Believing is Seeing

John 20:19:31

 

Jesus has been raised!  Mary Magdalene has witnessed the resurrected Jesus. And now he appears, later that same day of his Resurrection to the disciples who were in the upper room.  We understand that something wonderful has happened. Sometime entirely out of the ordinary and the expected has happened. Jesus doesn’t come and knock on the locked door and identify himself. He just appears among them in the locked room.

He shows them his wounds and they recognized him. He blesses them and then empowers them to carry on his ministry. But significantly he breathes on them. What was the point of breathing on the disciples? For us it sounds unsanitary and impolite. But for the disciples it was a profound gift that Jesus gave them. They would understand that Jesus was doing what God did at the creation. And because of that the first Easter Sunday is at times called the Eighth Day of Creation.

 

In Genesis when God creates Adam he breathes into him to give him life. But God gave to Adam and to Eve – to humanity – much more than just the physical means to live and reproduce. God gave us free will. God breathed into them – and us – free will … the freedom to make our own choices.

The creation story in Genesis is a story of how God cares and loves creation so much that God gives to it all that it needs to live and thrive and most importantly be free. God set in motion that great evolutionary epic. But in doing so, God also infused in the creation     spirit – something that science has no means to identify or analyze – and that spirit is free.

At the very core of creation is freedom. We have the freedom to choose. We have the freedom to love or hate, to make or destroy. Indeed, we can choose to accept our human limitations or we can try to be gods.

On the Seventh Day, God rested. But the creation didn’t stop. By God giving us free will, we became co-creators with God. God rests by means of creating through us at our will.  The Seventh Day of Creation is when spiritually we were given the power to create – just a step away from being gods.

Through our will we can invite God into our creativity or we can ban God from it. We have often – indeed, mostly – sent God away after that seventh day. We took control as we are wont to do. Instead of having faith in God, we too often have faith in ourselves or in the things we do or the things we make.

We go through life taking care of ourselves and our families. We want and expect ourselves to be able to support our families with our skills and resources. We feel like a failure if we cannot do that … if we have to ask someone for help. Often we twist and turn to find a way to care for ours, long before we’ll ask for help. Eventually most people will ask, but it’s with a sense of the loss of control. We feel out of control of our lives.

We wonder if only we were rich or if only we were experts or if only we were so and so we would be in control of our lives. Yet we will read when some wealthy person, for example, proves to be out of control of theirs as their life spins into disaster. We see this happening a lot with celebrities.

We just can’t go it alone. We need help. We need something outside ourselves that can help. But God is too abstract to qualify. So we seek something more tangible to help us: a powerful leader, an idea, a faith community, and so forth.

Not having faith in an invisible God is nothing new. Throughout the Hebrew scriptures there is the constant battle between people relying on something other than God to save them. The Hebrew scriptures call this idolatry.

I think humans must have realized early that any one individual couldn’t go at life alone. Even the most powerful ruler needs a people to rule. But we didn’t turn to the invisible God of Abraham. We sought out something we could still control: a golden idol that we made and could set the rules or a powerful leader who we could see and hear with our physical senses. Somehow having faith in a God that remained hidden, quiet, and unseeable was too much of a leap. We are embodied and we need to be able to see and hear what we trust. And we can’t see and hear God.

After all seeing is believing. If we can’t feel and touch it, or it doesn’t fit into the natural world we know, how do we know that such a concept as God is even true. Indeed it’s harder to believe in this invisible God than that a wandering prophet was resurrected from the dead. It’s easier and certainly more satisfying to have faith in something we understand: a great leader, money, even nature or just ourselves.

And so our world evolved into a flight or fight world. If something dangerous or disturbing or disrupting came along we either had to conquer it or run away from it. We either had to take control of it and over come it. Or take control of its effects on us by running away.

How often do we ignore a problem in our lives?  Is it too upsetting or too complicated for us to deal with today? Maybe it will just go away.

