Sunday, 17 April 2016

Peter learn to be like his master- Acts 9

For some time I have been reflecting on a statement by a Christian teacher named Dallas Willard. He said that we have somehow come to the idea that we can be Christians without being disciples. That being a Christian is just a kind of label we attach to ourselves. … Those who are really extreme Christians, they are the ones who are into discipleship. So “Christians” might go to church, and generally say they believe that there is a God and believe there is a heaven they go to when they die. … “Disciples”, on the other hand, are those who get involved in Bible study, who spend time in prayer and fasting, who spend time serving others, Spend time in solitude during retreats, read books about Christianity, and get involved in other spiritual disciplines that help to shape spiritual character and develop a deeper relationship with God. … But, somehow we got the idea that this isn’t for all Christians, only for those Christians who are really very serious. Dallas Willard points out that the word “Christian” is pretty rare in the Bible, but the word “disciple” occurs pretty often. … “Disciple” implies learning. It implies an apprentice learning from a master. So we are expected to grow and develop in our spiritual lives.

I once heard a preacher named Rob Bell talk about what it meant to be a disciple of a Rabbi.[1] He said that children would often go to the local synagogue and begin memorizing the Torah (the Old Testament). Most children would also start apprenticing with their parents, maybe learning their family trade. Some students would really start to shine as they were learning the Torah. All of the students would try hard. The Rabbi was the most honoured person in the town. They would see the rabbi around town with his group of disciples. The kids would want to be close to the rabbi. They would want to be important like their rabbi. They would want to be like their rabbi. 
Some of the children would really be talented when it came to studying Torah. They would come up to their rabbi and they would ask if they could be one of his disciples. Then the rabbi would quiz the child about the scriptures to see if the kid was the best of the best. The rabbi would only take the best of the best- Those that were really talented- Those he thought could really do what he does. Different rabbis had different ways of interpreting and living out the scriptures. The rabbi’s particular way was called the rabbi’s "yoke". So to take on a particular rabbi’s teaching and way of living was to take on the rabbi’s yoke. If the rabbi quizzed the child and he wasn’t the best of the best, then he would tell him to continue to learn and to love God and to learn his family’s trade. But if the child was the best of the best- if he thought the child has what it takes to be like the Rabbi, then he would say, “come, follow me”. 

This wasn’t just going to school to cram some facts into your head. This was learning everything the rabbi’s way of living. It meant following the rabbi everywhere. It meant seeing how the rabbi ate, and walked, and talked… everything. So the disciples would follow the rabbi closely as they traveled the dusty roads and a saying arose as a kind of blessing for a rabbi’s disciples, “may you be covered in the dust of your rabbi”. 
 So when Jesus calls Peter he is fishing. The implication is that Peter was not the best of the best. He was rejected and told to love God and learn his family’s family trade. When Jesus says, “Come, follow me” to Peter- Jesus is choosing him. Peter isn’t begging a rabbi, and then being quizzed and turned down. Jesus finds him and calls him. Peter has been told he’s nothing special. And here comes a rabbi who wants him as a disciple. Jesus builds a pack of rejected anybody’s who weren’t good enough to be the disciples of another rabbi. And Jesus uses this group to change the world.

Rob Bell then talked about Peter getting out of the boat to walk on the water like Jesus (Matt 14:25-31). The reason Peter had the audacity to get out of the boat was because as a disciple he was learning to do what his rabbi did. That’s what it meant to be a disciple. It was to learn to be like your rabbi. So when peter sees Jesus walking on water, Peter wants to give it a go. But he starts to doubt and sink. Rob Bell thinks it’s because Peter loses faith not in Jesus, but in himself- he loses faith that he can actually follow Jesus. But because Jesus called him, he believes in Peter. He believes he can do it. Peter is a disciple, an apprentice of Jesus. An apprentice learns to do what the master does.

Just prior to where our reading in Acts starts Peter heals a paralytic. We read, 
“he found a man named Aeneas, bedridden for eight years, who was paralysed. And Peter said to him, ‘Aeneas, Jesus Christ heals you; rise and make your bed.’ And immediately he rose” (9:33-34). 
 Now compare that to Jesus in Luke 15, 
“he said to the man who was paralysed—“I say to you, rise, pick up your bed and go home.” And immediately he rose up before them and picked up what he had been lying on and went home, glorifying God. (Lk 15:24-25).

