Those who have not seen

John 20:24-29  v. 29 Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe…

I usually love approaching this text on Thomas, whose moniker with great fidelity has been passed along through the centuries as Doubting Thomas.  I love it because Thomas displayed similar attitudes of doubt and uncertainty that are readily present in many a person so labeling him with that derogatory term.  I love it because Thomas wanted proof rather than just accept some new doctrine, some new theology, some new interpretation of the scripture.  Thomas was not opposed to employing and employing well the mind that God had given him.  Thomas may well represent the intellectual aspect of our person, the inquisitive, curious dimension that seeks to understand one’s faith, whose study deepens one’s belief, whose relentless research reveals the depth and breadth of God’s majesty and grandeur in all facets of creation.  A Thomas spirit would have been valuable when the punch was being served down in Jonestown.  A Thomas spirit would have been an asset in that crowd that followed David Koresh.  A Thomas spirit, an inquiring mind, a Thomas spirit, those who pursue study and research before hitching their faith system to a wild and reckless religious claim, a Thomas spirit, those whose faith is informed by their study, whose heart is not detached from their mind, whose spirit is not disengaged from their intellect, a Thomas spirit, who respect tradition but who pursue knowledge and understanding, a Thomas spirit, those who use all of our being that God has gifted us to employ, who love the Lord their God with all their heart, all their soul, all their mind, all their strength.  A Thomas spirit is not a bad thing to have, necessarily.  It’s in part what pushes us to push our young people to study, to further themselves in the world of academia, to prepare their minds along with the preparation of their spirits.  It’s why we have a scholarship fund.  Jesus told his disciples to be wise as serpents but harmless as doves.  And too often Christians of more recent memory have discarded the one in favor of the other rather than put to good use the one in service of the other.  Young people, I want you to know that there is no distinction, no dividing wall, no separation of education and salvation, or of science and faith, or of intellectual pursuits as opposed to spiritual pursuits.  God is not afraid of us studying this world with scrutiny and with curiosity, with questions and with skepticism.  I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: God is not afraid of our questions, of our inquiries, of our studies, of our research.  It may well be that God is waiting for us to know more about him by knowing more about what God created.  Young people: Love the Lord your God with all your heart and all your mind, with all your soul and all your strength.  Love him with all you got.  Love him with your grade point average and love him with a consistent prayer life.  Love him with a Bachelor’s degree and love him by being faithful to worship services.  Love him with an Ivy League pedigree and love him with a reputation for serving the less fortunate.  Love him with everything you got.

I usually love approaching this text concerning him who was labeled, Doubting Thomas.  There is that portion of the scripture in verse 24 where Thomas, one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came.  And I thought about preaching on that, how there is such a benefit, such a strength to be gained, such a renewal of spirit that can be experienced, such an experience of the miraculous that can only be gathered when you are with the sisters and the brothers in the faith.  There are many benefits to getting alone, to experiencing quiet, to listening to the still small voice of God.  But there are any number of blessings to be enjoyed only in the presence of our sisters and brothers.  Thomas was missing when Jesus appeared to the disciples.  Thomas stayed home when Jesus showed up.  Thomas was alone when the others were praying together and Jesus did something amazing.  You don’t want to miss out on the move of God.  Even if you’ve been discouraged, even if you’re down in the dumps, even if you’re wondering what’s going on, get to church.  Get with the saints of God.  Get with those who will pray for you, with those who have been through what you been through, those who know how bad it hurts.  Don’t stay home.  Get to church.  Don’t stay home in your confusion. Get to bible study.  Get involved in the church.  Get involved in an outreach program.  Get with the saints, the sisters and brothers who know what you’re going through and who will pray you through, who will hold your hand until Jesus shows up.

