April 15, 2018 3rd Sunday of Easter
Acts 3:12-19 1 John 3:1-7 Luke 24:36b-48
How many of you have ever watched the TV show The Big Bang Theory? In this show there is a character called Sheldon Cooper who is a genius at scientific knowledge but is hopeless at adjusting to social situations. This year CBS created a show called Young Sheldon, where we see Sheldon’s development as an eight to nine year old boy-genius trying to make sense of a world that will not be logical no matter how much he tries to impose logic on it.
Because Sheldon sees the world in terms of scientific facts he cannot accept his parents’ Christian faith because God cannot be proven or logically explained, which tends to lead to comic clashes on the show. In this last week’s episode for instance, when a tornado passes by their East Texas town the family hides in the bathroom, the mother in the bathtub with Sheldon and his twin sister. During the tornado she prays; “In the name of Jesus I cast a cloak of safety around this house and my children.” After the tornado is all over, and they go outside, Sheldon narrates, “The good thing was the tornado missed our town. The bad thing was my mother thought that she was the cause of the avoidance.”
I laughed because in that line is the quandary that we face as modern day people – how do we prove our faith subjectively and quantitatively like we would a scientific experiment? And the answer is: We can’t. The reason why Faith is called faith, and not the Theory of God, is because it is so deeply personal that the only way we can prove God to ourselves is through our own experience.
Now in the first century things were different. Don’t get me wrong, the ancient civilizations had science, math, and logical reasoning, but there was still a serious belief in, what we might call today, the magicality of things. Today, although we might like a good ghost story around a fire, and we might say that we believe in the possibility of ghosts, most of us probably don’t believe that people can come back from the dead as ghosts and wreck a house or harm people. But there is serious writing, as far back as ancient Egypt, that supports the existence of the restless or vengeful dead who were intent on doing just that.
So Jesus walking into a room where his disciples are – people who saw him die and be buried – was far more than just a startling event – it was terrifying. Nothing was good about Jesus being a ghost. Prayers for the dead were read so that people didn’t come back and do this.
But then Jesus eats a piece of fish and everybody is relieved, because everyone knows that ghosts can’t eat. Apparently, depending on which legend you subscribe to, ghosts can absorb water vapor, or smoke, or the vapors and steam from food, but they cannot ingest solid food. Especially fish, which is a protein, something that takes time to digest.
So this was evidence given by Jesus to his disciples that he was indeed and in fact an alive and functioning person. But of course this is counter to Jesus’ death that the disciples had witnessed. So the only explanation that the disciples (and us, 2,000 years later) have for this is that the God, the ultimate creation power, is involved; death has been altered; and Jesus is in fact who he said he was: The Son of God. Logically that is what the disciples took from that experience. When you eliminate everything else, what you have left, no matter how improbable, must be true.
But we all know that faith doesn’t always operate on logic. It mostly operates on two gifts from God: Experience and choice. First of all, we experience the presence of God in our lives through our encounters with Him, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit. Second, we choose to believe that God is actually in our lives, and we choose to see and recognize God’s presence with us. The great thing about that scene in Young Sheldon, was that in the middle of a horrific experience Sheldon’s mother felt God’s presence and chose to see God as the safety in her life and in the outcome of the tornado. Sheldon doesn’t see God at all because to him God can’t be measured so He can’t exist.
And so now, with Sheldon and his mother, we are back to the 21st century. Are we going to choose to see God as a part of our lives, or are we going to dismiss God because we can’t see any evidence?
Last week I said that the first step to our ministry is declaring that God is going to be in our lives, and that part of that declaring is the belief in the possibility of God, and that he is in our lives doing wonderful things and supporting us. Today we get to the second step in that process: Finding the evidence for God in our lives.
If you think about it, the Gospels are the written evidence of testimony, from people who were there, explaining to us why they believe that Jesus was the Son of God and the Messiah. We read them because we learn about Jesus’ life. But one of the underlying challenges is for us to go out and than look for evidence of God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit in our own lives. Like the disciples, if we don’t have the evidence of Jesus in our own lives, then we can’t honestly live our faith, or pass our faith onto others.
So the problem for us becomes: How do we find the evidence of God in our own lives?
I think one of the ways we find God is through the natural world, especially for us here in God’s country. We are so lucky that we get to immerse ourselves in the wonder of God’s creation and can marvel at the intricacy and beauty of the natural world. Let’s have an Amen for the beauty that surrounds us.
Another place we can see God in our lives is in the relationships of love and support that we get from people. How many times have you had a problem in your life and the perfect person comes along who helps you solve the problem or answer the question? Or just the people who support you on a day-to-day basis? God put them in our lives and we should give thanks for them.
This leads me to think of the assurance that we receive during times of pain. There have been a few times in in my life when I have not felt good or right about things, and other times that I have been downright hurt emotionally and mentally, but I have felt a presence that has told me that everything will be all right and that God is present for me. It doesn’t come from within me – at that moment I am sure that everything will NOT be all right – but it is there as a blessed assurance that something is supporting me at that moment.
We can also find God in our community in the way that we support each other to make a good community. Good communities aren’t just in existence they are created by the people who live around us who care enough to build a place of respect and decency for everyone. The second commandment addresses this: We must love our neighbors as we love ourselves. If we recognize the value of others then we will build a community of love and respect for others. And that respect and love comes when we see the divine value in people.
God’s evidence can also be to show you how wrong you are. I remember one that I had a few years ago. I went to see if I could get a gift card from a new business in town for our Christmas Fair. I didn’t think that I would receive much from the company because they’re parent store is based out of town so my assumption is that they wouldn’t be community minded. God wacked me up-side the head – The gift card was $75.00. I didn’t ask for that amount, that was what they volunteered to give me. And I really believe that God told me at that moment, “Don’t believe the worst about people before you meet them.”
Sometimes it’s hard for us to express the evidence of God in our lives. But how many times have you heard people say, “God was watching out for me,” or “I believe that God sent me or helped me?” That is a personal evidence and witness. And in that is built the question: Where is God for you in your life? Last week I said that you should practice declaring what you look for to do or be renewed with God. This week I challenge you to take some time to look around you for the evidence of God in your life.
God is with us when we tell our own story. God is in the big and the small and the simple evidence of eating a fish to prove to us that he is real. But it is up to us to live our faith by choosing to look for the evidence of him in our lives. When we start to recognize him we will hear him say to us: Peace be with you. And when we find that peace we will also find that we will be witnesses to Him.