Then in our Acts reading today we meet Tabitha who became ill and died. They laid her body in an upstairs room. They asked Peter to come. 
“…the disciples, who heard that Peter was there, sent two men to him with the request, ‘Please come to us without delay.’ So Peter got up and went with them; and when he arrived, they took him to the room upstairs. All the widows stood beside him, weeping and showing tunics and other clothing that Dorcas had made while she was with them. Peter put all of them outside, and then he knelt down and prayed. He turned to the body and said, ‘Tabitha, get up.’ Then she opened her eyes, and seeing Peter, she sat up. He gave her his hand and helped her up. Then calling the saints and widows, he showed her to be alive” (9:38-41).

Compare this to something Jesus did in Mark 5- 
“They came to the house of the ruler of the synagogue, and Jesus saw a commotion, people weeping and wailing loudly. And when he had entered, he said to them, ‘Why are you making a commotion and weeping? The child is not dead but sleeping.’ And they laughed at him. But he put them all outside and took the child's father and mother and those who were with him and went in where the child was. Taking her by the hand he said to her, “Talitha cumi”, which means, “Little girl, I say to you, arise.” And immediately the girl got up and began walking (for she was twelve years of age), and they were immediately overcome with amazement.” (Mk 5:38-42).

They both send out the mourners from the room. Peter prays. Jesus and peter both grab her hand. And they both say "get up". If they both were speaking Aramaic Jesus would have said Talitha cumi and Peter would have said Tabitha cumi, which is only one letter difference. And both came back to life.

Peter was a disciple of his rabbi. He learned to do what his rabbi did. The difference is that Peter calls on the power of Christ and does it all in his name, whereas Jesus speaks the healing into being. For Peter, following Jesus meant a different life. It wasn’t just a belief he locked up in his head. It made a real concrete difference to how he lived his life. He actually believed he could become more like Jesus.

Now, I’m not saying we should all head down to the morgue and start calling dead bodies back to life. Though, I do believe if Jesus called us to that we could. I think this was at the beginning of the church and they were granted very real and concrete signs of the salvation and new life given through Jesus. It was the establishment of a new kingdom on earth and so these signs are evidence of the kingdom of heaven invading earth. I do believe miracles still happen, but I think miracles had a special role in the early church.

There is plenty that we are called to as disciples of Jesus, besides doing miracles. As disciples of Jesus we are called to reflect the character of Christ. We are to be people that grow in the Fruit of the Spirit, “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, [and] self-control” (Gal 5:22-23). We are to be people that live the Sermon on the Mount (Matt 5-7). This will only happen when we spend time with our rabbi and grow in our relationship with God. As disciples we are to so have our minds soaked in Scripture that it is liked we are covered in the dust of our rabbi. As we spend time in prayer and reading Scripture we will learn the ways of our rabbi.

For much of the church’s history there were methods of discipleship. You would be discipled in the way of the Jesuits, or the Franciscans, or Dominicans, or Benedictines. A lot of those movements were monastic and so not necessarily very realistic for us. But there were some that weren’t monastic. The Jesuits didn’t start out as a monastic or clergy order. John Wesley was known for the "method" of discipleship he asked people to practice, which is why his movement became known as "Methodism". That was not a monastic movement at all. Most churches had regular feast days and days of prayer and fasting. This can become legalistic, but that’s not what it was meant to be. We have somehow made being Christian all about Sunday, but that’s not the way it has always been.

Many (if not all) of the Christian denominations came out of some movement that was intensely about discipleship. Even the Book of Common Prayer is a way of discipleship. We usually think of it as a service book, but it is really a way of being consistently soaked in Scripture and being covered in the dust of your Rabbi. It gives readings for every day- morning and evening, as well as prayers drawn drawn from Scripture and the prayers of the saints.  On page 555 it says, 
“Every Christian man or woman should from time to time frame for himself a RULE OF LIFE in accordance with the precepts of the Gospel and the faith and order of the Church; wherein he may consider the following: The regularity of his attendance at public worship and especially at the holy Communion. The practice of private prayer, Bible-reading, and self-discipline. Bringing the teaching and example of Christ into his everyday life. The boldness of his spoken witness to his faith in Christ. His personal service to the Church and the community. The offering of money according to his means for the support of the work of the Church at home and overseas” (p.555). 
 For most of Christian history Christians have been called into a way of discipleship- A way of learning to grow into people that look like Jesus. It is a way of being covered in the dust of your Rabbi.

