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04/08/2018

John 20: 19-31                 “I Do Declare”              BUMC 

 April 8, 2018               Rev. Jerry W. Krueger

 

Seeing is believing,” and many people proclaim, “I need to see it to believe it.” John's resurrection scriptures focus on getting us out of the tombs we might inhabit, and declaring Jesus Christ alive. The story of Jesus' ministry, preaching, teaching, and healing, is pitched as a way for listeners to "declare" to Christ in faith. After Jesus' was killed, his followers hid themselves from the authorities, dodging consequences of their following Jesus.

Four chapters focus on Jesus preparing the disciples for his death. We visit the Last Supper, foot washing, betrayal, a sham of a trial, flogging, denial of who Jesus is by Peter, interrogation by the high priest, then finally, Pontius Pilate washing his hands of the whole affair, and allowing Jesus to be crucified. The resurrection story is about 1 & 1/3 chapters in John, and changes EVERYTHING!

 

The Gospel insists, demands, we crawl out of our tombs of fear, or self-satisfaction, or arrogance, or brokenness, or endless questioning, and get to work declaring our allegiance, and faithfulness for the Christ to the world.

In John, the once dead, but now alive Christ hands over all responsibility for his earthly mission, to his disciples -- "As the Father has sent me, so I send you" (v.21). This to a group of fearful disciples who have just witnessed a gut punch to their faith upon Christ’s death. 


Do churches today hunker down for safety in some out of the way cultural corner? Many churches have closed up shop, only open on Sunday for a few worshippers. But some, like this church, are open every day for some kind of church or community related activity.

 

Popular culture frequently portrays people of faith either as foolish and gullible, or as judgmental hypocrites who fail to practice what they preach. Society might label the church as out-of-touch, and a location that you need to visit only on Christmas and Easter.

 

But that is not the church I know. Churches provide safe haven for people, work with migrant families, have preschool and after school programs, host food pantries, soup kitchens, provide haircuts, emergency weekend food backpacks, build hospitals, clinics, construct colleges and universities.  The church of Jesus Christ does make an impact in the world. Because we have been loved, died for, and forgiven by Jesus, so that, we might work to change the world one person at a time, into the likeness of Jesus Christ. 

 

The world DOES NOT get to define us, nor some lobbyist group or political group. Christ defines us, and we are to act and live like it.

Christ proclaimed to Thomas and the other disciples: "Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe"?   The church of Christ is founded on this. First you believe, then you see. That is the opposite of “seeing is believing.”

 

Believing, is seeing. Believing in Christ provides the insight, and the hope filled vision of an abundant future with the Christ, which is necessary to, re-vision, and re-imagine, to make things happen.

Our faith in Jesus Christ changes the way we believe, which changes the way we view the world. and if I have been spiritually blind, when I believe, now I see.

The story says a shoe manufacturer sent two sales reps to a remote country to sell shoes. One wrote back: "I have terrible news. Nobody here wears shoes. I'm coming home." The other man wrote: "This is a wonderful country. I am so grateful nobody here wears shoes. Send me 5,000 pairs." Two very different perspectives. One gloom and doom, one hope filled. The wrong perspective is imprisonment; the right perspective is empowerment.

To those who believe without seeing, Jesus offers something special -- blessing. When Thomas finally comes to belief after viewing the risen Christ face-to-face, Jesus acknowledges his faith, but offers no special blessing. It is to future believers, us, who will only hear about Jesus, yet who believe and in turn pass the gospel on to others, that Jesus bestows his special blessing.

We are those disciples who have believed without seeing. We are the recipients of Jesus' special blessing.

 

 If we let Jesus' dictum "first you believe, then you see" spill over into all our life , we know God is in the midst of a great work that allows us to see the best days of the church are in the future, not in our past.


Today more than ever, we need believers to stand up and challenge the deep-sighing, gloom-and-doom attitudes that pervade much of society, and some churches... It is up to us to proclaim that we have a sound, grace filled future.

 

At Annual Conference several years ago, I was sitting with a group of church people from many other East Ohio Conference churches. I only knew one person of the 25 or so there. I was shocked at the negative, whining, gloom and doom conversations I heard. “Our pastor is an idiot, he or she is a bad preacher, lousy administrator, has bad theology, is lazy, too pushy, too well dressed, too poorly dressed, too fat, short, tall, no kids, too many kids, too mission minded, not mission minded, married, unmarried,” and on and on. After 15 minutes of that trash talking, I said, “so what is good about your church? Is there one thing positive about it? Will anyone notice if you close your doors? Are you making any difference in your community? If not, it is on you? And if you are so negative about your church, why would anyone want to be there?”  Yep, I know how to win friends and influence people. I thanked the people for allowing me to sit with them, and left.


What happens when the spirit of believers who boldly declare their faith through word and action, takes hold; when “Come with me, come join us, I’ll pick you up on the way to church, I have friends I would love for you to meet, when, “Welcome friend,” becomes our watch-word; when believing is seeing?  It can mean rebirth.

 

Churches are called to be a place of hope, a place of challenge as we struggle how we live out our lives, by loving God and others.

Churches are to be places of welcome, a place of belonging, a place of growing in our spiritual maturity, a place where we learn, and encounter the risen Christ.

Churches are to be a place of living out God’s grace, even believing when we don’t see.


The story goes, there was a Franciscan monk who planned to go to Jerusalem to see the tomb where Jesus was placed. He’d saved money for 40 years, and finally embarked on his journey by foot to Jerusalem. He walked passed a field where a poor man was digging roots out of the ground, and spoke to the monk, "Good morning, Father. Where are you going?" The monk replied, "I’m going to Jerusalem to see the tomb where Christ was buried, and then I am going to march around it three times and pray." The man in the field said, "That trip will cost lots of money." "Yes," said the monk, "all my life's savings." Then the man suggested, "Father, why not march around me three times and give me the money, so that my wife and children might have food." And the monk did.

The monk never made it to Jerusalem to see where Christ was buried. But he saw where Christ was alive and living -- in other people!  People of God, we are being called to see the living Christ, in and around us, through other people.  Believing in Christ, is seeing. Seeing our hope filled future, seeing the needs of OTHERS, loving God and neighbors.

This text today calls out to us, that our work is abundant, and in front of us.

 

Let us move towards the light, being a blessed and faith filled people, who believe even if we have not seen, so that through believing, we may have life in his name.

In the holy name of Jesus Christ, we pray.  Amen.