Believing: A Verb
By Rev. Kris Eggert | April 24, 2022
Due to technical difficulties, a recording of the service is not available. Please accept our apologies.
Read John 20:19-31
Let’s agree on something before we get started. Let’s agree to not engage in Thomas bashing. For this morning, let’s get rid of any doubting Thomas” mindset. Doubt is not his primary attribute. Far from it. Thomas only asked for what the other disciples already had. A sign that Jesus was alive.
Peter saw the empty tomb. Mary Magdalene heard Jesus’ voice call her name. Jesus paid a visit to the others in the upper room where they were locked away after his death. Thomas for whatever reason wasn’t there that day. So, sure enough one week later, Jesus appears again, this time for Thomas’ sake.
But we just don’t give Thomas his due in the western church. It’s very different in the Eastern Orthodox tradition where the Sunday after Easter is referred to as St. Thomas Sunday. Rather than focusing on his doubt, our Orthodox friends remember instead his powerful confession of faith. My Lord and My God! Our Orthodox brothers and sisters would tell us that Thomas took that powerful confession out into the world where he is credited for bringing the church as far away as India.
But back to that upper room. Jesus’ reaction to Thomas is the hinge for those who are yet to believe as well as for those who believe but still need the reminders and the reassurances. You know – people like us!
Thomas represents us – and anyone who continues the quest to believe. He began his question much earlier when he asks: we don’t know where you are going, Lord. How will we know the way? To which Jesus responds: I am the way. The truth. The Life.
I doubt that was the answer Thomas was hoping for. It seems Jesus never answers questions as clearly as we might like. When we ask how will we know the way, and how will we know when we get there, we want a Google maps sort of answer. Well, you go straight for a mile, then you turn left, and you arrive at your destination on the right. Better plan on about 40 minutes for the trip.
But believing in Jesus doesn’t keep to a schedule. Believing in Jesus is not about signing a contract. It’s not about accepting a particular doctrine. It’s never about once and done. Believing in Jesus – believing is a verb! Implied is movement and action. We make a confession of faith, we enter the waters of baptism, and that is the just beginning of a relationship. And like any relationship, there’s a dynamic that makes it not exactly the same today as it was yesterday and tomorrow will be different still.
We know that the relationship will be only as strong as the amount of energy and commitment we put into it. It’s not signing the marriage license – it’s the years of marriage. It’s not giving birth – it’s raising children to maturity.
On this first Sunday after Easter, this message is critical for us. Because you can believe in the resurrection all you want. But the resurrection is just the resurrection – as incredible as that is – unless it is also the life that follows. I am the resurrection, Jesus said, and then Jesus said, I am the life.
Thomas needed to see Jesus before he was ready to move on. Understandable. Seeing can be believing. The folded linen cloths in the tomb. The presence of angels. Mary Magdalene saying, I have seen the Lord! Jesus in the upper room. Jesus walking along the road to Emmaus. Jesus standing on the beach. Thomas seeing Jesus’ wounds. There were many visible signs.
Now seeing may be our dominant sense, but we were gifted with 4 others. The gospel of John is especially good at involving all our senses. In John, we also hear signs. Jesus said: My sheep know my voice. They will hear my voice. And many a sermon began with let all with ears listen.
We smell in this gospel. Jesus’ good friend, Lazarus who’d been dead for four days. When Jesus called his name and he came out of the tomb alive. The stench, scripture says! But there were good smells too, as when Mary Magdalene lavished that aromatic oil on Jesus’ feet.
We touch in this gospel. Jesus mixed spit with dirt and touched the eyes of the blind man, and he could see. Mary anointed Jesus’ feet with her hair. Jesus washing the feet of the disciples. Jesus struck across the face by the hands of his abusers. Thomas putting his hands in the wounds.
We taste in this gospel. Jesus turned water into wine at a wedding. Taste the living water he said to the woman at the well. Jesus sits down to eat with Lazarus and his sisters after Lazarus cleaned himself up! Jesus feeds thousands – can you taste the fish and the bread? And as his last act before his death, Jesus sits down to eat with the disciples. He’ll come back for a barbecue on the beach. And every time we gather to worship, we taste the bread and the wine.
We find our balance when all our senses are working in tandem. We have to adjust when one sense is diminished or when one is heightened over another. It’s what it means to be human. Seeing, hearing, tasting, touching …
God wants nothing less than this kind of relationship with us.
Believing is a verb, and if we are engaged in the action of believing, it will take all our senses to make sense of it all. Have you ever heard someone say, I’ve tried to read the bible, but I just don’t get it? Maybe you’ve been one to say it yourself. Maybe you fall asleep during sermons – just not your thing – but maybe you are front and center and awake – and you come alive – when you hear music. God’s word sung in a hymn, interpreted in jazz. Maybe your favorite part of worship is when you see your friends – and maybe now, even be able to hug them. Maybe you have all sorts of trouble setting aside a time each day to pray, but you are the first to raise your hand when there’s a casserole that needs to be cooked, communion that needs to be prepared, flowers that need to be arranged, or a check that needs to be written.
That’s all part of the act of believing. Believing is what you know and what you don’t. Believing is what you do, the questions you ask. Believing is seeing Jesus in someone’s eyes. Hearing God’s voice in a song. Tasting hope in a piece of bread. Touching another human being who is making this journey with you. It is inhaling the aroma of spring and the gift of new life. It all counts.
Don’t let your lack of knowledge or interest in one area keep you from participating. Don’t put limits where there are none – John is a full-sensory gospel. There are bound to be things that you can’t see the point of and things that just don’t register the first time you hear them. While at the same time, you can taste and smell and touch and know that God is there. As for your doubts? Don’t let your doubt keep you away – doubt is not the opposite of faith, rather it is an [expected] element of faith. (Paul Tillich)
It's like the children’s storybook, the 7 Blind Mice – a story in which 7 small blind mice try to make sense of an elephant when each one can only touch a small part. It’s a pillar, one says of the elephant’s leg. It’s a fan another says of the elephant’s ear. It took all of them working together to make sense of the whole. Just as it will take all of us using all of our senses to move forward with our believing. Knowing in part may make a fine tale, but wisdom comes from seeing the whole, just as the children’s book says.
It will take all of us using all of our senses to confess, my Lord and my God like Thomas, and to have that make a real difference in our living.
It’s not that seeing is believing. It’s believing that allows us to see, and hear and smell, and taste, and touch, and know that He is alive!
Christ is Risen. He is risen Indeed. Hallelujah!