Sunday, April 23, 2017

“Not Written in This Book” (John 20:19-31)

What if?

It is said that Yellowstone National Park sits on top of one of the largest volcanoes in the world, just waiting to erupt.  The problem is that no one knows exactly when this eruption will take place.  It has also been said that the destruction caused by this eruption would be catastrophic.  Worse than a nuclear bomb . . . it would destroy everything . . . change the landscape, topple buildings, wreck homes, level everything . . . the destruction would be massive.  With such destruction there won’t be a whole lot left.  It has been said that its destruction would be cataclysmic.  And, guess what?  Living approximately a hundred miles from Yellowstone, we live in the area of this future catastrophe.  

Such a happy thought for a Sunday morning, wouldn’t you say?

I doubt if too many of us lay awake at night worrying about the eventual eruption of the volcano lying underneath Yellowstone National Park.  Nor do I think too many of us consider what would be left behind in the wake of such a disaster.  Every so often I have thought about it . . . especially about what would be left behind--if anything . . . what would survive . . . In particular I have even thought about what it would mean for us, the followers of Jesus.  If everything is destroyed--everything, that would mean that our churches would be gone . . . our Bibles would be gone . . . the whole physical foundation of our faith would disappear.  We’d have to start over from scratch.

Think about it . . . there would be no Bibles . . . no written Word.  How would we function as a people of faith if we do have the Word of God to guide us and validate our faith.  After all, it is the Bible that we base our faith upon . . . we are a “people of the Word”.

I imagine that we would be able to gather enough people together to recall all the parts of the Bible from memory . . . surely enough people would remember enough in bits and pieces to put it all back together again.  I assure you, with my memory, that I will not be a part of that group.  Together this group would reconstruct the Bible . . . probably word by word . . . and, again, we would have our proof of faith.  We’d have our stories of God and Jesus.

Or, would we?

Our scripture reading this morning is a curious bit of writing.  The resurrection of Jesus has occurred.  People have begun to encounter the risen and living Jesus.  Our reading tells us of Jesus appearing to his disciples and how they believed . . . except for Thomas who was awol at the grand entrance of Jesus to his disciples.  He refuses to believe and demands proof . . . of which Jesus provides . . . the wounds are displayed.  Thomas then believes.  Jesus tells him: “Stop doubting and believe . . . because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”

This is a familiar story . . . we all know about “doubting Thomas”; yet, as the writer of the Gospel of John likes to do, there is a bit more to the story that is shared.  The writer of the gospel shares the story and explains that these stories of the miracles and signs of that Jesus did have been recorded so that others--those reading the scripture--may believe.  Through these stories faith will be found.  Then, almost as an aside--an off-hand remark, the author writes that there are many stories that are not recorded.

Wait a minute.

I thought everything that we know about Jesus can be found in our Bibles . . . everything.  Now this writer is telling us that not every detail . . . not every miracle, every sign, every word . . . every detail of Jesus’ life is not in the book?  That there is more to the story than the words that are written in the good book?  That, maybe, the story isn’t complete . . . that there is actually more to the story than is written down between Genesis and Revelation?

Of course there is!

The story does not end with the final period at the end of the Book of Revelation.  No, the story is a “living story” that is instilled in our hearts when we come to believe.  When we receive the living Jesus as our Lord and Savior, we inherit the story that becomes a part of who we are . . . a story that we live each and every day.  It has been, since that encounter of Jesus with his disciples in which they came to believe . . . a corporate story and a personal story.  A story that is being written every day . . . written every day from the faithfuls’ perspective and experience.  

The story is a never-ending story, and it continues; unfortunately it is just not included between the covers of our most sacred book.  And, just because those stories are not included in the book, does it make them any less holy or valid as those found in the scriptures?  It shouldn’t . . . after all, the writer of the Gospel of John tells us that there are many stories that are not recorded.  Stories like yours and mine.  I’d like to see you try and convince me that my relationship and experience--my stories of Jesus are not authentic, valid, and as holy as any story found in the Bible.  True, they might not be as dramatic as what you would find in the Bible, but they are stories of faith, stories of relationship and intimacy between Jesus and I.

But, for some people, if it ain’t scriptural . . . it ain’t real.  The proponents of this belief cannot and usually will not accept personal stories of faith as proof and evidence of a living Jesus . . . of a living God.  To these “doubting Thomases” I repeat the words of Jesus to the original doubting Thomas: “Stop doubting and believe.”

These “doubting Thomases” are wrong.  The writer of the Gospel of John clearly explains that not everything we know about Jesus is written down in the scriptures.  Could you imagine if they were!  It would take a semi-truck to haul around that Bible.  Here the theological argument is that Jesus . . . that God . . . can be experienced outside the realm of scripture in the lives of everyday people, like you and me . . . and, that it is real and holy and valid.  The writer is opening the door and allowing us to say that we all have a story of faith . . . powerful stories of faith . . . that are just as holy as the scriptures that we read.  

Our experiences of Jesus . . . our experiences of God . . . are just as real, holy, and valid as anything that we will read in the scriptures.  Even more importantly it that they are our experiences of encountering the Holy . . . personal, intimate stories.  And, with this, we become a part of the story, the never-ending story.  We claim our place in the family of God.

And, when we share our stories of faith, our stories of encountering the living Jesus, we open a door for those who are listening to hear the story in a different way . . . a more personal way . . . an intimate way because they know the person sharing the story.  A connection is shared, the Holy is exposed, and a relationship is possible for those who are listening.  This is not a staunch by the letter of the law sort of thing to establish faith; no, it is a simple story of faith between one who believes and the God that loves them.

Not everything is written in our holy scriptures.  The writer of the Gospel of John tells us that.  The writer also tells us that those stories that are written in the scriptures are important as they help people to believe.  At the same time, the writer is also letting the readers . . . letting us know that there are other stories of faith . . . or miracles . . . and signs that are just as important, but they are not recorded in the scriptures.  These are the stories that we can share as the followers of Jesus.  Personal, intimate, holy stories of the living Jesus in our lives.  We may not always have the Bible, but we will all . . . each and everyone of us . . . have the stories of our relationship with Jesus.  Nope, not everything we know about Jesus is written in the Good Book, a lot of what we know is written in our hearts.  May we share our stories . . . may we share our hearts.  Amen.

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