I usually love approaching this text about him whom they call Doubting Thomas.  I was aiming at something similar for this week’s sermon on this text when a series of events in my personal life, in the life of my family in California interrupted and laid siege to my thoughts and prayers, and re-translated this text for me through the lenses of bewilderment and lack of understanding of what in the world God was doing.  That 29th verse, where Jesus said, “Have you believed because you have seen me?  Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”  I’m going to have to ask you to cut me some pastoral slack today, and my hope is that what God has not allowed to release my heart this week will not only directly impact me and speak what God has spoken to me, but that there might be someone here who might know a little of what I’m talking about.  Who knows, maybe we can invert the Thomas experience of staying in our spiritual sadness and miss out on God, and instead in our gathering together this morning we might find strength through the words of Jesus.

Let me share with you my personal context through which I perceive this text.  I have a huge family in California, a huge one in Texas as well, and others scattered here or there in other places.  One family unit, my Tio Elias and Tia Rachel Flores, for whom my daughter is named, has been through some interesting times recently.  And I’m going to confine my references to cousins and uncles and aunts to just that nuclear family this morning.  About a year and a half ago, my Tia Rachel, who is getting up there in years now, was diagnosed with cancer in her hip, and the doctors told her that there was nothing more they could do for her.  They told her she had six months to live, maybe less. But my Tia Rachel is a praying woman.  I went to visit her two Christmases ago with my wife and girls, and she was weak in body, laying in a hospital bed that my cousin Isaac had placed downstairs in his guest bedroom.  She was weak in body, mind you, but not in spirit, not in mind, and not in voice.  And she’s a praying woman.  She’s a woman that the demons see and tremble.  And we prayed that Christmas in 2008, first me and then her, and my God did she pray!  She said in her prayer, “The doctors have told me I only have 6 months, but they don’t know my Doctor.  They don’t know what you’ve done for me.  They don’t know what you can still do for me.”  Lordy, if I didn’t come out of there saying to myself and MyWife, “If I was cancer I wouldn’t mess with her.”  They had given her six months to live, and today that was almost a year and a half ago that they gave her only 6 months to live.  Last Fall, the doctors pronounced her cancer free.  I saw her this past week and she was strong in spirit, mind, body, you name it.  A miracle of God.

And let me just say, I still believe in miracles.  My family is a product of miracles.  My mother is a miracle.  My aunt is a miracle.  My dad is a miracle.  My father in law is a miracle.  I am a miracle.  My family is a product of miracles.  Back in the day, one of my aunts had tuberculosis, the doctor took x-rays and showed the lungs filled with the disease.  And she went to church and the preacher prayed for her and told her, “just for me, go back to the doctor and ask him to take some more x-rays, just for me.”  And those second x-rays showed no sign of tuberculosis. The doctor juxtaposed one x-ray to the other, the one with tuberculosis and the other that had no sign of it. We’ve seen it.  We’ve seen the miracle working power of God in our lives.  We’ve seen God rescue the family from all kinds of mess.  I may have a degree from the University of Southern California and another from Princeton, but I still believe in miracles because I’ve seen them for myself.

In the context of this scripture there are four types of people.  One of them are those who have seen and have believed, those who have seen God work in their lives and have believed in God as a result.  I am one such person.  I have been blessed to see the grace of God in my life.  I have seen God open up doors for me.  I have seen God put me through college, put me through graduate school.  I have seen God get me a job when I absolutely positively had to have a job.  I have seen God bless me with a wonderful, intelligent, spiritual, Christ-like woman that everybody keeps asking me, “how in the world did you get her?  What you got on her?”  I have been blessed by God.  I have seen God bless me with two wonderful children, healthy children.  I have seen it.  God has kept me, God has protected me, God has watched over me, God has loved me, God has forgiven me, God has saved me.  I have seen it for myself, the blessings of the Lord, the hand of God moving in my life, directing me, guiding me, shepherding me.  I have seen, and therefore I believe.  God healed my mother of cancer, twice.  God healed my father of heart disease.  I have seen and therefore I believe.  And I know I’m not the only one.  Got many stories here, many saints here, folks who can testify that they have seen God’s hand in their lives, seen God bless them, seen God heal them, seen God lead them.  There are four types of people in the context of this scripture this morning.  One of them is those who have seen and have believed.  The disciples saw the resurrected Jesus and because of that, they believed.

