(Acts 5:27-32; John 20:19-31) – J G White
11 am, E2, Sunday, April 28, 2019 – UBC Digby
As I kid, I was fascinated by the cartoon panels of Ripley’s Believe It or Not. Amazing facts and stories were told that were incredible: but true!
In a Sudanese marriage ritual, newlyweds have a milk-spitting competition to decide who will become head of the household.
In 2018, Huntington, New York, changed its name to “Hauntington” for Halloween.
It took more than 1,000 elephants to carry the materials to build the Taj Mahal. (cartoon 04-25-2019)
I owned a book of comic pages from the paper, watched the TV show, and heard there was a Ripley’s Believe It or Not museum… wow! I loved it all.
What impossible things to you believe?
What does it mean to believe?
We read another story from the day of Jesus’ resurrection, and a scene from one week later. What we call the story of ‘doubting’ Thomas. That disciple who just could not believe what his nine friends told him: their executed and buried Master was alive again. They’d seen Him.
What is believing?
Canadian scholar and popular speaker, Jordan Peterson, gets asked, ‘so you believe in God?’, and he says: this is not a simple question with a simple answer. And he’s right. What do we mean by ‘God?’ What do we mean by ‘believe in?’ Thousands of books have been written about this. And when it comes to spiritual questions, it get very personal. You and I come to our own sense of who God is, and what believing in God truly is.
When we have confidence in God, and in Jesus as a main way God reaches us, we can also wonder about other people. How to reach them. Do they believe it, or not? And, if need be, how can I help them be a believer? What is our part in getting others to believe the Good News?
As John told us – chapter 20 – nine of Jesus’ disciples met Him on the evening of that resurrection day. Christ tells them, “As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” So then, the first person they tell is their friend who missed that meeting – Thomas. They tell Thomas. Does Tom believe it, or not? NOT! He just can’t believe them.
Sometimes we do tell others about the One we believe in – and they don’t believe us.
Charles Finney, the father of American revivalism, identified four agents as leading one into conversion: the Holy Spirit, the truth, the messenger, and the sinner. To illustrate the interrelatedness of the four agents, Finney frequently asked his hearers to imagine that they were standing on the bank of Niagara Falls. Imagine seeing a man headed toward the edge of the falls, “lost in deep reverie,” unaware of his impending plunge to destruction. You cry out, Stop! and the man suddenly realizes his situation and averts disaster. With horror, he leaves the scene and you follow him.
When he sees you, he says, “That man saved my life.” According to Finney, there is a sense in which the bystander (messenger) saved the man. But upon further questioning, the man says that the word Stop! (the truth) was the “word of life” to him. After even more questioning, the man decides, “Had I not turned at that instant, I should have been a dead man.” Finally, after stating that it was his (the sinner’s) act, he cries, “O the mercy of God; if God had not interposed, I should have been lost” (the Holy Spirit). (D. Leslie Hollon in The Ministers Manual, 2007, p. 72)
All these elements are involved in the personal conversion experience.
Our role continues to be as messengers. It is a hard task, so often. People have real issues with the God thing. I’ve known people who say they can’t believe in God because of all the suffering – the unfair suffering – in the world. Sometimes it is pain that they bear – bad things that happened to them.
Others find they can’t believe in a God because of all the nasty things all the religions of the world have done in history and keep doing today. Surely none of us are right.
And to others, the whole Supreme Being thing just does not make sense, and is completely invisible.
So, we can’t work miracles; we can’t give real belief in Christ to someone else. God’s part in creating faith in people seems essential.
There are many ways God appears and transforms people. One thing God seems to do is to show up, and show up wounded. Remember in the story, Thomas just can’t believe Jesus is back. He says he’d have to see the wounds in his body to believe it. Thomas does not say he’d have to see Jesus’ face and know it was Him. Not that He’d have to hear Jesus’ familiar voice. Thomas wants to touch the wounded hands and side.
When Jesus shows up again, a week later, with Tomas there, it does not say that Thomas touched the wounds of Jesus. Just meeting Him turned out to be enough.
So, I wonder why Thomas wanted proof by seeing the wounds of Christ? That must have been important to Tom. Was this because of the traumatic torture and execution that Jesus suffered? Was this because of some pains deep inside that Tom himself had? One thing our Jesus story shows is that God meets us where it hurts most. So we want to meet the real God, who knows all about our pain and our healing.
I think of a devout couple in Windsor, who talked about their young son dying, years before. The son had a wife and young daughter. As he was dying, something of God became so real and comforting to them.
I think of a young man and his wife in Parrsboro, who started coming to the Church, right after his father suddenly died. Spiritual connections were made in that time of loss and grief.
I remember baptizing a man on his deathbed, at home, who had been led to the Lord by a neighbour. I remember the man saying he did not know the first thing about how to pray. He did not know. But we started to pray, just weeks before he died.
I had a ministry colleague (JHH) whose specialty is pastoral counselling. He used to say his main work, his best work with people, was where pain and faith meet. His theme Bible verses are Philippians 3:10 & 11. I want to know Him/Christ and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings by becoming like him in his death, if somehow I may attain the resurrection from the dead.
God’s part in reaching people is meeting us where it hurts, at least in part. This is a big part of the truth. Because everybody hurts. There is no healing where there is no injury or illness. There is no joyful reconciliation where there has been no broken relationship. There is no setting free where there has been no entrapment or slavery.
All our Bible material suggests that Jesus, alive again after His execution, has a body that is different from before. People don’t always recognize Him; He just appears in locked rooms; etc. But it is a body that bears His wounds. God shows His wounds.
This is the One Thomas wanted, and when he met Jesus, Tom rejoiced, saying, “My Lord and my God!” Perhaps, for many people we know, it is a God who has hurt like them that they need to meet. Is it Jesus, who shows the scars of His pain, that you and I still need, more than ever.
Believe it, or not?