Holy Language

“Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book.”

I love the story of doubting Thomas, but this line stands out to me. I never really thought much about it. This line even repeats and ends the Gospel of John. John 21:25 says, “But there are also many other things Jesus did; if every one of them were written down, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that could be written.”

That’s a heck of a way to end a gospel. The account of Jesus, the Son of God, the promised Messiah, the anointed one of God, the second person of the Trinity, our Lord and Savior ends with the evangelist John saying, “Yeah, he did other things…”

God puts on skin, moves into the neighborhood, and one of the books written about him says, “He did other stuff, too.”

I think this phrase has so much to say about our life of faith. Too much to say in a single sermon. I’ll talk about three things today: First, the role of scripture. Second, the non-hierarchy of discipleship. Third, revelation.

First things first, the role of scripture.

This phrase, “He did other stuff, too” completely obliterates any debate around the authority of scripture. I spent a lot of time on social media during my quarantine and saw a lot of ads urging people to go to a “Bible believing church” for Easter. I hate that phrase, “Bible believing.” All churches are Bible-believing, but some aren’t Bible worshipping. Often that phrase is code for “Bible worshipping.” Claims of inerrancy aren’t biblical. The Bible never claims that for itself.

There’s an impulse within Christianity to worship the Bible. Church, that’s the easy way out. It’s quotable. We can memorize. We can feel certain. Certain is the opposite of faith. I need no faith that if I were to drop a pen, it would hit the ground. Physics. I am certain. What I need faith in is things like love and peace and kindness are the way forward in this world. I need faith in those things because the world is full of violence, hate, abused children and animals and more. I need faith in a loving God and in our ability to help heal the world. I can drop pens all day and need no faith as not a single one will float to the ceiling. But I need faith in love, kindness, and new life in the midst of death.

The study of scripture is extremely important in the life of faith. St. Augustine wrote that we should not neglect the critical and devotional readings of scripture. The critical study of scripture means to challenge the text. Run it through the wringer of the critical methods of biblical interpretations like textual, socio-historic and other critical methods, as well as use the various lenses of interpretation like feminist or queer readings or a process theology reading or neo-orthodox and more. We can glean a lot of things from scripture from other voices.

Yet we cannot neglect devotional reading as well. Savoring of our sacred stories. It appears our various denominations have fallen in one realm or the other. Churches are either all critical methods or all devotional methods. All critical where it’s hard to tell if the church likes faith and scripture or all devotional where nothing in the bible is ever challenged.

“Jesus did other stuff, too” is a call to stay humble. Scripture cannot fully capture God. Scripture can’t relate all the great things Jesus did while he was with us. The truth of scripture lies in its power to make the presence of God in Jesus available to us here and now. Our stories are sacred not because they are sacred in and of themselves; our stories are sacred because they point beyond themselves into a relationship with the living God. They point us to Christ now. One of my favorite phrases is that “I believe the Bible not because it happened exactly as written, but because it’s still happening now.” I don’t know where I picked that up. I love that phrase. The role of scripture is to point us into a living relationship with God because these stories are still happening in our lives to us now. Which brings me to my second point.

If scripture points beyond us and launches us into a relationship with the living God then that makes us exactly the same as any other disciple. Discipleship is non-hierarchical. We’ve made it a hierarchy, but the gospel doesn’t really support this.

We treat Thomas as a second-class disciple because he doubts. We say, “Don’t be a doubting Thomas.” But that’s us putting that on Thomas. Jesus doesn’t do that. Thomas gives conditions for his faith. He should have been able to believe his friends’ stories. He should have been able to believe Mary’s story, but Thomas doesn’t and can’t. He doubts. The story is incredible, and he has questions. This is true then for Thomas, and it’s true now for us.

I have questions about the resurrection. How did it happen? What is the science behind it? The gospels don’t care about these questions. They aren’t important. The particulars of the resurrection aren’t as important as the principle of the resurrection. God takes the worst we could throw at God; all the humiliation and torture and pain and responds with love, forgiveness, and life. Love and life in the faith of the cross. Jesus presents himself to Thomas with no guilt nor shame. Instead, Christs says to him, “Do not be unbelieving but believing.”

Jesus asks, “Do you believe because you have seen? Blessed are those who have not seen yet have come to believe.” Believe what? That God is loving and not a sin-miser salivating at the chance to smite us. God is love. All who love belong to God. We are built for love despite our hateful and violent ways.