May we be transformed by the power of the Holy Spirit as we follow our rabbi. May we be covered in the dust of the one who called us to follow him. May you see that Jesus believes in you. May you be a disciple of Jesus, growing in his ways, learning to be like him.

[1] "Dust", by Rob Bell. 008 in the Nooma series

Tuesday, 12 April 2016

The real God will make us uncomfortable- Paul's conversion

You’ll notice in our reading today that “Paul” is called “Saul”. We are used to biblical characters having a couple names Jacob is also Israel; Simon is also Peter; Abram is Abraham. Paul wasn’t actually given a name change. “Saul” is his Hebrew name and it would have been his name among his fellow Hebrew speaking Jews. It’s a very Hebrew name. You might remember the first king of Israel was named Saul. “Paul” is his name among gentiles (non-Jewish folk). We probably know him as Paul because he embraced his call to be the apostle to the gentiles and “Paul” became his name because it was associated with the gentiles he was called to serve.

Saul’s conversion on the road to Damascus is probably the most famous conversion in Christianity. It is dramatic not only in how it happened, but also in who it happened to. You’ll hear people talk about a “Damascus road experience”. And people who haven’t have that kind of dramatic conversion will wonder if there’s something wrong with them- especially if you grew up in the church. Let me just say that there are all kinds of conversions. God converts us in the way that he wants to. Some are dramatic. Some of us need to be knocked to the ground before we will take him seriously. I had a kind of Damascus road conversion. Some of us need that, especially if we were enemies of Christianity. Some of us don’t have fireworks, but have a slow consistent burning. There isn’t a standard way of being converted, so not everyone should compare themselves to Saul’s Damascus road experience.

What is more important is continuous conversion- that we have moments of growth. As Christians we should all be continuously converted. We should be having moments when the Bible seems to come alive to us. We should have moments when we really do want to love and serve the people around us for Christ’s sake. We should have moments when we suddenly desire prayer. I remember going through times when I was first converted when the desire to pray was so strong it was like a fire in my chest. I would have to leave what I was working on and go hide in the bathroom to pray because it felt like my chest was going to burst. We should have moments of desire to learn more about God or about his people. We should all have moments when we suddenly overcome some character flaw that has enslaved us for years- maybe bitterness, anger, resentment, fear. These are all ways that we are continuously growing as Christians. We may or may not have a dramatic conversion we can point to, but we should have many small conversions as we grow as Christians. If you don’t feel like you are growing then that is a good thing to bring to God in prayer and a good reason to seek out some help from a Christian brother or sister.

Well let’s turn back to Saul to look at his experience. Often when people have dramatic conversion experiences they will speak about who they were before their conversion. So who was Saul of Tarsus. He may have been a bit like the biologist Richard Dawkins, who said that teaching our children Christianity is the equivalent of child abuse. Or maybe Christopher Hitchens who wrote a book criticizing Mother Teresa, and another book called “God is not Good: how religion poisons everything”. Hitchens has recently died, and as angry as Dawkins is, he and those like him are not likely to physically hurt a Christian. A better comparison might be members of ISIS, the Islamic State, as they sometimes call themselves. They have hunted down Christians to kill them. [1] They believe they are in keeping with the ways of the Quran and believe they are in keeping with God’s purest laws. They see Christians as basically a kind of heretic. They believe Jews and Christians twisted the events of history and didn’t record them honestly. Christianity is a twisted view, a dangerous view, of the God they know more purely.

