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06-19 - Touch

          We are continuing to develop our understanding of God through our physical senses.  In the past few weeks, we have spoken about the sense of sight, taste, and hearing.  Today, we will develop our understanding of God through our sense of touch.

          We are always touching things.  We see an article of clothing in a store.  In seeing it, we have some interest in it because of its shape, color, or that it is on the clearance rack.  Our next step of discover is always to touch the garment.  In touching, we want to gauge the thickness and texture of the material.  We touch it to imagine if we would want to try it on.  If the garment fails the touch tests, we will not consider it further even though the garment might have a nice the shape or color.

          Our need for touch extends well beyond garments.  Our sense of touch has been important for our wellbeing since infancy.  Our understand of the world and our place in it has been shaped by our sense of touch.  We want to immediately begin knowing the world will be kind to us through our sense of touch.  When a baby is first born, one of the things that now happens right away is for the baby to bond to mom and dad by being held bare chested to both.  Touch then is seen as highly desirable for rapid development.

When a child has been separated from their parents, whether it has been for a few hours with a babysitter or months because the parent was deployed overseas, the response is the same.  The child gets excited at the sight of their parent but is not satisfied until they have physically touched that parent, usually with a hug.

          Medical study after medical study has shown that we need physical touch from others to feel secure and safe.  Christian counselor, Dr. Gary Chapman, author of the book, The Five Love Languages, identified physical touch as one of the primary ways humans send and receive love.

          We need and use physical touch to bring comfort to ourselves in this sometimes hard and demanding world.  In the last two years, government policies developed in response to the COVID virus have deprived us of physical touch.  Those policies and practices have been detrimental to human development.  Social distancing requirements may have been necessary at first to minimize the spread of the virus, remember we were going to flatten the curve in two weeks, but social distancing for more than two years has been by all other metrics an inhumane policy.  One study put it this way, “To society, social distancing presents the dangers of increasing social rejection, growing impersonality and individualism, and the loss of a sense of community. It negatively affects learning and growth, and it prevents people from effectively socializing, which is a fundamental human need.” 

A couple of weeks ago, we dropped off a meal to feed the homeless and poor of the community in South Troy.  Before COVID, that meal was a vibrant interactive community of people drawn together to eat together and get to know one another.  After COVID, people attending the meal were prohibited from dining together.  Instead, they were given takeout containers with the food.  A few weeks ago, the facility was unsuccessful in reestablishing a dining together format.  Why were they unsuccessful?  After two years of being kept apart, the people are now afraid to be together. The community has been lost.

          Touch is essential to our well-being and our ability to understand this physical world.  Touch is also an essential way for us to develop our understanding of God.

          We see the sense of touch playout in several ways in the gospel accounts of Jesus’ ministry.  We would see in the Gospel of Matthew that Jesus touched all people, including those considered untouchable. Matthew wrote, “1 When Jesus came down from the mountainside, large crowds followed him. 2 A man with leprosy came and knelt before him and said, ‘Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean.’  3 Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man. ‘I am willing,’ he said. ‘Be clean!’ Immediately he [the leper] was cleansed of his leprosy” (Matthew 8:1-3).  People with leprosy were untouchable.  Lepers were socially distanced from the remainder of the human community.  As of 2015, there remained a group of people who had been exiled due to leprosy.  They live on a tiny Hawaiian island.  They are the last of the people banished from society for leprosy in 1960’s.

          Jesus first recorded miracle in the Gospel of Matthew, the healing of the man with leprosy, comes immediately after Jesus concluded his sermon on the mount.  Matthew wrote at the end of the sermon, “28 When Jesus had finished saying these things, the crowds were amazed at his teaching, 29 because he taught as one who had authority, and not as their teachers of the law” (Matthew 7:28-29).  Jesus then immediately touched the untouchable leper and healed the unhealable.  In touching and healing the leper, Jesus showed his authority over illness giving then authority of the words of his sermon.  Think about how it would be if at the end of this sermon, I was able to cure someone of an incurable disease.  Do you think the impact of my sermon would be substantial?  I think so.

People who heard Jesus’ sermon now not only saw the transformation of this leper but they could also touch the man’s clean and restored skin.  In touching, the people would understand that Jesus’ teachings from the Sermon on the Mount were not just well taught, but they would understand Jesus’ words themselves held the power of God.

          Jesus’ power to heal captivated people’s attention and occurred as a means of authenticating his words.  The Gospel of Mark shares with us that after word spread that Jesus could heal with a touch, “8b Many people came to him from Judea, Jerusalem, Idumea, and the regions across the Jordan and around Tyre and Sidon. 9 Because of the crowd he [Jesus] told his disciples to have a small boat ready for him, to keep the people from crowding him. 10 For he [Jesus] had healed many, so that those with diseases were pushing forward to touch him [Jesus]” (Mark 3:8b-10).  People wanted to touch Jesus.  The people wanted the power of God to be given to them and free them from their illness or disability.  So great were the crowds seeking to touch Jesus, that Jesus had to get into a boat and teach from the waters of the Sea of Galilee to the people seated and standing along its shores.  Touching Jesus mattered greatly to the people.

          As the momentum of Jesus’ ministry accelerated, we read in Mark that, “A large crowd followed and pressed around him [Jesus].”  Jesus and the crowd were on their way to the home of a wealthy leader of the synagogue named Jairus.  Jairus had begged Jesus to come at once to heal Jairus’ 12-year-old daughter who was on the verge of death.

Mark recorded that as Jesus and the crowd quickly made their way to Jairus’ home, “25 A woman was there who had been subject to bleeding for twelve years. 26 She [The woman] had suffered a great deal under the care of many doctors and had spent all she had, yet instead of getting better she [the woman] grew worse” (Mark 5:26-27).  Mark gave us a contrasting character to the wealthy man named Jairus. Mark introduced a woman.  We are not given her name, like we had with Jairus. We know that she has been made poor by her illness, a bleeding disorder.  A woman with a bleeding disorder was a social outcast.  She could not participate in the synagogue, as Jairus could, and she could not socialize with others in the community because she was not permitted to touch other people.  This woman suffered in this way for as long as Jairus’ daughter had been alive giving Jairus joy.  Whatever the woman’s illness, it was essentially uncurable.

“27 When she [the woman] heard about Jesus, she came up behind him [Jesus] in the crowd” (Mark 5:27a).  The woman was probably known in the community as the woman who has been bleeding forever. She approached Jesus from behind, perhaps coming from the rear of the group in hope that she would go unnoticed and not be shooed away.  She saw no chance the group would allow her to get close to Jesus to make her appeal directly to him.

 Mark wrote, “27 The woman came up behind him [Jesus] in the crowd and touched his [Jesus’] cloak, 28 because she [the woman] thought [to herself], ‘If I just touch his [Jesus’] clothes, I will be healed.’ 29 Immediately her [the woman’s] bleeding stopped and she felt in her body that she was freed from her suffering” (Mark 5:24b-29).  This woman had amazing faith believing all she needed to be healed was to touch Jesus outer garment!

          Jesus had attracted a large crowd of people who walked close to him, moving as a unit, jostling one another, noisily making their way to Jairus’ house.  Unseen by anyone in the group was a woman who for twelve years was afflicted with a bleeding condition.  The woman touched some part of Jesus’ outermost garment and immediately she felt changed within.  By faith, the woman’s suffering was over, the bleeding stopped.  With her mission of faith accomplished, the woman began a slow retreat from the crowd hoping again she would go unnoticed.

          But the story had a twist.  Mark wrote that as soon as the woman had touched Jesus’ garment, “30 At once Jesus realized that power had gone out from him. He [Jesus] turned around in the crowd and asked, ‘Who touched my clothes?’ 31 ‘You see the people crowding against you,’ his disciples answered, ‘and yet you can ask, ‘Who touched me?’”  Jesus disciples are almost mocking Jesus.  Everyone had been pushing and brushing up against one another including against Jesus and now Jesus wanted to know who touched his garment?  The disciples must have thought that so many people touched Jesus’ garment, what could Jesus possible mean by that question? They offered Jesus no answer to his question.

          Mark wrote, “32 But Jesus kept looking around to see who had done it” (Mark 5:32).  Valuable time needed to reach Jairus’ dying daughter was ticking by as Jesus kept insisting on looking for the person who touched his garment.  The tension and urgency were rising.  Finally, “33 The woman, knowing what had happened to her, came and fell at his [Jesus’] feet and, trembling with fear, told him [Jesus] the whole truth. 34 He [Jesus] said to her, ‘Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace and be freed from your suffering’” (Mark 5:33-34).

          It is important to note here that Jesus wanted a conversation with the person who touched his garment.  Jesus and the woman each knew a healing had occurred but no one else heard the woman’s story or the healing.  No one other than the woman and Jesus knew of the woman’s faith.  When Jesus heard the woman’s story, he called her “Daughter,” just as Jairus had spoken of his own children.  Though the woman is likely older than Jesus, Jesus was making the point to her and everyone else that to be touched by God is to become his child.  Secondly, Jesus said to the woman she was healed.  This is not news to the woman.  She knew she was healed.  But the Greek word Jesus used here, sōzō, sode'-zo, means both a physical healing and the spiritual healing of salvation.  Jesus was making the point to the woman and to those present that in touching God, her body was healed but more important, her faith in God healed her spiritually as well.

          What do we conclude about this scene and about touch for our lives?  As always, when dealing with our senses, there are two things to consider.  There is the physical and the spiritual.

