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Seeing and Believing

Seeing and Believing

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Two neighbors, we’ll call them Bill and Ben, lived side by side. Bill had a dog. Ben owned a white rabbit. Ben’s little white rabbit wasn’t a problem. But Bill’s dog kept getting loose and when he did, he would head straight for Ben’s backyard. He’d bark at the rabbit in her hutch, dig holes in the garden, and generally make a nuisance of himself. This caused some strain, to say the least, between the two neighbors.


But then, one day, the dog came home with Ben’s rabbit, and not in a good way. The poor bunny hung limp from the jaws of Bill’s dog, her fur all covered in dirt. “Bad dog,” he said, even as he looked both ways to see if there were any witnesses to the crime.


He gently removed the rabbit from the dog and then sat down on the steps with the body in his lap. He felt terrible, truly, but the last thing he wanted to do was go next door and tell Ben what the dog had done. He just couldn’t bring himself to do it. So instead, he came up with a plan. He went out and got a new white rabbit, snuck over that night under cover of darkness, and put the bunny in the hutch.


“Good as new,” he thought.


Until the next day when Ben came by looking all confused.


“What’s wrong,” asked Bill?


“Well,” Ben said, “It’s the strangest thing. When I walked out this morning, the first thing I saw was my rabbit in her hutch, alive as can be.”


“What’s so strange about that?” asked Bill.


“Well, it’s strange because my rabbit died yesterday. I should know. I buried her myself, right in my own back yard.”

***


People say that “seeing is believing,” but I don’t know that it’s always that simple.


Some things defy explanation. Somethings defy belief. And let’s be honest, resurrection is one of those things. So when it comes to the story of Easter, I have a lot of sympathy for the disciples.


We give them lot of guff for not believing the testimony of the women, but I also understand why they needed to see the risen Jesus for themselves before they could wrap their minds around the reality of his resurrection. And not for nothing, but it didn’t hurt for them to see him a second time either. They all needed to see the unbelievable in order to even begin to believe that it could possibly be true.


But bless our hearts - and please note that in vs. 29 Jesus does -  we don’t get to see, and the space time continuum being what it is, we probably never will.


“Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe,” says Jesus.


He may be right. But I’ll be the first to admit, that’s a tall order, especially now. I think you know as well as I do that Christianity is in decline here in the United States. Amy and Pauline were at the last public meeting for the Resilience Hub and heard one of the architects say that if current trends hold, over 100,000 churches will close and be repurposed by 2030. That’s just six years from now. 100,000 churches as dead and buried as Ben’s rabbit; luxury condos, community centers, and coffee houses in their place.


I realize that some might point to the fact that we live in a scientific age and say this is to be expected. Religion has run its course they might say. It is simply unreasonable to expect modern people to believe in these age-old stories any more; believe in things that can’t be proven or verified. And I suppose you could point to this as the reason people have left the church in droves. But I think you’d be mistaken.


I think perfectly rational people can find solace and beauty and wonder and mystery and even truth within the scriptures and our faith. I think you can respect science and also acknowledge that there are things beyond our knowing.


I believe there is blessing for those who have not seen and yet believed. But I also think there is plenty of blessing here for those of us who have not believed and yet keep trying to see, blessing for those of us who keep showing up with our hearts and minds open to the possibility of God and what God might yet do amongst people of goodwill.


I honestly don’t think people have left the church because of what they can’t see or know for sure and for certain. I think people have left the church because of what they have seen and known.


The abuse of children and the abuse of power, lies and exclusionary practices, colonialism and Christian nationalism, patriarchy, white supremacy, anti-semitism, islamophobia, homophobia, and transphobia, the concerted efforts of Christians to control other people’s minds and bodies, money poured into buildings like this rather than affordable housing for all, to say nothing of all the petty little ways even the most well intentioned people can alienate and wound one another.


So many people have left the church, not because of what they couldn’t see but because of what they have. It’s not that they stopped believing in the resurrection or Jesus or even scripture, but because they don’t see how belief in any of those things is shaping enough of God’s people for the better.


Some, in an effort to preserve their faith, have walked away from the church and continued to live as best they can…while more and more are being taken in by a charlatan who preaches an anti-gospel of scarcity and fear, grievance and retribution, greed and manipulation.


You know who I’m talking about and the fact that he is hawking bibles with the constitution and the pledge of allegiance stitched into the back, is not helping them or us.


