"God’s Hallmarks for Others"

April 6, 1997 message
Long Green Valley Church of the Brethren
Glen Arm, Maryland  USA
based upon John 20:19-31 and 1 John 1:1 - 2:2

If you examine a piece of fine silver you will find on it somewhere marks - initials or some other sign engraved on the bottom or the backside of it or, as is the case with rings, on the inside of a band. These imprints are called "hallmarks," and are placed there by whoever made the item. The origin of the word "hallmark" is this: many years ago all items made of silver - whether pots, dishes, trays, utensils or jewelry were produced by a member of a guild or union, and at one time those guild members both met and worked in large rooms called "Halls."

Hallmarks are etched or engraved into every item for two reasons, they tell you two things. The first is to show that the item is actually what it appears to be - that it is in fact an item made of pure silver, not mixed with other, cheaper, materials. A hallmark is a guarantee of quality and purity. The second thing a Hallmark tells you is where the product came from - in what "Hall" it was made, and in some cases, what individual made it.

In England, hallmarks are not only composed of letters or initials. Often, and especially in the case of larger items, there is normally a crest incorporated into the markings. If there is a leopard's head - that piece comes from London, if there is a castle - the silver came from Edinburgh. The hallmark of the guild in Sheffield is a crown, and that of Birmingham is an anchor. The silversmiths of the city of Chester used three wheat sheaves in their hallmark.

All this business about hallmarks started in the year 1300 when King Edward of England passed a law saying that no precious metal could be sold without a guarantee of its purity being marked on it. From 1300 to this very day the practice of hallmarking has continued in one form or another. When you see it, you know it is genuine. (illustration borrowed from Richard Fairchild)

Think back to that stuffy room in Jerusalem in which the disciples closeted themselves on the first Easter. In the middle of their fear, Jesus appeared to them. He was alive, and his presence blew away their anxiety. Where terror once reigned, there came peace. Where confusion was the order of the day, there came a sense of direction. Where blame once dominated - blame of others or self for the dreadful events of that weekend, and the fact that they all had run away - through the breath of the Holy Spirit came forgiveness.

As we remembered with our children earlier, one disciple was not there when Jesus appeared in that room. "We’ve seen Jesus, he is alive," his brothers and sisters told him later, but he could not believe it. "I have to see the marks," he replied. Thomas needed to see a hallmark that proved this was genuine. Not just any hallmark either. He needed to see the mark of the nails, (gesture: ASL for "Jesus") a sign to him that this was, indeed, the Jesus who had died so horribly on the cross. Anything else would be a fake.

Easter came for Thomas a week later in the same room, only this time the doors weren’t shut out of fear. Jesus appeared again, and instructed Thomas to touch his wounds. This doubting disciple saw his Master, and heard him speak once more. And though he probably didn’t touch the wounds, Thomas experienced the awesome presence of this One whom he then confessed as his Lord and God.

"From the very first day, we were there, taking it all in," wrote John in his first letter. "We heard it with our own ears, saw it with our own eyes, verified it with our own hands. The Word of Life appeared right before our eyes; we saw it happen!... Now we’re telling you so you can experience it along with us, this experience of communion with the Father and his Son, Jesus Christ. Our motive for writing is simply this: We want you to enjoy this, too. Your joy will double our joy..."

Easter has come and gone. What have we heard, what have we seen, what have we touched that brought us back? Something must have made an impact upon us. It would’ve been very easy to make up that extra hour of sleep we lost last night by worshipping at "Pillow Presbyterian" or "Bedside Baptist." And yet you are back in this room on the week after, traditionally a low attendance Sunday in most churches, at least compared with the week before. I’m glad you are here. What brought you back?

Oh, I know there’s always that sense of responsibility ingrained in most of us that gets us up and out of bed and on the road. It’s good to be "in the habit." Many can attest to falling "out of the habit" and how hard it is to get back in. Habits are good, but is that the only reason you’re here? I hope not. What have you heard, what have you seen, what have you touched, that brought you back for more? Have you recognized any "Hallmarks"?

The risen Christ has not actually appeared in this room among us, has he? Or has he? There were moments at Love Feast last week when he seemed especially near to me. One was during the feetwashing part. Around the men’s circle, especially when we were singing the hymns we knew by heart, the harmony was so rich - but the sense of his presence was more than the song, though that was certainly a part of it. It was good for me to hear the words of others: Dave Fouts sharing from his servant’s heart about the tub and the towell; Gary Miller remembering moments in prayer with a pictoral directory in one hand, and telling how important each person in this fellowship is to him; and Sue Ellen encouraging us before we broke bread and drank from the cup to know deep down that what’s most important is not what we bring to the Lord’s table, but what we take from it. I had my eyes closed at that point, hearing Christ speak to me through my sister. And then Karen poked me in the side because she thought I was asleep. We have heard it, we have seen it, we have been touched by it....

Does it seem ironic to speak of the risen Christ experienced in a moment of remembering his death? Thomas said, "unless I see the hallmark" (gesture: ASL for "Jesus").... Are we any different from Thomas? We need to see a hallmark to recognize the genuine article, don’t we? Where have you seen it, or heard it, or touched it, such that you have returned on this Sunday after Easter? Or, perhaps, you are still searching for it - just like Thomas. May you experience the risen Christ. Remember, however, what Jesus said on that original second Sunday of Easter. "Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe."

Still, where do we see that hallmark? Could it be that the most visible, audible, touchable hallmark of the risen Christ is engraved upon us? (gesture: ASL for "Jesus" emphasizing my hands) No, I’m not asking if there are holes in our hands and sides. If the truth be told, the holes are more often in our heads. At least that’s the case for me. In his first letter, John put it this way, "if we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us" (1:8-10).

As I said earlier, a hallmark fulfills two purposes. First, it shows that something is actually what it appears to be - that it is in fact pure, not mixed with other, cheaper, materials. A hallmark is a guarantee of quality and purity. Secondly, it tells anyone who searches where something came from - in what "Hall" it was made, and in some cases, what individual made it.

If we are engraved with Christ’s hallmark, that doesn’t mean we stand around claiming our purity. Sometimes Christians can come off as holier-than-thou people. However, as Sue Ellen made clear at Love Feast, it isn’t what we bring to the table of Jesus that’s most important. It’s what we leave with. We are cleansed, made pure by his sacrifice for us. But that’s not all. We are remade, if you will - by the light of God, Christ is transforming our lives into his own image (gesture: ASL for "Jesus").

It’s the hallmarks that bring us back, and I’m not talking about greeting cards. Then again, maybe I am. There is a sense in which we are living greeting cards, given by One who cares to give the very best. God gave his best in his Son. We are engraved with his hallmark (gesture: ASL for "Jesus"). Dare we claim that we have heard it, or we have seen it, or we have touched it with our hands? Then we are God’s hallmarks for others.

1997Peter L. Haynes

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