The second type of person is the person who has seen and has not believed. And there are those.  In Matthew 28 the scripture tells us that even after Jesus had appeared to them, there were still some among the 11 disciples who still doubted.  And I got to tell you, there are still folks today who have seen the blessings of the Lord in their lives and still do not believe.  They got good health, reasonable wealth, doing just fine by the grace of God.  They have a good marriage, a good set of children, luxurious lifestyles, plenty of toys, but they still do not believe.  People walking around with the blessings of the Lord in their lives and still don’t go to church, still don’t bow before the presence of the Almighty, still don’t praise him, still don’t serve him, still don’t love him.  Folks who are consuming all God’s blessings, breathing up God’s air, eating up God’s food, drinking up God’s water, using up God’s Earth, never blessing anyone in return, never showing gratitude in return, never displaying a sense of stewardship and gratefulness for all God’s done, for life and health and strength.  They spend their existence receiving and never giving, asking and never acknowledging, consuming and never distributing.  Shame!  Shame!  These are folks who have seen the hand of God at work in their lives, seen their loved ones recover from cancer, seen their marriages survive catastrophic circumstances, and still don’t go to church, still do not believe!  I don’t understand how someone can look at the intricate workings of the human body, study DNA and the ramifications of knowing the blueprint of life to that depth, or those who study the heavens and the stars and the constellations and the atmosphere, or whatever the dimension of science one might pursue and do NOT come away asking, “when I consider the heavens, the works of thy hands, what are humans that thou art mindful of us?”  I don’t know how you come away and NOT declare, “How great thou art!”  I don’t know how you come out of a classroom with more knowledge of the universe without lifting your head up and saying, “Thank you, Lord!  The earth rotates on its axis and nothing but you is holding it up.  You positioned us just the right distance from the sun, with just the right gravitational pull, with just the right layers of atmosphere to give us life, to sustain life.  Thank you Lord.  For by him all things exist, and through Christ all things consist!”  I don’t understand it, but there are those who have seen and still do not believe.

Let me move on to the third type of person from the context of this scripture.  There are those who have seen and have believed, those who have seen and have not believed.  And then there are those who have not seen and have not believed. Maybe you’re one of these today, someone who prayed and prayed and did not see God answer your prayer, did not get what you asked for, had your heart broken because you hoped and believed and it didn’t come to fruition.  You did not see the miracle working power of God for yourself, in your life, in your circumstance, in your sickness, in your family.  And the result of your deductions was that you did not believe in God, did not give your heart to Christ, did not base your life on the teachings of Jesus because you did not see God’s power at work for yourself.  Thomas was one such person until he actually saw the Lord, and thus he would have continued to be one who had not seen and did not believe.  I’ve known many a person who lost faith in Christ, stopped coming to church, blamed God for not healing their loved one, blamed God for not rescuing their marriage, blamed God for not allowing them to keep that job they loved, blamed God for their economic calamity.  I’ve seen folks who used hurricanes and earthquakes tsunamis and wars and humanity’s inhumanity to humanity as a reason or an excuse for why they don’t believe.  They say, “if there is a God, how could he let that happen?  How could there be such poverty, such hunger, such murder, such rape, such abuse in the world if there was a God?”  They have not seen and therefore they do not believe.  They haven’t seen justice, haven’t seen hope, haven’t seen love, haven’t seen Jesus, and therefore they have not believed.

