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The priest had been having trouble with his congregation. It seemed they could agree upon nothing, and controversy filled the air. The Senior Warden of the vestry said, “Father, this cannot be allowed to continue. Come, there must be a meeting, and we must settle all areas of dispute once and for all.”
“Agreed,” said the priest.
At the appointed time, therefore, the priest, the senior warden and 10 vestry members met in the conference room of the church, sitting about a magnificent mahogany table. One by one the issues were dealt with and on each issue, it became more and more apparent that the priest was a lonely voice in the wilderness.
The senior warden said, “Come, Father, enough of this. Let us vote and allow the majority to rule.” He passed out slips of paper, and each person made their mark. “You may examine them, Father. It is 11 to one against you. We have a majority.”
“So,” said the priest, “you now think because of the vote that you are right and I am wrong. Well, that is not so. I call upon the Lord our God to give us a sign that I am right and you are wrong.”
And as he said so, there came a frightful crack of thunder and brilliant flash of lightning that struck the mahogany table and cracked it in two and the entire vestry was hurled to the floor.
Through the carnage, the priest remained erect and untouched, his eyes flashing and a grim smile on his face.
Slowly, the senior warden lifted himself above what was left of the table. His hair was singed, his glasses were hanging from one ear, his clothing was in disarray.
He said, “All right, 11 to two. We still have the majority.”
I suppose people have always asked for signs from God. Whether it be in the form of thunder and lightning, dreams, or in other manner of “putting out the fleece,” an expression that comes from one of the Judges of Israel: Gideon.
For a quick refresher: the Israelites had sinned against God, so God allowed the Midianites to oppress them; however, when the Israelites repented, the Lord called on Gideon to be the savior of the people, but Gideon wasn’t all together sure God was going to be with him and the people, so Gideon said to God, “In order to see whether you will deliver Israel by my hand, as you have said, I am going to lay a fleece of wool on the threshing floor; if there is dew on the fleece alone, and it is dry on all the ground, then I shall know that you will deliver Israel by my hand, as you have said.” The next morning, the fleece was wet and the ground was dry, but Gideon was still not convinced, so again he spoke to the Lord, “Do not let your anger burn against me, let me speak one more time; let me, please, make trial with the fleece just once more; let it be dry only on the fleece, and on all the ground let there be dew.” The next morning, the fleece was dry and the ground was wet. Gideon had his sign and he gathered the army against the Midianites. This past week, I thought of Gideon as I studied Thomas.
You know the story: all the disciples except Thomas are present in the upper room when Jesus appears to them. Thomas shows up after Jesus has left. The disciples report: we have seen the Lord, but Thomas says to them, “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 his side, I will not believe.” In a sense, Thomas has “put out the fleece.” He has asked for a sign from God, before he is willing to believe. He is gently chastised for his unbelief, but he is also given that sign. Jesus appeared a week later and Thomas was present. He said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.”
I read these two accounts, and know many other examples of signs in the Bible, and I’m thinking that I might want to go out and buy myself some fleece. It would have come in handy several years back when a nice lady that I had been dating came to me and said that God told her that she was supposed to marry me. I could have said, “Well, come see me in the morning and I’ll let you know if my fleece is wet.”
We all ask for signs of sorts, but when the Pharisees and Sadducees came to Jesus looking for a sign from heaven, he said to them, “An evil and adulterous generation asks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of Jonah.” (This being a reference to the resurrection. Jonah was in the belly of the beast for three days and Jesus was in the belly of the earth for three.) But Jesus’ answer doesn’t quite seem fair. Gideon received a sign and so did Thomas, so where is ours?
I’ll answer my own question with a question to you: do you want to run out and check your fleece every morning or would you rather have God dwelling within you? Earlier in John’s Gospel, we read, “Judas (not Iscariot) said to [Jesus], Lord, how is it that you will reveal yourself to us, and not to the world?’ Jesus answered him, ‘Those who love me will keep my word, and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them…. the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you.’” We have what Gideon and Thomas did not have. We have God, through the gift of the Holy Spirit, dwelling in us. We don’t need a soggy piece of fleece to speak to us about the truths of God… and everybody says, “Yeah, well, it would come in handy every now and then.” Maybe, but let me ask you this: what if you got an answer you didn’t like? If that fleece came back and told me to marry that girl, to this day, I would still be putting it out every night, and like Gideon, asking God, “Are you sure about that?” However, the bigger problem of putting out the fleece, asking God for a sign, is that the sign really has nothing to do with faith, with believing.
Jesus said to Thomas, “Do not doubt but believe.” Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”
Blessed are you who believe in me. Blessed are you who trust that through the Holy Spirit I will guide you. The Apostle James writes in his epistle: “If any of you is lacking in wisdom, ask God, who gives to all generously and ungrudgingly, and it will be given you. But ask in faith, never doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, driven and tossed by the wind; for the doubter, being double-minded and unstable in every way, must not expect to receive anything from the Lord.”
We are to seek God and his Wisdom and through faith, believe that He truly does hear the prayers of the righteous.
Does it mean we’ll get it right every time? No. We still see in a mirror dimly. We still don’t know as we would like to, but in seeking God’s Wisdom through the Holy Spirit, we will receive what a soggy piece of fleece will never give: peace. We will know that God is with us, for even in the most difficult of times and even when things seem to be against us, “We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.”
“Do not doubt but believe.” Do not put out your fleece but believe. Our God who overcame death and the grave is faithful to us, his beloved children.
Let us pray: Everliving God, who strengthened your apostle Thomas with firm and certain faith in your Son’s resurrection: Grant us so perfectly and without doubt to believe in Jesus Christ, our Lord and our God, that our faith may never be found wanting in your sight; through him who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.