For many of us, believing in the Lord was something we learned to do as children. But for many others, it happens when someone sees the Lord through us. In the book of Acts, many people came to believe in the Lord when they heard Paul testifying that Jesus was indeed the Christ. That is why we continue with the work of the church as a center for preaching the word of the Lord. Because of preaching, many people come to believe.
But I think we need to do more than just rely on the Sunday sermon. Not everyone goes to church, and most of those people are already believers. But I admit that I know a lot of people who do go to church who aren’t very convinced that Jesus is still with us. For them, good preaching is still not enough. They look for signs that Jesus is still with us….that they will be able to see him. I remember one man who once told me, “if Jesus would just re-appear in the clouds and speak to us, I will feel a whole lot better about it all.” A lot of people look for Jesus in the clouds. Not me. I look for Jesus in acts of love and justice. I see Jesus in the everyday acts of believers. Those acts can be very powerful testimonies that help others see Jesus. I will tell a true story that I hope reveals how important it is for those of us who believe to continually find ways to testify that Jesus is with us.
I have some friends who do not believe in Jesus. One night I attended a dinner party where several of them were making fun of people who believe in the resurrection and ascension of Jesus and go to church every Sunday to support the work of organized religion. At first I decided to remain quiet. They all knew that I am an active believer. But then one woman at the table remarked that she was curious about who the people were who attended a particular church in her neighborhood. She asked if anyone knew them. I told her that I did and asked her what she wanted to know about them. She told the group that she had been a victim of a crime in her neighborhood. The members of the church had come to her aid when they read in the newspaper that she was unemployed and without health insurance. She told the members of the dinner party that the church had paid for some of her health expenses and provided her with transportation. She was curious about who were the people who would do such a thing. When I replied that most Christian churches have outreach programs like that, the others at the dinner party seemed stunned. The woman remarked that she planned to visit that church some time to thank them for what they had done for her. The conversation changed at that point. It no longer seemed cool to make fun of people who show love to others in the name of Jesus. When Christians quietly go about relieving the suffering of others in their midst, it is difficult to discount their work as misguided.
So how does this story connect us to the Gospel for today? What does turning our grief regarding no longer being able to see Jesus into joy have to do with going to church and working to relieve the suffering of others? As I reflect on these lessons, I think it connects quite well. When Jesus ascended into heaven, he left us the Holy Spirit to keep us connected with him and with the Father God. The closer we stay in that union, the greater our joy, even in the midst of suffering and grieving. Jesus calls us to live a life in that joy, not in fear. A lot of non-believers think Christians go to church out of fear and they think that is silly. But that is not why I think most of us go. I think we go because that is where we are united with each other and with Christ through the Holy Spirit. That is where we experience joy. In our rejoicing, we become a witness to the world of suffering and even death, especially when we work to alleviate that suffering for others. I pray today that through our witness of joy, we can help others see Jesus as we see him – as the Christ. Alleluia! He is risen! Alleluia!