          First, as we deal with the physical sense of touch we realize that the story of Jesus Christ being sent by God from heaven is the story of God revealing himself to humanity in a way that we humans could most readily and easily receive him.  God’s revelation was not through glimpses of heaven or some mystical experience. God’s revelation came in human form, flesh and blood, in the person of Jesus Christ.  Jesus was called Immanuel, God with Us, the incarnation of God, God in the flesh.  Jesus was someone people could hear as he spoke in their native language.  Jesus was someone people could see as they walked, talked, ate, and worshipped together.  And most importantly, Jesus was someone people could touch and know that Jesus was real.  Jesus was not a ghost as some would later claim.  Jesus was real because people touched him, and he touched them.

          Secondly, as we deal with the spiritual sense of touch we realize that the power of touch made God real amid suffering and it made God’s promises easier to accept.  The spiritual power of God became real when people would later touch Jesus not to be healed by him but to inflict wounds to Jesus’ hands, feet, and side that brought about the death of Jesus in flesh and blood.  And while this people intended deadly harm to Jesus and an end to the Jesus’ story, their wounding of Jesus only served to make real the extent of God’s love.  Peter would later write, “24 ‘He [Jesus] himself bore our sins’ in his body on the cross, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; ‘by his wounds you have been healed’” (1 Peter 2:24).

          What then are we to do in response?  Let’s think of it this way.  As Jesus laid down his life for us, we are called to lay down our lives for each other by becoming the living body of Christ.  Christians are called to by Christ to the world by making his love incarnate, visibly, tangible, and touchable.  When we love and care for others and touch them, it is God’s character that becomes known to them through us.  If people can feel God’s love and experience God’s love though us, someone they can touch as well as see and hear, then people are assured that God is real.  In you, they are touched by God.

          We have been blessed with the sense of touch so that we can inform our minds with the vastness of God’s creation.  And we have been blessed with God’s personal and remarkable touch through the person of Jesus Christ.  Jesus used the power of touch to reach out not just to those closest to him but also to those socially distanced from him.  Jesus touched others so that barriers could be broken down. Jesus touched because God knows we need to feel the realness of God.  In accepting Jesus, we are touched spiritually and given the mission to make God real to other through the touch of love.  Let us be courageous and touch those close and those distanced from us that they too can know the realness of God and see God’s character through us.  Amen and Amen.

06-12 - Hearing

          Our senses, our vision, hearing, taste, touch, and smell, allow us to acquire and experience the world around us.  Our senses allow our minds to develop and understand such things as small as sensations of freshly cut grass or as large as the felling of a tree. 

Sensing our physical world shapes and informs our minds and creates within us a desire to know what cannot be experienced through our senses. We want to know is all life created and lived by chance or is there a higher power, a greater being, a creator. We want to move from what we know in the hope of understanding what we do not know.

We have spoken of such things the last two weeks as we explored how our physical sense of sight and our sense of taste have helped us move from what we know to discover more fully that life is not by chance but flows from a creator, God.  We cannot see God.  We cannot taste God.  We cannot touch God.  We cannot smell God.  But we can hear God.

Our capacity to hear, the ears given to each of us, allows people to hear God.  The ancients believed that of all our sense, the capacity to hear was the superior sense in developing intelligence.  Aristotle wrote, “For rational discourse is a cause of instruction in virtue of its being audible, which it is, not directly, but indirectly; since it is composed of words, and each word is a thought-symbol.” 

Words spoken are thoughts-symbols.  Thoughts lead to understanding.  The ancient thoughts on hearing and understanding make the words of John’s Gospel even more powerful, “1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was with God in the beginning…14 The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth…17bgrace and truth came through Jesus Christ” (John 1:1-2, 14, 17b).  The Word of God, the voice of God, became flesh and lived among the people. In hearing that thoughts of Jesus Christ, our understanding of God leaped greatly.

John would later write, “1 That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched—this we proclaim concerning the Word of life. 2 The life appeared; we have seen it and testify to it, and we proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and has appeared to us. 3 We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ. 4 We write this to make our joy complete” (1 John 1:1-4).  In both passages, John spoke about God sending Jesus so that God could be heard most clearly. 

Over the years, many people have commented to me that there seems to be two God’s of the Bible. There is the God of the Old Testament and the God of the New Testament.  There is one God who seems vengeful and one God who seems loving. There is only one God.  But God looks different, sounds different, when He vibrates through a living person.  God was heard through Jesus most clearly and called for us to come to faith in Him less for what faith in God might make us think of God but more so that faith in God might make of us. 

John understood that God spoke through Jesus as Himself, and that Jesus disciples heard the words of life coming from Jesus.  That is the reason John and others wrote the Gospels.  The disciples heard and knew that they must share the words of Jesus so that others could come to life and could live.  Therefore, our capacity to hear the Word of God or the words of God is a gift that moves us and shapes us in tangible ways now and forever.

To hear is a powerful instrument.  When I was undergoing training to be a Court Appointed Special Advocate for abused and neglected children, we were encouraged to hear the children with three sets of ears.  One set of ears we were to use to hear the words the children said.  A second set of ears were to be used to hear the words the children would not or could not say.  And a third set of ears was to be used to hear the feelings being expressed by the spoken and unspoken words of the children.  The mindset offered by that training in listening to the voices of children is something we would do well to follow when listening to the voice of God. We should be fully engaged when listening to God.

What then is the message God wants us to hear?  The Apostle Paul put it this way, “13b Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved. 14 How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? 15 And how can anyone preach unless they are sent? As it is written: ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!’  16 But not all the Israelites accepted the good news. For Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed our message?” 17 Consequently, faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word about Christ” (Romans 10:13b-17).   Paul was emphatic.  Salvation comes from hearing the good news of Jesus Christ and responding to Jesus’ words of life.  That hearing comes about through preaching, let’s call it speaking, that comes from moms, dads, brothers, sisters, teachers, friends, strangers, and yes, even pastors.  Each one of us is called to share the good news message of Jesus who came and shared by living the words and voice of God.

So, let’s consider for a moment the first part of our conversation today, hearing. There is one specific example of a person healed of deafness found in the gospels.  I found it interesting that there was only one example.  We might think to ourselves, “If hearing was so important why aren’t there dozens of examples in the Gospels?”  That is a good question.  But perhaps just one example is better to emphasize its importance because that example stands out and things that stand out usually draws our attention.  We are more oft apt to see the uniqueness of a particular tree when it stands alone instead of standing among a forest of trees.  Today, we have that one tree of Jesus healing a man who was deaf.  That story is found in the Gospel of Mark, Chapter 7.

“31 Then Jesus left the vicinity of Tyre and went through Sidon, down to the Sea of Galilee and into the region of the Decapolis” (Mark 11:31).  Jesus and his disciples moved from the city of Tyre, a coastal city on the Mediterranean Sea to the Decapolis.  The word Decapolis, means “Ten Cities.”  Jesus was in the region primarily east of the River Jordan comprised of ten cities founded by the Greeks, under Alexander the Great and his successors.  These cities were under Roman rule and outside the kingdom of Israel.  Jesus was in a non-Jewish territory.

Mark continued, “32 There (in the region of the Decapolis) some people brought to him (Jesus) a man who was deaf and could hardly talk, and they begged Jesus to place his hand on him (the deaf man)” (Mark 7:32). There are a couple of things to note here.  First, there was a man who could not hear, he was deaf.  He could communicate slightly with a few sounds to express his most urgent needs.  Second, Jesus’ reputation as a healer had spread throughout the Jewish and non-Jewish communities.  Third, some people brought a deaf man to Jesus.  Hearing matters.  The “some people” heard about Jesus.  The man who could hear no words had no way of knowing about Jesus.  The “some people” who had heard about Jesus understood it was their responsibility to bring this man, a family member, friend, or stranger who was deaf to Jesus, that this man might hear.  The “some people” who brought this man to Jesus begged Jesus to place his hands on the deaf man.  The people had faith in Jesus.  The people believed that Jesus had the ability and the compassion to change this deaf man’s life forever.  These people believed Jesus could save this man.

Mark continued, “33 After he [Jesus] took him [the deaf man] aside, away from the crowd, Jesus put his fingers into the man’s ears. Then he spit and touched the man’s tongue. 34 He [Jesus] looked up to heaven and with a deep sigh said to him, “Ephphatha!” [eff-a’-tha] (which means “Be opened!”). 35 At this, the man’s ears were opened, his tongue was loosened and he [formerly deaf and mute man] began to speak plainly” (Mark 7:33-35). 

What do we make of this scene?  First, we see that Jesus removed the man from the crowd.  The first sensation of sound and the first words to be spoken clearly by this deaf man were to be between the man and God.  The first feelings of a transformed life were to be between the man and God.  The man’s first response of faith by this man would be expressed to God.  What a wonderful blessing Jesus had set up for this man in simply removing him from the crowd. 

Second, we see that Jesus allowed the man to participate in his own healing.  Jesus always asked people who were blind or crippled to express their willingness to be healed.  But here this man is deaf and unable to speak.  Jesus knew that and the man knew that.  So, Jesus placed his fingers into the man’s ears as a way of showing the man that Jesus’ understood the source of the man’s difficulty.  There is no indication the man recoiled from Jesus. Instead, the man did the only thing he could do to communicate his acceptance of Jesus, he stood still and allowed Jesus to place his hands in the man’s ears.

Third, Jesus spit.  Why? We cannot be sure except that it seems likely it was the only way the man could understand that Jesus was going to also deal with the man’s ability to speak.  Mark tells us that after spitting, the man then allowed Jesus to put his fingers on the man’s tongue.

Fourth, Jesus looked to heaven.  Jesus did not need to do that for this healing to occur, but the deaf man needed to see that Jesus was doing the work of God.   As Jesus cast his gaze to heaven, Jesus sighed, not in frustration or anger, but perhaps to have Jesus’ breath fall upon the man and feel the breath of God, the touch of the Holy Spirit, float across the deaf man’s skin.

