Wednesday, April 23, 2014

April 20, 2014 - Easter Sunday. The Way of the Cross - The Power of Faith

John 20:24-29
John 20:1-18

I want to thank those who have given so generously of their time and talents this Easter season – the Stations of the Cross through this morning.  We are all very grateful for the time and talents of our many volunteers.

Louis CK is a name you may or may not recognize.  He is a very popular comedian who stirred a bit of controversy recently when he declared that he was not an atheist, as many of his fans had assumed.  It wasn’t, though, an overly positive declaration, because he said that while he believes in God, he just doesn’t care.

There are some things that, if true, make it impossible to say I don’t care.  The existence of suffering in the world, I believe, makes it impossible to say I don’t care.  That people suffer should mean something to us.  If a person can be indifferent to the suffering of so many millions they should check to make sure their heart is still beating.  The fact that millions of people are starving makes it impossible to say I don’t care.  That people are starving should mean something to us.  The existence of God makes it impossible to say I don’t care.  The existence of God should mean something to each of us. 

Today is Easter Sunday, and we are celebrating The Power of Faith.  We’ve journeyed through a series of messages leading us to today.  Those messages were built around the theme The Way of the Cross.  Today, we come to the empty tomb and as we do, we consider the incredible power of faith.  After Easter, in the coming Sundays, we will move into a study of the book of Job, and we’ll talk about suffering, faith, and doubt.  The book of Job is a powerful story of faith thriving in the midst of the most difficult of circumstances.

This morning, we consider faith through two lenses – that of the disciple Thomas and the empty tomb.  Thomas is known, unfortunately, as doubting Thomas.  It’s unfair to remember anyone based on a single moment of life, don’t you think?  Pick a moment from your past, preferably a negative one, and imagine being forever remembered because of your words or actions in that one moment. How about Disloyal…  Failure…  Mean…  Discouraging…  Sleepy…

The passage about Thomas’ doubt is representative of the skepticism that we find in our world today.  In recent years there appears to be a rising tide of skepticism about the existence of God.  To be clear, this is not what Thomas was questioning.  Thomas was not expressing doubt about God’s existence, but doubt about the claim that Jesus had been resurrected.  His moment of doubt reminds us that many express in our day and age have doubts, and those doubts reach to the question of whether or not God exists as well as to the hope of the resurrection.

I want to say a few things about faith and doubt this morning, because I think the intersection of faith and doubt is one that is important to address on Easter.

First, some people claim we live in an age known more for its skepticism than for its faith, but that is not true. 
Have you heard this?  Let me assure you, faith is not dying.  Worldwide, faith is growing.  There are places in the world where faith is changing, certainly, such as Western Europe and parts of North American, but faith is blossoming in much of the world, and it is growing rapidly in areas that once, or still, adopted official policies of unbelief and atheism.  In China, faith is growing at a rapid rate.  In fact, a recent study proclaims the news that China is on track to become the nation with the largest number of Christians by the year 2030.

In the countries that made up the former Soviet Union, faith is found among he majority of people, in spite of the decades of an officially atheist stance on the part of the Soviet government.

There are certainly skeptics, but most people continue to make their commitment on the side of faith because of a sense that something greater than this world and this life must exist.

Thomas insisted upon evidence to back up the claim that Jesus had risen.  Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe it (John 20:25).  Skeptics love to talk about reason and their belief that faith is unreasonable.  To them, faith is unreasonable and does not pass the test of evidence.  What they fail to understand is that when they expect us to believe on evidence they reveal a fundamental misunderstanding about faith.  Faith is not about evidence.  What constitutes evidence, anyway?  It’s not that faith is unthinking or accepts anything, but faith does not rest upon any proof that removes every element of doubt or convinces beyond any reasonable doubt. 

That is why I don’t put a lot of faith, so to speak, in evidence.  It’s not that I don’t use logic or my brain when considering faith; it’s that when we come to faith and unbelief I believe evidence is an expression of what we already believe.

I have said before that the saying seeing is believing is backwards; believing is seeing.  We see according to what we believe, and that is true of the most devout believer and the most ardent unbeliever.  Evidence will most often confirm what we already believe or disbelief.

Second, there are people who will think we are silly because we are here today. 
There are people who will think we are foolish because we have faith.  There are skeptics who have shaken their heads this week as we’ve observed the events of Holy Week.  To them, what we believe and what we do is foolishness.  As Paul writes in I Corinthians 1:18 there are those for whom the message of the cross is foolishness.

That’s okay. 

I believe we worry far too much about what others think.  I used to need others to validate my faith.  When I was a teenager I used to think of how great it would be if one of my musical heroes had become a Christian.  It wasn’t just because their decision might influence others, but because I needed someone else’s faith to validate my own.

I believe some people adopt doubt and skepticism because they hear the voices of skeptics and don’t know how to counter their arguments.  They raise some points worth considering, but I find their arguments to not be convincing and that their logic has some very large holes.

Third, life has a spiritual dimension that cannot be denied, and the willingness to live life according to that belief is the power of faith. 

I have witnessed enough people in their final moments of life to know that something happens that is more than just a biological process of the body shutting down.  I have seen too much of what happens at the beginning of life, during the course of life, and at the end of life to believe anything other than the fact that there is more to this life than just life and death. 

I believe we are created by God, given a life of purpose and meaning by God, and after the conclusion of life on this earth, welcomed into eternity by God.

We’ve traveled different roads in relation to faith.  Some here have always believed and some here are much newer to faith.  Some are, perhaps, struggling with the very idea of faith.

The reality is this – whatever is true, is true.  It’s hard to reason people to faith.  It’s hard to use logic to bring people to faith.  Debates don’t often bring people to faith.  There’s always someone who makes better use of reason, someone who is more logical, and someone who a more skilled debater. 

It terms of the great truths of this universe, of life and death, it doesn’t matter what I believe or what you believe or what the most staunch skeptic believes; whatever is true, is true.  Our belief does not make something true.  Truth is what it is, and our beliefs cannot change the ultimate truths of life.  Whatever is true about God does not rest upon our beliefs.  Whatever is true about God is true because it is true.

I used to do my exercising in a cemetery.  It was located near where we lived and it seemed that walking in a cemetery was a good motivation.  At times, though, it was a bit awkward.  Sometimes I would alter my course because I didn’t feel comfortable walking by people who were visiting the graves of friends and loved ones.  People were often in the cemetery, and I could often hear them talking to their loved one, sometimes they would sing, and often, they would weep.

Cemeteries are different places because of Easter.  They are different places because of the resurrection of Jesus.  This is the power of faith – that we accept there is something beyond this life.  When we draw our final breath in this life we open our eyes in eternity to take in eternal life, and Easter makes it all possible.

Christ is risen – he is risen indeed!

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