Today we have another message about seeing Jesus. To set the context for today’s message I just want to recap last’s week’s Easter message, in case you were not here or you have forgotten. The women went to the tomb, found it empty and then angel told them then would see Jesus. We remembered the story that Jesus told about when we give food to the hungry and a drink to the thirsty and visit the sick we are actually doing these things for Jesus.
This means we can see Jesus in every person. Even if they don’t see Jesus in themselves. We see Jesus in them, in hurting people. Because Jesus suffered on the cross. He know it is to suffer, he knows our sorrows. And if we see Jesus in every person, we will treat them differently, and our relationships with them will be different. If there is someone we hate, but we see them as Jesus, well… it is going to bring compassion into the relationship. That was last week. And of course, I hope you looked for Jesus in your interactions with people this past week.
Today, we have another story about seeing, but already doubt comes into the mix. Doubt can be a powerful force in our lives. Doubt can lead to mistrust, which leads to disbelief and to despair. I have seen it happen over and over again. I bet you have too.
I remember a young woman I counseled many years ago. She had been a deeply committed Christian, involved in a campus religious life organization. Then she was abused by one of the young men also in that organization. The abuse cut her deeply. It was a couple of years later when she found her way to my office for pastoral care, but as she talked about it the pain seemed as fresh as it had happened the day before. Because of this experience with a fellow Christian, she not only doubted whether she could ever trust another man in an intimate relationship, and she doubted God.
How could God let another Christian do this do her? She wanted to trust God, because she had trusted God before. But she could not. She could not bring herself to trust God. She needed proof that God still loved her. She needed to see something that could prove to her that it would be okay.
I so wanted to be able to hand her a box with trust in it that would give her trust in God again. I wanted to say the right thing; give her the right scripture passage to read. I want to say see, she could believe that God loved everyone in the world, except her. She could not trust God’s love for her. She felt so broken and damaged.
We all want to know, don’t we? We want to be sure that we’re not playing the fool. We want to believe that the promises of God are true, but we don’t want to look stupid if they are not. Thomas didn’t want to be wrong.
So we put up these defenses, and these demands: If God will do this, I’ll trust in God. If I get this sign. If I can see this or touch this. But once God passes one test, we just put up another. We want another test, another sign.
Two people can look at the same evidence, and respond in two different ways. Two people look at the same picture of the Grand Canyon; one sees what happens when water is moved across the earth, by wind and gravity, over long periods of time. Another looks the same picture and is convinced that there is a God. Two totally different responses to the same picture.
Those who knew Jesus, and heard tell of an empty tomb also had different responses. Some said: the body was stolen. Others said: Jesus had risen from the dead. One points to the failure of Jesus’ mission on earth, the other points to the miracle of resurrection; two responses to the same story.
In our scripture reading for today we heard the familiar story of Thomas, from whom we get the name “Doubting Thomas.” Thomas heard from his fellow disciples that the risen Jesus had come to see them. But Thomas could not trust. He could not believe that Jesus had been there simply because the other disciples told him. He needed his own empirical data.
What does it means to take that leap of faith, and trust in God? We can put up so many barriers to this trust. We human beings like certainty. We like things we can see. We like things we can take pictures of and post on Instagram and Facebook, so other people can see them too. Because if it’s on the internet, it must be true, right?
But human beings have trouble trusting. Something bad happens to us and we blame God. We don’t blame it on human beings with free will, we immediately rush to ask: why didn’t God intervene?
And when we look at scripture we see that even among the first followers of Jesus, there were skeptics. Thomas spent three years with Jesus and with the other disciples. Yet when his brothers told him that they saw Jesus, he does not believe them. He demanded to see for himself. He could not trust. Something got in his way. Why did Thomas have to be so stubborn? Why couldn’t he trust in what he could not see?
There is one thing I love about this story. Jesus is patient and generous. Thomas tells his friends that he won’t believe them; he wants proof. He wants to put his hands in the nail holes, kind of gruesome, or he won’t believe. If I were Jesus I’d come and give Thomas a piece of my mind. But what does Jesus do? Like a kind teacher, he simply comes and gives Thomas what he needs. Because once again, Jesus had a singular purpose – to help others see God. He was all about pointing people to God. He came and said “see Thomas, here it is”. That’s Jesus.
I often have conversations with one of you – and you are longing for that certainty that Thomas longed for. I know what it feels like; I’ve been there myself. You want to know that this God stuff is true, right? We want to know that there is some order to this world. You want to know that God is guiding you, and that you can know God’s desire for your life. Sometimes you sit with me, and I wish I could just hand it to you – hand this package marked “trust” , in this nice, neat little box and it could be yours.
Today, let’s put our trust in God. We can choose to be skeptics, and put up barriers. We can look at the Grand Canyon and simply see water doing its job over time. That is true. I believe in the scientific explanation. Science and faith should not be enemies.
Or we can cast our lot with those early disciples – who left their fishing nets behind and went fishing for people. They went about the work of pointing others to God, and inviting others to put their trust in God. Because they saw the power of God in Jesus Christ. They saw the healing power of Jesus, the saw Jesus to love the unlovable, and they saw in Jesus the ability to speak truth to power and to demand justice.
I see Jesus in you, when you are bold to walk across this room and engage in conversation with someone who is sitting alone in this space for the first time, looking anxious. When you leave your friends and make them feel welcome. I see Jesus in you when one of you takes another to the hospital for a procedure. I see Jesus in you when one of you is struggling with an addiction and another of you in recovery, reaches out and give encouragement, the kind only another in recovery can give. I see Jesus in you, when you are grieving a death or a broken relationship and you show up here, willing to be vulnerable and let this community surround you with love. I see Jesus in you when you dare to make peace with someone who you would rather not be in the same room with. In all these ways you are refusing to give into doubt and despair. I see you choosing to trust in Jesus.
Let us not be like Thomas, who demanded more proof. We have all the proof we need. Just look around the room here. There are signs of God’s love for us everywhere. Let’s not waste another day looking for proof, or wondering. Let’s choose simply and boldly, to put our trust in God. For when we put our trust in God, I assure you, we will see Jesus our lives will never be the same.