Fifth, Jesus said, “‘34b Ephphatha!’ (which means ‘Be opened!’)” (Mark 7:34b).  I believe it is most likely that as Jesus sighed the man’s hearing was restored and the first word the man then heard was “Ephphatha!” For immediately the man’s ears were open to hear Jesus and the man miraculously was given not only the ability to speak words plainly but also a vocabulary of words.  We do not know what the man said but it would be hard to imagine that he did not praise God and express gratitude to Jesus and then to his friends.

Mark said the people were overwhelmed with amazement at what they had witnessed.  Even though in faith they brough this man to Jesus to be healed, the healing of his deafness, the ability to speak, and to speak not just sounds but words plainly was more than they could have imagined.  Despite Jesus’ request that they not share this news, the people were unable to contain themselves.  They had to tell others what had happened.

What then does our sense of hearing help us understand God and live our lives?  There are two things we should consider. 

First, we understand the physical experience of the senses of deafness and hearing.  In Mark’s account, people knew the man could not hear them and they asked Jesus to help. Jesus met the needs of the people and this man and transformed the man from deaf to hearing.  People could know that.  The physical scene gives us the experience to comprehend the spiritual scene that was also playing out.  Jesus came to end the spiritual deafness of the people and gave them the ability to hear God directly.  Jesus put it this way:  47 “If anyone hears my words but does not keep them, I do not judge that person. For I did not come to judge the world, but to save the world. 48 There is a judge for the one who rejects me and does not accept my words; the very words I have spoken will condemn them at the last day. 49 For I did not speak on my own, but the Father who sent me commanded me to say all that I have spoken. 50 I know that his command leads to eternal life. So whatever I say is just what the Father has told me to say” (John 12:47-50).  Jesus’ words are God’s words.  Jesus came to speak to us in a way that we could hear God.

Secondly, with our spiritual deafness over and the Spirit of God within us, two things should happen.  One is that we should be unable to keep quiet about what we have discovered about God through Jesus.  The news is too good for us to be quiet.  By that, I don’t me we should see every Christian on the street corner yelling and shouting about salvation in Jesus.  But we should hear ourselves moving God into conversations at the dinner table, while walks in the park, and rides in the car.  Wherever we are we should have the opportunity to let others know in appropriate ways that we are no longer deaf to God’s voice.  The second thing that will happen with the end of spiritual deafness is that we will be given vocabulary.  Even in the most trying circumstances, Jesus promised us, “Don’t worry how you’ll respond, and don’t worry what you should say. 12 The Holy Spirit will give you the words to say at the moment when you need them” (Luke 12:11b-12).

Today, let us be grateful that we can hear God through Jesus Christ and that through those words we learn that we are not condemned but we are saved. What a joyful sound those words alone make!  Let us be thankful that Holy Spirit has given us a full vocabulary to use that we can speak plainly about God.  We are equipped to speak so that others who may need encouragement will be encouraged and those who have not heard the words of God will hear them first through us. What an amazing privilege to pass along the words of life to another person.  May God bless us in our hearing and in our speaking.  Amen and Amen.

06-05 - Taste

          Last week we began exploring the idea of coming to know God through our physical senses.  We spoke last week about using our gift of physical sight to see the magnificence of God in the creation whether that was gazing upon a mountaintop or simply seeing beauty of light reflected in a puddle of water. We also spoke about using our gift of spiritual sight to see Jesus as the visible image of the invisible God and to see through Jesus that God is loving, compassionate, and slow to anger. This week I would like us to explore our understanding of God, Jesus, and Holy Spirit through our sense of taste.

          There are many studies on how many different tastes humans can experience.  While there are different conclusions from these studies, all studies seem to agree that humans can taste four basic elements.  We can taste sweet, salty, bitter, and sour. Each of these basic elements of taste can help us come to better understand God and his call upon our lives. Let’s begin most generally with our overall sense of taste as we explore our Scripture reading from the Gospel of John, Chapter 2.

          Jesus and his disciples had been invited to a wedding in the town of Cana in Galilee.  As we will see, Jesus’ mother was present at the wedding, and it seems that Jesus’ mother had some role or standing with the couple being married.  Weddings at that time were lengthy affairs, sometimes lasting up to a week.  Our Gospel writer, John, shared with us that Jesus performed his first miracle at this wedding.

          John wrote, “1 On the third day a wedding took place at Cana in Galilee. Jesus’ mother was there, 2 and Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding. 3 When the wine was gone, Jesus’ mother said to him [Jesus], ‘They have no more wine.’ 4 ‘Woman, why do you involve me?’ Jesus replied. ‘My hour has not yet come.’ 5 His mother said to the servants, ‘Do whatever he tells you.’  6 Nearby stood six stone water jars, the kind used by the Jews for ceremonial washing, each holding from twenty to thirty gallons.  7 Jesus said to the servants, ‘Fill the jars with water’; so they [the servants] filled them [stone jars] to the brim [with water]” (John 2:1-7).

          The account here begins with a wedding scene.  What do we know about weddings?  We know from our own experiences that weddings are a time of celebrating love, hope, promise, and joy.  A wedding celebration, should we assign a taste to it, would be sweet, bringing about pleasant feelings. 

          But there is a twist in the story.  There was no more wine for the wedding celebration.  An important element to celebration which had been present was now gone.  Jesus’ mother, Mary, knew the celebration was about to become unpleasant.  Mary asked Jesus to intervene.  Mary’s request left Jesus with a choice.  Do nothing and let the situation play itself out or do something that brings meaning to his followers about His nature and His mission. As we know, Jesus chose to act.

          Jesus instructed the servants to fill six stone jars each holding 20 to 30 gallons, to be filled with water.  If I have my math correct that is somewhere between 100 and 150 gallons of water! And as we consider this scene, we want to remember that water, per se, is tasteless.  In its pure form, water is neither sweet, salty, sour, nor bitter. It is without taste.

          John continued the story.  “8 Then he [Jesus] told them [the servants], ‘Now draw some out and take it to the master of the banquet.’

They [The servants] did so, 9 and the master of the banquet tasted the water that had been turned into wine. He did not realize where it had come from, though the servants who had drawn the water knew. Then he [master of the banquet] called the bridegroom aside 10 and said, ‘Everyone brings out the choice wine first and then the cheaper wine after the guests have had too much to drink; but you have saved the best [wine] till now’” (John 2:8-10).

          What had Jesus done? I think there are three things to consider.  First, the most obvious.  Jesus solved the immediate problem.  The wedding was without wine.  Now the wedding had between 100 and 150 gallons of wine or about 4,000 glasses of wine. This was something physical all people could understand.  Second, Jesus took that which was tasteless, water, and transformed it into that which was choice in taste.  Jesus was revealing that to be his disciple would be a transforming experience as much as taking tasteless water and turning it into choicest tasting wine.  Third, Jesus transformed the use of stone jars reserved for ceremonial washings to vessels containing new choice wine for the bridegroom and his friends.  Jesus was revealing that something, someone, greater than religious tradition of the past was now present and that from those traditions would come a new sense of love, hope, promise, and joy in God.

          John wrote in verse 11, “11 What Jesus did here in Cana of Galilee (at the wedding) was the first of the signs through which he revealed his glory; and his [Jesus’] disciples believed in him [Jesus]” (John 2:11).  Jesus had chosen to use the absence of wine, the presence of tasteless water, and His authority over nature to create an overabundance of choice tasting wine.  In doing so, Jesus brought meaning to his followers about His nature and mission, which would be very much like the sweetness of a wedding with love, hope, promise, and joy in God.

          As we discussed earlier, in addition to sweetness, we can discern other senses of taste such as saltiness, sourness, and bitterness. Let’s consider saltiness.

          According to the gospel writer Matthew, one of Jesus’ first teachings to his disciples dealt with the taste of saltiness.  Matthew wrote in Chapter 5 of his gospel that Jesus spoke to his disciples and said, “13 You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot” (Matthew 5:13).  What might Jesus have meant by these words?

          First, Jesus spoke using the plural form of the word, “You.”   Jesus was speaking a personal message to the 12 disciples.  “You are the salt of the earth.”  Second, Jesus said you, disciples, “are” the salt of the earth.  In the present, at this moment, you are the salt of the earth. Jesus did not say, “Well, someday, perhaps, maybe, you might possibly stand a chance of becoming…”  Jesus said “You are…”  Third, Jesus called them “salt.”  Salt was valuable in Jesus’ day.  Salt preserved food.  Salt seasoned food.  Salt was used as currency.  Whatever salt touches is changed by the salt.  If you add salt to something, you cannot remove salt from it.  Salt was used in the worship of God in the formation of incense.  To the 12 disciples there was a sacredness to salt. It was common and valuable by holy when used by God.

          “You are the salt of the earth” (Matthew 5:13) meant these disciples had faith in Jesus and in a faith that emphasized simplicity and humility not grandeur.  Christian faith shown by this band of blessed people was expressed in worshipping together with expectancy and wonder. They did not establish a headquarters or form an army.  Instead, they became uncompromising people inspired and rejoicing in the blessings given to them by God and they built their life into an intensive fellowship of affection, worship, and work.  These people created fellowships that became infectious changing the cultural order. That is what salt does – it changes whatever it touches. 

But Jesus had a warning.  Eugene Peterson, the author of The Message translation of the Bible put Jesus words this way:  13 “Let me tell you why you are here. You’re here to be salt-seasoning that brings out the God-flavors of this earth. If you lose your saltiness, how will people taste godliness?” (Matthew 5:13a).  Jesus taught that we taste saltiness, we are reminded of our relationship to him, and the commissioning we have from him to be in the world bringing out the God-flavors of this earth.  Saltiness reminds us that things have changed.  We have changed.  But if we do not remain in Jesus, then our saltiness will be removed from us. 

Saltiness reminds us of our mission, just as sweetness reminds us of the hope, love, and joy in that mission. And having considered saltiness and sweetness, we have two elements of taste remaining, bitterness and sourness. Let’s consider bitterness.

