May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, our rock and our redeemer. Amen.
“The Proof is in the pudding.”
Kids, does your grandmother say that?
Did all our grandmothers say it long ago?
“The proof is in the pudding.”
Like a lot of English idioms, this is a strange one. Why would I look in pudding for proof? I personally love American pudding. It’s creamy and sweet and you can have it in almost any flavor—chocolate, vanilla, tapioca, pistachio. It’s one of my favorite desserts. But look it in for proof? Proof of what? That seems like a strange thing to do.
But back in England a few hundred years ago when this phrase became popular, a “pudding” was very different than it is now. A pudding was a meat pie. They would create these hollow breads and then stuff them with meats and vegetables, a lot like our pot pies today; and this pot pie was called a “pudding.” If you have become a fan of the British PBS show Poldark, you have seen these beautiful puddings which frequent the dinner table.
And popular phrase starting in the 1400s was “the proof of the pudding is in the eating” (learn more about the history of this phrase). In other words, if you wanted to know if someone had made a good pudding, a good pot pie, you needed to do more than just look at how beautiful it is and smell its delicious aroma, you needed to get out your fork and dig in. You would find proof in the pudding.
Today we looking a two Bible passages which speak of proof. What proof do we have that Jesus really rose from the grave? What proof do we have that our faith is real? What proof do we have that God is good?
Now I know that there are some who will say we shouldn’t ask such things. That faith is built on what is unseen not on what is seen (see 2 Corinthians 4:18 and Hebrews 11:1). And there is truth to this. On this side of heaven, we will always see into a mirror dimly (1 Cor 13:12); we will never fully see God; we will never be able to know God completely. But does that mean that we can’t ask questions or seek out proof?
Well, if we trust Scripture to be a reliable witness to things long ago, I would say no. The disciples were continuously asking Jesus for proof about who he is and who God is. And the Scripture itself tells us that people were witnesses to all that happened in the time of Jesus.
Let’s start with our gospel of John passage.
We read from John 14 today but if you glance backward just a little, you will see that this takes place on what we now call Maundy Thursday. Jesus was meeting with his disciples in the upper room, giving them a new commandment to love one another as he had loved them and explaining to them that the Covenant of God was changing.
Throughout the ages God had made many covenants with human beings and, going back to Noah, with all of creation. And on that night, God was doing a new thing. Through Jesus, God was creating a new covenant with all of humanity. Jesus was going to the cross, willingly going to die so that he could defeat sin and death. God knew that humans would never be able to beat sin on their own so Jesus took on all of the sin of the world and killed that sin in his own death.
And in the upper room on that holy night long ago, Jesus is trying to explain to his followers that he is going away, that he is going to die. That he must die so that he can go ahead of them into death and will prepare a place for them—a new life for them. But his followers won’t except that.
First, Peter proclaims that he will follow Jesus anywhere—even to his own death. But Jesus knows the truth and tells Peter that actually, before the rooster crows Peter will deny Jesus three times.
And then Thomas pipes up and that’s the part we read this morning. Thomas wants to know about the next part—the part where the disciples will eventually follow Jesus to this new place.
I think most of us are curious about that, too. John 14 is most often heard read at funerals. We all wonder about this place that Jesus went which he is supposedly preparing for us. How do we know that is true? We can’t know until we actually die, until we actually experience the new place, until the last days when we rise again.
How do we know that our loved ones are safe with Jesus in the next life? If the proof is in the pudding, this is one pudding we simply can’t dig into, can’t reach on our own.
Thomas asks, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?”
And Jesus reminds Thomas that Jesus himself IS the way, the truth and life, that no one comes to the Father except through him (John 14:5-6, Pastor’s paraphrase).
Well, that really gets Philip riled up, “That’s what I’m talking about Jesus, show us the Father.” Philip thinks that if he can actually see God, then he will believe. That’s the proof he has been longing for.
And then Jesus explains to him and to us in the clearest way possible the great mystery of our faith: “Have I been with you all this time, Philip, and still you do not know me? How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? 10 Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own; but the Father who dwells in me does his works. 11 Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; but if you do not, then believe me because of the works themselves” (John 14:9-11, NRSV).
The proof is in the pudding.
If we want to know God, if we hunger and thirst to understand who God is and what God has done we need look no further than Jesus.
God is not standing behind the back of Jesus like a shadow puppet. God is not one who stands far off like a watch maker who wound his creation and then simply let it go, unwinding as it might on its own. No, God came to earth in the very person of Jesus.
Everything that Jesus did—his healing touch, his words of affirmation, his power over death, his forgiveness of sin, his liberation of the captives, everything Jesus did is the work of God. We have seen the Lord!
And not only that, when we turn to this beautiful love letter in the back of our Bibles the disciple John tells us that Jesus’ work while he was on earth is not the end of the story.
“We declare to you what was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the word of life” (1 John 1:1).
Friends, John really saw Jesus die and rise again. John really saw it with his own eyes. Thomas really put his hands in Jesus’ side and saw the marks of death which could not hold Jesus in the grave. Mary really heard Jesus’ voice calling her name on that Easter morning. The proof is in the pudding. We can trust their witness passed down generation by generation.
