(Acts 5:27-32, Revelation 118:14-29, Revelation 1:4-8)
(watch here: https://youtu.be/klpUMurM9TA)
19When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 20After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. 21Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” 22When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” 24But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. 25So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.” 26A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 27Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.” 28Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” 29Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.” 30Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. 31But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.
According to the book, Life of Francis d’Assisi, Francis once invited a young monk to join him on a trip to town to preach. Honored to be given the invitation, the monk readily accepted. All day long he and Francis walked through the streets, byways, and alleys, and even into the suburbs. They rubbed shoulders with hundreds of people. At day’s end, the two headed back home. Not even once had Francis addressed a crowd, nor had he talked to anyone about the gospel. Greatly disappointed, his young companion said, “I thought we were going into town to preach.”
Francis responded, “My son, we have preached. We were preaching while we were walking. We were seen by many and our behavior was closely watched. It is of no use to walk anywhere to preach unless we preach everywhere as we walk!”
All too often we fall into the same type of thinking as the young monk and become very regimented with our behavior. We tell ourselves there’s a time and a place for doing certain things. We get up in the morning, get cleaned up for the day, and head off to our workplaces or schools. We work at our jobs for however many hours it takes to complete our assigned tasks. We take regular breaks throughout the day for meals and recuperation. When the work day is over, we head home to get in another meal and tend to matters of the home (bills, family, chores, TV programs, exercising, etc). We go to bed, wake up the next day, and repeat the whole cycle over again. Some of us set apart time for worshipping and go to our respective places of worship on a set day at a set time. Even people who don’t have jobs or schooling or families or bills or regular activities develop daily routines and plan out places for each activity. There are places we work, there are places we take our meals, there are places we visit with people, there are places we rest, there are places we worship, there are places we learn, and there are places we have fun. Indeed, there is a time and a place for everything!
But sometimes the times and places overlap each other. Sometimes we learn at places we work at or have fun at places we learn. Sometimes we take our meals at places at places we worship or visit with people at places we exercise. Sometimes…just sometimes…we rest at places we work or learn! And sometimes we can be worshipping at places other than churches or mosques or synagogues. Believe it or not, God exists outside of our church building. God is intimately involved in everything we do each and every day of our lives. God is with us in our places of work or schooling. God is with us in our places of rest or exercising. God is with us wherever we take our meals or visit with peoples. God is with us wherever we go, both inside this building and outside of it. We can heed God’s presence in wherever we find ourselves or we can choose to ignore Him but God is there nevertheless. Francis understood this all too well and considered every activity or place as opportunities to reveal God’s presence to others. He didn’t need to go to a specific place to reveal God to others—God was all around him wherever he went, just as God is all around you and me each and every day.
What Francis taught that young monk and us is important to keep in mind as we dwell in our scripture readings for this morning. God is with us wherever we go. There is no place we can go that God wouldn’t be with us. And God wants us to be witnesses to all that He does in this world. God wants to reveal His glory to us, His love for us, as I mentioned in last week’s message. God wouldn’t have sent the Son into our world if He didn’t want His glory and love to be revealed to us. God wouldn’t have raised the Son from the dead if He didn’t want His glory and love to be revealed to us. God wouldn’t have sent the Son to the disciples if he didn’t want His glory and love to be revealed to us. No, God wants us to see and experience His glory and love. God wants us to be witnesses to all that He has done and continues to do for us. God wants us to know and trust in His glory and love.
The thing about witnessing is that it compels us into action. At the very least it compels us into sharing with others what we have witnessed. This is because a witness is more than a mere observer. A witness is someone who has seen or experienced something and must testify to its occurrence with others. What he/she has seen or heard affects others whether good or bad. Witnesses are more than observers—they are affecters. Their observations change lives.
In our first reading, we heard the encounter that Jesus’ disciples had with the council of Jerusalem after they had witnessed Jesus’ resurrection. The council had restricted them from telling others about the resurrection. This was because the disciples’ testimonies were more than mere observations. They were having an effect on the people of Jerusalem. They were stirring up the people to seek justice for the wrongful persecution and crucifixion of Jesus. The authority of the council was being threatened by the disciples’ testimonies and they feared condemnation. The disciples were more than observers. They were witnesses compelled into action and justice.
But they weren’t the only witnesses to God’s glory and might as revealed in the resurrection. Both the Holy Spirit and Jesus himself were also witnesses to God’s revelation. They, too, were active participants and observers of God’s glory and love. The disciples proclaimed, “And we are witnesses to these things, and so is the Holy Spirit whom God has given to those who obey him.” The Holy Spirit, who transcends all time and place, witnessed the injustice that took place in Jerusalem. The Holy Spirit, the great affecter of God’s pure and holy justice, witnessed the events of Jesus’ death and resurrection and was compelled into action as well. In the Book of Revelation, we also hear the apostle John invoking peace to seven churches around the Mediterranean from “him who is and who was and who is to come, and from the seven spirits who are before his throne, and from Jesus Christ, the faithful witness.” Jesus witnessed firsthand injustice at the hands of the people of Jerusalem. In his witness, Jesus was compelled into grace and mercy and peace. Like the disciples and Holy Spirit, Jesus was compelled into action by his witness.
The witness of the disciples, Holy Spirit, and Jesus are in sharp contrast to Thomas, the great non-witness, the great doubter, who wasn’t present at Jesus’ first post-resurrection appearance to the disciples. He didn’t believe that Jesus was truly resurrected and his disbelief caused Jesus to pay him a special one-on-one visit. Once he was able to see with his own eyes the resurrected Christ, Thomas continued serving as a faithful disciple. But his disbelief, his lack of firsthand witness, serves a distinctly important role in helping us in our own disbelief and doubt. We weren’t present at the initial post-resurrection appearance either. Yet we, too, are called to believe the unbelievable. We, too, are called to be witnesses of an event we didn’t see with our own eyes. How can God ask this of us too?
In answer to this question, we return to the witness of St. Francis of Assisi. He wasn’t present at the initial post-resurrection appearance either. Yet he somehow came to know the resurrected Christ. He came to know God in all that he did wherever he went. His witness to God’s love and grace has inspired millions of people into deeper faith over the years. Francis showed that we don’t need a firsthand experience of the initial post-resurrected appearance to be a faithful witness. We can come to know Christ just as well through regular prayer and study of scripture. We can develop discerning eyes and ears to help us see and hear Christ among us today. Make no mistake about it, Christ is among us today and speaks to each one of us each and every day we’re in this world. As good witnesses, we are compelled into action and sharing with others what we have seen and heard about Christ. Remember, witnesses are more than observers. Witnesses are affecters. Witnesses change lives with what they have seen and heard. As we go forth into the forty days of Easter, let us be inspired by St. Francis’ witness to deepen our own faith and witness. Let us help to reveal the resurrected Christ to others no matter where we are. Jesus has called each of us to not only be good to each other but also to…be a good witness.
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.