This is kind of who Saul of Tarsus was. He was fanatical about hunting down and destroying what he saw as a heretical sect of wayward Jews. We read that Saul was watching the coats of those who were stoning Stephen and giving his approval (Acts 7:58; 8:1). We read that “Saul was ravaging the church, and entering house after house, he dragged off men and women and committed them to prison” (8:3). We read today that, “Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any belonging to the Way, men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem” (9:1-2). Saul is a fanatic. Later in Acts he says, “I myself was convinced that I ought to do many things in opposing the name of Jesus of Nazareth. And I did so in Jerusalem. I not only locked up many of the saints in prison after receiving authority from the chief priests, but when they were put to death I cast my vote against them. And I punished them often in all the synagogues and tried to make them blaspheme, and in raging fury against them I persecuted them even to foreign cities” (26:9-11). In his letter to the Galatians he says, “For you have heard of my former life in Judaism, how I persecuted the church of God violently and tried to destroy it. And I was advancing in Judaism beyond many of my own age among my people, so extremely zealous was I for the traditions of my fathers” (Gal 1:13-14). Saul was a fanatic. John Calvin described Saul as a wild and ferocious beast.

But it’s important to also realize that Saul saw himself as a warrior of truth. He saw himself as defending the ways of his people- Defending the Law and the dignity of the Temple. He saw Jesus and his followers as dangerous liars and tricksters drawing people into falsehood- leading the people of Israel away from God. Paul saw himself as a defender of truth. He didn’t see himself as cruel. He saw himself as standing up for truth and tradition. He saw himself as ultimately defending God. So now he is on his way to Damascus on official duty, under the authority of the high priest, he is going to arrest disciples of Jesus and bring them back to Jerusalem to receive their punishment. He wants to stop this infection before it spreads any further.

Saul is on his way to destroy the church in Damascus, who possible went there from Jerusalem to get away from him. And “… suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, ‘Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?’ [Saul] asked, "Who are you, Lord?" The reply came, ‘I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. But get up and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do’" (9:3-6). Saul, who was ferociously defending God and truth, was suddenly humbled and thrown to the ground. Saul thought he knew God. He was so confident in who God was that he was willing to imprison and kill those who threatened that truth. He believed the temple and the sacrifices were eternal elements of what it meant to be God’s people. Jesus and his followers threatened that. Jesus claimed to be the new Temple, and he claimed to be the only sacrifice needed.

Subtly, Saul was actually believing a god of his own creation. We all do that to some degree. We often prefer a God that doesn’t challenge us. We prefer a comfortable God. We are often less concerned with the real God that exists and more concerned with “the god I believe in”. The real God challenges us to do difficult things, to change, to think differently, to grow in love towards people we don’t want to love. When we make the “god we believe in” more important than the God who actually exists, then we are creating an idol. I know that distinction is subtle. What it means is being open to being wrong about who we think God is, rather than trying to stuff God into a box. We should always recognize that God is bigger than we can imagine and will continuously surprise us. The real God will tell you things you don’t want to hear. That is the God we meet in the pages of the Bible. That is why the God in the Bible sometimes offends us, and disturbs us.

John Calvin described the human heart as an idol making machine[2]. An Idol is something besides God that, if you lost it, you would feel like life is not worth living. For some people that is an image of success- a certain amount of money, a prestigious position, expensive vacations, etc. There isn’t anything wrong with money, positions, or vacations, it’s only when they become idols- when they are all that’s worth living for- that they become dangerous to our souls. Saul subtly, created an idol- a god of his traditions- a god of his culture- a god of the institution.

When Jesus shows up to talk to Saul on the road to Damascus his idol was shattered. Though this probably wasn’t the first time he thought “what if these Jesus followers are right”. Later when Paul is describing his experience he described himself as kicking against the goads (Acts 26:14). Goads are kind of like an ancient cattle prod. It was pointy and it hurt. The shepherds would use the goads to direct the sheep towards food or away from danger. To kick against the goads is to hurt yourself, like punching a brick wall, but it’s also resisting what is good for you- the direction of the shepherd. It sounds like Saul must have had some sort of doubts about how right he was. Maybe his doubts came when he heard Stephen teaching the people about Jesus and then saw him get stoned to death while praying for God to forgive those who were killing him.

