From Church Goer to Committed Christian
Numbers and patterns of numbers in the Bible are very important and sometimes overlooked, but they can help us as an aid to memory as well as a way to understand our faith.
Forty days of Lent, forty days of flood, forty days in the desert for Jesus and forty years in the desert for Moses.
The number 12 – for 12 disciples, 12 tribes of Israel, 12 thousand of the 12 tribes in heaven, the church with 12 stars in Revelation and the New Jerusalem with 12 gates, Jesus being 12 when he went into the temple and Solomon appointing 12 officers over Israel.
When we come to the number 7 – it includes 7 golden lampstands and seven stars in the book of Revelation, more importantly 7 times Jesus spoke from the Cross.
And today in the common lectionary, 7 words or statements Jesus gives,after the first Easter, in order that his disciples now move forward into a commitment as Christians.
The scene is set:
The disciples are confused, what is happening?
The events of this past weekend are nothing short of mind-blowing.
Yet they shut themselves away in fear of the Jewish and Roman authorities.
There are mixed reports – empty tombs, sightings of the risen Lord, hope is restored? What’s now? Who will lead?
And then on the Monday, in fact on the next Monday as well, Jesus appears among them despite the fact that the doors are locked. In this space, he says 7 things important to growing their commitment to himself.
The first, is in fact the first three of the 7 is when Jesus utters the words 3 times:
‘Peace be with you’.
Sometimes, we have to say something 3 times for the words to sink in or for the revelation to become clear.
If time allows tell the story of the University Chaplain.
In chapter 21 of John’s gospel, Jesus says to Peter to commit himself to ‘feed my sheep’, even though Peter had denied Jesus 3 times on Good Friday.
Peter’s transformation begins at this point from a Jesus’ follower to Christ’s servant leader.
Do we too, get the message that it is only Christ who can give us real peace – because it is only in his life-giving action for us which means, despite the outward world circumstances with its terrorism, war, disasters, we can still have inner peace and joy.
The fourth Statement from Jesus contains the words to Thomas, ‘Put your finger here and see my sides’.
Thomas wants the personal encounter with Jesus that the others have had – before he can have the mind and spirit shift that takes him from doubt to belief. For him that personal encounter involves touch and sight.
But these are not the only ways to have a personal encounter with Christ.
For some of us we have that heart-warming and life changing encounter:
• in prayer
• in dreams
• in speaking in tongues
• in Biblical revelation
• in the laying on of hands,
• in words of knowledge
• in miracles and healings
• in looking into the eyes of a newborn and
• in seeing God’s handiwork in creation itself.
But we must have it in order to be transformed from Church goer to Christ follower.
I don’t blame Thomas, who is often labelled ‘the doubter’. He was not going to be happy with second-hand knowledge of Christ – he wanted a first-hand encounter with the risen Christ.
Tradition tells us he travelled as far as India after this encounter, preaching the good news and evangelizing to whole peoples!
The fifth set of words involve Jesus breathing on the disciples and proclaiming ‘receive the Holy Spirit’. Many so-called Christians believe in the Holy Duo rather than the Blessed Trinity – they stop short by proclaiming kinship to the father and the son only.
The Spirit is the empowerer, the healer, the comforter, Christ’s essence in us. Jesus wants us to receive the same Spirit too and then to fan the flames to grow the Spirit in us then others. One of the ways we do this comes through his sixth statement. ‘Forgive others who have wronged you, don’t retain unforgiveness for it will stunt you’. Jesus pre-empts famous psychologists such as Freud, Jung, Reich, Adler and Erikson by about 1900 years when they talk about the debilitating effects of holding onto hurt which can poison the spirit as well as the body and mind. The message for us is giving in to Jesus, not giving up on him.
The final words from Jesus – again to Thomas ‘blessed are those who have not seen me and yet have come to believe’ are indeed a blessing and an invocation upon us in the 21st century.
I long to stand before Jesus and see him face to face, but I haven’t yet. Still I believe for I see and feel and touch and taste and hear his presence everywhere. If you want to grow in your commitment to Christ, try looking with transformed eyes, listening with transformed ears, and feeling with a transformed Spirit to see God’s handiwork everywhere.
Today in our service of commissioning we have a three-fold commitment being made. Firstly, each member commissioned today has made a commitment of themselves to you and to God.
Secondly, you – by the laying on of hands and the repeating of vows have made a commitment to them and to God, and finally the Holy Trinity – Father, Son and Holy Spirit has committed to them, and us, the power of healing and wholeness.
And it all stems from Christ’s action of love at Easter and the words of commission and commitment he made in the days after that as we have heard today and live tomorrow.