Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Seeing is not believing -- hearing is!

Sermon preached for Easter IIA on Sunday, April 23, 2017, by the Rev. Daniel M. Ulrich.

    Of the five senses that God’s given us, the one we trust the most is our sight.  Sure, we use all our senses to gather information, but there’s just something about seeing with our own two eyes that gives us a sense of truly knowing.  When we hear about something that seems just a bit too outrageous, we respond with a sarcastic “I’ll believe it when I see it.”  When we witness something amazing we say, “I wouldn’t have believed it if I didn’t see it myself.”  Having a photo or seeing a video gives us trust beyond doubt.  For us, seeing is believing.  But is this true when it comes to our faith?  When it comes to trusting in Jesus Christ, our risen Lord and Savior, IS SEEING BELIEVING?
    For the disciples, especially Thomas, seeing was believing.  They trusted in what they saw, and what they saw was an empty tomb.  When the women told the disciples about Jesus’ resurrection, they didn’t believe their words, they seemed like a tall tale.  But Peter and John ran to the tomb wanting to see for themselves, and they saw it empty, but they didn’t understand. 
    The tomb was empty and the women told the disciples why: Jesus rose from the dead.  This should’ve been joyous news.  Their teacher, their leader, their friend was alive, but the disciples were afraid.  They feared the Jews and locked themselves in a room.  Why?  Why were they afraid?  Because they saw an empty tomb.  They feared the Jewish authorities would come and arrest them for supporting Jesus.  They feared they’d be brought before the Romans and falsely accused of stealing Jesus’ body.  They feared for their lives.  But that fear went away when Jesus appeared.
    Even though the doors were locked, Jesus entered the room and physically stood in the midst of the disciples and said “Peace be with you” (Jn 20:19).  He showed them His hands and His side, the holes of the nails and the gash of the spear.  Seeing Jesus, their fear disappeared and they were glad, and they went and told Thomas, the one disciple who wasn’t there to witness the resurrected Lord. 
    Thomas heard the news, but he didn’t share the gladness of the others, he didn’t believe.  Like us he said, “I’ll believe it when I see it.”  He needed physical evidence he could see, he needed physical evidence he could touch. 
    Like Thomas, we want to see evidence before we believe.  We want the assurance of our eyes.  Our whole legal system is based on this, and this is a good thing.  Someone charged with murder isn’t sentenced to life in prison or executed based on the word of one or two witnesses.  There has to be physical evidence.  Likewise the field of science requires evidence.  We need to study measureable data.  And this too is a good thing.  Great leaps have been made in technology and medicine because we’ve search for physical proof.  God’s given us our sight to help us navigate and find truth in this earthly life.  It’s a gift.  But our sight can become a problem when we rely on it for faith. 
    Thomas needed to see and feel Jesus before he’d believe He was risen from the dead, and so do we.  We want to see Jesus.  We want Him to appear in our midst and show us His hands and side.  We want to feel Christ’s presence in our heart.  We want to feel His love.  We want Him to perform miracles in our lives that we can see.  We want a photo and video of it.  But this isn’t how faith works, this isn’t how trust in Christ works, and that’s a good thing.
    If we can only trust in Christ and His salvation if we see Him then we’d never have faith.  If we can only trust in Christ when we see great miracles, what happens when we see bad things happening?  If we only have faith when we feel the love of God in our heart, what happens when we don’t feel good?  Does this mean that Christ didn’t die on the cross for your forgiveness and rise from the tomb for your life?  Absolutely not!  Our sight doesn’t produce faith.  Seeing isn’t believing...hearing is.  Hearing the Good News of Christ dying and rising for you produces faith.
    The author of Hebrews writes, “faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Heb 11:1).  The things hoped for and the things not seen are God’s gifts of forgiveness and everlasting life, given to you for the sake of Christ who died on the cross and rose from the dead.  You can’t see God’s forgiveness, you don’t see everlasting life.  But these things are there and true, and we know they are there and true because God has said so.  He’s promised them in His unchanging Word. 
    At the end of the Gospel reading, John tells us why he wrote what he wrote.  He said, “Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book, but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in His name” (Jn 20:30-31).  Scripture is written so that you can hear the Gospel of Christ and believe.  The Spirit produces faith in you through God’s Word: His Word read, His Word preached, His Word of Absolution, and his Word in the Sacraments. 
    Faith comes from hearing God’s Word and He’s given us men, pastors in the Office of the Ministry to speak that Word.  When Jesus appeared to the disciples He said, “As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.”  Then He breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.  If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld” (Jn 20:21-23).  Here is the institution of the Office of the Ministry.  Christ sent out His disciples to speak His Word of Absolution and to proclaim His life and death, and God continues to send out men to do this, so that you might receive the gift of faith, faith that trusts in Christ your Savior. 
    God’s pastors speak to you His Word.  They read the Scriptures and preach the Good News of Christ, and the Holy Spirit works through this.  As you hear Christ crucified and risen for you, the Spirit gives you faith, faith that trusts in Christ, faith that receives God’s promised gifts of forgiveness and everlasting life.  These gifts that are unseen God gives to you in the Sacraments: in Baptism and the Lord’s Supper.  Here the Lord has tied His promises and gifts to the visible: water, bread, and wine.  These are God’s Word made visible, administered by His pastors, delivering to you His gifts, gifts received in faith. 
    One week after Jesus appeared to His disciples in the locked room, all the disciples gathered again, and this time Thomas was with them.  And again Christ miraculously appeared in their midst.  Jesus greeted them all with peace and said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side.  Do not disbelieve, but believe.”  Thomas saw the risen Lord, and he heard His Word and said, “My Lord and my God.”  Jesus replied, “Have you believed because you have seen me?  Blessed are those who have not seen me and yet believed” (Jn 20:26-29).
    Like Thomas and the other disciples, we live in an unbelieving age.  We require physical proof, a photo or a video.  The attitude of “I’ll believe it when I see it,” is alive and in control.  This is well good when it comes to this world, to science and the legal system, but when it comes to faith, seeing isn’t believing, hearing is.  Trust in Christ, trust in His saving death and resurrection, comes from hearing God’s Word; that’s why He had His prophets and apostles write it down, that’s why He’s given you pastors; that’s why He’s given you the Sacraments, so that you would hear and believe.  Blessed are you who haven’t seen and yet believe, for you’ve been given everlasting life.


