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So that you may believe

Sometimes the course is set for us but we refuse to see it.  Such is too often the case with sharing the gospel. The apostle John says that by the witness of his gospel we have enough to know that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God,and to believe in him.
Sometimes the course is set for us but we refuse to see it. Such is too often the case with sharing the gospel. The apostle John says that by the witness of his gospel we have enough to know that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God,and to believe in him.
Tom Spence

The Sunday after that First Sunday of Easter has many names among the many denominations that follow Christ. Sometimes we just say, it’s the Second Sunday of Easter.

That’s what you will find at the top of our worship bulletin for this Sunday.

It might be called the Octave Sunday of Easter celebrating the 8 days that follow Resurrection Sunday.

This 8th day is sometimes called Low Sunday. In modern times, the name seems to fit especially well considering the low many experience worshiping in a half empty sanctuary when only a week earlier the pews were packed. Some faithful members may have even had the experience finding someone already sitting in their pew on that Resurrection Sunday and the ensuing epiphany of realizing that God can be worshiped from the other side of the sanctuary.

To some this is St. Thomas Sunday. We know the words of Thomas the disciple. It is one of the most widely known incomplete sentences in history: My Lord and my God.

Even that shortest verse in the Bible, Jesus wept, has a subject and a verb. But this statement by Thomas doesn’t have a verb and surely doesn’t need a verb. In these few words are vision, acceptance, profession, confession, and commitment.

My Lord and my God.

When I graduated my PAS studies and completed my ordination exam, Dr. Tom Campbell was asking me when I wanted to be ordained. I told him the next 5th Sunday on the calendar after Presbytery met, which just so happened to be the 31st of October, 2010.

He made sure to tell me that even though my ordination would take place on All Saint’s Eve, he would not be addressing me as St. Thomas.

My Lord and my God.

Powerful words, but these were not the starting point.

Think about Thomas. When Jesus told this disciples that it was time to head back towards the Jerusalem suburb of Bethany because their close friend Lazarus had died, his disciples were prompt to remind him that not too many days ago there were plenty of people ready to stone him.

And after some teaching from Jesus, Thomas said: Let’s go so that we can die with him. When I preach from this 11th chapter of John’s gospel, I like to use the voice of Eyeore the Donkey for Thomas.

If you remember this 14th chapter of the same gospel, you know the compelling words of Jesus to his closest friends.

“Let not your hearts be troubled; believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And when I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also. And you know the way where I am going.”

You just have to love the comfort and assurance and promise and surety in these poetic words.

To which, Thomas replies: We don’t know where you are going.”

Do you ever wonder if the disciples had favorites. Of course they all wanted to be the favorite of Jesus, but among the 12, did they have favorites.

There were brothers and some previous working relationships that might have factored in, but do you think they had favorites.

I think that Thomas had a favorite. It had to be Phillip.

Think about it. Right after Jesus said, You know the way, and Thomas said, We don’t know the way; Jesus explained that he was in the Father and the Father was in him. If they had seen him, they had seen the Father.

They had seen him which could not be seen. Remember when Moses went to get the 10 Commandments, he needed something like SPF 2000 sunblock.

Jesus told his disciples that if they had seen him, they had seen the Father.

Paul later described this thought as Jesus being the image of the invisible God.

If the disciples had seen Jesus, they had seen the Father.

To which Phillip relied, Show us the Father. At least that should have gotten Thomas off the hook for a while.

There is a word that I think Jesus spoke to himself when he was alone, when he had retreated from the crowds, when he was just by himself talking to Dad.

What word?

It is not recorded anywhere. It is just my speculation.

What word?

Fishermen.

I can almost hear him saying, “Fishermen. Yes the concept of fishing for men was truly a brilliant connection, an astute concept, those were surely golden text words. But fishermen? Who would have thunk it would be so hard for them to grasp? Who’d a thunk it?”

Fishermen.

Yes, that was a bit of a rabbit trail, so let’s get back to Thomas.

Thomas, who said:

· Let’s go along so we can die with him.

· We don’t know the way.

· I won’t believe unless I can put my finger in the hole in his hand.

Hearing that the Lord had come to see the others was not enough for Thomas.

What was happening here? Were these few friends that Thomas had known very well for the past few years playing an April fool’s joke on him? If so, they had no taste. Did that not remember that their Master had been brutally put to death?