Now Jesus has appeared to him. Paul will later describe this experience as experiencing the resurrected Jesus. For him this was not a vision or a dream. Jesus, who he thought was dead, came and spoke to him. His train of thought must have been overwhelming: If Jesus is resurrected, then God raised him; If God raised him, then God approved of him; If God approves of him, then he approves of his teaching; If he approves of his teaching then he approves of those who follow his teaching. … Jesus says this amazing thing to Saul, “why do you persecute me?” Not only are his followers right in following the true teachings approved by God, but Jesus so identifies with his followers that to attack them is to attack the messiah. In that short interaction Saul suddenly realizes he has been fighting against God’s Messiah. He has been fighting against God, which is what his teacher Gamaliel warned the Council in Jerusalem about when he said, “keep away from these men and let them alone, for if this plan or this undertaking is of man, it will fail; but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them. You might even be found opposing God!” (Acts 5:38-39). Saul encountered the real God. Not the god he imagined. Saul is thrown into darkness- a physical blindness that matches his spiritual blindness. Paul has to be led to the city of Damascus. There he refuses to eat or drink. He is fasting and praying in a state of repentance.

When you have moments of conversion you encounter these moments of blindness. You might have read the Bible your whole life, and suddenly it’s like you are reading it for the first time. You might have heard that you are forgiven over and over, but suddenly you feel like this is the first time you really understood it and received forgiveness. You feel like you were blind before.

Jesus then speaks to one of the men Saul was probably coming to arrest, Ananias. "Get up and go to the street called Straight, and at the house of Judas look for a man of Tarsus named Saul. At this moment he is praying and he has seen in a vision a man named Ananias come in and lay his hands on him so that he might regain his sight" (9:11-12). Ananias, rightly has some reservations. “But Ananias answered, ‘Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much evil he has done to your saints in Jerusalem; and here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who invoke your name’" (9:13-14). This is like Jesus coming to you and telling you to go knock on Richard Dawkins’ door and tell him you have been sent to pray for him. Or, actually it would be more dangerous. Dawkins would give you a tongue lashing but he probably wouldn’t hurt you. Maybe it’s more like Jesus saying, “Go to this member of ISIS and tell him Jesus sent you to pray for him”. So Ananias has reservations. But because this is the God who is real, he will challenge you. He will make you uncomfortable. “… the Lord said to him, ‘Go, for he is an instrument whom I have chosen to bring my name before Gentiles and kings and before the people of Israel; I myself will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name’" (9:15-16). Ananias believed in the real God and so was willing to do what made him uncomfortable.

Then we read, “Ananias went and entered the house. He laid his hands on Saul and said, ‘Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus, who appeared to you on your way here, has sent me so that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.’ And immediately something like scales fell from his eyes, and his sight was restored. Then he got up and was baptized, (9:17-18). Can you imagine being Saul? Suddenly this man, maybe the leader of the church in Damascus who Saul was coming to imprison and kill, comes to Saul and calls him “brother”, lays his hands on him and prays for him and then he receives his sight. That would be an overwhelming example of courage and love. To come to your enemy and call him brother- Someone who was responsible for imprisoning and killing your friends.

It’s interesting that Jesus speaking to Saul wasn’t enough. Jesus wanted to connect him to the community. His conversion wasn’t complete until he connected with other Jesus followers. Saul’s experience is confirmed in the community as Ananias is told directly about what happened to Saul. He knows these Jesus followers hear God- they have intimacy with God. He sees that they are willing to sacrifice. They are willing to risk their lives to come to him and show him love. They live unselfishly. He is baptized and joins that Body he was persecuting. He becomes willing to do the uncomfortable and unpredictable thing as he follows the God who exists.

We want to follow the God who is real- the God who exists. The “god we believe in” is comfortable. We can put that god in a box and make it obey us. That god will never call us to do anything difficult. It will never make us uncomfortable. It will never tell us to change. It will never tell us things we don’t want to hear. It is a god of comfort, but it is not a god worth believing in. It is worshiping self. I want to follow and serve the God who is real. And even as I say that it makes be a little nervous because I know that God loves me, but He loves me too much to leave me as I am. That means I will be called into places of discomfort. The real God encountered Saul and changed his life forever. It wasn’t an easy life. The real God encountered Ananias and asked him to do something very uncomfortable. He might have thought it was going to a cross, but he went. The real God will make us uncomfortable, but the real God is the only one worth believing in.

[1] (If you go to the Voice of the Martyrs website, you will find stories and places where Christians are not allowed to openly practice their beliefs and are sometimes even hunted down and killed.)
[2] “Man's nature, so to speak, is a perpetual factory of idols.”

