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Recognizing Him

Sermon - 4/15/07
Anthony Eggleston (Youth Intern)
First Christian Church, Eugene, Oregon

John 20: 19-31

I'll be reading this morning from John, chapter 20, verses 19-31:

When 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.’

24 But 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.’

26 A 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.’

30 Now 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.


Being a pastor's kid, I very rarely missed a Sunday morning worship.  I was thinking last night, at 1:00 o'clock in the morning J, about how many Sunday-morning worship services that I must have attended in my life.  I think, if you subtract out the ones where I pretended to be sick so I wouldn't have to go (!), I think it's about 1,100 - 1,200 worship services.  That just boggled my mind -- I'm not that old am I?  But, here I am.  

And, almost every single one of those 1,200 worship services, I've heard that Jesus is risen and alive in the world today.  Particularly around this time of year, right after Easter, it's what we celebrate, it's what it's all about, the season of Jesus' resurrection, his presence in the world, I think it's appropriate.  

And I think that on Sunday morning's, especially when we have wonderful music, wonderful speakers, it's really really easy to look around and see that Jesus is alive and active in the world.

The problem for me, the hard time I have, comes during the week when I'm not at Sunday morning worship.  When I'm sitting at home on my couch and pick up a New York Times and I read headlines like 'Eye on Iraq', 'Rivals pursuing nuclear power', 'Suicide bomb kills at least 34', 'Marines action in Afghanistan called excessive', and '#12 Huskies avenge #10 Ducks'.  

It's one thing to read and talk about in abstract ways how Jesus is alive and active in the world, and to sing about him and hear about him.  It's entirely another during the week when times are hard and you're having a rough day, to look around and actually see it.  Especially when we have headlines like those.

If you remember the story of Thomas, which we read just a moment ago, he wasn't there when Jesus showed up the first time.  All he had was the heresy and second-hand information the other disciples had told him.  I wonder if the other disciples tried to tell him, "Oh, no, the wounds are there, I promise, I promise", but all the same, Thomas was a little bit skeptical.  

Imagine what must have been swirling in Thomas' head.  Here you have a person who undoubtedly had seen crucifixion over and over and over.  Crucifixion was really not an uncommon occurrence back in those days.  In fact, we were talking about it in our Marcus Borg class we've been having on Tuesday evenings with Dan, how crucifixion was the standard punishment for political radicals -- it's just what happened.  And Thomas would have doubtless witnessed or at least heard about any number of people who suffered death by crucifixion.

Just as assuredly, he would not have heard about any of those people coming back 1 day, 3 days, 100 days later.  People coming back from crucifixion was not a part of his world paradigm or worldview.  Everything he knew, everything that made up the way he looked at the world told him that Jesus was dead, buried, and gone.  Anything else would have seemed ludicrous.

I'm a Junior at Northwest Christian College, and in my Pastoral Ministry class this last week, somehow we managed to get on the subject of short-term mission trips.  The professor of the class asked:  "What do you all think of short-term mission trips?".  And I expected the class, my experience has been, that they're remarkably worthwhile, they're wonderful, great, if you listen to people's stories, there's no question in my mind.  Boy, was I in for a surprise -- I expected my peers to have the same things to say.  Almost immediately, my peers started talking about how the trips are selfish, people went to get a good, warm-fuzzy feeling inside and not to help other people.  They talked about churches that had lost thousands and thousands of dollars because people said we'll go, put out the money, and then nothing happened.

I was shell-shocked.  I could barely get out a "Huh?".  It was incredible, I didn't understand.  In retrospect, though, looking back, I can understand at least somewhat of where they're coming from.  One of the things they talked about is that if you have a large group of people, 140 people going into a town of 50, showing up, sticking around for 3 days, setting up their tents, making a mess of everything, and then picking up and leaving, it's going to have some effects.  Granted, some positive effects, but at the same time, probably some not so good things.  It makes me think that my classmates don't have this attitude completely unreasonably.  Part of their worldview is that these short-term mission trips are not good things.

Thinking back to our trip [the youth, including Anthony, have just returned from a mission trip to Mexico to build houses for underprivileged families], I can understand some of what they're talking about.  We'd been sitting in a Suburban for 10 hours, and going from a hard church floor, waking up at 5:30 a.m. in the morning, getting back into the Suburban, etc.  After two or three days of this with a bunch of youth who haven't taken showers for two or three days, your nose starts to tell you that maybe you've made a mistake.  Especially on the way down, before you experience any of it J.  And I tell you, my nose told me a lot of things on that trip down.