Bitter is that taste sensation often described as sharp, disagreeable, and unpleasant.  Bitter can, at times, be ascribed to the personality of some people because they are sharp, disagreeable, and unpleasant. Bitter can also be ascribed to an experience that is painful.  Jesus’ disciple, Peter, had such a bitter experience.

Peter had pledged to defend Jesus with his very life.  But when Jesus was arrested and taken for trial, Peter ran into the safety of the dark night as did the other disciples.  From the shadows, Peter followed the men leading Jesus to trial.  At the place where the trial was held, a girl questioned Peter saying, “Aren’t you one of Jesus’ disciples?”  “Woman, I do not know him,” Peter answered (Luke 22:57).  “58 A little later someone else saw him and said, ‘You also are one of them.’  ‘Man, I am not!’ Peter replied.  59 About an hour later another asserted, ‘Certainly this fellow was with him, for he is a Galilean.’  60 Peter replied, ‘Man, I don’t know what you’re talking about!’ Just as he [Peter] was speaking, the rooster crowed. 61 The Lord turned and looked straight at Peter. Then Peter remembered the word the Lord had spoken to him: ‘Before the rooster crows today, you will disown me three times.’ 62 And he went outside and wept bitterly” (Luke 22:58-62).

Peter’s desertion of Jesus and his denial were a bitter experience indeed.  When Peter could have shown encouragement, Peter instead separated himself from Jesus.  When Peter could have shown he was a faithful friend, Peter instead said he never knew Jesus.  When Peter could have shown love, Peter instead was indifferent to Jesus.  Peter realizing what he had done wept bitterly. We can relate to Peter’s self-condemnation.

But there was another side of this bitter experience.  That side rests with Jesus.  Many of us understand part of Jesus’ experience with Peter.  We likely have experienced, that in our moment of greatest need, close friends or family members separated themselves from us, they acted as though they never knew us, and they showed indifference toward our difficulties.  Jesus understands your pain, the bitterness of that experience.  But Jesus taught us that though we experience bitterness, we must not choose to become bitter ourselves.  Though Peter deserted and denied Jesus, Jesus never became bitter toward Peter.  Instead, Jesus awaited the opportunity to restore Peter and replace the bitter experience with a sweet experience.  This is what Jesus taught us about bitterness.

Having explored bitterness, saltiness, and sweetness there remains only one of the basic taste sensations to explore.  That is sourness.  Sourness is a taste that is acidic, sharp, tart, and tangy.  Sourness is a taste that we can find in the cross of Christ. Jesus was crucified, nailed to a cross, and hung in the sun to die.  All four gospel writers describe Jesus’ death from different vantagepoints and through the eyes of different people who were present.  But one detail is found in all four gospel accounts.  Roman soldiers gave Jesus his last drink before death. The last bit of moisture offered to his lips, was wine vinegar, an acidic, tart, and tangy liquid.  Vinegar, in a word, is sour.  We do not know why the soldiers gave Jesus anything to drink, except perhaps to see what else Jesus may say.  The soldiers’ experience in this crucifixion was different from all others.  Those crucified cursed those around them.  Instead, Jesus forgave those who crucified him and encouraged those who followed him.  Perhaps giving Jesus a sour drink was intended to enliven Jesus’ mind so the soldiers could continue to mock Jesus.  Or perhaps God used the sour liquid to enliven Jesus’ mouth so that those present could hear these words from Jesus, “It is finished” (John 19:30).

I think God can use all circumstances, even the sour moments, to bring good from them. “It is finished,” was Jesus words from the cross assuring his followers that the work of the Messiah had been completed and that his body and blood given upon the cross sealed the agreement between God and those who believed in Jesus Christ.  “It is finished,” meant that the forgiveness of our sins promised by Jesus at the Last Supper, had been sealed upon the cross, even with sourness in his mouth.

Sourness, bitterness, saltiness, and sweetness can be found in the story of Jesus and used by us to remember the love and sacrifice of Jesus.  In a moment, we will taste the elements of the Lord’s Supper, a bit of bread and a sip from the cup.  In tasting those elements, we will remember Jesus; the sweetness of choice wedding wine of hope and love, the saltiness of the gospel message to change all who hear it, the bitterness that can invade our lives if we do not follow Jesus’ example, and the sourness of vinegar used to enliven Jesus’ mouth to proclaim to our benefit, “It is finished.”  Come, let us taste and see the Lord.  Amen and Amen.

05-29 - Vision

          When someone says to us, “You need to come to your senses!” they do not actually mean what they are saying. That person is not asking us to start using our five senses of seeing, hearing, tasting, touching, and smelling. Instead, they are asking us to engage our mind and stop behaving in an unreasonable way or stop thinking in an unreasonable manner.  The person speaking to us is saying to us in the present that our past ways must change for us to have a future.  “You need to come to your senses!” is intended to be words of wisdom said in the present to encourage us to change our past thinking, our words, and our actions so that we have a future.

          Now the expression, “You need to come to your senses!” is a solid Biblical concept as well.  We would find the intent of that expression found in a single Biblical word, “Repent!”  In the Bible, a call to “Repent’” is said in the present to encourage a change in past thinking, words, and actions so that there can be a future.  Too often in contemporary sermons, preachers have used the word repent as a word of condemnation rather than a word of encouragement.  Jesus’ first sermon was, “Repent, for the kingdom of God has come near.”  To repent, in Biblical concepts, is to come to our senses about God and to see God and his call on our life differently than we had in the past.  In that coming to our senses, we would then be changed and no longer rely upon our own understanding.  The encouragement of repenting is beautifully and concisely expressed in the Old Testament this way: “5 Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; 6 in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight” (Proverbs 3:5-6).  To me, these words describe a repentant life.  We are trusting in God and his wisdom and following God’s ways.  The result is peace and straightening out of our life now and a straight path to God forever.  I think it would be safe to say that we all know that to live repentantly is a lifelong, day by day experience.  This is true because every day and, in many ways, we are subjected to serious temptations, stresses, tragedies, and people that challenge us to shift our focus from God, to question God’s goodness, and to cause us to lose heart. 

Because we are continually challenged, God knows we need to be able to relate to a life lived repentantly.  God sent himself in human form in the person of Jesus to live that perfect life for us to imitate.  The Apostle Paul encouraged us that life lived repentantly was one that imitated Jesus (1 Corinthians 11:1) and would be marked by thinking, speaking, and acting in truth, in a noble manner, done rightly, done with pure motive, having the quality of being admirable, excellent, and praiseworthy.  We can come to our senses then about God and what God wants for our life, we can live life repentantly, by following Jesus.

While the modern expression of coming to our senses does not deal with our five senses of vision, hearing, taste, touch, and smell, I believe our five physical senses can be helpful for us to understand God’s plan for our life.  And so, for the next few weeks, I would like us to explore the good news of Jesus and living life repentantly through our five senses beginning with our sense of sight.  We just sang the hymn, “Open My Eyes That I May See,” in which we prayed in song that God would open our eyes and reveal glimpses of truth that He has for us.

  Let’s begin our journey through our senses. The senses were first given serious thought by Aristotle, a Greek philosopher.  Aristotle believed that our ability to see gives us the primary capacity for the wants of life.  We see it, we want it.  The ancients understood that concept.  Aristotle believed that our ability to see was the superior of the five senses but that our ability to see was a dependent sense.  Aristotle correctly observed that our ability to see was dependent upon there being light.  Without light, we have no ability to see.

Aristotle, without knowing it, was pointing to the work of God to give us vision.  On page 1 of every Bible, we would read the words from the Book of Genesis, Chapter 1, these words, “3 And God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light. 4 God saw that the light was good, and he separated the light from the darkness” (Genesis 1:3-4).  God gave physical light that is necessary for us to see with our physical sense.  This was the first time God sent light that we could see.

Later, in the person of Jesus, God would use the imagery of light and send light into the world a second time. In the Gospel of John, we would read, “1 In the beginning was the Word [Jesus], and the Word [Jesus] was with God, and the Word [Jesus] was God. 2 He [Jesus] was with God in the beginning. 3 Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. 4 In him [Jesus] was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. 5 The light [Jesus] shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it” (John 1:1-5).  In this case, John was revealing to us that Jesus was the light able to overcome spiritual darkness.  Later in John’s Gospel, we would read Jesus accentuated this point when Jesus said of himself, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life” (John 8:12).

On the two occasions that God sent light into the world to give us the capacity to see first physically and then spiritually.  As we will see in a moment, the capacity to see physically and to see spiritually are interwoven into the message and the person of Jesus Christ.

Let’s start with physical sight and physical light.  We have always been visual beings.  To be able to see visually has been necessary for our very survival and appreciation of creation.  In Genesis, Chapter 3, the man and woman were living in the Garden of Eden. The woman had been coaxed by the serpent to eat the fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.  The Bible said, “6 [When] The woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye” (Genesis 3:6).  The woman saw two things physically about the fruit.  The fruit was edible, and the fruit was visually appealing.  So physical light and the capacity to see were recognized from the beginning was essential to survival.  This we know and this understand.

We know and understand that in ancient times particularly, those people who were without sight struggled to survive.  In the Bible, blind people were led to spots along the road where they could beg for food or money to stay alive.  There were no social safety nets for those with physical challenges.  There also developed a belief that the blind person or their parents had sinned against God and that the blindness was God’s punishment for that sin.  So in addition to the physical struggles, blind people struggled with spiritual condemnation.

