1st Peter 1. 3-9
The Word continues becoming flesh and dwelling among us!
“Although you have not seen him …”
“Although you have not seen him, you love him …”
Those are the words that caught my attention, this week. The words that captured my interest. And they stayed with me, even after I realized that this was the third Sunday of the month. It was almost a year ago that I decided the sermon on this particular day would focus not on the scripture we’d be reading, but the book we’ve been writing since selling the building and starting over. But so much has been happening, the past month, that … well … I almost forgot! Al most, but not quite! But this is one of those times that the two books overlap. And it’s here in these half dozen words … “Although you have not seen him …”
I grew up believing that. In fact, the moment I, first, read that phrase, one of the old hymns popped into my mind … “Immortal, invisible, God only wise,/ in light inaccessible hid from our eyes …” Seeing is believing. That’s what I’ve been taught. Seeing is believing everywhere, that is, except here in the church. Here we’re supposed to believe in the hidden, in the invisible. That’s what todays gospel reading is about. We didn’t read it, this morning, but it’s the story about Thomas – about “doubting” Thomas – in the days after the Resurrection.
According to John, Thomas misses Jesus, the first time. His friends tell him that they’d seen him. But Thomas says, “I don’t believe it! And I won’t believe it, unless I see him with my own eyes! Unless I touch him with my own hands!” The moral of the story, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.” In other words, “Although you have not seen him …” “Immortal, invisible, God only wise,/ in light inaccessible hid from our eyes …”
Those words swirled around in my thoughts, all week. And as I started writing the sermon, another voice joined the litany. Genesis. One. Twenty-six. Of course it’s not the book or the chapter or the verse that matter. It’s what is written … “Then God said, ‘Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness …” In our image! According to our likeness! It all fell into place! That! That’s been our “problem!” For us, god has been unseen, invisible! And since we are created in the image of god, according to god’s likeness, we – as a church – are just as invisible and just as unseen! For us, from the very beginning, god’s been shrouded in silence. And we – as god’s own – have echoes that silence! God – at least the god with whom I grew up – has always been up high and far away! And the church I’ve known has been just as distant and just as aloof!
Somewhere along the way, we became what we believe about god! Somehow, we became the songs we sang … the songs we’ve been singing! We believe that god’s too high and too holy to be in this world! God’s too big to fit! And so, god ends up in heaven. Supernatural. Otherworldly. Locked away on the far side of the pearly gates. Looking down. Watching. Waiting. For us to make our way past St. Peter! And crazy thing? We – as the church – treat the people around us the exact, same way! We sit back. We watch. We wait. For them to make their way into our building! That’s the image! The likeness! We’ve become just like god! At least, just like what we believe about god! And it’s all there in those six words! “Although you have not seen him …”
Truth is, faith is more than the assurance of things hoped for. And believing is more than the conviction of things not seen. In fact, it’s just the opposite! It’s anchored in the visible! It’s rooted in the seen! Even here, seeing is believing! Seeing and hearing and feeling and smelling and tasting! We believe – we’re able to believe – only because our god became flesh and dwelt among us! Only because our god becomes flesh and dwells among us! For us, for the church, god is more than a thought or an idea. God is more than a commandment or a principle. That’s what makes us different! What sets us apart! We believe god became a human being! Just like us! So that we can become just like god!
We’re people! People, not angels! We’re creatures! So, if god wants us to change, god has to become just like us, has to become one of us, for it to happen! God, too, must become a human being! God, too, must become a creature! And that’s what Christmas is all about! God coming to us! God becoming one of us! And the word became flesh-and-blood! The word became skin-and-bones! And that’s what worship is all about! God becoming words and songs and bread and wine! Sunday after Sunday after Sunday! Again and again and again! Over and over and over! So that we all can see! And hear! And touch! And smell! And taste! And because of that, we come to trust! We come to have faith! We come to believe!
It’s Jesus – that “invisible” Jesus – coming to us! Just like he did that Sunday night to Thomas and the rest! Every time we’re gathered, Jesus appears and says, “Peace!” Every time we’re gathered, Jesus appears and shows us his wounds and says, “Touch my hands! My side!” That’s what happens when the gospel is proclaimed! That’s what happens when the sacraments are administered! And at the end of it all, Jesus says, “Believe!” Jesus says, “Trust me!” It’s seeing! And it’s believing! Without the senses, it’s impossible!
That’s why there’s a church, to begins with! We’re called and we’re sent! To be Jesus for this time and this place! Called and sent to do the things Jesus does! We’re the ones who appear behind locked doors! We’re the ones who stand among those imprisoned by fear! We, too, proclaim peace! Not peace if or peace when! Not peace unless or until! We simply speak what Christ speaks! Peace is yours! We show them the wounds and the scars of love! We forgive them! We breath on them the spirit! And if anyone’s missing, we come back and do it all over again! We don’t just present them with the opportunity to believe. We give them a reason to believe. Just as, too many times before, we gave them the reason not to.
“Although you have not seen him …” As the church, that’s just not something we can say. It’s not something we believe! Because we HAVE seen him! Sunday on Sunday! Time after time! Even here in the separation! Even now in the distancing! God encircles us! God surrounds us! In the people and in the things that matter! In the people and in the things that love! God is, even, there in the mirror, looking back at us!
“We declare to you what was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the word of life …” Doubt doesn’t seek out faith. Death doesn’t seek out life. Humanity doesn’t search for god. All that, god alone does. Seeking. Searching. For us, heaven and earth are not mutually exclusive. It’s here that god comes and god appears and god loves us! Where god comes and appears and loves us all!