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Newaygo United Methodist Church
Monday, March 25, 2019
Open Hearts, Open Minds, Open Doors

Unless I see

Unless I See

 John 20:19-31

One of the first persons to see Jesus after his death was Mary Magdalene.  But later in the evening he appeared to more of the disciples.  Here is what happened.  (read john 20:19-31). 

How many times have we made a promise to someone and then for some reasons or another have failed to keep that promise?  I remember the time our daughter wanted a horse of her own.  She was so persistent about it that we finally decided to make a promise to her.  We told her that if we ever moved to Tyler, Texas, we would get her that horse.  It wasn't much longer after that when Joe got a job offer, guess where, in Tyler, Texas.  Joe did not take that job, and it wasn't all because of the promise we had made to our daughter.  That was a promise we did not have to keep.


Before Jesus died he made a promise to his disciples.  He promised that their mourning would turn to joy, that they would see him again and that the Holy Spirit would be sent to continue to teach them.  These promises of Jesus were far more than the promise of something physical, although our story tells us that Jesus presence was very physical.  And we know that the disciples were joyous after their initial shock and fear in seeing Jesus.  But the greatest gift Jesus promised and brought them was the gift of eternal life.  Let's take a look at what that gift was all about.


When Jesus had been with his disciples that last supper night, he had said these words in a prayer to God: "And this is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent."  Eternal life is more than just living forever.  It's about living in God forever.  Why would we want to do that?    Because that's what we were created to do.  Our true happiness and sense of peace and well being can only completely be accomplished when we are in right relationship with God.  Jesus lived in right relationship with God while he walked this earth.  Which means that we can too.  We do not have to wait until death to experience that.  Our link to that possibility comes with the gift of the Holy Spirit.  Jesus breathing the Holy Spirit on his disciples describes a new second creation.  Those who believe Jesus receive that new life as children of God, and the Holy Spirit is the breath that sustains that new life. 


So what is this new life all about?  It is about being forgiven and accepting a new relationship with God as forgiven of our sins.  In John sin is a theological failing, not a moral or behavioral transgression.  So often we hear about sin being something we have done wrong behaviorally.  But there is a much broader aspect of sin.  To have sin is to be blind to the revelation of God in Jesus.  Our wrong behaviors come from that blindness.  We do sin because we are blind to God, we are not in right relationship with God.  Jesus knew the difficulty we have being in right relationship with our creator, so his promise included an advocate, the Holy Spirit to guide us back when we become blind time and time again.  It is when we know ourselves as forgiven that we truly see God's nature and his immense love for us. 


That also means that our tasks as believers is to continue Jesus work of forgiveness.  We are not called children of God to see ourselves as better or worse than anyone else.  We are here to do the work of Jesus in forgiving and helping others find and establish right relationship with God.  We are here to help others find the peace that Jesus promised.  And we are empowered to do that through the Holy Spirit.   The law couldn't do that for the Israelites.  Following our church rules and doctrines can't do that for us.   It is through the Spirit given to us in our new creation that we are enabled to do that.


Our task as Christians then is to bear witness to the identity of God as revealed in Jesus, God as the one who loves and forgives and recreates.  And it is in choosing or rejecting relationship with God that sins are forgiven or retained.  If we bear witness to God's love through our empowered love in Jesus then we are drawing others into that love. 


Well that's a lot of theology, but what does that mean practically?  When I was 14 years old, I attended church fairly regularly.  My father dropped me off every Sunday I couldn't walk due to bad weather.  One of the things that intrigued me the most was the altar call at the end of the service.  I wondered why anyone would want to get up in front of the whole church and go kneel at the railing.  Far be it from me to do any such thing.  And it always seemed to be the same people who went up.  It didn't make sense to me.  I always wanted to duck out at that point.  Then one Sunday during the altar call I felt suddenly very ill.  I started to get up and tried to run to the restroom, but much to my dismay I headed for the altar instead.  I realized that I was crying as I reached the front and knelt at the railing.  Closing my eyes I tried to say a prayer but did not know what that prayer should be.  Then I felt the minister's. hands on my shoulders and heard the words, "Know that you are forgiven and beloved."  And something told me those words were true.  It was a defining event in my life, one that changed my attitude about God, about Jesus, and about altar calls.  That church had been witnessing to me until the time was right for me to accept my own faith, my own gift of eternal life. Not long after that I chose to be baptized and a long struggle with faith began, faith winning.


And look how many times we have borne witness to God's love when we serve breakfast to those who may not be able to offer much of a donation.  Or how many times have we witnessed in our prayers for others as we sought healing for them.  And how many times have we told someone we would be praying for them.  How many times have we reached out in a community effort to help those in need?  Or how many times have we gathered supplies for shelters?  All of these are a form of witness to God’s love.  Through these ways of witnessing we are not bringing someone into our belief, but God is drawing them into believing what God wants them to believe.


One day I was walking behind two men, one must have been a pastor, the other his target for a convert.  The “pastor” was telling the story of Jesus and the other man was listening intently nodding his head in agreement.  He seemed just about to make the most important decision in his life, to accept the gift of Jesus, when the pastor, unable to keep from talking, started launching into the “rules” of being a Christian.  Slowly, the nods of assent began to turn to nods of disagreement, then argument took over and the moment of opportunity was lost.  It seemed the man could accept the gift of Jesus, but could not make sense of the strict, rigid rules that seemed to be expected of a new convert.  I do not know if at some time later the man accepted the gift, but for the moment he was blinded to the possibility of right relationship with God.  He lost the opportunity of knowing himself as forgiven.  I suspect what he saw was a very sinful man who could not possibly live the life that pastor had described. 


Our right behaviors do not come from following rules and regulations.  Our right behaviors flow from our knowing God’s forgiveness and in that knowing also knowing God’s love for us.  When we know ourselves as forgiven it is possible to see others as forgiven as well.  When we see ourselves and others as forgiven, then we are continuing Jesus’ work of forgiveness. 


I don’t know about you but for me one of the hardest things to do is to forgive someone who has hurt me.  Sometimes I fuss and stew and balk at the idea of forgiving them.  Oh I may say, “yes I forgive them.”  But unless I see them in God’s light of forgiveness and am able to set the hurt aside enough to love them as God loves them, then I have forgiven in name only.  If I still harbor resentment and even a little bit of anger, I am still seeing them from my hurt point of view.  Jesus was able to look at sinners from a different perspective, as people who were lovingly created by God, as people whom God longs to be in relationship with.  Jesus was able to forgive those who hurt him the most, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do!”  He understood their behavior.  He knew that they did not understand.  He knew that they were looking at things from their own perspective, some of them even thinking they were protecting their faith.  He knew the jealousies, the resentments, the fear, the anger, the hatred they harbored toward him, yet he was able to offer forgiveness.


When we receive Jesus, when we say “yes” to God, accepting the gift He gives us of Jesus, then we are capable of making better choices, choices that don’t hurt others, choices that give us great satisfaction and even the peace we seek, choices that help recreate this world, choices that give hope, choices that help us to be more Christ like.  When we receive Jesus, we receive the gift of the Holy Spirit which empowers us to live in right relationship with God and to become children of God, living eternally beginning with this life on earth, right here and now.  Our “unless I see” becomes “yes I see, yes I am able to follow, yes I want to live in God’s love.”  Our paths are straightened, our lives become full of meaning, our sins fall away, and saving grace dictates the way we live life.  

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