Sunday, May 08, 2011

What is Your Evidence?

John 20:19-31

What was the evidence you received that allowed you to believe? What was it you saw, what was it you heard, what was it you read?

For me, it was about three weeks after I had prayed for Jesus to come to me, to come into my heart. Of course he was already there, but I did not understand that at the time. In the quiet of my bedroom in the apartment I shared with another worker at the winery I worked as a tour guide for, I prayed alone. I think I stepped forward at church, though I don’t remember when I did that. I had stepped forward in that traditional evangelical way; seeking to be forgiven the sins I had hurt people with, and seeking help and strength so as not to do it again.

And then I waited for evidence. I watched my life over the next three weeks, seeking proof that something had happened, because, frankly, nothing had happened that I could feel when I prayed in my room.

It was a small thing, but after three weeks I realized, as I was driving, that I was going the speed limit. I was not stressing out at the driver in front of me like normally would. I was peaceful behind the wheel, and ok with the posted law.

Now of course, it’s not as simple as “God made me obey the law.” But whatever sort of testosterone poisoning that all young men have that drove me to drive angry and impatient, whatever lack of calm there was within that 23 year old boy was replaced with a peace and a patience. Not a lot, of course, but enough to notice a change. This was my evidence that God was working to change my life. And so it has gone ever since-small incremental changes, over time, which build up, add up into a different path than I was already taking.

We all, if we stop to think, can remember times that we have noticed what could have been the hand of God guiding us, pushing us, or as one friend’s shirt says, “putting his arm around us and his hand over our mouth!”

This is all Thomas was asking for. Thomas, for some reason, was not there when Jesus came to the upper room the night he was resurrected, according to John’s story. So he had to hear it secondhand, and he is not to be blamed for not believing what he was told. Who did, the first time? Mary couldn’t make the mental leap to realize that the gardener was in fact Jesus; the disciples didn’t believe her sight unseen when she came and told them that the tomb was empty, and John is silent on whether they believed her when she ran back to them the second time and told them she had seen Jesus; and that night, when Jesus comes to them, Thomas is absent. They’re still putting the story together themselves, still seeking to reconcile the evidence of their experience with their knowledge of how the world works, when he walks in and says “what happened?”

So a week later, Jesus returns. Does he return just for Thomas, and as an aside, breathe on them the Holy Spirit (this is John’s version of what happens at Pentecost in Luke; much less intense, much more intimate)?

I don’t think that Jesus’ main reason for returning is for Thomas. I think his primary agenda is to return to commission the Disciples to tell the story, and give them the added backing of the Holy Spirit, so that those who hear may believe without needing to see. While he’s there, he gives Thomas an opportunity to catch up with everyone else. When the text ends with “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe,” I think he’s referring to the Holy Spirit being given, and a commission to the disciples to tell the story with care and faith, not as a rebuke to Thomas for “doubting”; you’ve heard me say before that Thomas has an unnecessary and unfair reputation in the tradition of the church.

He’s just reacting the way any of us was-just because he’s the guy out getting the pizza and sodas, or whatever errand kept him from being there the first time, he’s “the doubter”.

We all need evidence of God’s presence and power in our lives. There are so few of us who are lucky enough to be knocked off our horses on the Damascus Road, like Paul. For many of us, it is a much more subtle working, less an earthquake and more a flood. Or to put into more positive terms-less a grand slam home run with fireworks, but the realization in the 8th inning that there hasn’t been anyone on base for the whole game. No-hitters sneak up on you.

For many of us, the church has always been there, we have been raised from infancy in an environment where God was always talked about, always present, always working. It may have happened so many times that we don’t remember it, but I do ask you-what is your evidence? How do you know that you are a child of God, and that God is working actively in your life, now? It's there, because God is always working in our lives, we just don't always realize it.

For me, that first time, it was looking at the speedometer, then looking at the speed limit sign on Redwood Road in Napa, California, and realizing they were closer than they used to be, and that my jaw was not clenching as I drove behind another car, the left lane open and inviting. Just that little thing and I could have also said “My Lord and My God!”

What is it for you? What is the evidence in your life that confirms for you the presence of God in your life?

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