April 23, 2017 2nd Sunday of Easter
Acts 2:14a, 22–32 1 Peter 1:3–9 John 20:19–31
I think that Peter sums up the meaning of the resurrection of Jesus for himself and many disciples when he says: By his great mercy he has given us a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who are being protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.
The two letters of Peter were important to early Christians not just because Peter was one of the apostles but also because reading Peter is a contrast in faith to Paul.
You see Paul became a follower of Jesus after Jesus’ death and resurrection. Paul’s encounter with Jesus is a completely spiritual one, when Jesus is a powerful spiritual being.
Peter’s encounter with Jesus, however, was that of a living, breathing man, who was a powerful spiritual leader first, and then became the spiritual being and son of God.
Paul’s struggles with faith are our struggles with faith. Paul struggles to pierce the veil between the physical world and the spiritual world. And that can be a really hard thing to do, because sometimes our faith seems really shaky when we think: Gosh darn it! I just don’t have the physical evidence to back it up!
On the other hand Peter lived the whole process of Jesus’ ministry. Peter wasn’t there at the birth or the first 30 years of Jesus’ life or maybe the baptism – but he was there right at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry and witnessed the three years of his preaching, teaching, and healing, plus the death, resurrection, and ascension thing.
Peter’s faith stands on the absolute certain that Jesus Christ has given us, through his blood sacrifice on the cross, an imperishable, undefiled, unfading inheritance: An inheritance that means eternal life and joy with God. An inheritance that we find through our faith: That God loves us so much that he would give us his only son, so that if we-of-little-faith take that step to believe in Him, as Peter believed in Him, that we will not perish, but have eternal life.
I find that certainty of faith comforting, but sometimes a little difficult to relate to. As I’ve said before, I’m a lot more like Thomas, who really wants to be shown that this God-Jesus power is real and working in the universe. Especially as a child of the 20th and 21st century of empirical data, I need a little bit of fact to boost my little bit of faith.
But you know what – Jesus gets Thomas and his doubts. Jesus does appear to him, and he shows Thomas his hands and side, Jesus even tells Thomas to touch them. And then Jesus challenges Thomas to believe. And after Thomas acknowledges Jesus as the resurrected Christ, Jesus says a line that seems like a rebuke: Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.
I’ve always been bothered by that line because I always feel that Jesus is being a little mean when he says that. But when I was in seminary my Professor of Preaching gave our class some very good advice: If we have a problem with a piece of scripture then we should probably examine that scripture, because then we will resolve a spiritual question within us.
So I sat down and thought: What was happening to the disciples, and what was Jesus trying to do for them?
First of all, the disciples had just been through a huge emotional rollercoaster. The only way I could think of picturing how it would feel was by imagining that I had lost my entire family in a car accident one week, and won the power-ball lottery of 50 million dollars the next. My emotions would be so jumbled by devastating loss, absolute fear and uncertainty about what I would do next, along with the joy that: Hey, all my monetary worries are over! I would probably go into a dark room, hide under a comforter with my cat, and not come out for three days. It is no wonder that the disciples stayed in that upper room for a week or two.
During the 40 days, between the resurrection until the ascension, Jesus was trying to help his disciples heal from all those crazy emotions and rearrange their minds into a new order of being. He was giving them time to process the knowledge that everything he had taught them was true, and giving them a chance to figure out what it meant to them and to see how it could be workable in their lives. He was giving them a chance to reset into a new way of thinking and doing.
But he also knew that after the healing was over that they were going to go out into the world and spread his message of Love and Salvation.
Jesus knew that his message was probably going to start with the people who had come into contact with him during his ministry. His disciple would probably encounter people who had gathered at one time and heard Jesus preach. They would encounter people who had maybe sat with Jesus and been part of a teaching experience with Him. His disciples would come in contact with people who had witnesses him doing miracles, like expanding loves and fishes, or healing someone publically or privately. These people, who had already witnessed Jesus, would form the beginning of the church.
But at some point the disciples were going to encounter people who had never met Jesus in the flesh; people who had never had an opportunity to see or touch Jesus physically. They would be the new disciples who have not seen, yet have come to believe.
That’s who we are – We are the ones who have not seen Jesus in the flesh as he lived 2,000 years ago, but we have come to believe in him.
Although we have not seen him, we love him; and even though we do not see him now, we believe in him and rejoice with an indescribable and glorious joy, for we are receiving the outcome of our faith, the salvation of our souls. Because of 2,000 years of discipleship, passed down person to person, family generation to generation, church to church, we, in this Northwest corner of Connecticut, have come into an inheritance of eternal life everlasting.
And it is also up to us to pass down our knowledge of Jesus, and his power to connect everyone to God and eternal life.
But before we do that we need to be like the disciples and spend some time learning about our own connection with Jesus, his power, and our connection to the promises of God’s inheritance to us.
That’s a tough thing to do. Even 100 years ago our culture relied much more on what we felt rather than where our empirical proof is. How do we explain that even though we don’t see and touch Christ in the flesh, we still believe in him? There are some answers in the Bible stories that are coming up during this Easter Season, the forty days between Easter and the Ascension. In the 40 days of Lent we reflect on problems in our spiritual path. During the 40 days of Easter we reflect on what it means for us to be disciples.
Our starting point is defining in our own lives what believing in Christ does for us. For Thomas it was proof that Christ was continuing to be in his life. For Peter it meant that he was assured of his inheritance in eternal life. For me it is the fact that I have, and am part of, a God connection that is flowing both ways: From heaven to earth and from earth to heaven. That’s not my only reason, but it’s where I start.
Those are three good reasons and maybe yours is one of those three, or maybe it’s something else. Knowing what it is, is going to get you a clearer focus on yourself and your life actions, because that is the starting point from which you operate.
So for the next week I challenge you to ask yourself: What does Christ being in my life mean to me, and what does it do for me? You might want to try to write it down to help you clarify your idea. It doesn’t matter when you work on it: In prayer, while your driving, or while your eating breakfast. It doesn’t matter where you write it: Your diary, day-planner, computer or phone. What matters is: You are figuring out – just like Peter and Thomas did – what it means to be a disciple of Christ.
And as you figure it out – it will make you stronger and more certain in your faith and get you one step closer to your inheritance in God.