Sermon April 28, 2019
I am sure that many of you have been involved in group development activities. One of the things you learn is to trust your teammates. The first time I went through a group exercise we practiced by doing a trust fall. You stand with your back to all of the other people, fold your arms and just fall backwards. You trust that your co-workers will catch you and not let you fall.
I was on another team building event and we were outdoors. Our teachers led us to a spider web made of ropes. It was several feet off of the ground. The spaces were of different sizes and heights off of the ground. Our team was required to pass everyone through the holes in the ropes. We could only use a space in the ropes one time. We were not allowed to touch the ropes. In order to complete the task, some team members had to be lifted off of the ground and passed through. This exercise required trust, a willingness to have your team members lift you and pass you through the ropes. I learned that it was best to ask the person about to be lifted if they were okay with what we planned to do. It was another example of trust.
Babies blindly trust their parents because they have no one else to turn to. Sometimes they don’t trust strangers. Adults learn through experience who they can trust. We know that we must trust some other people in order to live full and perfect lives. Sometimes we lose trust in people because of how they treat us.
In today’s gospel we hear Jesus say the words, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.” We listen to those words and have hope and thanksgiving. We think those words are meant for us and they were. For we are the people who have not seen and yet we believe in Jesus. Jesus blesses us. It is just one more indication of how we are loved and appreciated by Jesus. May you feel blessed today.
Yes, I do think that Jesus wants us to believe in him. I do think that believing in the resurrection is important because it is a critical part of the Christian faith. As I said last week, if you don’t believe in the resurrection then the basis of our Christian faith is lost. Belief is an important part of our Christian life. Belief could also be called faith. We sometimes think of faith and belief as exactly the same thing. There are some aspects of faith that go beyond just believing to trust.
I have reached the conclusion that we struggle with the word belief in a religious context. I think that arguments among the various Christian denominations have caused us to be overly concerned about belief. Christian denominations since the Protestant revolution have tried to distinguish themselves by what they believe. Some would say that you can only be a part of our denomination if you believe a certain thing. They have suggested that others are wrong for not believing what they believe. They even suggest that if you are not a part of our denomination, if you don’t believe what we believe, then you will not be saved.
From that debate, we understand belief to be a very specific thing. There is no nuance to belief. You either believe exactly this way or you don’t believe. The Greek word that we sometimes translate as belief is pistos. A variation of that Greek word was translated today as belief. It is more generally thought of as faith. Faith has elements of belief and it also has elements of trust. That is why I think another word that may be helpful today is the word trust.
Another reason for my concern about the word belief comes from the way we treat Thomas. We call him doubting Thomas. He was wrong for not believing the words of the other apostles. We don’t want to be like him. Never mind that in John’s gospel, Peter didn’t seem to believe in the risen Jesus when he left the empty tomb. Never mind that in Luke’s gospel, the women come and tell the apostles that Jesus has risen. But Luke wrote about the apostles, “these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them”. Why is it that we can accept the uncertainty of the other apostles but label Thomas as a Doubter? Are we willing to judge the belief of certain person more harshly than the belief of others?
Thomas probably struggled in ways that others struggled. They had no context in which they could understand Jesus’ resurrection. In previous situations, Thomas showed himself to be a firm follower of Jesus. I wonder if Thomas was grieving so much over the loss of Jesus that he couldn’t listen to what the apostles said. Once he saw Jesus then his hope was restored. All that Thomas had lived for was once more possible.
I like this quote from Marcus Borg, “You can believe all the right things and still be in bondage. You can believe all the right things and still be miserable. You can believe all the right things and still be relatively unchanged. Believing a set of claims to be true has very little transforming power.” I would say that trust in Jesus shows us the transforming power of the resurrection. We allow Jesus to transform our lives. In addition to believe, I think we should also have trust
Trust is a better word for me to describe the personal relationship that we seek in the resurrected Jesus. I trust that Jesus will be by my side on my spiritual adventure. I trust that Jesus will bring me to the place where I need to be. I trust that God will bring me to everlasting life.
I find the idea of trusting in God and inviting Jesus to be a part of our life in the reading from Revelation. The writer offered us grace and peace from God. That is what we ask for from the risen Lord Jesus. The writer described a God who was and who is and is to come. That last phrase could also be understood as saying, God who is coming”. In changing the phrase to the present tense, we have the sense that God is coming always. It is as if a rush of God is upon us in every moment of our lives. That is the risen Jesus who is always present with us. I like to think of the risen Jesus as a continuous gift to us. Jesus rose from the dead to be with his apostles and also to be available for us at all times.
When the writer referred to the seven spirits who also send grace and peace, he used the word which we often translate as breath. It is as if God is breathing life into every one of the people in the seven cities and also breathing life into you and I. The writer finished by speaking specifically of the grace and peace that comes to us from Jesus, the one who is risen from the dead. This is the God that I trust in, the God of grace and peace, the God who gives me breath. It is no longer so important what I believe but rather what I trust.
That grace and peace is mentioned in the gospel. Not once but three times we heard the words “Peace be with you.” There is a teaching which suggests that if you want someone to hear a particular message you should repeat it over and over again. I would say that our gospel writer, John, wanted us to be clear about the message of Jesus. Jesus wanted his followers to be at Peace. Of course, he most likely used the word Shalom which has many different meanings. Shalom means harmony and wholeness and completeness. Jesus wanted his followers to be at rest with their life. He wanted us to have that feeling of comfort, knowing that our lives are best lived when we follow our Lord. Jesus wanted us to feel that wholeness, knowing that we are surrounded by his grace and blessing. He wanted us to be certain that our lives are complete when we follow him.
Faith is a way for us to find that peace. For some, their faith is focused on belief. They find Peace in their belief. Let us all believe. I also think that the Peace of God is enhanced in our lives when we have trust. When we trust in God, then we can feel that completeness, that wholeness that only Jesus can give us. May we all feel the harmony, wholeness and completeness of peace in our lives today. Amen.
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