Just Announced: Philippians Sermon Series

Summary: Believing something opens to us the possibility of experiencing it, of seeing it come to pass, and of having that which we believe produce in us many kids of blessings. What will it take for us to believe? What proof are WE looking for?

One Easter Sunday morning, a minister looked out on his congregation and noticed many people who had not been there for a long time. Before he began his sermon he said, "Since this will probably be the last time I see many of you for awhile, let me be the first to wish you 'Merry Christmas' "

Today is sometimes called Low Sunday. This term has a perfectly respectable origin. We can think of Easter Day as the start of an octave, a period of eight days that runs through today and thus contains two Sundays. The first of these Sundays is Easter Day, the greatest of all Christian feasts. Today, the other Sunday in the Easter Octave, is by comparison Low Sunday.

But the term has gained another connotation-one that refers to church attendance. Attendance on this Sunday is not as high as on Easter Day. It is by comparison low, hence the term Low Sunday.

The name I prefer, along with many other ministers, for this Second Sunday of Easter is Thomas Sunday. The Gospel reading for today is always the story of how Thomas became to believe in the risen Christ. And while this Sunday is sometimes slighted for its low attendance, so its featured apostle Thomas is frequently dismissed as a doubter-hence the origin of the term "Doubting Thomas".

Jesus' appearance to the disciples in today's Gospel reading is actually the second time he appeared to them after his resurrection. He made three promises to them this time:

• "Peace be with you"

• "Receive the Holy Spirit"

• "Do not doubt, but believe"

The last promise was a response to Thomas' doubt. There are three different kinds of faith. Faith comes in different ways and different intensities to different people. People have different needs and find various routes into faith.

The "locked door' referred to in the Gospel represents the fear the disciples had, but it also represents Christ's power, because nothing can stop him. The disciples have Christ's peace in spite of persecution by a world that hated them. Those who have faith in Christ today and show it publicly also have Christ's peace in a modern world that more often than not also hates them. One only has to look at how Christians are treated in some Middle Eastern and Asian countries to see concrete examples of this hatred as expressed by persecution. The Holy Spirit is a defender of victims through forgiveness-even forgiveness of the victimizers

When Jesus said to the disciples, "Peace be with you", the kind of peace he gave them was the one set in motion by forgiveness. The disciples' future, along with Christ's forgiveness, was their main qualification for being chosen to continue Christ's work. Their fear, as represented by the locked door, showed their human weakness. Forgiveness was the core of the message Jesus gave to his disciples as he sent them out into the world. He gives us the same message today. We must all be ready to mediate God's grace to all those who are ready to receive it. Christ stands before God as our representative, pleading our case. He re-establishes our broken relationship with God. God used the resurrection to give Christ victory over sin and death.

Christ's promise to "receive the Holy Spirit" is an affirmation of the Great Commission. The authority of one who is sent is the same as the authority of the one who sent him. God is present in Christ's work, and Christ will be present in the work of the disciples-just as he is present in our work. When he breathed the Holy Spirit on the disciples, he transferred his mission to them and gave new life to them. Faith does NOT depend on the physical presence of Jesus, because the Holy Spirit accompanies us on our faith journey-just as it did for the disciples..

"Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe". These words encouraged early Christians who felt slighted, having missed Jesus by only a few months or years. They also encourage those of us who are among those who have not seen but who believe. Happy are those who have made a decision to assert that life is stronger than death, that good is stronger than evil, that love is stronger than hate-despite all they have seen that suggests the opposite. Thomas didn't believe what the disciples told him. He had to see before he could believe. We believe even though we haven't seen.

This 2nd Sunday of Easter reveals as mistaken the myth that Thomas's faith did not remain dead. It was also resurrected. Belief and doubt can be marred by fear, close-mindedness, lack of trust, pride and laziness, as well as the honest doubt we have when we struggle with hard questions and circumstances. Sometimes this is caused by hurt, but the doubter remains open to belief and faith like Thomas did. He moves ahead on faith when he sees the risen Saviour. When he was presented with the chance to see proof of Christ's resurrection, Thomas didn't need the evidence. Jesus lived for Thomas as Lord and God. Faith in Jesus gives life to the believer. We can also move ahead in faith when we see the wondrous heart of Creation, the witness of other Christians or even an event in life that shows us that God is at work.

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