And I understand that.  I truly do.  I mean, I can argue with everyone of them about what goodness there is in their lives, what hope and what faith and what love there is, even in the face of injustice, in the presence of poverty, in the midst of war.  My psychology professor declared in my freshman year of college that human beings were at our core evil and always would be because of the example he gave of modern day sex and slave trafficking.  And I can understand it.  But the ills of life have a blinding capacity for many so that they can’t see the goodness of God right next to them.  We go through one bad experience, and not to minimize it, but we tend to forget the lifetime of goodness that God has bestowed.  There was a woman in the bible who endured great trials and great tribulation and declared to her husband, “Curse God and die.”  But Job said to his wife, “Shall we receive the good at the hand of the Lord and not receive the bad?”  There are some who have not seen the hand of God in their lives, who didn’t get the miracle, who didn’t have the easy life, who didn’t get the American dream, and for many of them that’s their rationale for not believing.

But then Jesus said to Thomas in what would be Jesus’ final beatitude, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”  I told you about my Tia Rachel and how God healed her of cancer.  Well, 25 years ago her son Moises married his wife, Crystal.  And Crystal and Moe were just the best.  I could go on all day long about their love, and I didn’t mind at all when Moises did go on this past Thursday.  He could have talked about their love for twice as long as he did and I would have loved every minute of it.  Because love like that is a miracle in itself.  But less than a year ago, Crystal was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.  She knew right away that it was bad; her best friend is a nurse and helped her read the reports that told her it didn’t look good.  But Crystal, like my tia, was a praying woman.  Heck, her mother in law is a praying woman, and her mom is a praying woman.  And we come from a family of miracles.  But it was this past Easter Sunday when my tia and tio were summoned out of church to go by Crystal’s bedside because it didn’t look like she was going to make it.  And Tia Rachel prayed and believed God for a miracle, and the pain subsided, the heart rebounded, things looked better, and perhaps they were going to see another miracle.  But it was not to be, even when a praying woman asked, even when the faithful called on the Lord, even when we trusted and believed because we had seen it before, we had seen God do great things.  But Crystal slipped away to her heavenly home a week ago Friday.  Our prayers for a miracle, our hopes for a wife, our hopes for a mother, for a daughter, for a sister, for a friend, we didn’t see the miracle this time.  We didn’t get what we asked for.  Moises and his daughter Lizzie and his son Moises Jr. they didn’t see it.  My cousins Rebecca and Miriam and Isaac and Marcos and Elias, we didn’t see it.  We didn’t get the miracle.  Becky said to me afterward in tears and grief, “This is the worst thing that ever happened to us.”  Miriam said in her remarks during the ceremony, “This is such an injustice.”  Moises in his tribute to his wife said, “I’m a ruined man.  She was everything to me.”  And yet, there we all were, family and friends, hearts broken and tears flowing, raising our voices to God in praise, saying, “How great is our God, How great is our God, How great is our God!”  We didn’t see the miracle we desired.  We didn’t see the resurrection power of Christ on display. But we love the Lord!  Blessed!!

Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed!  Blessed are those who didn’t get what they asked for and yet trust.  Blessed are those who wonder why, who don’t understand, who are still waiting, still hoping, still trusting.

Moises said Thursday at the conclusion of his tribute, “to know God is to love God.  And to love God is to trust God.  And to trust God is to serve God.”  Blessed are those who have not seen but have still believed. And he’s not the only one.  History is filled with examples of those who did not see but who believed.  Slaves who trusted without seeing freedom, poor folks who trusted without ever getting rich, oppressed folks who never were liberated but never ceased to praise his name.  I’ve known church members who never did get what they asked for but kept on serving, kept on working, kept on believing.

Blessed are you who have not seen!  Oh that word which communicates that of all the people there are, you’re the ones that God admires, you’re the one that God smiles when he thinks about you, you’re the one he’s proud of, you’re the ones that light up his life.  Because you trust him.  You don’t always understand him, but you love him so you trust him.  Trust him that he knows what’s best, trust him when it doesn’t make any sense, but he’s God and you love him so you trust him.  And one of these days, when we cross to the other side of Jordan, maybe like it’s just like the old folks used to say, “we’ll understand it better by and by.”  But until then, I trust you!  I trust you!  “Blessed are you who have not seen and yet have still believed.”

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