"No, Seeing Is Not Believing"


Sermon Preached By Rev. Richard E. Stetler - April 7, 2002

Psalm 16; John 20:19-31


     One of the theories that circulated in the theology of the early Church was that it was the resurrection experiences that motivated the disciples to shed their fears of the Jewish authorities, enter their world and spread "the Good News.  However, our lesson this morning does not support this idea. 

     Listen again to the first verse: 

It was late that Sunday evening, and the disciples were gathered together behind locked doors because they were afraid of the Jewish authorities.  Then Jesus came and stood among them.  "Peace be with you," he said. 

     As we recall the sequence of events during this episode, Thomas had not been present.  Because he would not believe what the rest told him until he could see Jesus for himself, throughout history he received the label of "Doubting Thomas. But listen to the response of the disciples who had seen Jesus alive. 

A week later the disciples were together again indoors.  This time Thomas was with them.  The doors were locked. Jesus came and stood among them. 

     A week had passed and the faithful were still behind locked doors.  One might imagine that having seen Jesus, the disciples would be energized with courage to go forward with their mission.  That did not happened.  Why do we suppose that was?     

     This morning I want us to consider how this same theme can play in our own lives. Has knowing the truth ever removed our reticence, our hesitation, or our desire for God to do what we need to do for ourselves?   For the disciples who saw Jesus and for Thomas who had not, both still chose to remain behind locked doors.  Are some of us still behind similar doors?   

     What difference did it make for the disciples to learn that they were eternal beings if they could not let go of the life-issues that were worrying them in the present?   Furthermore, how do we escape being distracted or immobilized by all the challenges to our security that enter our lives? Why do we allow such experiences to put "the gearshift" of our spirits into park?

     In the next chapter of John's Gospel, after the disciples had seen Jesus numerous times, "Simon Peter said to the others, 'I am going fishing. (21:3)  After a series of events had emotionally exhausted them, going fishing was not such a bad idea.  It may be that Peter was no longer willing to engage in self-pity or to be around those who were, so he decided to do something he wanted to do.  That is a great place for us to begin as well.  We need to get up and do.

     A couple of weeks ago I was talking about our new education-wing with some out-of-town visitors as they were leaving one of our services.  One gentleman said: 

Don't do what we did in our church.  We talked about a building program for years.  We were always testing the water to see if every person was in agreement with the design and the cost.  I thought I would be dead before anyone turned over the first spade of dirt.  Make your decision, bury your fears and build what you need. 

     I told him that our building was already finished and that we were currently in the stages of fine tuning it.  He looked surprised and said, "Wonderful!  Good for you!  Get in there and start to enjoy it."  

     He was so delightful. I wished he lived closer.  His flaming spirit was alive with doing instead of dreaming, talking and concentrating on the reasons why something cannot be done.  We can always find something to worry about.  Too many of us do that and it keeps us behind locked doors.    

     What makes our drama lighter is activity.  We become prisoners when we stop and stare.  Keep moving! God has shown us a great truth, but until we get up and do something with it, we are stuck with our regrets, fears, "what ifs" and doubts.  Such thoughts do not serve us or anyone else.  Where is faith if we need positive guarantees ahead of time before we act? That is not the way God creates. 

     The attitude of the world community slowly began to change when the followers of Jesus stood up and carried what he taught into an unknown future.  As we noted in last week's message, the only disciple to die of old age was John.  The rest of Jesus' disciples were killed.  Eventually the disciples understood that since God was in charge of the design of creation, they would not die when they left their bodies.     

     Even though we have this same information about ourselves, so what?  Are we using that knowledge to create a world where we can become more loving and peaceful men and women?  Our President has asked each of us to volunteer two years of service.  Are each of us doing that?  Think of the opportunities at St. Matthew's that are similar to the activities that Jesus had urged his disciples to accomplish in the world.   

     We could become teachers in our church school.  We could be using our financial resources to further the work of our church.  We could be serving in one of our children's nurseries, working with our youth, or immersing ourselves in one of our many mission opportunities.  We could sing in our choir, serve on committees and help plan the future of our church.  We could invite someone to come to church with us.  Such activities appear insignificant, but as the disciples demonstrated, they create powerful ripples as they move forward in time.  We can change the future by what we do today. 

     Yes, many of us have frustrations that have us preoccupied. As long as the disciples stayed with such thinking, they condemned themselves to remain behind locked doors.  Seeing Jesus alive had done nothing to stimulate their personal growth or move their mission forward.  To change a world, the disciples had to give visibility to what they knew.  The "rule" for displaying our faith has not changed.  So do we. 

THE CONGREGATIONAL PRAYER

     Merciful God, we find ourselves in possession of a great truth.  We are filled with hope and the promise of our risen Lord.  Grant us renewed strength to be faithful to our vision.  We know how easy it is to know truth and not use it, to claim our discipleship while knowing our existing frailties, and to say "yes" while living the "no."  As we gather our thoughts during our moments together, flood us with your loving spirit.  Fill us with the truth that your forgiveness is constant and freely given.  As we experience your presence, may your spirit transform us into instruments of healing and peace.  Amen.

THE PASTORAL PRAYER

     Eternal God, how grateful we are that in the midst of a very troubled world, we have this sanctuary where we can experience sanctuary.  We know that wherever we are, you are.  Yet as we are drawn together because of our shared faith, we confess that it is nice to have an island where we can peacefully reflect on the direction of our lives.

     As time continues to move us away from our celebration of Easter morning, we pray that we will allow its truth to sink deeply into our minds and hearts.  We are aware of the places within us where clutter dwells, where unresolved conflicts still linger, where small resentments  smolder and where hidden habits appear safe from public view.  Teach us, O God, that wholeness begins with the ownership of who we are.  Lead us to accept ourselves  rather than deny the feelings and thoughts of which we are the least proud.  When we accept our own clay feet, perhaps then we can genuinely extend our love and kindness to others who have them as well. 

     We pray for each other this morning.  As a congregation may we always provide an environment where support, nurture and creative alternatives will be in abundant supply.   We want all of us to experience resurrection, where what was dead in us can come alive. We pray these thoughts through the spirit of Jesus, the Christ, who taught his disciples to say when they pray . . .

[Prayer]