Then Jesus entered the scene as the light of the world. Jesus began to preach a message to “Repent,” a coming to one’s senses about God.  Jesus was saying in the present to change the ways of the past to have a future.  To show the authority to proclaim his message of repentance, Jesus began to heal people of various illnesses and disabilities.  One of the conditions Jesus healed was blindness, the inability to see.  Jesus changed the physical condition of blind people and restored their sight.  All four gospels have specific accounts of Jesus giving sight to the blind.  Some of the stories are very detailed.  In one story, Jesus spit on the ground to make a sort of muddy paste and put that on the blind man’s eyes to give him sight. In another story, the man’s name, Bartimaeus, is cited.  And in yet another account, the religious leaders seeking to deny the authority of Jesus claimed the blind man healed by Jesus as well as that man’s parents were frauds.  Why was it so important for Jesus to restore sight and so important that the gospel writers ensure those stories were recorded?

I think there were three reasons for the importance placed on the matter of blindness and vision.  First, as mentioned, blindness was considered a matter between God and the individual.  God, in conversation with Moses said, “11 Who gave human beings their mouths? Who makes them deaf or mute? Who gives them sight or makes them blind? Is it not I, the Lord?” (Exodus 4:11).  To give sight to the blind then would be an expression of God. Therefore, it was important that Jesus heal the blind.

Second, God said, he would send his Messiah to redeem the people from their sins.  God shared the mission of the Messiah and how the people would know who the true Messiah from any false claimants.  God said: “Here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen one in whom I delight; I will put my Spirit on him, and he will bring justice to the nations.  2 He will not shout or cry out, or raise his voice in the streets.  3 A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out.  In faithfulness he will bring forth justice; 4 he will not falter or be discouraged till he establishes justice on earth.  In his teaching the islands will put their hope.”  [That is the mission of the Messiah.]  5 This is what God the Lord says - the Creator of the heavens, who stretches them out, who spreads out the earth with all that springs from it, who gives breath to its people, and life to those who walk on it: 6 “I, the Lord, have called you in righteousness; I will take hold of your hand.  I will keep you and will make you to be a covenant for the people and a light for the Gentiles, 7 to open eyes that are blind, to free captives from prison and to release from the dungeon those who sit in darkness” (Isaiah 42:1-7).  Through the Lord’s Messiah, “5 Then will the eyes of the blind be opened and the ears of the deaf unstopped.  6 Then will the lame leap like a deer, and the mute tongue shout for joy (Isaiah 34:5-6).  The giving of sight to the blind was necessary to show the authority of Jesus and his message about God.

          Finally, the restoration of sight was necessary to move people from what they knew to what they did not know.  The people understood physical sight and physical light.  Jesus needed to move people to understand spiritual sight and spiritual light.  Jesus interwove the physical with the spiritual so that his listeners who now include you and me could learn the magnificence of God.

In weaving together physical sight and spiritual sight, Jesus taught that “22 “The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are healthy, your whole body will be full of light. 23 But if your eyes are unhealthy, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness!” (Matthew 6:22-23). Here our old friend Aristotle can help us.  As we recall, Aristotle concluded our ability to see gives us the primary capacity for the wants of life. What we look toward and at shows what we desire.  Jesus telling his listeners that if your eyes are healthy, if you have spiritual sight and you keep your eyes are focused on God, then your whole body, your whole way of life, will be full of light.  If we keep our spiritual eyes on Jesus, then we will imitate him in how we think. Thinking like Jesus changes the way we talk.  Talking like Jesus will change the way we act.  If our eyes are focused on Jesus, then we will be able to come to our senses about God and live repentantly.  We will let go of our past and have a future.

Jesus warned, however, if our eyes are unhealthy, if we are spiritually blind and squinting in God’s direction and yet are wide-eyed to the world, then darkness, instead of light, will fill our thinking, be present in our words, and evident in our actions.  We will not have come to our senses, and we will not be living life repentantly.  Our life now and forever will be dark.

Jesus was using the imagery of our physical sense of vision to bring us to an understanding of the spiritual vision we must possess.  As our physical eyes need light to see, our spiritual eyes need the light and we find that spiritual light in Jesus, the light of the world.

From this concept of seeing with spiritual eyes, Jesus taught his followers in parables or short stories working from the known physical world to teach what listeners did not know spiritually. Often when concluding those parables, Jesus would say, “Let those with eyes see,” meaning if you are attentive to God, understand this teaching and be blessed by following it.

Jesus also interwove physical sight and blindness with spiritual sight and blindness to challenge those who refused to open their hearts and minds to the message of peace Jesus was offering. In the Gospel of Matthew, we would read that Jesus saying to the Pharisees, the religious leaders who ought to know better, “25 Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. 26 Blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean” (Matthew 23:25-26).  Jesus was challenging the Pharisees to stop being so concerned with physical appearances.  Instead, they needed to dig down deep within them and clean out the gunk that made them greedy and selfish.  The eyes of the Pharisees were fixed on the things of their desire, namely wealth and prestige, instead of the things of God.

What then are we to do with our sense of vision?  I think there are two things.

First, we should treasure the gift of physical sight as a blessing from God.  We should use our gift of sight to see God’s creative expression in the majesty of the mountains, in the simple reflection of sunlight upon a puddle of water, or the delicate movement of the wings of a baby hummingbird.  God did it all and it is all there for us, the great and the small. We should draw it in and know what we can know of God this way.  There is peace to be had for us in using our physical sense of sight made possible by God giving us physical light.

Second, we should treasure the gift of spiritual sight as a blessing from God.  God loved us so much that He sent Jesus to live in the flesh so that we could experience life with him and he with us.  God sent Jesus as our spiritual light to illuminate us within and to see God as God really is.   God as lived out by Jesus is slow to anger, steadfast in love, rich in compassion, and forgiving.  Jesus gives us the spiritual light to see that and thus come to our senses about God. 

Our response to such seeing God this way does not need to be complicated with religious process or procedure.  All we need to do, it use our spiritually healthy eyes to take in the light of the world from Jesus and follow him.  In doing that, we let go of the past and can be assured of our future.  Let us pray.

05-15 - Breakfast with Jesus

          We are continuing to explore the post resurrection experiences of Jesus.  Today, we are looking at an appearance of Jesus to a few of his disciples as described for us in the 21st Chapter of the Gospel of John.

          We would read in Chapter 20 of the Gospel of John that Jesus appeared to the disciples and had said to Thomas, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”  John then added, “30 Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. 31 But these are written that you [those who have not seen] may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name” (John 20:29-31).  John wanted his church member who had not seen Jesus to believe in the testimony offered concerning Jesus.  John’s stated purpose in writing his gospel that all would come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God was relevant today.  John is encouraging us to know Jesus as the Son of God.

          John, after having felt he had established the record for Jesus as the Son of God, set out to say a bit more.  The more that John addressed was related primarily to those who had come to believe in him and were in the process of establishing the early church.  Again, what Jesus had to say about the early church remains relevant to us today.

In appearing again to the disciples, we come to see that Jesus appearance played out in two parts.  This week we will look at Jesus’ interaction with the disciples as a group and next week we will look at Jesus’ interaction with Peter.

          John, in Chapter 21, described the scene with Jesus this way.  “Afterward [after appearing to all the disciples in Jerusalem] Jesus appeared again to his disciples, by the Sea of Galilee” (John 21:1).  The scene and setting for the next appearance of Jesus represents a significant change. Jesus first appeared to the disciples in the city of Jerusalem with the disciples huddled behind a locked door for fear of the Jewish leaders.  Now, sometime days after those appearances, Jesus appeared to the disciples seemed to express no fear.  The disciples were comfortable and outdoors, away from the city of Jerusalem, and along the shore of the Sea of Galilee.

          John continued, “It [the appearance of Jesus] happened this way: Simon Peter, Thomas (also known as Didymus), Nathanael from Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee [James and John], and two other disciples were together [7 disciples]. ‘I’m going out to fish,’ Simon Peter told them [the other disciples], and they [the other disciples] said, ‘We’ll go with you’” (John 21:1b-3a).  There were seven disciples together in Galilee.  There was Peter, Thomas, Nathanael, James, John, and two unnamed disciples.  These men were likely fisherman who had returned to their hometowns to be in the company of family and close friends.  Peter decided he wanted to return to what he had done as a profession and to return to fishing.  The other men said they would follow Peter.

          John wrote that the experience of the group in fishing was not a satisfying one. “So they [the disciples] went out and got into the boat, but that night they [the disciples] caught nothing” (John 21:3b).  Anyone who has gone pleasure fishing can relate to how discouraging and irritating it can be to fish and catch nothing.  How much worse must it be for commercial fishermen to expend their energy to feed themselves and their family and catch nothing.

          John continued the story this way.  “Early in the morning, Jesus stood on the shore, but the disciples did not realize that it was Jesus.

He [Jesus] called out to them [the disciples], ‘Friends, haven’t you any fish?’ ‘No,’ they answered’” (John 21:4-5).  Jesus’ question is a bit curious.  I think most of us coming upon a group of fishermen would be more inclined to ask, “What did you caught today?” or “How did your fishing trip go?” We would not be inclined to ask in the negative.  But Jesus’ question shows a foreknowledge of the plight of the disciples.  “Friends, haven’t you any fish?”  Jesus understood that the disciples had no fish and that their time was unproductive and dissatisfying.  To Jesus’ question, the disciples gave a simple answer of defeat, “No.” No excuses were offered.  The disciples offered no stories of the fish that got away.  Their response was a simple “No” as if to answer the question and close the conversation with this stranger along the shores.

          This stranger on the beach was not willing to have their conversation end.  So the stranger called back, “He [Jesus] said, ‘Throw your net on the right side of the boat and you will find some’” (John 21:6a).  The disciples now had a decision to make.  They had been fishing all night without success and now some stranger told them cast the net again, specifically on the right-hand side of the boat, and be assured that they will make a catch.  Why should then disciples do as this stranger suggested? Afterall, they were experienced fishermen, and they had no idea about the qualifications of this man on the beach.

