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04.12.15 Why We Need Church John 20:19-31 Sermon Summary

by on April 13, 2015

The Gospel of John was written so long after the events, and is itself so lengthy, that we shouldn’t be surprised to find contrary teachings within it. What it means to see and believe provides one example.

Summary Points

  • Where Jesus taught to see and believe
  • Where Jesus taught to believe without seeing
  • Where we “see” Jesus today
  • Why the Church and the Table are necessary for faith

In John 6 Jesus teaches how important it is to both see and believe. He has just fed 5000 people beginning with five loaves and two fish. After he and the disciples cross the Sea of Galilee the crowd follows them, and Jesus challenges their motives. He invites them to work for “bread that lasts, for bread from heaven.” He goes to teach that he himself is that bread. He admonishes them for seeing—first the feeding of the multitude and then him—but not believing that he is the chosen sent one. Finally, he warns them that he will not always with them; he will ascend at some point and be out of sight.

This sets the stage for the dialogue with Thomas in John 20. There we have Thomas who simply wants what the other disciples received. The night of his resurrection, John says, Jesus proclaimed peace and showed them his hands and side. Only after the showing do they rejoice in having seen him. Thomas wasn’t there and refuses to believe. Fortuitously, Jesus shows up a week later in the same manner, and this time Thomas is present.

Thomas isn’t much different from the other disciples. The morning of that first week they had heard from Mary Magdalene that she had seen the Lord, and yet that evening they are hiding in a room with the doors locked. Even when Jesus appears to them, it’s only after he shows them his wounds that they see him, and still a week later they are in the same locked room.

Even though Thomas isn’t much different from the other disciples—and not so different from us—his example is the key that unlocks what it means to “see” Jesus today. For Jesus, in contrast to what he tells the crowd in John 6, says to Thomas, “Blessed are those who do not see, and yet have come to believe.” How can Jesus require sight and belief in one passage, and bless those who do not see in another passage, unless seeing means something other than seeing?

We all know it’s possible to believe without seeing. When believe the medical doctors who blame bacteria, which we can’t see, for our sickness because we see the effects of the bacteria. Likewise, when the pharmacist gives us the antibiotic, which we can’t see, we believe we are getting better because we see the effects of the drug.

Likewise, in the day of John’s first readers, some sixty years after the resurrection, and in our own day, we don’t see Jesus, but we can see evidence of Jesus’ presence in the church. What does this evidence look like?

According to the lectionary passage from First John, part of that evidence is the encouragement we find together through dark times. This light shining in darkness shows itself when we pray for one another, when we share thoughtful kindnesses to one another, and when we remind one another through the testimony of God’s work in our own lives. Evidence of Jesus’ presence also shows itself when we offer forgiveness and mutual forbearance to one another. And from the Acts passage we learn that evidence of Jesus’ presence in the church includes our generosity and care for the needy among us.

These were the characteristics of the first Christian community according to these passages. They “shared all things in common” such that there was “not a needy person among them.” And they testified to what they had “seen, heard, and touched” concerning the “Word of life,” that is, the presence of the Resurrected Christ, the ongoing light shining in the darkness, and the forgiveness of sins.

This is how we “see” Jesus today, through the evidence of his presence in the church. These evidences remind us of the light of Jesus’ resurrection in darkness of death—now we can encourage others. They remind us of the forgiveness of sins, ours and others—so we can forgive. They remind us that all things belong to God—so we can be generous.

But what about John 6 and 20? Is there a way to reconcile Jesus’ teaching about seeing, believing, not seeing, and the blessedness of believing anyway?

The key, I think, is in the Lord’s Supper. John 6 is ostensibly about the feeding of the multitude, but most theologians recognize that it is John’s teaching about the Lord’s Supper. John doesn’t have a Lord’s Supper scene—he replaces it with the foot washing scene. But taken together, John 6 and John 20 give us John’s theology of the Lord’s Supper. At the Table Jesus invites us to touch his wounds—his body and blood given for us—just as he invited Thomas. We “see, hear, and touch” the Word of Life—not in the Incarnation, and not just in our memories or thoughts—but in the shared bread and cup.

All this happens at the Table. All this happens when we are in church. It happens as we ARE church. And this is why we need the church and the Table. We may not see Christ, but we see the evidence of his presence together, and that causes us to believe. And what is more, Jesus taught that as Father sent him, so he sends us. As the church, we are meant to evidence Christ’s presence—to bear light, model forgiveness, and share—that others, too, may see by not seeing, and be blessed through believing.

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