April 24, 2022 The Second Sunday of Easter The Rev. R. Allan McCaslin
Readings: Acts 5:27-32; Psalm 150; Rev. 1:4-8; John 20:19-31
From the Acts of the Apostles, “Peter said, ‘We are witnesses to these things.” I speak to you in the Name of God our Creator, Redeemer, and Sanctifier. Amen.
A wise and rather quick-witted colleague was once asked, “Do you believe in infant baptism?” Without hesitation he blurted out, “Believe in it? I’ve seen it!” I thought of that fellow when meditating on today’s scripture lessons, because on the surface, our texts seem to suggest that “Seeing is believing.” Now, it is true that some people do need signs and wonders in order to believe – people like Thomas in today’s gospel reading. And yet, if we look more closely, our scripture readings this morning offer a much deeper message. In fact, I find that message to be a challenge. Rather than “seeing is believing” our texts suggest that “believing is a blessing”. And therein lies our challenge because our believing should always have consequences for us especially in how we choose to live and witness to our faith and, thereby, become a blessing to others.
In our reading from Acts, Peter and the other apostles are confronted by some very angry leaders. The members of the Council – the local political authority - had forbidden Jesus’ followers from proclaiming the good news of the resurrection. Peter responds, “We must obey God rather than any human authority.” Now, Peter’s response has been misunderstood as justifying civil disobedience or suggesting it’s okay to pick and choose which of society’s laws one might follow. But that is not what this text is about at all. Peter was not seeking political change, but rather, his response was about missionary zeal. A zeal that proclaims a life and value-changing faith: a faith that is only possible by believing the message of the Gospel, a believing that is a blessing. Peter explains that he and his companions personally witnessed Jesus’ life and ministry. They witnessed how and why Jesus was killed. And they witnessed his physical resurrection when he stood in their midst and ate with them. And it was through the resurrected Jesus that they received the Holy Spirit who now, Peter says, urges them to proclaim the good news of God in Christ. And what is that Good News? That Jesus of Nazareth is the risen Messiah, the promised one of God who lived and died and rose again and, redeems all who will believe in him – redeems us from sin and reconciles us to God. This is the same Jesus described in our reading from the Revelation of Jesus Christ to St. John the Divine. The Jesus whom Peter reminded the council at Jerusalem was killed and rejected – this same Jesus, the Revelation says, will come again in spectacular glory and his coming will herald world-wide repentance. The writer knows, as does Peter and the other disciples that the current age – these years of our Lord – will reach their consummation in that glorious return of Christ: A return that everyone will see and believe. Until that day, we walk by faith alone and share the good news of the Gospel - the good news of reconciliation and peace with God and with one another – shown through our words and especially in our actions that are indeed, a blessing in this world.
Peter tells his hearers that the Gospel message is about faith, not about seeing. It is about believing that Jesus Christ is who he says he is: The Lord of all. Our message, the Christian message, is a message based in faith and lived byfaith – a faith that often comes without seeing.
Faith is the substance of our life together and our witness in the world as Christians, as followers of the risen Christ. It is our faith in the risen Christ that transforms, heals, restores, and emboldens us to choose to live God’s ways. And that faith can transform society simply by our proclaiming the Gospel in word and deed as the Holy Spirit does its transforming work in the world one heart at a time. Everything we do is centered in faith: our faith in the resurrected Lord.
The Gospel according to John speaks about the power of such faith. See, John understood that faith doesn’t end at the last supper or the trial or even the death and resurrection of Jesus. Faith that is worth anything is a living breathing reality that continues throughout the entire life of the believer and the Holy Spirit uses that faith to transform our hearts and minds as God’s new creation in and through our Lord Jesus Christ until his coming again.
Now, just as Peter’s words from Acts are often misunderstood, today’s Gospel lesson is also misunderstood as if Jesus is chastising poor old “Doubting Thomas” for his lack of faith. But the message here is not about doubt. It is about the blessing that comes through faith: Faith that believes in spite of our own selves and our own doubts; and the blessing of that faith that comes by God’s grace. Thomas is very clear about what needs to happen in order for him to believe. And Jesus, gracefully, meets those needs offering himself just as he is to Thomas and by that offering Thomas makes his profession of faith. As one of Jesus’ disciples, Thomas probably should have been able to believe the good news without having to see and touch Jesus just as the other disciples should have believed by simply hearing the news of the resurrection when Mary Magdalene burst in and told them about it. But that is not the point here. Jesus has the grace to offer hope and promise even in the face of doubt and disbelief. Such is the grace of God in Christ whom we meet here each week in the Eucharist, by faith.
See, it is by faith that we gather week after week to proclaim the mystery of our faith: “Christ has died. Christ is risen. Christ will come again.” By faith, we stand together and proclaim, “We believe” as we say the Nicene Creed. The word “Creed” means that what we are saying we believe in the very depths of our being. We have faith that what we proclaim at this table and what we proclaim in the Creed is true and such faith comes not from seeing but from believing. And it is through our believing that the living Christ becomes known to us in the breaking of bread. And it is through our believing that the living Christ sends us forth to be his redeeming and healing presence in this world.
See, “it is a lot easier for us to think of Church as a place we go to instead of a place where we are sent from. So, perhaps we should take a few minutes at the beginning of every day and consider that when we left here on Sunday we were being sent … sent out into the world to love without limits: sent to love God with all our heart, soul, body, mind, and strength, and to love our neighbor as ourselves” by faith alone. It is in so doing that we become living proof that our faith, our believing, makes a difference in who we are. We become proof that believing is a blessing because it makes a difference in us, and it can make a difference in this world, too.
As I was crafting this sermon I almost suggested that unlike Peter and Thomas and the others, none of us have seen Jesus in the flesh and, therefore, we only know him by faith. Then, I wondered if that statement is really true. Jesus tells us that in serving the poor, the sick, the homeless, the prisoner, the stranger, the lonely and oppressed we not only see him and serve him, we become him to others. Jesus says that in humbling ourselves to wash someone’s feet we become as Christ to them. Here in the Eucharist, bread and wine is changed and presented to us as Jesus’ own body and blood – it is a spiritual change that has physical consequences in how we act and live among each other andin the world. We are not about signs and wonders, but rather, faith: a faith witnessed through our lives, our values, our words, and our actions. The question this morning is do we really see the risen Christ in each other, in our neighbors, in our own selves, and even more important, do they see the risen Christ in us?
Today’s scripture lessons remind us we are called to proclaim the good news of God in Christ. By the power of the Holy Spirit continuing to reshape and transform us, we – just like Peter said in our reading from Acts – we become living witnesses to the resurrection. We become signs of God’s grace and redemption for others to see. We become Christ’s light and presence in the world – a presence and light that not only every eye can see, but a light and presence that welcomes all to come, touch and embrace our Lord.
Imagine if each of us demonstrated the same zeal that Peter demonstrated in Jerusalem, a zeal for not only witnessing to and proclaiming but living our faith. So much so that if someone was to ask one of our neighbors, “Do you believe in Jesus Christ?” They are quick to respond, “Believe in him? I’ve seen him – right over there at The Church of the Holy Cross! Oh God, by your grace, let it be so. Amen.