2nd Sunday Easter – Vicar Aaron Ferguson
2nd Sunday Easter 4.16.23
Would you like to see Jesus?
Imagine with me that you are walking along a walking trail in the Raleigh Greenway. You are enjoying the temperate Raleigh spring with your girlfriend and you both think some fresh air and sunshine will do you good. After you walk a few miles down the trail you turn around and are about half a mile from your car when rounding the corner just a head you see two rather well-dressed people. As you approach each other on the trail you notice that they are wearing name tags, and you pass by you look closely to see who they are. They stop. You hope that they’ll not notice you. “Hello,” The taller one starts, “Could we ask you a few questions about God?” You being a theologically well-educated man answer with a sigh, “Sure, what would you like to know.” That brilliant zinger of a reply elicits no response. The shorter one only says, “If Jesus was standing right here before you what would you like to ask him.”
This question quickly frustrates you. You do not have a readymade list of questions to ask at first contact with the divine, and it really takes you by surprise. Your girlfriend comes up with a brilliant question, “Is Jesus truly God as the Father is God?” Your girlfriend holds to the divinity of Jesus, but she is trying to see what response she could get out of these latter-day saints. Their response I do not remember, but one can guess what it was.
The Mormons on the trail pose a question not unlike what our Gospel asks today. But instead of, “If Jesus was here, what would you ask him”, our Gospel asks, “If Jesus isn’t here who would you trust?”
Let us look at the Gospel for a minute. It starts on the day of our Lord’s resurrection. The disciples where in hiding because they feared the Jews, Thomas is elsewhere. Jesus comes to the disciples, and says “Peace be with you”, he then shows them his hands and his side. And his disciples were glad to see him. Jesus again says, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.” 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 it is withheld.”
The next day, the disciples find Thomas and tell him the good news. Thomas is incredulous that the Lord did not appear to him and so he does not accept the apostles’ word. His response is, “Second hand news is not good enough.” Perhaps he thinks he deserves better treatment, after all he is an apostle, or perhaps he wants concrete evidence for his faith. Either way he does not accept the apostles’ word.
A week after the first time Jesus came to the apostles, they were gathered together again, this time with Thomas. The doors were locked and yet miraculously Jesus came and stood among them. Jesus tells them, “Peace be with you”. Then looking at Thomas, Jesus him, “put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out you hand and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe. Thomas responds, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus then concludes this interaction, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”
John the evangelist brings home the point, “These things are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Song of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name”
Who do you trust to bring the good news to you? The Mormons on the trail required an angel from heaven to deliver to Joseph Smith a different revelation of Jesus Christ. Do we need another revelation of Jesus Christ? If we think we need another revelation we have not understood what we just read. What if Thomas never saw the resurrected Lord, what then? Would he never have accepted the apostle’s word? Would he have become angry that he was not given the same honor that the rest of the apostles received? Think about it, Peter repeatedly denied the Lord in public. Matthew was a hedge fund… er, tax collector. It might have been the case that John blathered on about the (Zombie) Apocalypse. Was Thomas supposed to accept the word of these people?
Yes. When our Lord first appeared to the disciples after the resurrection, without Thomas, he sends them. “… as the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.” The apostles are the spokes people of Jesus. They speak in the stead and by the command of our Lord Jesus Christ. So, when the apostles speak to the people of God, the Word of God is heard.
Why is this important? God in his mercy gave the task of preaching to his apostles, so that the will of God is carried out. God did not choose the high and mighty of the word to teach the church. As St. Paul says, it was not with words of loft speech or wisdom that he preached, rather he preached nothing of that sort, only Jesus and him crucified. The preaching of St. Paul did not rest on cleverly worded wisdom, but in the foolishness of the cross so that he might boast in the Lord and not in himself.
In the story of the Rich Man and Lazarus the punchline is, “If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, neither will the be convinced if someone should rise from the dead.” The Lord has sent us Prophets to preach the word to us. If we do not accept them, we do not accept the message they bring. Those who preach the word of God do not preach trivial matters such as one finds in the news. Those who preach the word of God preach the everlasting words, judgements, ordinances, and truth of God. We would do well to listen to them.
One particular word of judgement that we ought to harken to is the word of Absolution. Jesus compels his disciples to speak to the people of God either words of Forgiveness or words of binding. If the apostles forgive the sins of any they are forgiven, and if they withhold forgiveness it is withheld. Thus, when pastor tells you that your sins are forgiven, God himself forgives your sins. In the past there was the false teaching that only certain people could forgive certain sins. That is to say that the big sins required the absolution of a church official beyond a parish pastor. This was done away with in the reformation, and rightly so. Our Lord Jesus in this Gospel endows all of his ministers with the great power to absolve sins regardless of person, regardless of magnitude. The forgiveness of sins is not conditional. Our Lord does not attach a price tag to the forgiveness, rather he simply says, “If you forgive the sins of any they are forgiven.”
God has chosen the apostles, warts and all, to speak on his behalf to the people of God. Just as Moses served God as a prophet, spoke to the people. The preaching we hear is not accompanied with miraculous demonstrations of cosmic power; but it is confirmed by the holy scriptures which is even better! The preaching is the word of God, given to us. It is a wonder that God in his mercy has given us his word. This word is given to us through the preaching of the Gospel by those called to the office. We are given the word, written and preached, so that we may believe that Jesus is the Christ, and so have life in his name.
In the Name of Jesus.