Janis Williams said...

For Pr. Ulrich: Wow. Shot me down. I don't listen like I should! I'm not a charismatic who wants to see signs and wonders, and thinks that's the way to win people to Christ. I am one who doesn't meditate and digest what she hears. I'm one who relies all too much on excusing reticence to speak of Christ with, "my actions are enough." Lots of Missouri Synod folk (including myself) need to stop being from Missouri (Show me). Thank you for Law, and the finger pointing to the blessed, WRITTEN Gospel!

John Joseph Flanagan said...
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Chris said...

First off, you must understand (and you probably don't) that the society of this time was still an oral society. About 10% of the population could read, but the percentage drops drastically counting those who could BOTH read AND write to something around 2-3%. "Let him who has ears, let him hear" is not saying one receives the faith or belief ALONE (and I know Lutherans love to insert the word "alone" into every bible verse). We receive the faith in all of our senses: touch, smell, taste, sight and hearing. One of those is not elevated above the others. Such is why a holistic faith actually stimulates all the senses for the acquisition of the faith. To take this to your logical conclusion, if one only reads the Scriptures but does not say aloud what he is reading (which was the standard practice back in the ancient world since one had to because there were no breaks in individual words. You had to read to find the breaks and the pauses and the cadences), then he will not receive faith. God help the deaf man! Lutherans need to get away from this horrible and misplaced idea that faith is only some sort of mental process. Faith is something that is injected and received into our hearts through all the senses which God gave to us which he expects us to use.