I know a lot of clergy celebrate the Sunday after Easter as Holy Humor Sunday, but, if I’m being honest, I’m really just not that funny. So rather than force something that just won’t work for me, this past Sunday we stuck to the things that I am good at in worship -integrating special music into the service, bringing the community together to bless a new batch of prayer shawls and gathering around the living waters of baptism as we baptized our very own Baby Jesus (or at least, he played him in the Christmas pageant last year!). It was a wonderful Sunday and I was thrilled to see so many people come out, considering it was the end of school vacation and there is often a low after Easter Sunday, anyway.
Enjoy today’s sermon! Felt a little strange to be out of our sermon series, but it’s always nice to just read the scripture at the beginning of the week and then see where my mind takes me.
Rehoboth Congregational Church
April 23, 2017
Some of you may have heard me talk before about my embarrassing affection for bad reality television. This is not something I am necessarily proud of, but it often does not matter how much of a train wreck it is to watch or how horrified I am by humankind (and, quite frankly, myself) while watching, sometimes I cannot help but get sucked in.
In more recent years, I have made a discovery that brought my intrigue of reality television to a whole a new level: Spoilers.
For those of you who, like me, did not know this was a “thing,” allow me to explain: There are people who have quite literally found a way to make a fairly lucrative living off of either spoiling the endings of the competition-type reality shows (such as The Bachelor or Survivor) or uncovering out the inconsistencies in the editing of the docu-series-type reality shows (such as Keeping Up With The Kardashians or any other show where the premise is following someone’s “real life”). All of this spoiling is kind of like seeing the man behind the curtain in The Wizard of Oz; it spoils the illusion of what television producers are trying to create on camera by exposing what is actually happening behind the scenes.
A month or two ago, I was sitting on my couch watching the season finale of The Bachelor when Bruce came downstairs, watched for a minute or two and then asked me a question about the show. I answered, but then said, “But it’s not like it really matters, because I read the spoilers and he picks the other girl.”
To which Bruce replied, “So what is the point of watching, then?”
He had a point.
That being said, sometimes I find what is happening behind the scenes far more entertaining than what I am seeing on camera. I am the type of person that likes to know how things work; I want to know the story behind the story. I crave details about things that ordinary people never get to see or hear or experience for themselves.
And this craving follows me in my faith. When I read the bible, I always wonder about pieces of the story that never made it to scripture. I wonder things like, “Was Jesus a colicky baby?” or, “Did King David actually remember the names of all of his wives?” I am curious about details that really might not make a difference in the grand scheme of things, but that do – in some way – also contribute to the larger narrative of this story of our faith that is still being written.
Which is why something in this morning’s scripture piqued my interest this week.
This morning we heard the story of Doubting Thomas. This story shows up in the lectionary every year the week following Easter. Jesus appears to the disciples, shows them the marks on his hands and sides and they rejoice and believe he has been raised. But Thomas was not with the disciples at the time and when they shared with him what had happened, he said, “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.”
First of all, I have to say that I do kind of feel badly for Thomas. The guy merely asked to see something all of his friends got to see without him and, because of that, he has this unfortunate reputation as being a “doubter”. But I also think it is good for us, after we come down off of the high of Easter – with all the excitement of the brass, lilies and confetti – to take a moment and ask ourselves, “Wait a moment, what just happened?” and create space for our own doubts in our lives and in our faith.
Because we all have doubts. And those doubts are healthy and normal and create great depth to our faith.
But this week I was struck by something different in this story; something that I have overlooked every other time I have preached on Doubting Thomas. Verse 30 – the verse that immediately follows Thomas’ conversation with Jesus after Jesus appears to Thomas and shows him the marks on his hands and sides – says:
Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book.
Which begs the question, what was not written in the book? Clearly something happened that never actually made it to scripture. What was it?
I did a little bit of research to see if perhaps anyone knew anything about these “other signs” that were not written down. And while I came up short on that question, I did learn that this verse and also verse 31 were thought to have been the original ending of the Gospel of John. In the translations we have today, there is another chapter where Jesus, again, appears to the disciples, but most scholars believe – based on the differences in language and style – this was how the original Gospel ended, by essentially saying, “There is more to the story than is written down, but we are ending it right here.”
And this has been driving me crazy all week. What were the other signs? Why were they unwritten? Were they more believable? Less believable? Did the people who were supposed to write them down forget to hand them in on time?
What else happened after the resurrection that we do not know about? What are the untold stories? What piece of the narrative are we missing?
No wonder Thomas had doubts; maybe they did not tell him the whole story, either!
Like I said, this has he been driving me crazy all week. I want to know the untold stories of Jesus, of the resurrection and of our faith. I want to know what happened, but was never written about.
But since there are not a whole lot of bloggers out there posting “Jesus spoilers,” I have kind of been left to the devices of my own imagination on this one.
Which, I was surprised to discover, got me a lot further than I thought it would.
I met with my clergy group this week and we all checked in on how everyone’s Easters went at their churches. At one point someone said, “Can I tell a story?” and proceeded to share this really powerful story about where she had seen resurrection come alive during a funeral she presided over during Holy Week.
While she was talking, it got me thinking about a moment where I had experienced resurrection in worship on Easter Sunday and so I shared that story. When I finished, another one of my colleagues shared her own resurrection story from their Easter Sunrise Service.
As I was driving home that afternoon, I started thinking about these powerful resurrection stories that we had not only experienced, but also shared with one another. And it was in that moment that I realized that it is not only in experiencing these moments that resurrection becomes real, but also sharing them with others. I began to wonder if perhaps Jesus’ signs are not all written in the Gospel of John because they are still very much happening today, in our lifetime, in the piece of this story we are writing.
Friends, resurrection is happening all around us, but the only way people will know this to be true is if we tell them our stories. We have to tell people about those moments in our lives when we thought all was lost and yet grace was found. We have to share the stories from our lives where the darkness was overwhelming and yet light still found a way to shine. We have to boldly proclaim the times of hope and promise in the midst of suffering and grief.
We are the keepers of the untold stories of our faith and we have to tell these stories. We have to pull back the curtain; we have to show people what is happening behind the scenes. The Christian faith should not be some elusive club that outsiders have no window into; it should be a beautiful opportunity for all people to experience resurrection in real and powerful ways.
The thing is: There are a lot of Doubting Thomases in this world. And they need a safe space; they need a safe space not only to experience that doubt, but also hear real stories from our faith. They need to know about this God whom we worship and trust and believe in. They need to be inspired to think about the ways resurrection could potentially happen in their lives as we share the ways resurrection happens in our lives. They need to learn about this Good News we have grounded our lives in so they can see how it might transform their lives.
We have to tell the untold stories of our faith. We have to continue to share this Christian story; a story I believe is still very much worth sharing.
This morning, I encourage you all to think about what it means to tell the untold stories of our faith; to share real pieces of your real lives where you experienced everything from doubt to belief in resurrection and to know that those stories can and will make a difference in someone’s life.
So let us write our own Jesus spoilers. And may we be inspired as we experience resurrection, believe in resurrection and share resurrection this Easter season.
Thanks be to God!