Saturday, April 27, 2019

Year C, Easter 2, John 20.19-31, My Lord and my God

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Risen Lord and Savior, Jesus the Christ.  Amen
Faith and Believing is not something we do with our minds, but the state of our hearts and souls.
In fact, it is when doubts assail us that faith and belief are often the strongest, for to have faith, to believe, is to trust in another when nothing whatsoever is certain.
Faith and belief are concepts that have multiple layers of meaning, and because of that, we are often left to struggle with what is meant in a particular situation. 
Back in 2002, on the occasion of Karla and my 25th wedding anniversary, I became ill.  After a wonderful dinner out with friends and family, it was like a bomb went off in my gut, so severe that I asked Karla to take me into the hospital.
They treated me for a variety of symptoms, and after a few hours, had me settled down.
However, the Dr. said one thing that would have significant consequences.
“Has anyone ever told you that you have a heart murmur?” 
Subsequent tests in the coming weeks and months revealed that I had a mitral valve failure, and needed open heart surgery.
For me that experience became the best example of faith and belief.
There were three things going on.
First, the doctor explained that I had pulmonary hypertension, that is, an elevated blood pressure in my lungs, which is an indication that the mitral valve was not functioning, allowing blood to be pumped back into the lungs instead of just forward into the body.
When the doctor explained that to me, the first issue was did I understand what he was saying? 
This first level, understanding, is one of the dimensions of faith and belief. 
When we say “We believe in God the Father Almighty, Creator of heaven and earth” do you understand what that means?  This is a question of intelligence and knowledge.
One of the things that I had to deal with during my treatment is that, aside from that one night, I was symptom free.  There had been no shortness of breath or uncomfortableness that would lead me to think that I had a problem.
So when the doctor told me about my mitral valve and what was wrong, I had to decide whether I would accept what he was saying as being the truth.
This dimension of faith, believing something is actually true, is a matter of conviction.  Not intelligence.
Some very intelligent people may not agree about what is true.  For example, two people may understand quite well what we mean when we say that God created the heavens and the earth, but disagree on whether that is a true statement.
Back to my surgery.
Following all the tests and the determination that I needed surgery, I was introduced to Dr. Sewick. 
Now the question was not about understanding, nor was it about truth, but rather it was about trust.  Specifically, would I trust this man to perform the surgery and fix my heart, knowing that he would stop and start the heart to do it?
Trust in this sense, is all about a relationship.
You can understand something all by yourself.
You can be convinced that something is true all by yourself.
But trust, in this sense, is always trust in another.
So when we talk about our Christian faith, we do so in three different ways.
We talk about our understanding of the Christian beliefs, namely that God created us all, that he has redeemed us, and that by the power of the Holy Spirit he leads us to believe and transforms our life.
We also talk about our Christian faith as a conviction that these things that have been revealed to us through the scriptures and proclamation are in fact true.
But the most important dimension of faith is whether we will trust in God with our whole life and soul.
There’s one other thing about these three dimensions of faith and belief that bears noting.
Only the third dimension that of trusting in the other really matters in the end.
Understanding what was wrong with my heart didn’t save me.
Believing I had a problem did not save me.
It was trusting in Dr. Sewick that saved me.

There’s a verse that I found very meaningful regarding the experience of Easter.
It comes from Luke 24: 41.
While in their joy they were disbelieving and still wondering, .  .  .
What this says to me is that when the disciples experienced the Risen Christ, present in their midst, they didn’t understand what was happening, perhaps they couldn’t even believe that it was true, but nevertheless they were overcome with joy at being with Jesus once again.
Likewise in today’s Gospel reading.
When Jesus appeared among the disciples that Easter evening, they did not understand what was happening, and perhaps were wondering how it could possibly be true, but nevertheless they experienced Jesus, present and with them.
Thomas wasn’t there.
When the disciples shared with Thomas what had happened, Thomas responded “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.”
For Thomas, two things were extremely important.
First, he wanted to understand what happened.
And second, he needed to see proof that this was true.
When Jesus subsequently appeared also to Thomas Jesus offered to let him feel his wounds, but it was not necessary.
“My Lord and My God.”
My Lord.
My God.
What changed for Thomas was the relationship was reestablished. 
Thomas likely still did not understand.
He probably wondered how this could be true.
But there was his Lord and Savior, Jesus.
And that was all that mattered.

What matters to us?  Nearly two thousand years have passed.  What matters to us today?
We are at a different place than those first disciples of Jesus.
For thousands of years now we have confessed our faith.
I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord,
who was conceived by the Holy Spirit,
born of the Virgin Mary,
suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, died, and was buried;
he descended to the dead.
On the third day he rose again;
he ascended into heaven,
is seated at the right hand of the Father,
and will come again to judge the living and the dead.
We understand these things that form the nucleus of the Christian teachings about Jesus.
They have become very familiar to us.
And in our country, even though many people are no longer active in the Church, most people will, when asked, say that they believe these things to be true.
But the real question is whether we will trust the Lord our God above all else.
Do we have a personal relationship with Jesus as our Lord and Savior?
Jesus’ disciples struggled to understand.
It was also difficult to believe that this could possibly be true.
But what they could not deny is the experience they had of the Risen Christ.
“My Lord and My God!” Thomas declared.
My Lord and My God!
That is about a relationship.  Not understanding or truth.  But a personal relationship with Jesus.
This can be a struggle.
And it’s easy to get distracted.
As a pastor a whole lot of my life has been devoted to the pursuit of Christian knowledge and understanding, and the convictions that arise out of that about what is true.
In this regard, we train our pastors well.
I have an undergraduate degree in Religion and Philosophy, and four years of seminary to get my Master of Divinity Degree. 
Pastors understand a lot.
And most of us have strong convictions about what is true and what is not.
The real issue though is whether we have encountered the risen Christ and experienced a saving relationship with Jesus as our Lord and Savior.
For us, as for many people, sometimes it is the challenges that we face in life, not our education or convictions that truly test our faith and lead us into a relationship with Jesus.
It is not what we know or believe to be true that saves us.
It is Jesus.
Jesus only.  Standing there in our midst, wounded for our sake, and saying “Peace be with you.”

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