Or how often have we been involved in a relationship that was challenging and unpredictable and we tried to control the other person in the relationship to coerce him or her to do what we want?

God knew we would be struggling with our free will. Indeed, I suggest that God has to take some of the responsibility when we sin. After all we wouldn’t be able to sin if it wasn’t for our free will and God surely understood that the gift of free will would be almost overwhelmingly tempting to us. Frankly God is as much to blame for the wrongs we do as we are to blame!

Well, we couldn’t find a way to go to God, so God came to us … as Jesus. Jesus spent his ministry showing us how we could have faith in this invisible God. Not only did he show us how to do it, but it showed us the benefits of doing it.

Instead of choosing to fight or to flee, he taught us to stay and have faith in God. He taught us to face overwhelming problems by leaning on God. He taught us to deal with issues non-violently without the violence of coercion or outright power. Jesus taught us the power of love and compassion both of which require us to have faith in the invisible God of love. And Jesus himself became the surrogate for the invisible God.

And when the Resurrected Jesus stood in that upper room and breathed on the disciples, it became the Eighth Day of creation: a new creation was coming into the world – the creation of the Third Way. Instead of choosing between flight or fight, we now had the option of choosing the way of faith and love.

Jesus showed us to bear our crosses of fear or discomfort or uncertainty and act as he taught us trusting God to make it all work. For example, I’ve noticed on occasion when a priest comes to visit one of my patients, he will say a prayer and then flee from the discomfort of being with a dying person who can no longer communicate. I understand that. Until you get used to it, it’s not comfortable sitting in silence with a patient who cannot speak or interact with her. But that sitting silent is divine. It is a way to give that person some moments of companionship. You have to believe that the person in some unknown way senses your presence and finds sustenance in it. You have to believe to see.

But not all of the disciples received the Holy Spirit that night. Thomas was absent and did not believe that Jesus had appeared. So the next week Jesus returned to the upper room when Thomas was there. When Thomas saw Jesus’ wounds he believed – he needed to see to believe. But Jesus said blessed are those who believe, who have faith in the invisible God, in order to see.

Much of the wonders of God’s good creation are missed by those who must see to believe. If you believe in the love and goodness of God and the inclusiveness and diversity of God, you will see so much more in the creation.

I suspect that we all have on occasion seen a homeless man trying to survive on the streets and under the bridges. A see-er – someone who must see to believe – on first encounter will see that man as one full of problems, maybe one that brought his condition upon himself. A see-er very often will feel sadness for the man.

But a believer – one who believes before he sees – on first encounter will see a child of God, a person of worth, an individual with his own ideas and thoughts and history. A believer may even imagine Jesus blessing him with hope. A believer will see potential and possibility.

It is that Third Way of thinking that Jesus taught us: to believe in the hope, the possibilities, and the value of God’s creatures no matter what the structures around us may claim about them. This Third Way does not call us to condemn or control or even resist. Nor does it call us to ignore or to hide. It calls us to stand firm on love and hope of God. It calls us to take a deep breath of the Holy Spirit and ask what is this impossible, invisible, hidden God saying to me in this circumstance. And then act upon that understanding.

This is the child of the Eighth Day of Creation: that our creativity is turn once again back to God’s vision of a creation motivated and driven not by power or greed, but by a community of all humans and all of creation. Our creativity is turned to the long over due partnership with God to make our world a place of hope for one and all.

In that upper room hardly a week after the impossible happened, a resurrection happened. The hopeless, frightened disciples were given new life out of the death of disappointment and hopelessness. Whether we can accept that Jesus was bodily resurrected or not, during that week, a resurrection did happen: the Third Way was born and a group of men and women ready to disperse and resume their old lives of fight or flight, were resurrected into a revolutionary community of hope and change.

They went on to follow the Third Way preaching Jesus throughout Judea and the Roman Empire, and beyond to India, to Britain and to the whole world. That was the Resurrection.

 

Think about it …

God’s grace and love be with you …

Amen.