So remember Thomas, though.  His experience, his worldview, told him that when someone -- Jesus or otherwise -- was crucified, they were gone.  That if people talked about seeing that person come back, then obviously they'd been drinking a little bit too much, might not be quite right in the head, or are so overcome with grief that they were just making up memories to compensate.  That was simply what he knew.

Imagine, with this in mind, a week later he hears that Jesus came back -- he's not going to believe it, there's no possible way you could convince him unless he shows up.  But then I don't know if Jesus physically materialized in the room when he was talking a week later, or if he saw Jesus in one of his fellow disciples, or one of his peers, or if he saw some kind of love.  But that doesn't matter, the point is that Thomas, only a week later, saw Jesus or saw Jesus' love, and saw that Jesus was alive in the world.  

Though Jesus said right after that "Blessed are those that have not seen and yet come to believe", he doesn't say "Cursed are those who saw before they believed".  There's nothing wrong with Thomas doubting and needing some kind of physical proof.

Despite all the pieces of mission to Mexico that were difficult, smelly or otherwise unpleasant, making it sometimes hard to really see that what we were doing was a very positive thing and worthwhile, there were a few little things that helped make up for that.  That made me understand and see Jesus' love on the trip.

The first piece, was fellowship.  Before the trip, we had 16 or 17 individuals.  Some of them may have been friends before the trip, all of us were at least acquaintances.  But we weren't much closer than that.  I can't tell you where, but at some point on the trip, these 17 individuals became 1 group.  These 17 individuals coming together, loving each other, loving the families that we were working with, could be nothing other than the work of Jesus' love.  Sixteen or seventeen high-schoolers don't come together and bond that way any more, unless there's some outside force, something working to bring them together.

The second way I saw Jesus on the trip was when we arrived.  We got out of the vans, and people just stood there trying to take it all in, we'd seen the shacks and so forth along the road.  All of a sudden, without warning, from around the corner, 20 little kids just came running at us screaming, shouting, and smiling.  And they grab us and embrace us.  They didn't know who we were.  We smelled funny, we'd been in a car for three days and hadn't taken a shower.  We had no idea who they were.  But at the same time, they had unconditional love for us.  They didn't care how we smelled, they didn't care that we looked different, they didn't even care that they didn't know who we were.  They loved us all the same.  I think that love, that unconditional, no-strings-attached love is the exact same love that Jesus had for all of the people that he came in contact with.  For all of us today.

Finally, I think there was one more way that we ran into Jesus on the trip.  We spent the entire week, two or three days, working with a family.  When we first arrived, the family was standing around and you looked, and their eyes for the most part were barely empty.  They did not have a lot of hope, there was a little spark in the corner of one eye, maybe.  You have to understand that these people have been promised over & over & over by their government or Americans that they're going to have a better life.  They're going to have electricity tomorrow.  And over & over & over & over they've been disappointed.

The fact that we showed up when we said we would was probably what gave them that little spark in their eye.  And then to work alongside them over the course of the week, to have the father working alongside with his children and all of us, you saw that spark grow a little bit bigger.  Maybe it's more of a glimmer, part-way through the week.

At then, at the end of the process, when we had the house completed, and we go around and do our dedication of the houses, the leader of the group says a few words.  We mount a sun bell the workers have signed up on the side.  And then we hand the family the key.  You look in their eyes and you see that glimmer that is growing & growing & growing.  And then even then there's some doubt, what if they take this house away from me, what if it's all a farce, and they're just trying to get my hopes up.  And then you watch as they put the key in the door, and they turn it, and they open it, and they look inside, and they see the bunk-beds, and they see all the gifts, and they see the house.  

And you see the smiles on their faces, you see the tears streaming down their cheeks.  And in that moment, at that exact moment, you look in their eyes and you see the presence of our living Lord.  You see the love from Jesus shining forth.  There is no doubt in my mind that he was present right then.  You can do nothing but quote Thomas and say "My Lord and my God!"  It is truly amazing.

That moment of revelation is when you realize that Jesus is alive and working on the trip and in the world.  And all of those headlines (like the Ducks losing the Huskies) don't matter any more.  Because you know, you know that there is hope in the world, that there is love in the world.

And so perhaps the next time you're sitting around and reading the New York Times and you see all the horrible things, and you're wondering "Oh, God, where are you?", look around.  Maybe there's a little hint laying around.  If nothing else, reach in your pocket and feel your keys, and remember that Jesus is there.  As hard as he is to see sometimes, he loves you, and he loves everyone.  Thank you.


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