          But something within the disciples caused them to act in faith.  Faith is action.  Faith is not some intellectual assent to a proposition.  Faith is action taken in response to an unprovable certainty.  Let me illustrate.  If I lift a half full bottle of water to take a drink, that is not faith.  I am certain on my own that I can lift that bottle and that I know with certainty that there is water in the bottle.  I am certain that if I tip that bottle while it is pressed to my lips, I will receive water. That is not faith.  Faith is trust based action of which I cannot guarantee the result on my own, but I take that action because I believe in the person who is guiding me.  For whatever reason, the disciples in this boat, tired from fishing all night on their own, cast their nets onto the righthand side of the boat believing in the words of this stranger on the beach.  That is faith.

          John wrote, “When they did [disciples cast their net to the righthand side of the boat], they [the disciples] were unable to haul the net in because of the large number of fish” (John 21:6b).  The faith of the disciples was rewarded for the disciples caught so many fish in their net that seven men working together could not manage to lift the full net into the boat.  In the previous twenty chapters of the Gospel of John, nothing like this had ever happened to the disciples.

          Miraculous things had happened and been recorded by John.  John recorded that water was turned into wine, people were healed of illness, thousands of people were fed from two small fish and five barely loaves, people were able to walk on the water, a blind man was given sight, and a man named Lazarus was raised from the dead.  Central to all these miracles was their friend, teacher, master, Lord, and God, Jesus the Messiah.  John had said earlier that he wrote about these miracles so that people who had never met Jesus would believe Jesus was the Messiah.  Now this miraculous catch had occurred after Jesus’ resurrection. This miraculous catch of fish was inspired by the words of a discerning stranger upon the beach on the shore of the Sea of Galilee.

          John wrote, “Then the disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, ‘It is the Lord!’ As soon as Simon Peter heard him say, ‘It is the Lord,’ he [Peter] wrapped his outer garment around him (for he had taken it off) and jumped into the water. The other disciples followed in the boat, towing the net full of fish, for they were not far from shore, about a hundred yards. When they [the disciples] landed, they [disciples] saw a fire of burning coals there with fish on it, and some bread” (John 21:7-9).

          Suddenly, the miraculous catch of fish made sense.  The man on the beach in who the disciples had placed faith in by casting their net was no stranger at all.  That man was Jesus their friend, teacher, Lord, and God.  The catch was magnificent but not as magnificent as being in the presence of Jesus.  The fish and the other disciples meant little to Peter.  Peter could not contain himself and he jumped into the water to swim ashore.  Peter wanted to the be first on the beach with Jesus.  The other six disciples, without Peter, continued the work to bring the boat and catch to shore.  Within a short while the disciples landed the boat and discovered that Jesus had built a fire that was now coals and that Jesus already had fish and bread ready for them.  The disciples must have been puzzled at first that breakfast was ready.  But then it was Jesus, and the disciples would know that Jesus was prepared and ready to meet their needs.

          But before breakfast began, Jesus had a request for the disciples.  “10 Jesus said to them, ‘Bring some of the fish you have just caught.’ 11 So Simon Peter climbed back into the boat and dragged the net ashore” (John 21:10-11a). This time, Peter was eager to respond to the request of Jesus and bring those fish to the shore.  Peter was not interested in the help of the other disciples. Peter wanted to meet Jesus’ request on his own, in his own strength.  And so, without the help of the other six men, Peter worked to drag the net to shore.  Peter who ran to Jesus’ tomb when it was reported the tomb was empty did not hesitate to crawl into the tomb to see where Jesus lay.  Peter moments ago, when he realized that Jesus was the man on the shore dove into the water to get to shore first.  Now, Peter willingly, almost greedily, worked alone to get the net full of fish onto the shore.  We will have more to say about Peter next week.

           In the balance of verse 11, we encountered a very unusual report about those fish in that net.  John wrote, very specifically, “It [The net] was full of large fish, 153, but even with so many the net was not torn” (John 21:11b).  There are four facts here that we need to consider. First, the catch was accomplished by all the disciples working together.  Second, the fish in the net were large.  Third, the net was not torn.  Fourth, there were exactly 153 fish.  Let’s consider each of these four facts.

          First, the catch was accomplished by all the disciples working together.  But more importantly the catch came about by the disciples’ faith in action by obeying Jesus.  The story opened with six disciples following Peter’s leading to go fishing.  The spent all night and accomplished nothing.  Then came the twist in the story.  The disciples were unsuccessful until the disciples, including Peter, were guided by Jesus’ direction.  Jesus had previously told his disciples, ““I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5).  This fishing expedition served as an illustration to the disciples, the church, must remain obedient and faithful to Jesus for their efforts to bear fruit.

          Second, the fruit of the disciples’ effort was large fish.  The Sea of Galilee contained good fish and bad fish.  Good fish, in the thought of those days, were those fish that were consider clean and worth.  Bad fish were those fish that were not suitable and must be thrown away.  The implication that all the fish in the net were large fish that counted suggests that the disciples caught up only good fish. The disciples following Jesus’ instruction had separated the good fish from those who were unsuitable.  Some commentaries see reference to the large fish as an indicator of the true work for the disciples as fishers of men. Meaning, the disciples were to call out those people who would be made suitable for the kingdom of God by the work of Jesus.

          Third, the net did not break.  Again, this reference is seen symbolically that though many will be drawn into kingdom, none will be lost.  The net was not torn.  John said earlier in his gospel account of Jesus that Jesus said, “39 And this is the will of him who sent me, that I shall lose none of all those he has given me, but raise them up at the last day” (John 6:39).  The net will not break and none who follow Jesus shall be lost.

          Fourth, there was a specific count of fish, 153.  Many books have been written trying to understand why John wrote the exact number of fish and why there were exactly 153 fish.  There are two options for us to consider.  First, there were 153 fish period and there is nothing more to it. Second, the number 153 is a cypher, a code for the early Christians.


In Hebrew and Greek languages, each letter has a number value.  Use of a number value in writing allows the writer to convey by number the identity of a person, for example, without using that person’s proper name.  So for example, in the Book of Revelation we would read, “18 This calls for wisdom. Let the person who has insight calculate the number of the beast, for it is the number of a man. That number is 666” (Revelation 13:18).  Some biblical scholars point out that the name Nero Caesar yields the number 666 when translated from Greek into Hebrew.  The number 666 may have been the way for John, the author of Revelation, to speak about Nero Caesar, who persecuted Christians, without using his name directly.  What then might have John meant by 153?  There are many theories but the one I liked is that John used in cipher form, the number 153, to numerically represent the letters, Iota, Chi, Theta which is an acrostic way of saying “Jesus Christ is God.”  This might at first seem farfetched but it is well documented that in the early church the Greek word for fish, comprised of the letters Iota, Chi, Theta, Upsilon, and Sigma, was an acrostic for “Jesus Christ God’s Son is Savior,” and expression found in the Gospel of John, Chapter 20, verse 31, “Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God.” It is also well documented that the sign of the fish was used extensively in the early church for Christians to identify one another.  We can speculate as to the meaning of 153 fish, but it seems most likely John intended to communicate something of value to the early church and its need to remain faithful to Christ because of who Jesus was.

          When Peter was done dragging and counting the fish, Jesus fed the hungry disciples.

          So what then can we draw from this story about fish or this story about breakfast with Jesus.  I think there are three things.

          The first thing deals with who we follow.  In this case, the disciples followed Peter into fishing and worked in their own strength to catch fish for consumption. They caught nothing until they once again began taking direction from Jesus.  Who it is that we choose to follow matters.

          Second, the work of the church, the work of disciples, is centered on gathering the church to Christ.  We should do this as a corporate enterprise that continues from one generation to the next.  The work of the church is centered on the proposition that none in Christ are ever lost, the net cannot and will not break.

          Third, Jesus is prepared ahead of time.  He knows our struggles and he knows our needs. Jesus knew the disciples had struggled on their own and he gave them the wisdom that they needed.  Jesus knew the disciples needed the provision of food when they landed, and he fed them breakfast.

          To the believer in Christ, we need the continued direction in our life offered by Jesus.  If we are trying to live this life on our own, Jesus may well appear as a stranger on the beach.  But when we start listening to Jesus, we will see that he is our friend and Lord.  Then our desire will be to be with him and feed on what he has for us.  So today, let us be willing to listen to Jesus and be blessed in doing so.  Amen and Amen.

05-08 - Mothers of Faith

Today is Mother’s Day.  Mother’s Day in the United States was first celebrated on May 10, 1908, by a church service at the Andrews Methodist Church in Grafton, West Virginia.  It was a day established to honor all mothers, living and deceased. It was a day established to honor the women who nourished us even before we were born and began nurturing us after we drew our first breath.

Today, in honor of Mother’s Day, I would like us to explore and honor the mothers of our faith.  Our faith mothers had some common names for their times.  There was Joanna, Salome, and three women named Myriam or Mary. 

Who were these faith mothers of ours and why are they important?  These women are important to Christians not because of books or letters they wrote as the Apostle Paul did.  These women are important to Christians not because they gave great sermons that led to thousands accepting Jesus in the same moment as the Apostle Peter did. These women are important for two reasons.  First, these women were steadfast in their faith when they stood on the ground near Jesus’ cross as silent witnesses against the injustice of evil men who inflicted death to Jesus.  Second, these women were steadfast in their faith when they stood their ground and refused to be silenced as witnesses of Jesus’ resurrection.  Joanna, Salome, and the three women named Mary nourish us in our faith walk by their witness with and for Christ and thus represent our faith mothers who should be honored today.