Monday, 4 April 2016

"doubting" Thomas

{Note: you may notice a portion of this sermon as being very similar to last week's Easter sermon. I serve two congregations and I'm not at both each Sunday. I felt this repeated material was important for both churches}  

Thomas has gotten a bad reputation. A “doubting Thomas” has become a phrase in the English language meaning “a person who is skeptical and refuses to believe something without proof”. People in our culture will know what a “doubting Thomas” is, but will have no idea of this biblical passage or even that Thomas was a disciple. I think that’s unfortunate because Thomas really wasn’t that much more of a doubter than any of the other disciples.

When Mary Magdalene goes to the tomb and finds the body of Jesus missing, she doesn’t think ‘resurrection’. She thinks ‘grave robber’. The risen Jesus even speaks to her and she still can’t believe. Her mind makes him out to be the gardener until he speaks her name.

Mary goes and tells the other disciples that she has seen Jesus, but it seems they were skeptical. They were still full of fear and were hiding behind locked doors. They saw the body of Jesus was missing, but maybe it was a trap. Maybe Mary had been seeing things in her grief. It doesn’t seem like they believe until Jesus actually appears to the disciples.

But one disciple wasn’t at that gathering. Thomas wasn’t there. I’m sure he heard Mary’s story. Then I’m sure he heard the disciples’ story. But, grief can do strange things to people. He probably thinks everyone around him is going crazy. Believing everyone has gone crazy is easier than believing Jesus is back from the dead. Thomas says what will make him believe, “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 it.” It is just too much. It is too big a thing to believe without seeing it himself. This is how Thomas gets his nickname- “Doubting Thomas”.

But, he’s not asking for anything that hasn’t been given to the other disciples. Mary didn’t believe until Jesus was standing right in front of her saying her name. The Disciples didn’t really believe until Jesus stood among them saying “Peace be with you” and showing them his scars. Thomas is merely asking for what has been granted to the other disciples.

We aren’t really that different from those disciples in the first century. Believing is hard- especially when we are talking about a miracle like the resurrection of Jesus. Thomas is easy for most of us to relate to. We want to see it in order to believe it. We are able to doubt anything. Maybe you are dreaming. Maybe your whole life is a dream. We can’t really live in that kind of extreme doubt in our everyday lives. It becomes very hard to drive a car on a bridge because it could collapse; or trust your doctor (he could be lying about his credentials, is he really a doctor? Maybe he is in league with a pharmaceutical company and he is illegally doing drug experiments on me?), or have any kind of significant relationship (maybe they are cheating on me. Maybe they don’t really care about me). We have incredible powers of doubt, but it isn’t very livable. At some point we have to decide what and who we will trust.

In some ways it might be harder for us to believe the resurrection because we tend to say we will only believe something if it can be repeatedly tested, videotaped, and dissected. We want to be able to put it in a test tube. If we can probe an issue in these ways, then we might believe it. I know people who don’t believe in the resurrection simply because they have decided that miracles just don’t happen. No one they know has come back to life after dying, therefore it just doesn't happen. They can't put it in a test tube. Not every truth can be examined with these kinds of tools though.

Thomas is asked to trust the word of his close friends- even that is hard to do when it comes to a miracle. But what about trusting the words of those we never knew? Are we to believe the witness of the disciples? We live in a world where we don’t really even trust each other. People hallucinate. People lie. People make mistakes.

This is a question for history in general. How can we trust what someone has said or written about past events and people? How do we know about Napoleon, or Nero, or Henry the 8th? Really we only know because someone told us about them. Even if we visit the castle of Henry the 8th we still have to trust the words of someone that this is in fact his castle. It can be tricky to think our way through all this.

As Christians we don’t want to be naïve. God has told us to love him with all our heart, soul, strength, and mind. John’s first letter chapter 4 says, “Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world.” So we are not to be naïve. We are not to believe everything that comes our way. However, we are not to outright reject everything either- that is just cynicism. We are to be discerning. We are to be like sharp swords carefully and skillfully separating truth from falsehood.

Thomas is not naïve and has stated the conditions under which he will believe. Thomas has to “see the nail marks in his hands and put [his] finger where the nails were, and put [his] hand into his side”. If Jesus allows Thomas to do these experiments, then he will believe. Until he is permitted to do this experiment, he will not believe.

