Sunday, April 12, 2015
Homily for Quasimodo Geniti - The Second Sunday of Easter (Easter 2)
John 20:19-31; 1 John 5:4-10; Ezekiel 37:1-14
In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
Who were the people of great faith in the Bible? Truly, there are only a very few that are so designated. There was Abraham who “believed the LORD, and the LORD credited it to Him as righteousness.” There was Jacob, who wrestled with the LORD and would not let go. Even though the LORD wounded him, Jacob would not let go without the LORD’s blessing. There was Mary who, at the angelic announcement that she would conceive and bear the Son of God, faithfully replied, “LORD, may it be to me according to your Word.” And, there was the Canaanite woman, whom Jesus first ignored, and then rejected, and then insulted, but who refused to let go and give up so that, finally, Jesus exclaimed of her, “O woman, great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire.” Yes, there are a few others, but precious few. Indeed, most of the people of faith in the Bible are not people of great faith, but they are people of little faith, of weak faith, and of struggling faith, faith tempered by lukewarmness, hypocrisy, and not a small amount of doubt. And, that’s a good thing! That’s a good thing for you! For, are not you such a person of faith?
“Lord, I believe! Help me in my unbelief!” Those were the words of a father who brought his demon-possessed son before Jesus to be healed. However, the man was lukewarm in his faith. He said to Jesus, “If you can do anything, have compassion on us and help us.” Jesus mildly rebuked the man saying, “‘If you can’! All things are possible for one who believes.” Now, of course, this is true. Your Lord Jesus said so! But, does that make you feel any better? It doesn’t make me feel any better, at least, not if I understand Jesus’ words in the way they are commonly misunderstood.
You see, these words of Jesus are commonly misunderstood to mean that you simply have to believe more, or to believe better, and then, then the miracles will really begin to happen for you! This is the misunderstanding that drives televangelists like Kenneth Hagin, Kenneth Copeland, Benny Hinn, Paul Crouch, Oral Roberts, T. D. Jakes, and Joel Osteen. They preach and teach a “Name It, and Claim It” doctrine in which the onus is on you to really, really believe and make the miracle happen. Faith becomes a force – “Use the Force Luke! – whereby you can get what you want, rather than an abiding trust in God even during times of trials and suffering. But on the other hand if you think positive thoughts or just have “enough faith,” then you can have health, wealth, and happiness now, when you want it, on your terms. But, this doctrine is unbiblical in at least two ways: First, it makes faith a work that you do instead of the gift of God the Holy Spirit worked in you. Second, and worse, it places man above God, in that man manipulates and controls God by his work of faith.
So, what does Jesus mean when He says “All things are possible for one who believes?” Well, it’s pretty self-explanatory when you jettison the nonsensical and unbiblical misunderstanding that faith and belief is a work that you perform. It most definitely is not. Belief is something that you come to, or are lead to, based upon evidence and your personal experiences. That is why some things that you used to believe as a child, you no longer believe, and, likewise, you may come to believe new things, and other things, throughout your life. However, Christian belief, commonly called faith, has its origin in the work of the Holy Spirit through the Word of God: “Faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the Word of Christ.” Jesus Himself teaches, “No one can come to me unless the Father calls him.” Thus, we confess in the Small Catechism, “I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him; but the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith.” Thus, “all things are possible for one who believes,” not because belief is a work that you do, but because of the object of your belief, Jesus.
“All things are possible for one who believes” in Jesus, for whom all things are possible. It is not your believing that “makes all things possible,” but it is what you believe in that “makes all things possible.” That is why the LORD credited Abraham with righteousness. Abraham wasn’t righteous, but he believed and trusted in the Word and promise of the LORD, which is righteous. Thus, Abraham received an imputed righteousness, an alien righteousness, a righteousness that came from outside of Him, received through faith, which itself came from outside of Him and was created within Him by the Holy Spirit of God through the Word of God. Likewise, Jacob had great faith in the LORD who wrestled with him, who even seemed to be against him at the time. I know, someone will want to say, “See, Jacob had to hold on. That was a work!” No, you are wrong! It was the LORD’s Word and promise to which Jacob clung and would not let go. That Word and promise was given to Abraham and Isaac before Jacob’s birth. It was the source, the origin, and the substance of Jacob’s faith, and entirely the work and gift of the Holy Spirit of God. Likewise, Mary believed, received, and conceived by the Spirit-bestowing Word of God, and the Canaanite woman, like Jacob, refused to let Jesus go, even when He seemed to be against her.
But, then there’s Thomas. Doubting Thomas, as he has come to be known. I like Thomas. Thomas is a saint I can believe in. I am Thomas. Thomas is me. Is Thomas you too? If you’re honest with yourself, I suspect he is. When the other disciples told Thomas that they had seen the Lord, Thomas infamously exclaimed, “Unless I see in His hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into His side, I will never believe.” You see, I don’t think that Thomas’ faith was all that weak or lukewarm. Rather, Thomas knew his faith and its limitations. He didn’t have faith in his faith, but he had faith in Jesus, and only Jesus. He knew that it would require Jesus, and only Jesus, for him to truly believe. He needed to hear, and to see, and to touch His Jesus. He was only being honest. Truly, Thomas’ faith was very much like the faith of the father with the demon-possessed son who pleaded with Jesus saying, “Lord, I believe! Help me in my unbelief!” Thomas had faith, but he didn’t have faith in his faith; and neither should you. Faith doesn’t save. Faith in Christ saves. But, again, it is not faith that saves you – only Christ does that – but you receive Christ’s salvation through faith, as through a channel or a means, by grace, that is, as a free gift, wholly apart from your works, and your worth, and your merit.
Thomas knew what he needed. I know what I need. Do you know what you need? You need Jesus. You need His Word, which you receive by hearing, which creates faith in you, which clings to and trusts in His Word. But, you also need Jesus’ wounds; that is, you need to see, and touch, and taste Jesus’ glorified and holy wounds that your faith and belief may be strengthened and preserved through good times and bad times, though death unto the resurrection to eternal life. Yes, it is true what Jesus said to Thomas, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed,” still, Jesus lovingly and mercifully and graciously invited Thomas to come and touch and handle His wounds. Still, Jesus lovingly and mercifully and graciously invites you to come and touch and handle His wounds. And, maybe Thomas did. Probably he did. But, not before he confessed, “My Lord and my God!” a confession even greater than St. Peter’s! In tribute to this, do you know what I say silently to myself each and every Divine Service as I kneel before the consecrated Body and Blood of Jesus in this Holy Eucharist? I say, “My Lord and my God!” just like Thomas.
I am Thomas. Thomas is me. Is Thomas you too? I pray that he is. Weak faith? Maybe. Struggling faith? Likely. Faith that receives Jesus and all His benefits and clings to Him only? Definitely. Yet, all of these are faith – faith that receives Jesus and clings to Him and benefits from all of His blessings: the forgiveness of sins, salvation, eternal life, sonship with the Father, and a reign with Jesus in His kingdom that has no end. Come here. Put out your hand. Touch Jesus’ wounds. Handle them. Eat His resurrected and glorified body. Drink His holy blood shed for you for the forgiveness of your sins. “Do not disbelieve, but believe.”
In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.