This entry was posted on Sunday, April 24th, 2016 at 6:44 pm and is filed under Uncategorized. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.
Those Who Have Not Seen
Rev. Dr. David J. Fekete
April 24, 2016
Isaiah 61:8-22 John 20:19-31 Psalm 133
In our New Testament reading this morning, Jesus appears to his disciples and shows them his hands and side. The disciples are overjoyed when they see Jesus. But Thomas is not with them. When the disciples tell Thomas that they have seen the risen Jesus, Thomas does not believe them. He declares, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe it.” In the course of the story, Jesus appears to Thomas, too. He invites Thomas to do just what Thomas wanted to do to prove Jesus had risen and is alive. Jesus tells Thomas, “Stop doubting and believe.” Humbled, Thomas can only say, “My Lord and my God!”
The disciples and Thomas are fortunate. They have actually seen and touched the risen Jesus. Jesus tells them, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” This is where we are. We believe, but we have not seen. At least this is the case for most of us. There are those who have had near death experiences and tell of a dazzling white being who appears to them. But for most of us, all we have is the gospel testimony to Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. And John tells us that he has recorded the life of Jesus, “that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.”
There are two issues that come to my mind in this line that I would like to discuss this morning. The first issue is that of belief from the testimony of the gospels. The second issue is just what is meant by having life in the name of Jesus. For John tells us that we “may have life in his name.”
Let’s begin by talking about belief. Most of us haven’t seen Jesus. And I would say further that most of us probably don’t know anyone who has seen Jesus and come running up to us exclaiming, “I have seen that Lord!” as did Mary of Magdala. We are those of whom Jesus says, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” We are those for whom John has written his gospel. It is through the Gospels that we know about Jesus. And it is through the Gospels that we come to Jesus.
When I read the gospel stories, I have a feeling inside that this is true. My heart grows warm and I actually feel God’s presence in my heart. The may be called the emotional content of the gospels. This may be called an inner conviction that these stories are true. Not everyone has this feeling. There are those who read these stories and nothing happens. There are those who read these stories and doubt. There are those who read these stories and outright disbelieve. You could say that my feelings of conviction are entirely subjective. That is, my conviction depends on a feeling that I have inside me. This feeling of conviction is one that I can’t give to someone else. I can tell others that when I read the gospels I have a feeling of conviction. But I can’t give that feeling to another. And I must admit that that is the limit of my faith. My faith is an inward feeling that I can’t give to someone else. My proof for God’s existence is subjective, locked within my own feelings and thoughts, and I am unable to present others with anything more than my own feelings of conviction.
But there’s another aspect to the gospel stories. I have talked about the feelings that arise in me when I read the gospels. There is also a cognitive aspect to my experience of the gospels. There are all those beautiful teachings of Jesus. Reading the gospels also educate me in the way of love. The gospels show me how to walk in a Godly way. They teach me to be meek, humble, innocent, peace loving, and to be filled with love for God and my neighbor. So the gospels enkindle my heart and illuminate my mind.
Those qualities I just mentioned as the gospel lessons are included in the name of Jesus. So John says that “we may have life in his name.” By His name, much, much more is meant than just the word “Jesus.” All the qualities that Jesus embodied are meant by His name. Swedenborg writes that, “a name in the Word signifies the quality” (AC 2009). So the name Jesus means all the qualities that He stands for, taught, and demonstrated by His life. It is not just the word Jesus. When we say in the Lord’s prayer, “Hallowed be thy name,” it is not just the word God that we are talking about. It is all the holy qualities of God that are hallowed. So Swedenborg writes,
here also by name is not meant the name, but all the things of love and faith; for they are God’s or the Lord’s and are from Him. Because these are holy, the Lord’s kingdom comes and His will is done on earth as it is in the heavens when they are held as holy (AC 2009).
So by God’s name, or Jesus’ name, more is meant than just a word. All the holy things of love and truth that constitute God’s being are meant by God’s name.
This is what is meant by that controversial verse, John 3:18. The verse reads, “Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned because he has not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.” Some Christians take this to mean that a person must believe in the name “Jesus” in order to be saved. They take this to mean that all the people in the world who have another name for God will not be saved. So the Hindus, Buddhists, Muslims, Sikhs, Zoroastrians, Jews, and all the other billions of people who are not Christian will not be saved. Common sense alone dictates that this cannot be true. And in our faith we say that God “is present to save all people, everywhere, whose lives affirm the best they know.” For it is not the word “Jesus” that saves. It is all the qualities that Jesus stands for that save.
It is the qualities that Jesus embodied and stood for that save. It is the love, the forgiveness, the meekness, the wisdom, the Godliness that were demonstrated by Jesus and that He stands for–these are the things that save regardless of what faith they are found in. These are the qualities that give life. When we ourselves embody these qualities, then we can be said to have life in His name. These are the qualities we heard in our Isaiah reading, “For I, the Lord, love justice . . . so the Sovereign Lord will make righteousness and praise spring up before all nations.” It is righteousness and justice that are encompassed in the name of the Lord in this passage.
So wherever we find these Godly qualities, we find spiritual life whether the word “Jesus” is used or not. William Blake points to spiritual qualities when he talks of the divine image. God is not just a word, it is all the holy things of love and all the truths that teach the way of love. For Blake, some of these words are mercy, pity, peace, and love. And he writes in his poem, The Divine Image,
To Mercy, Pity, Peace and Love,
All pray in their distress:
And to these virtues of delight
Return their thankfulness.
For Mercy Pity Peace and Love,
Is God our father dear:
And Mercy Pity Peace and Love,
Is Man his child and care.
For Mercy has a human heart
Pity a human face:
And Love, the human form divine,
And Peace, the human dress.
Then every man of every clime,
That prays in his distress,
Prays to the human form divine
Love Mercy Pity Peace
And all must love the human form,
In heathen, turk, or jew.
Where Mercy, Love & Pity dwell,
There God is dwelling too.
Blake says it so well. Wherever we see qualities like this, we are seeing God. Maybe we are more like the disciples than I thought at first, who believe and who see.
Lord, we call ourselves by your name. And we follow your ways in our own lives. But it is not your name alone that we worship. We honor all that you stood for. We emulate in our own lives what we see you doing in the gospels. We learn your teachings and we apply them in our own lives. For when we call upon your name, we call upon all the divine qualities you embraced on earth. We call upon all the divine qualities you embody now in your risen and glorified Humanity. We ask you to inspire our will, our intentions, and our hearts with those same qualities. That by living a life in keeping with your ordinances, we may truly be called by your name.
And Lord, we pray that you bring peace to this troubled world. May those who harbor ill will for their neighbors learn to understand and see the fellow humanity that they share. May those who strive against each other see that they are like in their wishes and in what they want for their land and nation. And may warring factions find their way to peace.
Lord, we ask for you to heal those who are sick. As you worked miracles of healing when you were on earth, how much more can you work healing miracles now that you have risen and have all authority in heaven and on earth. We pray for Linda, and for John, and for Irene, for Erik. Grant all who are in need your healing love and power.