Malankara World

Sermons Based on the Lectionary of the Syrian Orthodox Church

New Sunday (1st Sunday after Easter)

Sermon / Homily on John 20:19-31

Must We See to Believe?

by Wyvetta Bullock

In the 20th chapter of St. John, we find the following text:

When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced... But Thomas, one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “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.” A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.” Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”

Do you believe in things you cannot see? Growing up in the 50's and 60's in the southern part of the United States, I learned the value of believing before seeing. In the face of being devalued and discriminated against, I believed that my neighbor and I were created equal. And in the midst of being told that I did not possess the academic capacity of my white counterparts, I believed that I could grow and matriculate through schools of higher learning.

Now, my early years seemed to be filled with contradictions about what was real and what was believed to be true. Another way of saying "believe to be true" is "to have faith in." Webster’s dictionary defines faith as, "firm belief in something for which there is no proof." In the 11th chapter of Hebrews faith is described as, "the assurance of things hoped for, the [evidence] or conviction of things not [yet] seen." The poet, William Wordsworth referred to faith as "passionate intuition." So, one could say that believing or having faith is trusting to the point of knowing.

Trusting something or someone outside ourselves is not always easy. Physicians tell us that if a child doesn't bond with a parent or guardian in the early months of its life, it will have difficulty trusting others as it develops. And, in fact, if trust is not established early in the development stages, a fracture may occur in the child's spirit and affect its personality for life. We live in an interdependent, connected universe. If we are going to live healthy productive lives, we have to learn to trust others and believe in something beyond ourselves.

My parents were people of faith and trust. They passed on to me the gift of faith for believing in what seems impossible. And, in fact, my brother and I were products of their personal faith for children, as they were older parents when we were born.

When you think about it, each one of us uses faith. We all believe in something. Whether it is ourselves, a holy other, or Murphy's Law, we trust in something. What we believe about ourselves and the world around us makes a difference. Anais Nin said, “We don't see things as they are, we see things as we are.” What you believe sets a course for your future and directs your daily activities. Consequently, when we believe only what we can see, we limit ourselves to a whole world of possibilities.

Quantum physicists say that our universe is connected across space and time with this wonderful, invisible web of energy. In other words, what we see is created from what we cannot see. And even more than that, our thoughts, our intentions affect this invisible world for either good or ill. Our ability to create and respond to creation is linked to our beliefs. Our world is really created from the inside out. What is in our heart produces what finally is in our hand. Jesus said it like this, "Out of the good treasure of the heart good is produced." What is seen comes from what is unseen.

In today's scientific and technological world we have plenty of evidence and empirical data to engage our senses. As a result, much of the activities of our daily life go on without thinking about how this things occur. Now, for example, the chair that I’m sitting on. I don’t test to see if it will hold me up. Chairs have proven to be reliable so I don’t have to test it. Based on my experience and the sensory evidence of seeing and touching, so I sit without fear and I trust that the chair will support me.

I also engage the invisible world of technology each day as I imagine most of you do. That is, I use a wireless telephone and computer without thinking about how the information is actually being passed through the atmosphere. Now, although, I can’t see the waves that carry my communications, I believe they are there because of my experience.

There are other areas of my life, however, for which scientific evidence and historical data fall short for providing me with what I need as a human being. When I engage the deeper questions of the purpose and meaning of life, when I face relationships that require reconciling, or when I struggle with life's tragedies, I need something greater than what the current circumstances offer. When situations arise that leave me speechless or that are just too horrific for my thoughts, I need more than what I can engage with my five physical senses. I need to believe and trust in things not yet seen.

There is a story about a pre-civil rights African American community in Florida. The story says that during times of political elections, this community would rent a voting machine and go through the voting process. Now, they knew that their votes would not be counted, but they voted anyway. When asked by members of the white community why they did this every year, they replied, "Oh, just practicing. Just practicing.”

Believing in what is not yet seen means we practice or behave as if it is already exists. The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “Faith is taking the first step even when you don't see the whole staircase.” This is what leaders and visionaries do. They believe in something bigger than themselves and they begin to act as if it is so.

In reality, we all practice our faith everyday. As we live our lives, we live them based on what we believe about who we are, why we are here, and what the future holds. If we believe the future holds promise for a fulfilled life, we generally work and play with positive expectations. If we believe that the future will not be friendly, we generally live with fear.

Several years ago my congregation's choir planned a trip to Southern Africa. We are a mid-sized congregation in a neighborhood that has many economic and social challenges. When people heard about our plans, they laughed. They said, “You are too small, too poor to make such a trip. You’ll never raise the money for 40 people to travel two weeks in Africa." Well, the circumstances seemed too great to conquer and the obstacles too many to overcome. But we believed. We believed that God was with us in our desire to make this journey and we believed that with that vision would come provision. That with the dream would come the means. So we took the first step and began to raise funds. Not only did we raise enough for our journey, but we gave a tithe of what we raised to our sisters and brothers in Africa. Our faith and trust in God's faithfulness was not disappointed.

Given the everyday challenges and stresses of life, it is not always easy to imagine what has not been done before. Some things may seem so far beyond our reach that they may see laughable. Life's unexpected circumstances can sometimes be so overwhelming that they’re almost too much to bare!

In the 20th chapter of the Gospel according to Saint John, the disciples of Jesus were presented with the overwhelming circumstances of Jesus' death. Their hopes and dreams were crushed by his crucifixion. How could they make meaning out of what had just happened to Jesus? What had happened to the purpose of their 3 years of ministry with him? How could they imagine a friendly future? Their leader was dead and because of their relationship with him, they might be next.

Well, in the midst of their doubt and despair, Jesus entered the room where they are hiding. Jesus talked with them, showed them the nail prints in his hands and feet. The disciples rejoiced to see him. Their leader, indeed, was alive. One disciple, Thomas, was not present when Jesus appeared. When Thomas heard about it, he was not convinced. It all seemed too impossible! Thomas needed proof. Jesus came again to the place where the disciples were gathered when Thomas was present and he gave Thomas the proof that he sought. Thomas saw, touched, and believed.

Jesus' life, and death and resurrection is proof of God's love for world. It is the evidence of life out of death and the assurance that things thought to be impossible can become reality.

Blessed are those who face contradictions with God given confidence. Blessed are those who hear the facts, but trust the truth. Blessed are those who have not seen but yet come to believe.

About the Author:

The Rev. Dr. Wyvetta Bullock is an ordained minister in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and was recently appointed Executive for Leadership Development in the Office of the Presiding Bishop. She is founder and CEO of Equipping Leaders Ministries in Oak Park, Illinois. Dr. Bullock also serves as a Pastoral Associate at Bethel Lutheran Church in Chicago and has written articles for several Lutheran publications.

See Also:

The Everlasting Breath of Jesus
by the Rev. Dr. John Killinger

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