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Faith Explorations

Readings from the Bible

Acts 4:32-35

32Now the whole group of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one claimed private ownership of any possessions, but everything they owned was held in common. 33With great power the apostles gave their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all. 34There was not a needy person among them, for as many as owned lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold. 35They laid it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need.

Psalm 133

1How good and how pleasant it is,
when kindred live together in unity!
2It is like fine oil upon the head, flowing down upon the beard,
upon the beard of Aaron, flowing down upon the collar of his robe. R
3It is like the dew of Hermon flowing down upon the | hills of Zion.
For there the Lord has commanded the blessing: life forevermore. R

1 John 1:1—2:2

1We declare to you what was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the word of life—2this life was revealed, and we have seen it and testify to it, and declare to you the eternal life that was with the Father and was revealed to us—3we declare to you what we have seen and heard so that you also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. 4We are writing these things so that our joy may be complete.

5This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light and in him there is no darkness at all. 6If we say that we have fellowship with him while we are walking in darkness, we lie and do not do what is true; 7but if we walk in the light as he himself is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. 8If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. 9If we confess our sins, he who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 10If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.

2:1My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; 2and he is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.

John 20:19-31

19When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 20After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. 21Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” 22When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”

24But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. 25So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.”


26A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 27Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.” 28Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” 29Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”

30Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. 31But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.

Pastor Aaron’s Sermon

 

This week’s message and last week’s message hold a stark difference to one another. If you remember from the message last week in the Gospel of Mark (which is the earliest written of the four gospels), it ends without anyone physically seeing Jesus. Rather, others are empowered to share the news that the tomb is empty and that Jesus has been raised!

 

Whereas, in this week’s message from the Gospel of John (which was the last of the four gospels to be written), Jesus not only appears to others, but also allows someone to touch him and even put their hand into his wounds to confirm that his resurrection is real.

 

Do you see how drastically different this two gospels are? The Gospel of Mark shares the story of resurrection without any physical presence of Jesus. Mark leaves you wondering, Where did Jesus go if he’s not in the tomb? Whereas in John, a whole group of people physically see Jesus in the flesh, and Thomas is even able to physically touch him. Thomas literally puts his hands inside of the wounds on Jesus to confirm that the resurrection is real.

 

These differences might at first leave you second guessing your faith and questioning, How could two stories about the same event be so different? And if it does lead you to that question, then good. That means you’re awake.

 

But this is why the gospels are real. Reality is not a static hard fact, even though that is what many of us have been led to believe. The reality is that if you were to read two history books on the exact same subject, written by two different groups of people, they might have two very different tellings of the same event.

 

For example, there is currently a law on the table in Poland that would make it a crime for anyone anywhere in the world to ascribe Holocaust atrocities to the Polish state or nation—even though scholars have now shown that in 1941 Polish citizens took part in a massacre of their Jewish neighbors.

 

So whom can we believe if no one’s stories really line up? When our local news anchors are forced to read scripts that have a political bias, and our president tells us that everything is fake news, where is the truth? What is the truth about Jesus? Can’t we have a scientist—or even better, a famous actor—come out and tell us definitively that, “Yes, Jesus did die and was raised from the dead”?

 

Well, I’m sorry, but that is not going to happen, because there will always be people shouting fake news. And even if we had a definitive scientific answer from Time magazine that there is proof without a shadow of a doubt that Jesus did raise from the dead, then there would be nothing left to believe in.

 

All religions have a sense of mystery within them, and the more you learn about your faith, the more there is to know. And so that is why you are called to believe in the truth that is hidden in between the Gospel of Mark and the Gospel of John. The truth is in between the words of all four of the gospels. The mystery in between those words is the truth, and life is searching for that truth.

 

No one can, and no one will ever be able to tell you definitively how Jesus resurrected. I know that I can’t. All I can do is encourage you to believe in a story. And for some of us, the Gospel of Mark is the story you need to hear today. One shrouded in mystery that leads you to wondering, to searching for that truth in between the words. Whereas for others of us today, you might need to hear that you can physically reach out your hand and touch what is in between those words.

 

But wherever you’re at, don’t think for a moment that there was ever a moment in time where everyone just willfully believed in the mystery that is Jesus. It has always taken a personal commitment to be part of a community of faith. You make that commitment, or your family makes that commitment, in your baptism.

 

For the earliest Christians, this commitment was to be of one heart and soul with a community of believers, and to have no private ownership of any possessions, and instead share everything you owned in common. These people made a commitment to be part of community of faith, trusting that these decisions were the best decision for them, their loved ones, and for future generations. They knew that faith was a personal commitment, but not a personal experience.

 

People tell me all the time, “Well, Pastor, I believe, but I just do my own thing. It’s just between me and God.” And that, my friends, is bogus. Our faith is a shared experience. Jesus did not walk the Sea of Galilee alone.

 

The personalization of faith has only lead to the separation of believers, and it’s a tool used by those who believe they are more powerful than us to divide us and control us.

 

The Billy Graham Crusades were so powerful because they led an entire generation towards a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, but they also left an entire generation believing that they didn’t need to belong to anything—that believers were freed from Sunday morning commitments to pursue their own personal relationship with Jesus Christ. Thus, allowing our entire nation to splinter so that no one could easily stand up against the powers that be to proclaim the message of Jesus Christ.

 

Again, faith is a personal commitment, but not a personal experience. In today’s gospel, Thomas does not experience Jesus alone, but rather in a room full of people. And in Mark, not one but three women experience the empty tomb.

 

Faith is something shared. We look for the truth that lies in between the lines together. So wherever you are on your faith exploration, come and let’s experience the mystery of God together.

 

AMEN