The truth passed down to us from our parents—spiritual or physical—our grandparents and our grandparents’ parents. The truth of this great mystery that Jesus Christ died for us while we were still dead in our sin. That Jesus Christ came to set us free from the grave. That Jesus Christ offers an abundant life of blessing for all.
And not only that, but 1 John goes on. Remember how Jesus says that he and the Father are one? They are in perfect fellowship with one another. In Greek the word fellowship is koinania. Like a lot of Greek words, it loses some of its value when it is translated into English. In English when we think of fellowship we think of friendship. And most of us have friends who move in and out of our lives over the ages. Very few of us still keep in touch with our first friends, the early playmates we made when our families would get together at the park.
Some of us might have a few high school friends we keep in touch with later in life, but as a whole, friendships come and go. But this word koinania is not just friendship. This fellowship is something deep and long. It is like the relationship between God the Father and Jesus—it’s a closeness where in where you see one, you see the other.
And John now tells us in verse 3, “We declare to you what we have seen and heard so that you also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. We are writing these things so that our joy may be complete” (1 John 1:3-4, NRSV).
In hearing the truth about God in Jesus Christ, in receiving this testimony which is given to us passed down through the generations, we don’t simply hear the truth, we become a part of it. We become a part of this great kionania, this great fellowship. All of us together, all believers in every time and place, are invited into fellowship with God.
Now notice, we won’t do this perfectly. John knows this. You would think that after John tells us about this great kionania, about this great fellowship we have there would be lots of dancing and praising God. But instead, John’s tone shifts and he talks about sin.
N.T. Wright, in his great commentary on this passage tells it this way:
There is a woman named Elizabeth who got her first job just recently. And with the job came her moving out of her parent’s house and into an apartment. Her parents bought her a special present to celebrate, a piece of furniture.
It was a big gift—you all know how expensive those beautiful lazy boys can be—the kind you can really settle into and put up your feet after a long day at work. And her parents are really excited to come and visit Elizabeth’s new city and see the chair in its prominent place. But, on move in day, Elizabeth has friends helping her to set up the place and somehow, and no one really knows how, a giant cup of coffee comes pouring down on the brand new chair.
They do everything to get out the stain, but there is nothing to be done. Elizabeth thinks about telling her parents not to come. She can’t let them see that. Their fellowship is broken. She has ruined the best gift she could have been given (Pastor’s summary of Wright’s example in The Early Christian Letters, 134).
John knows that just like Elizabeth, our fellowship with God, as soon as we receive it, has massive stains. When we hear the good news of God’s love and mercy, when we receive God’s great gift of new life—resurrection found in Jesus—an abundant life given, we start to look around and see all the stains, all the sin, all the filth in our lives.
And we may turn way from God. We may say to God as Peter does in his first encounter with Jesus, “Don’t come near me; I am a sinner” (Luke 5:8).
So John lovingly writes to us, “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us, but if we confess our sin, God who is faithful and just will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:8).
In our analogy, it’s as if Elizabeth’s parents show up and yes, she is really sheepish knowing she has created this huge stain on the gift so lovingly given, but she comes to the fellowship any way. She realizes that kionania–that a loving, trusting relationship–is so much more important than anything else. So she decides not to hid, despite the pain that there is in telling the truth.
And when she shows the stain, her parents pull out a new stain cleaner they found on ebay and the stain completely disappears. (Okay, maybe that’s a little far-fetched for a stain, Elizabeth is probably just going to have to live with that thing.)
But it is not far-fetched for us. This is exactly what Jesus does.
Yes, there is pain in confession. Laying bare all that we have ever done is a difficult process. And yes, sometimes that makes us want to hid. When we are offered this kionania, this great fellowship with God, we might become overwhelmed by the weight of our own sin.
But if we confess it, we find that God does not stand in judgement over us, but instead washes it away. In Jesus Christ, we are forgiven. As far as the east is from the west, our transgression is removed from us (Psalm 103:12). We are invited to share in this great koinania with one another and with God.
And then we, too, become witnesses. We too share the good news of God with all that we say and do. That’s what today is all about. It’s about seeing that the Lord is good. Witnessing and baring witness to the goodness of God.
The items that are laid out before you are a kind of witness to the goodness of God. Why do we give to others in need? Because we have received from God. And in receiving God’s goodness, we become givers. The proof is in the pudding and we are that proof. Our actions represent the God who loves us and who has changed us and is continuously changing us. And others see our love and come to know the love of God through us (Note: Kerr members collected items throughout Lent which were dedicated on this Sunday and then distributed through the East End Cooperative Ministry).
And that is what the communion table is all about as well, sharing in God’s feast in fellowship, in kionania with one another. So let us pause for a moment of prayer and then come to the Lord’s Table together.
VOA Learning English. (2019, February 16). Learn Why “The Proof Is in the Pudding.” VOA. https://learningenglish.voanews.com/a/learn-why-the-proof-is-in-the-pudding-/4787300.html
Wright, N. T. (2011). Early Christian Letters for Everyone (The New Testament for Everyone). Westminster John Knox Press.