Over Easter weekend, in an effort to pit conservative Christians against transpeople even more, he declared that this coming election day will also be “Christian Visibility Day.” It’s awful. As his rallies grow more religious in their tone, he is becoming infinitely more dangerous, not just to our country but to the world’s overall perception of Christianity.


I fear the general public has become as confused about our faith as Ben was about his bunny, because they are seeing less and less of Christ in the so called Christians around them.


It’s hard to know how to compete with that or combat the overwhelming misperception that true Christianity could ever be followed by the word “Nationalism,” or promote vengeance or vilify immigrants or glorify violence and still be considered Christian at all.


And yet here we are. Some of us as frightened and traumatized and depressed by it all as those disciples were in the upper room. Am I right? Friends, if you’re starting to feel more and more like we’re okay in here, or safe as long as we stay in the valley, or okay as long as we live in a blue state, but God help us if we ever have to go out there… I get it. I feel it too.


Which is why I think now would be a good time to look to Jesus and receive the power of the peace he has to offer.


Now would be a good time to look to Jesus and ground ourselves in what he was really about, not just for the sake of our personal faith, but for the sake of the Church as a whole.


Now would be a good time to take up the challenge he lays down for us here: “Peace be with you, as the Father has sent me, so I send you.”


Friends, we need to get out there and show the world there are other ways to be Christian. We can’t afford to be silent right now or hide our light or play it small. The world can’t see Jesus in the flesh anymore then we can. That can’t stick their fingers in the holes in his hand or his side. All they have to look at is them and us; which - let’s be honest - isn’t ideal.


I mean, I understand if some of you are sitting here feeling completely unqualified to represent Jesus in the world. I know there are a whole lot of you here this morning wondering if you are Christian enough or even Christian at all. You might not know exactly what you believe about the resurrection or Jesus or any of this.


And yet, no matter how weak your faith, I’m pretty sure there is something in every last one of you that looks at what T____p, what Christian Nationalists, and what some conservative Christian activists are saying and doing in the public sphere right now, and you’re pretty clear that what you’re hearing and seeing - all the fear mongering, the hateful rhetoric, the desire to control others, not to mention the crass and idolatrous merchandising - isn’t Christian at all. Right?


Well, here is my message for you this morning. Jesus’ disciples were not perfect and you don’t need to be perfect either. Nor did they have a clue about what was going on or what they should believe about, well, pretty much anything. They were a mess. They were as confused and scared and as we are. They didn’t feel up to the task anymore than we do.


And yet God sent Jesus back to them with the good news that in spite of how spectacularly they had failed to understand Jesus, believe in Jesus, or follow Jesus, they were still forgiven, they were still loved, and they were still needed, perhaps now more than ever.


Rowan Williams has said that, “there is no hope of understanding the resurrection apart from forgiven lives communicating forgiveness.”


“there is no hope of understanding the resurrection apart from forgiven lives communicating forgiveness.”


Forgiveness lies at the heart of all of this. Jesus came back to the disciples who failed him and the whole of humanity that had wounded him, with nothing but grace.


When Jesus showed the disciples his wounds and then said, “Peace be with you,” he let them know that all was forgiven. He let them know he had no interest in wounding anyone back.


“As the Father has sent me, so I send you.”

“As the Father has sent me (to forgive all), so I send you (out now to forgive all).”

Go and love as you have been loved - unconditionally.

Go and forgive as you have been forgiven.

Go and let the world know that God loves us all no matter what

and wants us all to love each other no matter what.


That is all they really needed to know, and honestly that was enough. Because here is the good news about being an imperfect disciple with this message of unbelievable grace.


The medium is the message. The more imperfect you are, the more forgiven you are.


Jesus trusted his imperfect disciples with this mission knowing full well they would fail along the way and need to be forgiven again and again and again, by him and each other.


Jesus trusts us too, knowing we will mess this up, knowing we won’t get it right all of the time, trusting that the more we need to be forgiven along the way the more will we learn to forgive. Trusting that the more grace we receive the more grace we will extend.


Forgiven lives communicating forgiveness. That’s something imperfect Christians like you and me can show the world right now and that’s something the world needs to see.


Forgiven people who carry their wounds with grace not grievance.

Forgiven people who hold their beliefs with humility rather than certainty.

Forgiven people who preach a gospel of love not fear.

Forgiven people who use their power to serve rather than control.


Imperfect people like you and me who ground ourselves in the perfect love of God…a love we can show to others simply by extending it to others. A love they need to see at work in us and through us if they are to ever believe that any of this is worth believing in at all.


“Forgiven lives communicating forgiveness.”


You and me, we can do this. Amen





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