Was that memory so terrible that they resorted to levity?

Thomas could not bring himself to believe the testimony of his closest friends.

Now we are blessed to know the rest of the story and Jesus appears to the disciples and addresses Thomas, and says, Here I am, go ahead and do what you need to do to believe.

The gospel account never says that Thomas did what he said he needed to do. There is no description of Thomas reaching out to put his finger through a hole in the hand of Jesus.

Nope! It just jumps to what Thomas had to say.

My Lord and my God.

And Jesus tells Thomas that he has believed because he has seen. Good for you, Thomas.

But the vortex of this conversation comes down to these words: blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed

They have not seen but they believe.

We have not seen, but we believe.

Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.

And that brings us to, as some may have anticipated, to raising hogs.

Long ago but not too far away, I lived on a farm 4 ¾ miles east of Mangum, Oklahoma. I was 16 or 17 at the time. We lived in an old rock house on half a section of land, rented the pasture out to an uncle, had a fantastic garden and a pond where if the fish weren’t biting, well the snakes and turtles were.

In short, life was pretty good, but I was sure it was not complete.

I wanted to raise some hogs. How hard could it be? We already had a fenced area that just needed a little work to hold 3 pigs.

There was an opening that used to be a gate and I repaired that and there was an opening next to the spring that ran behind the house on down to the pond.

Instead of just running more hog wire from point to point, I ran a electric fence out just a short distance into the spring as well as all around the pen.

If you are not familiar with hog wire, it is fairly sturdy wire formed into 4 inch squares to which the hogs know, that farmer cannot bury that wire deep enough into the ground that I can’t root my way under it.

So on my first day of being a hog farmer, even before I had hogs, I was proclaiming myself a brilliant designer and logistician.

I had not only closed in the pen, but addressed the issue of watering and rooting in a single action. If my soon to arrive piglets tried to root, they would get zapped. If they tested the fence that was a few inches above the spring, oh boy, would they ever get zapped.

And for a couple months, things went well. About all I had to do was feed them. There was one more thing as a couple of the pigs were male, but I paid someone else to do that.

And then one afternoon when I got home from school, I went to feed the hogs, but they were gone. The pen was empty.

At once, I checked for rooting and found none.

I looked to the electric fence that ventured ever so briefly into the spring and saw it was down. I could not imagine that the hogs would have tested that more than once if the power was on, so I touched the electric fence.

If you don’t know, electric fences pulse and if you touch it briefly while standing on dry land it will given you a little jolt but nothing of any concern.

It was dead. The fence was dead. I figured that I would have to walk the few hundred yards up to the barn where it was tied into power and see what happened.

It is at this point that I need to explain that my father was a genius when it came to electricity. He had a degree in electrical engineering, did some post graduate work at MIT, and could take a box of junk and make something that would send a voice signal to the other side of the planet.

Back in the day of towering television antennae and makeshift devices to rotate those monstrosities that we used to get all three channels—that’s right, I am talking back in the day; my father took a piece of TV lead-in—that ugly black, flat wire—and cut it to correspond to a specific wavelength and we got all three channels without having to go outside.

We were living large even though we might have been on the poor side.

I knew what a volt and an ohm and an ampere were and had even completed a couple of circuit diagrams for some science class along the way, and was happy when I had finished.

OK, let’s get back to the breach in the fence.

I waded out into the spring and searched for the wire of the electric fence that did not work. I found it and lifted it out of the water.

In that instant, I remember—VIVIDLY—everything that I knew about electricity, specifically completing the circuit and grounding.

Once I pulled the wire out the water, the fence was very much alive, and oh by the way, a wet human body is an excellent conductor of electricity.

I do not know if it was the water or the fact that I was grasping the wire with both hands, but that was an experience I thought I would not soon forget.

I dropped the wire. I would deal with the fence later, for the moment; I had bigger fish to fry. Actually, I had hogs to catch.

First I had to decide which way to go. It is hard to find hoof prints in the moving spring. Unknowingly, I applied some biblical wisdom and went to the right.

The heart of the wise inclines to the right,
but the heart of the fool to the left.

Ecclesiastes 10:2

After about 10 minutes I found all three of my escaped swine in one spot. My challenge was to herd them back to the pen, so I circled behind them and starting barking orders at them.

