, compassion, and works of justice. They dedicated and sacrificed their lives for these works. If we can believe in the invisible God and the stories of Jesus, we owe it to the disciples who came before us testifying to God’s love taught by Jesus. Therefore, strictly speaking, there is no such thing as believing without seeing; for even when we believe without seeing, other disciples and the Holy Spirit are the witnesses to us.
As people of God who received a new life through the Risen Christ, it is now our turn to be the witnesses so others can believe. Let us testify to God’s love taught by Jesus through our life of unconditional love, compassion, and works of justice that will bring a new life to people of our world. As Jesus said in Matthew 5:16, let us let our light shine before others, so that they may see our good works and give glory to God in heaven.
Rev. Sunny Kim