Believing Without Seeing
In October 2012, I remember watching 43 year old Austrian Felix Baumgartner’s ‘jump from space’. He had ridden in a special balloon that lifted him 128,100 feet above the earth (24 miles high!). Wearing nothing more than a spacesuit, he jumped out and free fell, reaching a speed of 833 mph at one point before popping his parachute and landing on his feet. It was an amazing event to watch. And when I attempted to describe it to some friends, their reaction was “NO WAY! I’d have to see that to believe it!”
I can’t imagine the amount of preparation Felix completed for his jump. The physical conditioning and emotional exercise required for this challenge had to be intense. He had a couple of practice jumps at lower altitudes months prior, and this jump was postponed due to high winds 2 days earlier. Even more astounding to me, is (even with all of that preparation) the courage he had to stand on the edge of his platform looking down at the curvature of the earth, and overcoming his fear by stepping into a 24 mile free fall like you and I would step off a curb. If I hadn’t watched him do it on tv, I probably wouldn’t have believed it myself.
The disciples were in hiding when their teacher of 3 years who had been buried a few days earlier walked into the room. Jesus had been killed. He was buried. And suddenly he walked through a locked door, stood before them, and had a conversation with them. We read about it in Scripture but do we really believe it? Some thought he was a ghost. A man who had died coming back to life and standing in the midst of disciples, walking through walls, yet having physical characteristics such as eating food from the table and shaking hands. He wasn’t a ghost. They touched him and felt him.
If we have to see Felix making the jump and watch the digital readout of 833 mph to believe it, how can we possibly believe that Jesus is alive after being crucified without seeing him alive? Thomas missed that first meeting with the risen Jesus. So is it any surprise when the disciples told him about this experience, that he doubted?
Poor Thomas. He has had a label slapped on to him for centuries as ‘Doubting Thomas’, yet we aren’t any different! We want proof! Show me the holes in his hands or I will not believe. Show me the video that proves Felix Baumgartner was actually 128,000 feet above the earth when he jumped. Show me the data that says he was falling at a speed of Mach 1.24. Show me! Prove it to me!
We all have our doubts at different times. Sometimes we deny what others see as obvious. At other times we may not WANT to see the truth. Notice that Jesus didn’t wait for Thomas to come searching for him. The next time that Jesus showed up, the doubting disciple was present and Jesus went to him. ‘Put your fingers here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side.” Thomas responded, “My Lord and My God!” He had the proof. He could believe.
If you remember last week’s lesson, after the immediate resurrection, there were disciples who saw Jesus alive but STILL doubted! Seeing isn’t ALWAYS believing. When Thomas proclaimed the risen Jesus as Lord and God, Jesus said, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”
My guess would be that most of you have not seen the physical Jesus but you still believe, just as Jesus said people would. When people said they wouldn’t believe that Felix jumped from 24 miles in the sky until they saw it didn’t change the fact that it happened. When Thomas said he wouldn’t believe that Jesus was alive unless he saw it for himself, his lack of belief didn’t mean that Jesus was still dead.
For those who believe that Jesus is alive, we are also challenged with a faith in forgiveness…that there is nothing that we can do in our lifetime to make us more lovable to God. The unfairness of forgiveness means that you, me, and our enemies are forgiven by the same Jesus because he loves us all equally. We can never repay enough to earn forgiveness and salvation. All we need to do is believe.
And so we have our congregations and communities who nurture, teach, and support one another in this message of Jesus. Even though we can’t see him, we believe. Young Henry Thomas Loew who will be baptized in a few moments will grow up learning about the faith through the church and more importantly from his family. And when he, you, and me have our moments of doubt, Jesus keeps coming to us. Faith of a mustard seed will begin the process of growth and wisdom as we nurture our relationships with Christ. And in that process, we develop through the testimony, actions, and love of our families, neighbors, and friends. Amen.