This story of hope and promise, not judgment and reprimand are open not just to the first generation of disciples who were eye-witnesses; but to every generation of disciple no matter the generation. Look, the first generation of disciples talked with Jesus. They ate with him. They saw him and still ran away and doubted and struggled, and they were invited back time and time again to the table. Peter who denied Jesus was restored the same amount he denied. Jesus responds in grace to Peter’s denial. The same is true for us.

We are just as perplexed by Jesus as the first disciples were. We are still trying to figure out what it means to be a disciple and live out our faith in our day and age. Jesus is a person of history yet transcends history and is still with us through the Holy Spirit.

Jesus did other stuff too, and he’s still doing stuff now. One friend of mine had a dramatic conversion experience in seminary. She was a Unitarian Universalist and considered herself a new age spiritualist. UCC seminaries love those UUs and I do, too.  We were in Egypt. She turned to me and said, “I saw Jesus. Right here on the bus. He told me to follow him.” Tears were streaming down her face, and I believed her. Yet I said, “Are you sure you want to do this?”

She was offended. She told her stories to others who hugged her and cried with her. Then she came back to me about three hours later. “Luke, I want to thank you,” she said. “You asked the right question I wasn’t ready to hear. Following Jesus means there is pain involved. It’s a beautiful and wonderful thing and it has brought me to tears, but it’s going to be hard. You were right in asking that question.”

I hugged her. We cried. We’re both following Jesus. She’s a Hospice chaplain now. She’s experienced the pain of death time and time again. Her walk with Jesus started with tears, and there have been plenty of tears each and every day. I’m so thankful for her ministry. That Christ appeared to her. I’m also a little jealous she saw him. I only heard his voice. Some don’t even get that. Yet Jesus probably knew that I would doubt seeing him. “Oh, is that what I think he looks like?! C’mon, Lindon!” That would be a barrier for me, but it wasn’t for my friend and many others who had similar mystical experiences. I just had a voice from the backseat of my Ford 150 saying, “Feed my sheep.” That’s what I needed. And Jesus knew that.

Often, we get to thinking that those experiences make other people better or that God loves them more. No. God is a good parent. We love our children the same but differently. My relationship as a father to Eve is different than my relationship with Sam. They are different people with different needs. I love them the same amount, but I love them differently because the relationship is different. God loves us the same and yet differently. Just as Christ gave Thomas what he needed, Christ will give us what we need. Peter got what he needed. Mary the Tower got what she needed. If we are clear with ourselves about what we need, Christ will love us how we need. I believe that, for it has been true for me, too.

Scripture points beyond itself and launches us into a relationship with the living God who loves us the same yet differently. This leads us to the third point: revelation.

John does not write his gospel as a historical document. We here in the modern world are obsessed with documenting everything. We are obsessed with historical accuracy. We want a photo of our dinner on Instagram so that archaeologists a thousand years from now know what we had for Easter dinner in 2011. John is not writing in that genre.

John is not a rule book or a centralized account to wield authority. John is a testimony. The Good News According to John is an epic love poem to Jesus who is the way, the truth, and the life, the living water, the bread of life, the true vine, the gate, the shepherd, and many other things. John’s testimony is not the end-all be-all and states that twice before ending his testimony. He writes so we have a similar revelation about Jesus. He writes so that we come to believe that Jesus is indeed the way and the truth and the life for us. That his ways are the best ways. That we don’t have to live in a world of violence and in the hands of an angry God. Because that’s not God at all. God reveals to us time and time again the ways of life and life abundant. We are loved by God, shown the testimonies about Jesus Christ, and confirmed by the Holy Spirit that indwells us all. the Helper who will give us the revelation of this love that we so desperately long for.

This is the radical revelation of God and good news for all people.

Now there is much more to say about all of this. It’s heavy stuff. It’s a lot. I’m sure you have things to say as well, and I look forward to our continued conversation about all of this. I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books we could write.

Here’s what I want us to take away today: First, the role of scripture is to point us to a living relationship with God. Second, the non-hierarchy of discipleship means God loves us the same as the first generation of disciples yet different. And third, Christ will give us the revelation we need to believe. This is good news because we can add our testimony to the giants of faith! Our voices matter! Our prayers and acts of love matter. All of this adds to the beloved community of God.

Thanks be to God who can’t love us more and refuses to love us less. Amen.

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