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Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Lectionary Scriptures:  Acts 2:14a, 22-32, Psalm 16:1-11, I Peter 1:3-9, John 20:19-31

                                                                                                                                                       

Those who grow up in deeply religious families sometimes go through a time of disillusionment, for a whole variety of reasons.  For me, it began when my scientific and logical bent was challenged enough to shake the foundations.  My last place of defense was an inward turn to feelings.  Proof of God became something I felt in my gut.  I believed---because I had “proof” that God was “in” me.

 

My early religious life relied much upon the notion of grace---that I was accepted and loved just as I was.  To speak of God was to speak of grace.  A turning point in the search for “proof” came while I was in seminary.  During those years, my denomination (then American Baptist) held an annual conference that brought together the seminary seniors from all of its seminaries.  It occurred during the time of the “Death of God” discussions.  I remember sitting outside on a humid, hot, Wisconsin summer evening at our national conference center with one of my favorite professors.

 

We were into a significant discussion of grace which I equated with a feeling in the pit of my stomach.  He gently asked, “Are you sure it isn’t indigestion?”  My last “proof” crumbled.  Thank God he didn’t leave it there.  He had another question.  “Isn’t this grace, just the two of us sitting here and sharing our lives with each other?”  It helped me turn my attention to seeing God in the things around me, particularly in the supportive community I experienced in the church.

 

Now I know this is no more a final argument than what was going on in my gut.  I know that some have had really bad experiences, hurtful and destructive experiences, in the church.  I also know that there are those who’ve never been part of church life who are among those who seem unable to find a way to know, understand, and believe in God.

 

So, in writing about the question, “How do we know?”,  I’m not offering a single answer.  I’m not writing about the different ways of human knowing and learning.  I’m suggesting that we read the Gospel lesson which includes a story about Thomas and realize it’s human to seek some tangible proof.

 

Thomas didn’t ask for anything more than had already been granted to the other disciples.  He was absent when Jesus first appeared to them.  (John 20:24)  He had already shown them the wounds in “his hands and sides.”  (vs. 20)  Thomas’ shortcoming was that he didn’t trust his friends, he didn’t believe the community.  There seemed to be a lot of that going on.  Did the disciples believe the testimony of those women who went first to the tomb?

 

In this case, Thomas says, “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 the side, I will not believe.”  (vs. 25)  These are the words that have led to Thomas being called “doubting.”  We could put a positive spin on them as well.  In the final analysis we cannot simply ride on the faith of our family or friends or ancestors or teachers.  We have to come to some experience or understanding that is personal, uniquely our own.

 

Today, though, I take at least two lessons from this story.  The first I’ve already mentioned.  The “proof” of God is not just in our individual experience---in the pit of the stomach or in the imagination of the mind or elsewhere.  It is in the life of the community of love which is somehow his living presence, his body.

 

The other comes with the words of Jesus at the end of the story.  “Have you believed because you have seen me?” he asks Thomas.  “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”  (vs. 29)  Following that conversation on a summer evening in Wisconsin, I eventually moved to a place of realization that “evidences” for my faith could be explained away scientifically.  Belief is quite literally a “leap of faith.”  It doesn’t mean I don’t still have experiences, make observations, etc., that support my faith.  They are satisfying---most of the time under most circumstances---to me, but they may be given other explanations by other people.  They may not be convincing or satisfying to all.

 

So, what we have is our sharing of our stories---stories of what has happened to us, how we have interpreted and understood those happenings.  The community which put together the Gospel According to John concludes with these words, “Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book.  But 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.”  (vss. 30-31)

 

The experiences, the stories, the interpretations, the understanding are made for sharing.  What we are looking for when we seek God is that which is life-giving.  Where life is thriving and growing, for all, there is God.  Again, it is called community, part of the way we know.

 

So, what about the other lectionary readings for the second Sunday of Easter?

 

The reading from Acts depicts Peter in the act of sharing his experience and understanding of God.  He ties it in with the heritage of the community of faith through the ages, going back to David (Acts 2:25-28 & 31).  His message is about resurrection, new life, ending with the declaration that “of that all of us are witnesses, i.e., one might say, storytellers.  The Psalm is the one from which Peter quotes, concluding with a strong declaration of experiencing life in all its fullness.  “You show me the path of life, in your presence is fullness of joy; in your right hand are pleasures forevermore.”  (Psalm 16:11)

 

Although written later, the reading from the epistle of I Peter is probably included to connect with Peter’s sermon in Acts, but it also connects with the Gospel reading.  “Although you have not seen him,” we read, “you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and rejoice with an indescribable and glorious joy, for you are receiving the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.”  (I Peter 1:8-9)

 

What is your story?  What have you seen and experienced?  What are the things you want to touch and feel?  What are the interpretations that you find to be life-giving?  Consider these things and you will, I believe, be close to God.

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Kairos-Milwaukie UCC Blog

Reflections on the Revised Common Lectionary by Rev. Rick Skidmore and Rev. Jim Ogden.

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