Do You Believe?
(Lectionary Starters)

First Sunday after Easter, Year B
April 27, 2003
John 20:13-31
Jim Killen, A minister of the United Methodist Church, Beaumont, TX

Do you believe? The writer of the book of John tells us that he wrote about the things that the risen Christ did so that we may come to believe. He calls the things that Jesus did “signs”, things that were done to show us something beyond themselves. In fact, the prologue to the gospel according to John gives us the impression that the whole story of Jesus is a story about something God did so that we might believe and so that believing can change our lives. “…to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God…” (John 1:12). So, do you believe? Can you believe? Let’s talk about believing.

I. What does it mean to believe?

Believing is not just the act of affirming some fact, giving the right answer on a final examination, that gets you a big reward. And it is not just learning and repeating some magic incantation that is supposed to make everything come out alright for you in this life and get you into heaven after you die – even though you don’t do anything else very different from the way you always have. Believing goes a lot deeper than that.

Each of us has some beliefs about the shape of reality that shape our lives. If you believe you are eight feet tall, you will duck when you go through doors. If you believe that the world is a rotten and dangerous place, you will not go to meet life eagerly. You will withdraw and live defensively. If you believe that money is the most important thing in life, you will organize your life around getting it.

To believe in Jesus Christ is to hold life shaping beliefs that we learn through him and to let those beliefs shape our lives. It is to decide that Jesus really is the one who has shown us the truth about the shape of reality.

II. How does believing work?

It actually begins with God. God acted in Jesus Christ to make himself known. In making himself known to us, God has shown us what is real and true about life.

Look at some of the things that God has shown us through Jesus: that God is more real than all of the other little realities that crowd into our lives claiming to be important, that God loves us enough to reach out to us in a costly way, that God forgives our sins, that God can make us whole, that God wants us to live trusting and loving lives, that all of these things are true in spite of all of the powers that nailed Jesus to a cross to try to deny them.

Do you know the story of Jesus well enough to understand that God made these things known through him?

And there is a promise that goes with all of that. If a person can really believe those things and live as if they are the real truth about life, then those beliefs will shape our lives and give us a new quality of life, life that has enduring substance, life that is eternal, both in this world and beyond it.

III. How can we believe?

It is not easy to believe. Thomas, one of the most committed of the disciples found it hard to believe again after Jesus had been crucified. He wanted to believe. He alone among the disciples had understood that following Jesus might require sacrifice (John 11:16), still he kept on following. But he had seen all of the beautiful things he had believed in crushed by the cruel powers of the world – and he had seen himself and the other disciples forsake Jesus in the time of crisis. Bad experiences can undermine our confidence and make it hard to keep trusting. Has that ever happened to you?

Besides that, we live in a culture that is based on beliefs that are contrary to the things that God has shown us. Our culture tells us that money and power are the really substantial and important things in life. There is no such thing as sin. Anyone who trusts is a fool. And the way to “the good life” is to look out for yourself and to take advantage of others. The concept of love as Jesus lived it, is foreign to our culture. We have even thought up a different use for this word. Have you heard these things said? Can you see how those beliefs are actually shaping the lives of people and communities in one culture? Are you aware of how much they are shaping your life? They make it hard to believe in Jesus, don’t they?

But there is the evidence. There was a man named Jesus. That is a historical fact. And, even though our reports may not be historically perfect, the story we have of him is at least pretty nearly true. And we have the witnesses of people through the ages who have dared to believe that he is risen and that he lives. The first letter of John, which was written some time after the life of Jesus, tells us that those who wrote it were telling about things that they had seen and touched and experienced, things that had made known what “was from the beginning” (1 John 1:1-4). In every age, including our own, there have been people who have lived as if God is alive and as if the things Jesus demonstrated are true and they have experienced life in its fullness, eternal life.

Believing that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, the one who is our hope, the one who shows us the truth, requires commitment. It requires us to put away all of our bitter experiences and to reject all of the life stifling propaganda of our culture. It requires us to venture out trusting. It requires us to be willing to be different. But it still promises that, through believing, you can have life, real life, eternal life in his name. Decide to believe. Purposefully live as if you believe. Keep on reaching out toward believing until believing happens, until believing shapes your life.

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