Three months ago, at the beginning of January, when things outside felt very much like they do today, I preached on the first chapter of John’s gospel. Jesus is calling disciples, but Nathanael, full of doubt and disdain, says, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” (John 1:46a). When Jesus sees him coming, says he saw Nathanael waiting long before they met, and Nathanael quickly changes his mind. He declares to Jesus, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” (1:49). This is a profound statement of faith from someone who, just a moment ago, sneered about Jesus’ birthplace.
But Jesus doesn’t take him to task for it. He just observes, “Do you believe because I told you that I saw you? You will see greater things than these” (1:50).
Two months ago, just before Lent started, we read the story from chapter four of John where Jesus meets a woman from Samaria at a well. Even after he tells her bluntly that he is the promised Messiah, she runs off to her town and says, rather uncertainly, “Come and see a man who told me everything I have ever done! He cannot be the Messiah, can he?”
Even so, the people come and they see. The reading ends like this, and it’s so good, that I’m going to read it to you one more time: “Many Samaritans from that city believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, ‘He told me everything I have ever done.’ So when the Samaritans came to him, they asked him to stay with them; and he stayed there two days. And many more believed because of his word. They said to the woman, ‘It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is truly the Savior of the world’” (John 4:39-42).
At first they believe because of what she said about him, but then they believe because they see and hear it for themselves.
Last week, we brought back our alleluias and celebrated the resurrection of our Lord on Easter. Mark/Kiara preached to you about the resurrection story in John, where Mary Magdalene comes to the tomb and sees that it is empty. Mary doesn’t understand what has happened. Not until she sees Jesus face-to-face and hears him say her name does she understand. She returns to the disciples and says, boldly, “I have seen the Lord” (20:18a). Still, they don’t understand either – not until Jesus comes to them later that day, as we read in today’s lesson.
Throughout this entire gospel, John has been trying to tell us what it takes and what it means to declare faith. To claim faith, to be able to declare as Thomas does that Jesus is your Lord and you God, you have to see.
Too many times, too many preachers have given Thomas a hard time because he needed to see Jesus to believe. We hear Jesus’ words to Thomas as an accusation: “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.” Oh, Doubting Thomas, unable or unwilling to believe that which was true simply because it wasn’t standing in front of him.
But Jesus doesn’t shake his finger at Thomas for this. Neither does the gospel of John. It ends this story by letting us know the point of this entire gospel: “Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. But 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” (20:30-31). Every character who has declared that Jesus is Lord and God, the Messiah, the Son of David, has been able to see Jesus for themselves. Their encounters are written so that we may see Jesus too, and that we might declare, like Thomas: “My Lord and my God”.
Faith comes to us as a gift of God, and that gift comes in many forms. It might come through a direct encounter. It might come through the testimony of someone else. It might come as a mystery to even you. The way it comes to you isn’t important. What is important is that you might be able to declare that Jesus is the Messiah, your Lord and your God. Seeing matters.
In my whole long life as a Lutheran, I had never seen a female pastor. Women had been ordained in Lutheran churches since 1970, so I’d never known a time when women couldn’t be pastors. But I’d never seen one until Julie came to my church. Julie was a seminary intern in her early twenties, barely eight years older than me. For the first time I saw a woman in the pulpit. I had never, ever thought of myself as someone who might become a pastor, even though I knew women theoretically could. Seeing Julie as a pastor was the first step towards me realizing God’s call in my life to become a pastor. Maybe it would have happened even without Julie, but because I saw her, I knew.
Sometimes you need to see something to know it’s true. God is at work in your life revealing Christ to you and calling you to reveal Christ to others. Be bold to ask for Christ to be made known in your life. Be humble to accept that it might not come the way you expect. Be alert to listen for the testimony of others, leading you in the truth. Be faithful in your commitment to share your own stories so that others might believe. Whether you see, hear, touch, or simply know, I pray 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. May you proudly claim him as your Lord and your God, to whom we give thanks. Amen.