I am by no means a scientist. Far from it, in fact. I took precisely one science class in college, which was enough to know that I didn’t want to take any more. I did take enough science in high school, however, to at least learn the scientific method–the process by which you ask a question,do a little bit of research, come up with a hypothesis, and test that hypothesis with an experiment. If the results of an experiment are consistent over and over again, there’s a good chance that you’ve discovered a “truth.” This is how hypotheses become theories.
I remember the discovery, in my only science class in college, of an unexplained bubble in my test tube that should not have been there. What had I done wrong? How had I messed up? I was thankful for the professor, who said that as long as I recorded it as an “unexplained bubble,” I wouldn’t get any points taken off. But still. My experiment had failed.
As far as I can tell with a little bit of internet research (and by “a little bit” I mean about two seconds worth), the scientific method was invented in the 1200s. This was long after the disciple Thomas declared his faith in the risen Jesus to be dependent upon seeing and feeling the mark of the nails that had pierced Jesus’ hands and side. Thomas’ method, however, is similar. If this and this and this happens, then this is true. If Jesus comes, and shows me the mark of the nails in his hands, and I can feel the mark on his side, then I’ll know that he is risen and alive.
Now, I’m with Jesus here, in his response to Thomas’ demands: “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.” Seriously. God bless ‘em. Because God knows I’m not one of them. Even with a limited knowledge of science, we’re still trained, especially today, to want and expect facts and evidence and proof. Believing without seeing is considered naive.
But I also think that God gives us what we need to believe and if we retrain our minds a little bit, we won’t have to spend so much time and energy setting up so many careful experiments to test God’s existence or Jesus’ resurrection. Maybe that’s what Jesus meant when he said that line about believing without seeing. It’s not that our feeble minds don’t need to see and feel and otherwise experience God, but that we don’t have to be so worried about it, because God shows up all the time and everywhere. We don’t have to set up certain experiments to look for God; we are the subjects in God’s great experiment to reveal God’s love.
Though I think Jesus was perfectly happy in Thomas’ case to provide him with what he needed to believe, I’m pretty sure God would much prefer simply to go about loving people in and around and through their demands for proof of that love. What we do here, in worship, what’s given to us in the pages of the Bible, the gift of this created world and of one another–these are all God’s own gestures of love. We’re just not always tuned into the right frequency to grasp the truth.
This “Doubting Thomas” story shows up in our cycle of scripture readings every year on the Sunday of Easter. And every year, a different detail in the story grabs my attention. This year it was Jesus’ invitation to feel the wounds in his hands and side and how Thomas’ experienced resurrection through broken and scarred skin.
I wonder if one way we tune into the frequency of resurrection is not also through the experience of brokenness. Not the physical broken skin of Jesus’ hands and side, of course, but surely the broken bread, his broken body, of Holy Communion that nourishes us for another week of work. Or perhaps the broken mirror of a map, shattered into a million pieces by the lines of rivers and streams that flow to the ocean and all the way into that font, promising refreshment, forgiveness. How about communities, our city maybe, broken by injustice and inequality and yet held together by God who longs for love to win. Or perhaps broken hearts, maybe even our own, that need to be held so tenderly, but that still beating with life. And perhaps on this Earth Day weekend, we hold broken soil in our hands, noting that the broken earth is what allows the seed to sprout.
In the congregation I previously served, there was plaque right behind the pulpit, hidden to the congregation but very visible to the preacher. It was a quote from the twelfth chapter of the Gospel of John: “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” Soon after I started, someone covered the “sir” with a sticky note that said “madam.” The quote comes from an earlier part of Jesus’ story than where we are today and was meant to remind the preacher that one of our tasks, if not the primary task, is to show you Jesus. In John’s Gospel, it was spoken by some Greeks who went to Philip in Galilee and asked to see Jesus. It’s not clear whether they actually saw Jesus, but Jesus’ response to the request is telling. “Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” It’s as if he were saying, “You want to see me? Look to the broken earth that allows the seed to sprout.”
You don’t have to set up a careful experiment to prove that God is real or alive or at work in this world. You just have to believe in love, which this congregation believes in more than any congregation I’ve ever been a part of, and then you sort of have to pay attention. You’ll see it. You will. Remember? Jesus gave Thomas what he needed to believe. Jesus will give it to you as well. Sometimes I think it’s a “forest-and-trees” phenomenon–sometimes we’re so immersed in it that we have trouble seeing it. So if you still don’t see it, or if have trouble seeing it, ask the person sitting next to you for help. Or ask me, and we’ll look for it together.
After all, isn’t that what we are as the Church? Not scientists proving that God exists or that Jesus is alive and risen, but a band of explorers looking for the risen Jesus together, knowing that there’s a glimmer of hope in the search alone, and much more than that in the discovery.
The Scientific Method is not what we’re doing here, for God has God’s own method. Of course if there are folks out there who can prove, scientifically, the existence of God, and even the resurrection of Jesus, more power to them. But I’d much rather place my faith in The God Method, which is much more about experience rather than experiment. What this doesn’t mean is causation. We don’t experience God purely because God causes everything that happens. We experience God through God’s loving and compassionate presence that draws life out of death. Like Thomas, God will give us what we need to believe. Most of the time, I think the most that any of us need in order to believe in the risen God is unconditional love. And, I believe with all my heart that in and despite the brokenness of all that goes on around us, that love is real and is waiting to be discovered. Amen.