Sermons That Work

The Gospel of John Begins…, Easter 2 (C) – 1998

April 19, 1998

This gospel reading ends with,

There were many other signs that Jesus worked and the disciples saw, but they are not recorded in this book. These are recorded so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the son of God, and that believing this you may have life through his name.

The Gospel of John begins with a theological statement of great beauty. But it is the sort of statement that makes sense only to be believer. Then the Gospel of John unfolds with simple stories joined to elaborate theological commentaries. Much of the content of the Christian faith is grounded in those theological commentaries on those simple stories. But the Gospel ends with the simple statement that says, in effect, “these signs are recorded so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the son of God, and that believing you may have life through his name.”

The Gospel moves from complexity to a mix of simplicity and complexity to ultimate simplicity. And the reason for the Gospel is so that we can believe.

The question “how can we believe?” or “how can we know what we know?” is one of those basic questions that are asked by all people and in all ages. Interestingly enough, the answer seems to change from time to time. The intellectual systems of thought that inspired belief in the 12th century don’t seem to be persuasive for most people in our own time.

Jesus, Our Savior and Lord, has not changed at all. But the eyeglasses that we look through to see him have different dimensions. In conversations with believers about why and how they believe some patterns emerge. These are a sort of “grammar” of belief that seem to reoccur in our age.

One of them is story. Stories have a power to touch us. Stories can rearrange our internal furniture in ways we don’t understand. We humans have a need to hear stories from our very earliest days. One of the most intimate things we do is listen to each other tell the stories of our lives. The stories of Jesus, remembered in the Gospels have a power to communicate him that goes far beyond the text. The images raised by the stories come to life in our lives. Think of one of your favorite stories about Jesus. Why does it have a special power to move you? Think of today’s gospel. Jesus says to Thomas, “Put your hand in the wound in my side, do not doubt any more, but believe.” And Thomas said “My Lord and my God.”

In just a few words everything is made different. Now Thomas knows. Think of a story about a person you love and how that story reveals the person.

We can know through stories.

Another way of knowing is through relationships. Most of what is known by a child is knowledge gained through relationships with parents, siblings, grandparents, cousins and friends. In a sense, we can know very little out side of relationships. Think of some special in your life. Think of all the things you know because you know that person.

Many Christians speak of a personal relationship with Jesus. Some would say that the personal relationship exists because they believe. Other would say that belief exists because the personal relationship with Jesus caused them to believe. Some Christians are like Thomas. But even before Thomas touched the risen Jesus, he was in relationship with Jesus’ friends, his fellow disciples. It may be that most people come to know Jesus because they are introduced to him by someone with whom they are in relationship.

A third way that we know things is by thinking about them in a reflective way. We see many things and have many experiences. But unless we reflect on those things we see and experience. They have little meaning to us. There is a wonderful story in the 4th chapter of John’s Gospel about a nobleman with a sick son. Jesus said “Go home, your son will live.” When the man met with those who cared for the child he learned that the fever lifted at the 7th hour. Upon reflection he realized that Jesus told him that his son would live at exactly that time. The nobleman knew that Jesus healed his son. But he knew it only when he reflected upon the connections between what Jesus said and what the son’s care givers said.

A fourth way that we know is through intuition. We have hunches and intuitive notions about a lot of things. We can also have them about God, Jesus and belief.

Ideally we should know God in all ways.

It may be that a holy hunch is examined by prayer and reflection, then linked to a story coming from our sacred stories, those found in the Bible and then confirmed by those with whom we are in loving and prayerful relation. Or it may be that we have an experience that is determined to be of God after prayer and reflection. Then our Christians friends think and pray about it, that leads to Bible study and finally it becomes clear about where God is leading and why the experience is the launching pad for some new work or task.

Or it may work out in some way that is as yet not described. But the purpose is that you believe. To quote the last sentence in John’s Gospel. “These are recorded so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the son of God, and that believing this you may have life through his name.”

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Christopher Sikkema


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