We Are Witnesses

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I watch some weird shows sometimes. Many of these weird shows have to do with myths and legends from around the world. I love to hear stories about strange creatures, odd occurrences, and things which can’t be explained. I have seen shows about everything from the Bermuda Triangle to the Loch Ness monster to Asian ghost stories. I love the intersection of myth and culture where the things we are afraid of and find mysterious most often indicate the things we are most afraid of and understand the least. There is one I was watching last week called Monsters & Mysteries where I was introduced to a beast beyond comprehension. Okay, it wasn’t beyond comprehension. But like many of these stories, I found it inconceivable that anyone would believe the story. 

I give you Sheepsquatch.

Yep, you heard me. Sheepsquatch, a nightmarish beast deep in the Appalachian wilderness counties of West Virginia first “sighted” 1994. The mythic beast prowls the woodlands of southwestern West Virginia, not far from the Kentucky border. The earliest story about them came from a book written in 1965  The origin of the creature may have been stories from sheep farmers moving to America from Britain who told the tale of a demonic sheep beast, Padfoot, who could transform into a dog or sheep or any number of other animals. Nonetheless, the show dramatized two teenage boys who were terrorized by this nine-foot tall, half-sheep, half man beast during a hunting trip, complete with scary ambiance and creepy music. 

I have no doubt the two young men on the show would swear in a court of law they saw the White Thing or Sheepsquatch or Padfoot or whatever you want to call it. They were scared of something whatever it happened to be. Even so, this has the sound of a yarn as my grandparents would call it, a tall tale for camping trips and Halloween bonfires. 

My first thought was, “Show me.” Show me a carcass. Bring me some fur that can’t be catalogued as another animal. Show me a Sheepsquatch cave or nest or 3 bedroom, 2 bath cabin in the woods where it lives with its wife and kids. Go ahead, prove it. Show me. These words of challenge echo through the modern world. They are a product of our modern way of looking at the word. We are a world of cynics shouting, “Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.” We demand proof, no matter the circumstance. Even in the realm of the religious, those who believe will not believe without good cause. They must know from experience. They must see for themselves. We argue with one another over texts and demand proof of the texts and proof of the proof. We will not believe without seeing and we cannot see with anything less than our own eyes. And we will not see anything that doesn’t already connect to what we know or think we know. 

I am not saying this always a bad thing, simply that this is the way we are. It is an observation of human nature not necessarily, or not always, a criticism of it. This show me attitude often becomes a means of safety, a way of protecting ourselves from things which we think may cause us harm. But the flip side to it is we often demand more proof than is necessary and in ways where the proof becomes twisted for selfish purposes. 

The gospel message this week provides us one of the gospels’ most enduring show me moments, Jesus appearing to the disciples, and Thomas, after the resurrection. The story is simple. A group of downtrodden, broken spirits sits in fear hoping the authorities who just executed their beloved rabbi are going to come after them next. They bar the doors and hide, wallowing in the pain and misery of the weekend. They are unsure what to do, where to go, how to go on. They have heard Mary’s story, but Peter and the beloved disciple didn’t see Jesus or a gardener or anyone else. Just an empty hole in the rock where they had laid the body of Jesus. Mary is probably bouncing around excited, hopeful but she’s probably the only one. The rest would likely think she’s overcome with stress and grief. In a word, they are lost—in just about every way they could be. They wait on the edge of giving up when a miracle happens.

The Jesus that was crucified, dead, and buried shows up resurrected. 

The unbelievable, the story of Mary’s gardener in disguise turns out to be the real thing. And he was no gardener, just a shepherd, their shepherd. He stands before them. He shows them the wounds. They rejoice. They receive the Holy Spirit. They are told they have the power to forgive or withhold forgiveness. One problem, though: Thomas isn’t home. There’s no explanation as to why just that Thomas isn’t there. And when he returns, he doesn’t buy it. Thomas must have thought, It’s not just Mary now they’ve all lost their minds. Eight days pass and Thomas waits. Eight days of hearing their story over and over. Eight days of feeling isolated by his pragmatism, his need for proof. Eight days and then, once again, Jesus appears. Thomas sees Jesus and hears his words parroted back at him, “Put your finger here. Look at my hands. Put your hand into my side. No more disbelief. Believe!” The story is one of our favorites. Doubting Thomas becomes the poster child for those who struggle with belief, at times a saint, at times a scapegoat, at times a bad pun. 

But what’s the point? What is the story really getting at? What is it were supposed to do with it? The answer is in the last verse:

But these things are written [the scroll of John] so that you will believe that Jesus is the Christ, God’s Son, and that believing, you will have life in his name.”

The point of this, the entire gospel of John according to this verse, is to trust that Jesus is the Anointed One of God sent to show is reconciliation with God and by having that level of trust, we will find a life lived out in his name. The first few parts are simple to explain. The last part is a little tricky. In his name means with the authority of and in the place of, as if the person themself were acting in the situation. When we say in Jesus’ name, we are saying that we are called to claim authority as Jesus would and that we are sent to do so. Prayers that end with in Jesus’ name are prayers we pray with the authority and in the place of Jesus as if he were praying them. We are saying that we agree with Jesus and if Jesus were here, he would agree with us, as he taught the Lord’s Prayer. 

And what do we do with that? I’d say start by looking back at verses 20-23. What did Jesus tell the first apostles (sent ones) to do?

  • Be filled with joy and peace
  • Recognize and live like we are sent by God for the purpose of reliving the life of Jesus before people
  • Be filled with the Holy Spirit
  • Live lives of forgiveness

The bluff is now called. The instructions are there, written clearly. Be filled with joy and peace and in being filled with joy and peace, live like it. And if you can’t live with these joy and peace, stop claiming to be disciples of Jesus. Live out the life, ministry, death, and resurrection of Jesus by doing the things Jesus did. If you need help figuring this out, the instructions are in the ministry parts of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. Just look for the stuff that tells you how Jesus treated people and start with doing that. Be filled with the Spirit of God. How do you know you’re filled with the Spirit of God? Are you living in the way Jesus lived? Are you doing the things Jesus did? Do you have the fruit of the Spirit Paul write about in Galatians 5? If so, you’re off to a good start. Finally, forgiveness. N.T. Wright explains it this way, “They are to pronounce, in God’s name and by his spirit, the message of forgiveness to all who believe [trust] in Jesus. They are also to ‘retain sins’: to warn the world that sin [brokenness of mind and spirit] is a series, deadly disease, and to remain in it will bring death [of the mind and spirit]” (John for Everyone, N.T. Wright. Westminster John Knox Press, Louisville, KY (c) 2004, p.150-151). 

As I said, before, the bluff is called. Can you show the world a changed life, one marked by a life in the spirit? Can you live out a life that emulates the very being and person of Jesus by the power of the Spirit of God? Or is your Christianity, your so-called faith just a story, a folktale to trot out on Sunday mornings and moments of convenience?