Saturday, April 19, 2014

Life In His Name

Easter Sunday 2014

Do you believe?

John 20:30-31

New International Version (NIV)

The Purpose of John’s Gospel

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 may believe[a] that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.
Believing. Have we looked that word up before?

Definition of BELIEVE

intransitive verb
1 a :  to have a firm religious faith
   b :  to accept something as true, genuine, or real <ideals we believe in> <believes in ghosts>
2:  to have a firm conviction as to the goodness, efficacy, or ability of something <believe in exercise>
3:  to hold an opinion :  think <I believe so> 
transitive verb
1 a :  to consider to be true or honest <believe the reports> <you wouldn't believe how long it took>
   b :  to accept the word or evidence of <I believe you> <couldn't believe my ears>
2:  to hold as an opinion :  suppose <I believe it will rain soon>
be·liev·er noun
not believe
:  to be astounded at <I couldn't believe my luck>
At sunrise service I figured nobody would be up for an english lesson.
It's early. We're all just glad we made it church safely and without falling asleep.
You've had breakfast by now. Your brain is chugging along. Hopefully you're in learning mode.

What does it mean to believe?
I remember Easter Sunday as a teen. I had gone through church membership class. Several weeks that started back in winter time and brought us up to this moment at Easter. There was baptism. Each one of us got into a white robe. Walking down into a big baptismal tank, behind the pulpit and platform, each one of us came to the pastor who recited our proper name and sent us backwards into the water. 

"In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit"
Later in the service we would all stand down front on the steps going up to the platform. The pastor would come and, one by one, he would ask us, "Do you believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God?" I honestly remember not being sure about my answer. It's amazing how much information goes through your head in a split second. It's amazing how much we retain after so long. I remember looking up into the balcony. We had majestic stain glass windows in that old Disciples of Christ church. They all told a story.

Jesus kneeling in the garden, in the window on the west wall.
Jesus knocking at the door, in the balcony wall to the south.
The empty tomb with an angel and two women, in the balcony wall to the east.

The empty tomb scene was where I was looking, as the sun came streaming through that morning. 
The Rev C. Reid Miller came to me, shook my hand, and asked me the all important question.
I hesitated for a split second, as I looked up into that window and caught the scene.
"Yes", I replied. It was that simple.

A bible was given to each of us. I had a similar one from when I was around kindergarten age. Both of them gone to the wind now. The bindings haven fallen apart years ago. The scripture that was all important to me from both of those old books, an RSV and an NRSV, were as follows.

John 3:16

Revised Standard Version (RSV)
16 For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. 

John 3:16

New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
16 “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.

John had to have been awake that night when Nicodemus drew near to speak with the Teacher.
Nicodemus comes at night when it would be less conspicuous. Less chance of anyone seeing or making a fuss. Jesus shares words that would go down in the annals of history. But, how is one to believe such astounding things as mentioned here in the scriptures? The blind given sight. The lame walking. Healing given to a woman who is bleeding inside. Water turned into wine. 

And, then there are the teachings.
"Do unto others as you would have then do unto you."
"If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also..."
"Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God."
"If you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly father will forgive you."

Jesus didn't just say to do these things. He actually did them.
How much easier is it to believe when you see the teaching lived out in front of you?
Hanging on a cross put there, by the very people he is trying to save, he does not plead for his own release, but for forgiveness for those who need it the most.

And, he saved the best for last.

He dies, goes into the grave, a tomb. Wrapped up in cloths, with spices to preserve the body, Jesus is there for three days, the scriptures say. And, then suddenly he is not. John's account should be most trustworthy. He sees it with his own eyes. He touches it with his own hands. He beholds the glory of the one and only. He was there at the tomb. He saw the cloths and the stone rolled away.

All of the disciples ran away. None of them stuck by what they said they believed.
How many of us are guilty of doing just the same? It's hard to hang on to something we cannot see or put our hands on and say, "Hear it is!" Now, they are greeted by a risen Jesus, the one they forsook and given words of of comfort.

"Peace be with you."

He shows them his hands and side. He eats in their presence.
He comes to them when they feel they have no where to turn. 

In their darkest hour, the light turns on, filling the empty place in their hearts.

How many of us come like Nicodemus?
We come when it is dark. We try to inconspicuous. We don't want to draw a lot of attention to ourselves. And, yet, here you are, on this Easter Sunday. In this church, a place very familiar to your personal history and family make-up. Do you believe? Do you really? I'm not just asking if you believe that God exists. The letter of James, further back in the New Testament would state that "even the devil believes". We aren't doing much for ourselves if we simply believe in the existence of God. 

Do you believe? 
Do you do unto others, thinking of their needs first, putting other people first, because that's how you want to be treated? Or, do we read that verse only thinking about ourselves and making sure everyone is giving us what we want, the way we want it.

Has someone wronged you? Even slapped you in the face, actually or figuratively, and have you turned the other cheek? Are you a peacemaker or a war-bringer? Can you be referred to as a child of God, because people know that there is a peace within you?

Do you believe?
Faced with the most unfathomable story in all of mankind, 9 blue collar men, a tax collector and a soldier are a faced with the seemingly impossible task of having explain why it is they are hanging on to this idea that a dead-man could walk again after having gone through the most excruciating death recorded in history. And, you and I are faced with the same dilemma.

What do you say today when I approach you with the question, "Do you believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God?"

We had this tradition in the Disciples of Christ church that if someone wanted to re-affirm their faith, restate it again, answer the question one more time, then you came down front at the end of the service and the pastor would ask you the question. It was an informal gesture that one could use to join the local church, this local body of believers. But, I always felt it had a deeper meaning. Some churches have a tradition of approaching the altar to pray and grovel before God. If that's your thing, go for it. Approach the altar and talk to God. I'm going to offer you a handshake and a question today. If you feel you need to state your answer again, solidify your feelings on the matter again, then come.

Believing is life.
God loves you so much that he sent his one and only Son.
He'd love to hear if you believe it or not.

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