To my surprise, they responded and started moving in the desired direction. Their pace wasn’t too fast but they kept moving and that gave me a little time to think.

How would I get them to make a left turn into the pen at just the right time?

I devised a plan where I would get the pigs into a trot a hundred yards or so before we got back to the pen. Then I would swing wide to the right and come in on the flank just beyond the entrance where the fence had fallen down and get them to turn into the pen.

It worked.

The pigs were back in the pen. I was celebrating. I had outsmarted 3 pigs. They were back in the pen and they were not going to get out.

So standing in the watery opening once again, I picked up the fence.

The first time I did this, I was naïve.

The second, I was foolish.

But there has not been a third time.

I don’t know much about electric, but I know enough.

I know enough not to pick up an electric fence when you are standing in water.

I knew enough that sometime in the previous millennium when I enrolled in Oklahoma State University which has a fantastic School of Engineering; I knew enough to say, “Liberal Arts, please.”

I know enough that when the 10-year old kid comes to my front door and asks if he can mow my grass to earn some money, I say, “No, but I will pay you to rewire my kitchen. Do you have your own medical and liability insurance?”

I don’t know much, but I know enough.

I know enough.

We were not there for the crucifixion or to see the empty tomb.

We were not there to see Jesus appear in a locked room.

We were not there when he was cooking fish on the shore.

We were not there when he ascended into heaven. In Matthew’s account of this, we are told that the disciples were gathered. Some worshiped. Some doubted.

Some doubted?

Was seeing all these incredible things that we have never seen not enough?

Jesus tells us that we are blessed to believe even though we have not seen.

We have enough to believe.

What has been captured in these gospels is enough that we may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God, and that we may have life in him.

We have enough.

Some are called to more.

Some are scholars and theologians and interpreters of prophecy, but we all have enough to believe and have life in Christ.

And that is one loaded statement, because to believe and have life in Christ is not an administrative task.

It is not something to be checked off on our bucket list.

It is something that compels us to share good news.

We may not know everything, but we know enough to believe and because we believe we must share.

Because we believe, we must go into the world with this incredible news about life, real life, abundant life, and eternal life that begins in a moment of believing.

That in a moment of believing, we pass from death to life. This is not an event. It is an eternal relationship.

If you read all of John’s gospel, Jesus does something that you seldom see in the Bible. He defines a term.

Most of the terminology gets defined in the back of the book right before the maps section.

Now this is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.

John 17:3

We have this life.

We have enough to believe.

To which many would say, “We know that that. You are preaching to preachers, teachers, elders, and the choir.”

We must know that we have enough to take this life to the world.

We have enough to equip the saints of every congregation to take this good news to the world.

John is just talking about his account and said, we have what we need to believe; and we have the benefit of 4 canonized gospels.

We have enough to take this life we know and share it with the world.

I am going to pick on one of our denomination programs for a minute. This whole Step Out business just rubs me the wrong way.

It is not that this is a bad program. It is not that people are not working hard to come up with diverse approaches that might work in different areas. I am confident that those entrusted with the program are faithfully doing their best.

What bothers me is that we need such a program.

Have we not been given enough to believe and is that not enough to take to our neighbor?

Is that not enough to take to our states?

Is that not enough to take to the world?

Are we not already equipped by the gospel itself to take the gospel everywhere we go? Is the gospel not self-equipping?

I am not suggesting that we stop studying.

I am urging that we begin sharing once again not as something we do but as our mission.

I am asking us to go to that place where we hear God best and ask him to finish the work that he began in us.

Ask that our heart be like his and we desire none to perish.

Acknowledge—cast off all of those excuses that hinder us—and acknowledge that he has equipped us for the work that he has commissioned us to do.

Ask that he give us the courage to do it.

We have what we need to believe, and because we believe we have what we need to share.

We are equipped.

Our congregations are equipped. Our people don’t need to go out teaching metaphors of atonement, but what is given to us that we may believe.

Let us go into the world with this good news of life in Jesus Christ.

Preachers, teachers, elders, and others strong in the faith can help bring people along, but our congregations need to go fishing once again.

We need to go back into the world around us with good news. People need what we have and we have what they need for people everywhere to believe.

We don’t stop there. This is not the finish line.

It is where we begin the process of making disciples, baptizing, and teaching; but our people have enough to go into the world and bring what people need to believe.

Let us take what people need to believe into the world.

Amen.