These mothers of faith were central figures in the story of Jesus.  And yet, they were a first unknown to the early Christian church.  One of the earliest letters we have from came twenty years after the resurrection of Jesus. The Apostle Paul wrote to the church at Corinth.  “3 For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, 5 and that he appeared to Cephas [Peter], and then to the Twelve. 6 After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. 7 Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, 8 and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born” (1 Corinthians 15:3-8).  Curiously, whatever Paul had received about the resurrection appearances of Jesus did not include anything about Joanna, Salome, or the three women named Mary.  What Paul received and wrote about centered primarily on the men, beginning with Peter.

It would not be for another 15 years before the gospels were written and introduced us to these mothers of faith.  Whatever attempts, accidental or purposeful, to denigrate the role of these women and women in general, into the story of faith would not stand.  For Holy Spirit, inspired the men who wrote the gospels to acknowledge the role of women, and in particular, these mothers of faith.  The Holy Spirit of Jesus made noble the work and the contribution of women to the body of Christ, his church.

And so we begin our exploration of these women with the earliest gospel, the Gospel of Mark, which set the stage for the climatic events surrounding Jesus’ hours before his death.  Mark wrote, “46 The men seized Jesus and arrested him. 47 Then one of those standing near drew his sword and struck the servant of the high priest, cutting off his ear.  48 “Am I leading a rebellion,” said Jesus, “that you have come out with swords and clubs to capture me? 49 Every day I was with you, teaching in the temple courts, and you did not arrest me. But the Scriptures must be fulfilled.” 50 Then everyone deserted him and fled.  51 A young man, wearing nothing but a linen garment, was following Jesus. When they seized him, 52 he fled naked, leaving his garment behind” (Mark 14:46-52).  Desperate men who hated Jesus seized Jesus and arrested him.  Desperate men who loved Jesus fled from Jesus, at least one steaking away naked.

          After Jesus’ arrest, the trials of Jesus began. The trials of Jesus involved shouting of more and more desperate men.  At the trial before the Roman governor, Pontius Pilate, Pilate concluded that Jesus was innocent of all charges.  The Gospel of Matthew says that Pilate came to understand that the accusations against Jesus were born out of the jealousies of men.  Pilate’s belief of Jesus’ innocence was then affirmed to him, curiously enough by a woman, whose name is lost to history.  Matthew wrote, “19 While he [Pilate] was sitting on the judgment seat, his [Pilate’s] wife sent word to him [Pilate], ‘Have nothing to do with that innocent man, for today I have suffered a great deal because of a dream about him’” (Matthew 27:19). With Pilate holding court among these desperate, angry, jealous men accusing Jesus, it would have been impossible for Pilate’s wife to appear in person to Pilate with her plea. Nevertheless, Pilate’s wife born witness of what had been revealed to her.  Jesus was innocent.

          Yet despite the belief in Jesus’ innocence, Pilate succumbed to the pressures of the mob and sentenced Jesus to death.  This is injustice.  From this injustice, Jesus was led away to be publicly executed by crucifixion, a horrible and humiliating death reserved by the Romans for the enemies of the state. Jesus hung on the cross.  Mark wrote, “40 Some women were watching from a distance. Among them were Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James the younger and of Joseph, and Salome. 41 In Galilee these women had followed him and cared for his needs. Many other women who had come up with him to Jerusalem were also there” (Mark 15:40-41).  The women stood as silent witnesses of the injustice of angry men toward the innocent Son of God. 

I think we can understand this scene in context through the words found in the Gospel of John.  “19 This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. 20 Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed. 21 But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done in the sight of God (John 3:19-21).  These women, our faith mothers, understood Jesus was the light of hope, peace, and innocence and that they, as Jesus’ followers, must stand in the light of the truth.  Even though they could not stop the execution of Jesus, they could by faith stand in the light of Jesus and could by their presence convict the evil of these men who tried to stay in the dark and desperately wanted to put out the light. 

But these women, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James the younger and of Joseph, Salome, and many other women who had come up with him to Jerusalem would not allow the light to be extinguished.  These women were faithful not to the end but faithful to the understanding that Jesus brought a kingdom of based upon love that would not end.    These women are the ones who stood silent in the truth when every hope in Jesus seemed to be dying before them.  This part of their story should encourage us to persevere against all of life’s challenges, difficulties, and injustices that could cause our faith to waver.

          Matthew reported to us that Jesus died on the cross. “57 As evening approached, there came a rich man from Arimathea, named Joseph, who had himself become a disciple of Jesus. 58 Going to Pilate, he asked for Jesus’ body, and Pilate ordered that it be given to him. 59 Joseph took the body, wrapped it in a clean linen cloth, 60 and placed it in his own new tomb that he had cut out of the rock. He rolled a big stone in front of the entrance to the tomb and went away. 61 Mary Magdalene and the other Mary were sitting there opposite the tomb” (Matthew 27:57-61).  Did you notice?  Jesus’ death did not cause the women to abandon Jesus.  The women, at least Mary Magdalene and another Mary, remained at the cross and then followed those who now entombed Jesus.  These two Mary’s lacked the power and resources to bury Jesus, but they did not lack in love to care for him however they might.  The conduct of these two women named Mary is a powerful testimony of loving and faithful mothers.

          But we know that the burial of Jesus was not the end of the story.  On the third day following Jesus’ death and burial, we learn that women went to the tomb of Jesus.  All four Gospels speak to the women going to the tomb to care for Jesus’ body.  All four Gospels name Mary Magdalene as being present that morning at the tomb.  The Mary Magdalene who stood silent watch at the cross and at the tomb where Jesus was buried was now at the tomb again early in the morning to care for Jesus’ body.  Other women present as named in the gospels were Joanna, Mary the mother of James, Salome, and perhaps one more Mary.

          None of the men who followed Jesus came with the women to do the work of caring for Jesus’ body.  However, the women wanted to continue to show that they were the source of care and comfort, the most exemplary maternal behaviors. Women caring for Jesus’ body, even in life, had never been well received by the men around Jesus.  We read in the Gospel of Mark, “While he [Jesus] was in Bethany, reclining at the table in the home of Simon the Leper, a woman came with an alabaster jar of very expensive perfume, made of pure nard. She broke the jar and poured the perfume on his head.  Some of those present were saying indignantly to one another, ‘Why this waste of perfume? It could have been sold for more than a year’s wages and the money given to the poor.’  And they rebuked her harshly.  ‘Leave her alone,’ said Jesus. ‘Why are you bothering her? She has done a beautiful thing to me’” (Mark 14:3-6). The men of the society denigrated the work done by this woman, but Jesus made it noble.

          The women, absent the men, were now at the tomb of Jesus to anoint his body.  Jesus was about to make their faithfulness rewarded again.  Through the four gospels, we come to find that Mary Magdalene, the woman at the cross, the woman at the burial, and the woman at the tomb was the first person to see and experience the resurrected Jesus.  Mary Magdalene is thus the continuous witness to the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus.  It seems likely that the other women, Joanna, Salome, and the other women named Mary were also continuous witnesses to Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection but the gospels are only united on this point with Mary Magdalene.

          The task for Mary Magdalene and the other women who had seen the risen Christ was simple.  The women were to go to the men who had followed Jesus and proclaim Jesus had risen from the dead!  These women were no longer to be silent.  These women were to speak and shout, “He has risen from the dead!  He is risen indeed!”  These women were to become the mothers of the Christian faith, a faith made real in and through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

          Jesus commissioned these women to become the first evangelists, the sharers of good news.  Luke wrote, “When they came back from the tomb, they told all these things to the Eleven and to all the others. 10 It was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the others with them who told this to the apostles. 11 But they did not believe the women, because their words seemed to them like nonsense” (Luke 24:9-11).         

          Wait.  What? The men did not believe the women because the women’s words seemed to the men like nonsense.  How could that be?

          When we read something such as that men did not believe what the women said, our confidence in the accuracy of the Bible increases because the story told in the Bible compares very favorably with our own experiences in that often time men are taught not to believe women.  In our own church culture, some churches refuse to allow women to preach or to teach men.  Fortunately, this is not one of those churches.  In some cultures, the testimony of a woman is still not accepted unless supported by the testimony of a man, even if she is reporting a serious crime against herself.

          And so we read that the men followers of Jesus did not believe the women followers of Jesus about the women’s experience at the tomb of Jesus.  Here though is an important thing for us to keep in mind.  The women did not need the men to believe them.  The women, the faithful and continuous witnesses to Jesus’ death and burial were the witnesses to his resurrection.  The peace, joy, and confidence of these women was not dependent upon anyone believing them.  This is instruction in the faith these women give to us.  We do not need others to believe us for us to believe in Jesus Christ as our risen Lord and Savior.  When we give testimony, it is not important to our identity if our testimony is accepted or rejected.  What is important, as demonstrated by these women, is that we give our testimony as to the truth.

          So this day, let’s honor the women of faith, the mothers of our faith, who have spiritually encouraged us, fed us, cared for us, and shared with us the good news that Jesus has risen from the dead.  To these women we say, “Happy Mother’s Day.”  Amen and Amen.

05-01 - Believing

          Doubt.  What does it mean to doubt?  Psychologists tell us that, “Doubt is a mental state in which the mind remains suspended between two or more contradictory propositions, unable to be certain of any of them. Doubt on an emotional level is indecision between belief and disbelief.”

          Let’s consider what psychology is telling us.  “Doubt on an emotional level is indecision between belief and disbelief.”  First, doubt, true doubt is an emotional matter because it involves indecision about something important.  Being indecisive about the choice of chocolate sprinkles or rainbow sprinkles on our next ice cream cone is not doubt.  In the case of the ice cream cone, we are simply deciding about a preference.  The type of sprinkles selected should not be emotional one because we will be just fine regardless of our decision.  True doubt is an emotional matter because it involves indecision about something important.