Surprisingly, Jesus offers himself up to Thomas’ experiment one week later on the first day of the week- Sunday. We don’t know if Thomas actually did the experiment, but when Jesus appears Thomas believes and utters the profound statement, “My Lord and my God!” which is the climax of the Gospel of John. Jesus is Lord and God!

Thomas believes because he sees. In the Gospel of John there are at least two ways of believing. The first is by direct experience. Seeing the resurrected Jesus- Touching Jesus- Hearing Jesus- this leads to believing that he has been resurrected. This is the kind of evidence we want. We want “empirical evidence”. We want to touch his scars. But of course this kind of evidence is not always available to us. We can’t usually do history this way. We can’t talk to Napoleon or the Roman emperor Nero. We have to trust what others have said about them.

Of course we would love to have the empirical evidence. We would love to examine Jesus’ scars and have a discussion with him, but that kind of evidence is not available to us in the same way it was available to the first disciples.

We have to match the kind of truth to the kind of tool we can use to discover it. If we want to know the boiling point of water then we get a thermometer and a Bunsen burner and we perform an experiment. That’s not helpful if you want to know if a painting is beautiful. Or, if you are in love with someone. Or, if you want to know if something is right or wrong. Or, if something happened in the distant past.

The second way of believing at the end of the Gospel of John is by believing what others have said. We can know London is a city in England by actually going there, but we can also choose to believe those who have gone to London and have come back to tell us about it. ... The disciples could have believed Mary. Thomas could have believed the disciples. He knew his friends were trustworthy, but he wanted a different kind of proof. And Jesus came to him. This way is not normally available to us. We still experience Jesus, sure, but in a different way than the first disciples did. We are asked to trust the words of those who experienced the risen Jesus Christ. Do we trust their story?

In February of 2010, Canada's last known First World War veteran, John Babcock, died at age 109. He was the last Canadian who could tell us directly about what it was like to be a part of the First World War. From now on we will have to rely on recorded words. We have to rely on the stories they have passed onto us. ... There was a point when the last of the original disciples who experienced the resurrected Jesus died. What we have left are their stories.

Is their story worth believing? There are good reasons to believe their story. There are 4 facts that historians agree on. First, Jesus was truly dead- he was killed by the hands of the Romans, who were very good at killing. Second, His tomb was found to be empty- some disagree about how it got that way, but it is a historical fact that the body of Jesus was gone. Third, numerous people reported seeing the resurrected Jesus. Followers and even enemies- individuals and groups, reported seeing him. About 20 years after Jesus' death, Paul writes to the Corinthians (1 Cor 15) "[Jesus] appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born.” The early disciples believed that they had experienced the risen Jesus in a very physical way and they became willing to die for their belief that Jesus was bodily resurrected from the dead. ... Many of them did die for their belief. Fourth, The early Jesus followers were strengthened. They went from a group of scared disciples huddled behind locked doors to proclaiming Jesus in the temple and across the known world. There is good evidence that Thomas went to India to preach the gospel. There are Indian Christians who trace their roots back to the preaching of Thomas. They actually call themselves Thomas Christians (Also known as Malabar, or Nasranis). So these disciples were strengthened, they were emboldened, and they grew in number. This just didn't happen with these kinds of groups when their leader was killed. Usually they scattered and the movement died. ... I believe, the best explanation for all these facts coexisting is the actual bodily resurrection of Jesus.

Most of you don't need these kinds of facts to know he has been raised. Most of you have a faith that is just there. God has planted the faith in you. You don’t believe because of arguments. But, these kinds of arguments can strengthen your faith. St. Anselm once said that theology is, “Faith seeking understanding”. The faith is already there, but we strengthen it and deepen it by thinking about it. You have encountered Jesus in some way, but now you seek to understand that encounter more.

Jesus said to Thomas, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed." Jesus is talking about you. Blessed are you because you have trusted this trustworthy and amazing story, even though you have not touched his scars.

We don’t always have all the proof we want. We cannot reach out and touch God with our microscopes and telescopes. We can't measure God with a thermometer. Doubt, for most of us will just be a part of what it means to be human. ... This does not leave us hopeless. We are invited to trust the stories of those who did encounter him. Through their stories we mysteriously encounter him too. And though we may not be able to touch his scars, Jesus appears in the locked room of our heart and he touches our scars, and says, “Peace be with you.” Amen.
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