By Kathy Gionis
“TOUCH ME AND SEE”
This Sunday is the third Sunday of Easter. Last week Barb spoke about Thomas’s encounter with Jesus as described in John 20:19-31. In this week’s scripture Luke describes the disciples encounter with Jesus in a locked room. Those close to Jesus had gotten together to talk about what had happened the week before. It’s not clear who all was in the room. It may have been ten disciples-later it is clear that Thomas wasn’t there. Maybe the women who had gone to the tomb on Easter morning were there, trying to make sense of what they had seen at the empty tomb. Anyway, it is a week later and the disciples are in a locked room and then, unexpectedly, Jesus just appeared -apparently out of nowhere- and said, “Peace be with you.” Luke says that the disciples were startled and terrified and thought they were seeing a ghost. Were the disciples ashamed of how they had abandoned him and ashamed of how they wouldn’t believe in what he had told them before?
In this room Jesus encouraged the disciples to touch him, “Touch me and see”. They must have been incredulous when he asked for something to eat and they gave him a piece of broiled fish and he ate it. Jesus reminded the disciples of what he had been telling them, that the Messiah is to suffer and rise from the dead on the third day. Jesus is attempting to persuade the disciples that he is real and alive among them. To have faith in him.
Then, what is Faith? It can be described as an assurance of things we hope for, but have not yet received. Faith comes before a prayer is answered. In joys and concerns we make prayer requests to God that a certain thing will happen, or there will be a certain outcome. I have a story about a fervent prayer I made to God forty years ago. After spending three years in law school at Hamline in St. Paul I had to take the Wisconsin Bar Exam if I wished to practice law. I went to Madison, along with hundreds of other graduates for two days of testing. I was pretty scared and anxious. One day was spent on what they call the Multi-State which was a multiple choice exam. The other day was for answering two essay questions. At the beginning of the exam I prayed hard because I knew I couldn’t pass this exam by myself. A lot was riding on those essay questions. I couldn’t believe it when it turned out that one of the essay questions was exactly the topic on which I had written a paper for ethics class. My prayer was answered and I didn’t chalk it up to coincidence.
An example of faith in the New Testament is the story in Matthew where two blind men came to Jesus and asked Him to heal them. Jesus asked them, “Do you believe I am able to do this?” When their reply was “Yes, Lord”, He touched their eyes saying, “According to your faith let it be to you.” And their eyes were opened. They believed. They had faith in advance that it would be done.
Faith is more than just believing in God. Believers can act on their faith by serving God and obeying His commandments. As Christians and Methodists we strive for a living faith-belief in God demonstrated by good works. Living faith isn’t just believing that God exists. Faith is demonstrated by service and obedience to God.
Our Lenten Bible study was about Methodism. John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, believed that in this life, Christians could achieve a state where the love of God “reigned supreme in their hearts”, giving them not only outward but inward holiness. An intriguing story about John Wesley was his being influenced by the Moravians. In 1735 John Wesley and his brother Charles sailed from Kent, England, to Savannah in the Province of Georgia in the American colonies. It was on the voyage to the colonies that the Wesleys first came into contact with Moravian settlers. John Wesley was influenced by their deep faith and spirituality which had its roots in “pietism”. On the voyage a storm came up and broke the mast off the ship. Most on board panicked, but the Moravians remained calm while singing hymns and praying. Wesley observed that the Moravian pietists practiced a deeply personal religion and that they possessed an inner strength which he felt he lacked. John Wesley’s time in the colonies was not successful and he returned to England and turned to the Moravians. In May of 1738 he attended a Moravian meeting in Aldersgate Street, in London, and later wrote that while a person was reading and describing the change which God works in the heart through faith in Christ, he felt his heart strangely warmed. He wrote, “I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone for salvation, and an assurance was given me that he had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death.”
A few weeks later, Wesley preached a sermon on the doctrine of personal salvation by faith, which was followed by another on God’s grace “free in all, and free for all.”
How can we increase our faith? Faith can be increased by prayer and the study of the Bible. The Bible is God’s inspired Word to humankind. When we read the Bible, our faith in God and Jesus Christ to answer our prayers and carry us through impossible situations increases. Living faith is not just believing that God exists. It is demonstrated by one’s service and obedience to God. God will increase our faith if we ask Him for it and seek to draw closer to him in prayer and reading of the Bible.
How, then, can we show that Jesus is alive among us as he showed the disciples that he was truly alive? There are concrete things that we can do such as missions and food shelf where we look to the needs of our community and beyond. We can stand up against racism and bigotry and injustice. We can grow in faith by reading the Bible, praying, serving and obeying God. Just as Jesus said to his disciples, “Touch me and See”, we are witnesses to his life and work.