          What is the something important that causes the emotional response?  The something important concerning doubt, psychologist say that causes an emotional response within us, is belief or disbelief.  A belief or disbelief is conclusion we make that shapes our life.  In life, we will hold beliefs about ourselves, about other people, and about the world around us.  Those beliefs cause us to think certain thoughts, to speak in certain terms, and to act in particular ways.  Mahatma Gandhi is credited with saying:

  • Your beliefs become your thoughts,
  • Your thoughts become your words,
  • Your words become your actions,
  • Your actions become your habits,
  • Your habits become your values,
  • Your values become your destiny.


I like this quote, but we can shorten it up a bit for today to just, “Your beliefs become your destiny.” Recognizing our beliefs become our destiny makes it all the clearer why doubt about what we believe triggers an emotional response.  I know some people who do not seem to believe in much of anything.  Trying to live a life avoiding belief in anything leaves them unsure about navigating life because they doubt themselves, they doubt the motives of others, and they rebel against any convention found in the world around them.

What we belief effects every part of who we are.  I suspect the first belief I ever held was as an infant.  I suspect I came to believe that this person called “Mommy” was my source of all the things I needed: food, comfort, security, safety, love, and affection. As an infant and years beyond, even though I could not express it with the eloquence of Gandhi, I acted with the belief that my mother primarily and then my father, were essential to my destiny. As you think about it, you may have a similar first belief concerning your parents.  You too believed your parents were the source of destiny.

Several years ago, I worked as a Court Appointed Special Advocate for abused and neglected children. In that capacity, I came to learn my first belief about my parents was not universally shared by all children.  Some infants and children came to doubt that their mother or father were essential to their destiny because sometimes those parents were the source of what was needed and at other times those same parents were the source of pain, neglect, and abuse.  The dangerously inconsistent behavior of those parents created doubt for their children leaving the children in an emotional state of indecision between belief and disbelief.  That doubt impacted the children’s thinking, words, actions, habits, values, and destiny. Some of you may have lived that experience.

I share the perspectives on doubt so that we might come to better understand the human context of what was played out in our New Testament reading today.  Understanding the human context will help us move into the spiritual message more readily. 

Our passage today deals doubt expressed through the experience of one of Jesus’ disciples, a man named Thomas.  Many of us know Thomas by a label applied to him centuries later calling him, “Doubting Thomas.”  Even today, to call someone a “Doubting Thomas,” is to imply that person is a skeptic who will continue to doubt unless they see or experience firsthand what we have shared with them about our experience. 

What do we know of this man Thomas?  We know that Thomas was one of the twelve disciples of Jesus whom Jesus called his apostles.  Thomas would have witness Jesus’ miracles, heard Jesus’ teachings, and been empowered at times by Jesus to do miraculous things himself.

We learn a little bit more about Thomas in Chapter 11 of the Gospel of John.  News had reached Jesus that Jesus’ friend Lazarus was dying and that Lazarus’ sisters, Martha and Mary, had asked Jesus to return at once to Judea to save Lazarus. Jesus said to his disciples, “‘Let us go back to Judea.’  ‘But Rabbi,’ they said, ‘a short while ago the Jews there tried to stone you, and yet you are going back?’… Jesus said, ‘Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep; but I am going there to wake him up.’

12 His disciples replied, ‘Lord, if he sleeps, he will get better.’ 13 Jesus had been speaking of his death, but his disciples thought he meant natural sleep.  14 So then he told them plainly, ‘Lazarus is dead, 15 and for your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.’  16 Then Thomas (also known as Didymus) said to the rest of the disciples, ‘Let us also go, that we may die with him.’” (John 11:7b-16) Thomas seems to stand apart from the other disciples. Seeing that Jesus had decided to return to Judea, Thomas expressed no doubt or hesitation about what should be done. The disciples must go back to Judea with Jesus.  Thomas’ words express a belief that dying with Jesus was better than disappointing Jesus by letting Jesus return to Judea alone.  Thomas could imagine no other place than to be wherever Jesus was and was going.

With that little bit about doubt and about Thomas, let’s look at today’s Scripture.  John wrote about the appearance of the resurrected Jesus. “24 Now Thomas (also known as Didymus [which means twin]), one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came. 25 So the other disciples told him [Thomas], ‘We have seen the Lord!’” (John 20:24-25a).  Just prior to today’s passage, John had written of the disciples first encounter with the risen Christ.  John wrote, “19 On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jewish leaders, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” 20 After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord” (John 20:19-20). 

Thomas was absent when the first group encounter with the resurrected Jesus took place. As soon as Thomas came back to the group, the disciples shared the good news that Jesus was alive and that they had confirmed it was Jesus because Jesus showed them his hands and side bearing the marks of being crucified and lanced with a spear.  The disciples’ message to Thomas as simple and joyful, “We have seen the Lord!” With great unity, the disciples were saying, “We believe Jesus is alive!”

But…there is always a but.  “But he [Thomas] said to them [the disciples], ‘Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe’” (John 20:25b).  Thomas’ response is an emotional one.  Thomas was grieving Jesus’ death and with Jesus’ death came the death of Thomas’ belief about Jesus.  Thomas could see that Jesus was of God for who could teach the way Jesus taught and do the miracles Jesus did.  Who else could have empowered Thomas and the others to heal people of all sorts of illnesses but a man from God.  Thomas must have believed that God had anointed Jesus as Messiah, the one person who would lead in the violent, military overthrow the Romans and re-establish Israel’s political independence.  When Jesus had spoken to the disciples about returning to Jerusalem where people were lying in wait to kill him, the disciples tried to talk Jesus out of going back.  It was only Thomas who said, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.” (John 11:16).  Perhaps Thomas thought that the battle for independence was about to begin.

Thomas was willing to die for his belief in Jesus as God’s anointed political leader, but God allowed that Messiah to be crucified by the Romans before one fight could be waged in this war of independence.  A dead Messiah was too much for Thomas.  Like the young child believes of its parent, Thomas believed God invested into Jesus everything Thomas could imagine needed to set the world right here and now.  For Thomas believing Jesus’ role as this political Messiah governed what Thomas thought, what he said, his did, his habits, and his values because Thomas’ belief governed his destiny.  Thomas had seen for himself the wonders of God working through Jesus.  Thomas could not be wrong about what lay ahead for him, others, and the world.

But Jesus’ execution caused Thomas to enter the emotional state of doubt, a place of indecision between belief and disbelief.  In that state, the mere words of Thomas’ friends that Jesus was alive was not enough to overcome Thomas’ emotional state of doubt.  Thomas had believed in Jesus once based on seeing for himself and now Thomas was not willing to accept the testimony of his fellow disciples until he had seen again for himself the risen Jesus.  In his emotional distress, Thomas said he wanted more proof of Jesus than his friends accepted.  Thomas wanted to see Jesus and put his fingers and hands into Jesus’ wounds. Then and only then would Thomas believe again in Jesus.

This Thomas who was only a few days earlier willing to die with Jesus was trapped in doubt, that disquieting place between belief and disbelief.  Jesus’ death was hard for Thomas to understand because it ended the desires of man.  Doubt paralyzes us and drains our life of purpose.  Doubt holds us back from doing what we might know to be the right and best thing.  Doubt makes us timid and anxious.  The apostle Paul said that in doubt, we are “tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming” (Ephesians 4:14).  In doubt, we do not think clearly, our words are muddled, our actions are random, our habits are few, our values are not our own, and our destiny is unsettled and undetermined.  Living in the land of doubt is a hard and uncomfortable and so too is living with being disappointed twice.

Fortunately, living in the land of doubt was not to be Thomas’ destiny.  John wrote, “26 A week later his [Jesus’] disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them [the disciples] and said, ‘Peace be with you!’ 27 Then he [Jesus] said to Thomas, ‘Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.’” (John 20:26-27). What a marvelous scene.  Jesus came again to the disciples, this time including Thomas, and again said his resurrection meant peace.  To Thomas, Jesus offered himself to all the evidence of Jesus’ living presence that Thomas said he needed.  In doing so, Jesus connected the peace he offered to believing. Jesus encouraged Thomas to stop doubting, to come out of that emotional state of indecision, and choose to believe.

What was Thomas’ response?  There is no indication Thomas put his fingers or hands into Jesus wounds.  Instead, John wrote, “28 Thomas said to him [Jesus], ‘My Lord and my God!’”  (John 20:28).  Thomas’ utterance, “My Lord and my God!” shows the transformation of Thomas in accepting the resurrection of Jesus.  In an instant, Thomas saw Jesus not as a political Messiah but as the Messiah who is truly one with God, the one true God of heaven and earth. 

Jesus words just prior to his arrest and subsequent death now made sense.  Before Jesus’ death, Jesus told his disciples to that he was going to prepare a place for them.  “Thomas said to him [Jesus], ‘Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?’  Jesus answered, ‘I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.  If you really know me, you will know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him.”’” (John 14:5-7).  Now with the resurrected Jesus standing in front of Thomas, Thomas understood that God was in Jesus and Jesus was in God and to see Jesus was to see God.

Thomas no longer doubted the goodness of God or the unity of God and Jesus.  Instead, Thomas believed and professed this change of heart more powerfully than any of the other disciples with the words to Jesus, “My Lord and my God.”  Thomas was at peace.  Thomas no longer saw Jesus as a political person but saw Jesus as Lord and God.  Thomas had received the peace Christ offered.

 “29 Then Jesus told him [Thomas], ‘Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.’”  Jesus’ words are addressed to us that we would believe without seeing and accept the peace that the resurrected Jesus offers.  In a moment, we will have an opportunity to see Jesus represented in the bread and cup.  The bread is a symbol of his body pierced and wounded for us.  The cup represents the blood coming from those wounds to his hands, feet, and side.  The Lord’s Supper as we call it is a proclamation of belief that Jesus is alive and is one with God.  As we take of these elements, let us believe and see that our destiny rests in Jesus, our Lord and our God.  Amen and Amen.