These things are written so that you might believe

Guest preacher Kimberly Axtell

I remember the first night I was hooked on the X-files. It was a dark, Friday night, and I had just got home from a late night at work catching up on the billing. I probably even had a rapidly deteriorating In-and-out burger in the bag. And there, on the television screen, were these flashlights cutting through the darkness. After that night, munching my burger, the X-files show was appointment television for me, guaranteed to get me home in time to watch. This was, of course, pre-DVR recording box.

Now, maybe I mis-remember some of the story lines, but it seemed that the show was a dialog between faith and reason, writ large. The two main characters, Mulder and Scully, symbolized each of these viewpoints. Mulder, the profiler, believed; Scully, the scientist reasoned; each was seeking their particular truth. Each week, they would travel together to some abandoned building, or maybe this week it was a decrepit house, or a deep mine shaft, with hazy shadows, some greenish or bluish light coming from some odd angle. And there they were, searching for the facts with their high-powered flashlights. These flashlights almost seemed to be a leit-motif for the show.

Outside of the aliens from space storyline, there was usually the strange event of the week tale. Some person would have an experience with something outside of what they knew to be true. Sometimes they could describe, or put into words, what they had seen, touched, heard, smelled. And sometimes, they couldn’t – there were no words to describe the event.

The job of Scully and Mulder was to investigate, to sort through conflicting descriptions and somehow arrive at a truth. In the context of the show, this truth was a reasoned account of what happened, –    that despite what some might believe, there was often an explanation.

 

These things are written so that you might believe.

In today’s gospel reading, we have two encounters with the risen Christ, set a week apart. On the day of the resurrection (last Sunday), most of the disciples were gathered together in a locked room. They were anxious, not quite sure what to believe. A couple of the disciples, John, Peter, Mary, had visited the tomb at first light where Jesus was buried and encountered a strange phenomenon that was outside their experience. Their story was wild, almost unbelievable – Jesus had risen from the dead. But where was he? The body was gone. So Jesus, must be someplace physical, shouldn’t he?

But,then, it seemed that Jesus was among them, in their conversation, in their gathering together, in their fellowship. Jesus, didn’t ooze through the crack in the walls, or walk through the closed and locked door like some ephemeral spirit. He was there all along; it took the disciples time to realize that. The gospel story seems to indicate that Jesus become embodied among them and gave them authority and the gift of the Divine Spirit that was in him. But the story doesn’t say that Jesus left.

 

These things are written so that you might believe.

What do we do with a story that is allegorical? I think that one of the reasons that the Gospel of John has such power for us, even after all these years, is because it is primarily allegory. And the writer is not shy about stating this fact. Each story seems to be carefully constructed to convey some truth about Christ that hits us deep inside. We might like to think of the gospels as an assembly of eyewitness accounts like a newspaper, but this gospel writer goes to the heart of his subject matter.

In the second part of our gospel story, we encounter the maligned disciple, Thomas. Poor guy, he gets his own nickname, Doubting Thomas. But if you look beyond the story outline, you might see that he stands as a symbol for something greater, an everyman, if you will. Perhaps he stands in for you and me, disciples who have come later and didn’t witness the crucifixion or the resurrection – we who need an individual encounter with the risen Christ. Or perhaps he is the symbol of the person who just doesn’t get it, who needs just one more telling so that the story rings true. Or perhaps he is a symbol of a spectrum of belief. There were many disciples in that room with Thomas, at different places, at different times, each dealing with their own questions and fears and truths they held dear. For us, there are times in our own spiritual journey in which faith and reason seem at odds with one another, when our notions of the world and our place in it are fuzzy, when we are not sure what to believe. Such as, is the Bible true, in what ways and what are the limits and blessings of those truths; what is our role in this world – to retreat from it or to advance the kingdom; what about the role of science and reason; what about process theology and the nature of sin? There are a range of opinions on these and many other subjects within our Christian tradition. And whatever Thomas means for you, the wonderful example here is that Christ is willing to meet us, no matter what we believe, where-ever we are, and supply what we lack.

 

These things are written so that you might believe.

Last Sunday, Kate had a number of questions in her Easter sermon, and the questions continue today. What brings you here today? Where is Christ in your life? He is not in the tomb. Is Christ to be found in fellowship, like the disciples discovered early on? Is Christ to be found in those moments when, in a blink of an eye, our world shifts and we see truths that were hidden before? Is Christ to be found in our worship celebrations, in music and feasting and prayer? Is Christ to be found in our care and love for each other and those outside our community, in the way we reach out to those around us, to tell them of this wonderful thing that has happened and defies explanation?

In a little bit, we will gather around this altar, this table set with bread and wine and we will remember our sacred story.    Remember.    Now as we move into the Eucharist, I would ask that you think about the word remember. And instead of its normal spelling, I would ask that you put a hyphen in between the word re and member – Like this: re-member. For today, and every Sunday, we remember our story and we also re-assemble, bring together the many aspects of Christ’s body. We bring together the various pieces of the gospel truth and tell it to one another. We take those inarticulate experiences we have through the week and share them together. In all of us, wherever we are in our walk of faith, whatever we believe, or don’t believe, this is the fullness of God. No one person can capture all that God is, but together we can. Together we are the body of Christ.

And gospel stories like these, can sometimes cut through the fuzzy grayness of our lives, and shine a beam of truth, some way of languaging what we have come to know about Christ. Wherever you are in your journey, you are welcome here.

These stories are written and told so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name. Amen.