Why is it that we focus in so tightly on the words? I mean I understand focusing in on the Word, capital “w” but why is it that the apostles and then we, their descendants are so amazingly wordy? John goes on and on and on and on some more and then does a little riff this morning about how much and why and wherefore he writes so many, many words. Not just the words themselves but this whole meta-explanation about the words.
I myself have been, from time to time, accused, I know, this is shocking news, accused of being a bit wordy, a bit talky, that I drone on and on and on.
But we talk about this and we talk about that and we say in meetings that it would be great if the church could do this or that or proposing new and exciting ministries and all of the great ideas that people have when they think someone else will be implementing their ideas.
That’s why they warn people not to suggest too many new ideas in the church; someone is going to ask you to be in charge. Think the church should pull up the grass in the front yard and replace it with a beautiful Xeriscape that will save water and help our county weather the drought, you know a good-guy idea, a program that will altruistically do something good for God’s creation.
Who wants to be in charge? Volunteers?
Words, ideas even, are cheap. We throw them around and we explain things using them and we propose things with them they fill our mouths and they fill the air and they are everywhere which is good, faith comes through hearing.
Faith comes through hearing; hearing the words.
I don’t know which came first, our freedom with words or our reticence about actually getting involved, maybe they grew hand in hand but with the technology available to us today, we are able to be a thousand times more free with our words than before, we can give them even less value than ever before, whatever dumb idea comes into my head I can communicate it to tens of thousands of people by picking my smartphone out of my pocket and posting something to twitter, to Facebook, call Debbie and share my stupid idea with her.
I know that it seems ridiculous to those people who have grown up in this era of free-flowing ideas and so it might seem like a person assault on how you live your lives, but most of what lands on Facebook and other platforms, your text messaging feeds etcetera is utterly banal, endlessly going on and on about how bored you are is, almost by definition, banal. Once was a time, says the old man, when being bored was your problem and not a problem for the rest of the world.
You didn’t have access to them in an instant, or if you did, it was entirely likely that someone would holler at you to get off of the phone, reminding you that you were not the only one in the house who might need to talk on the phone because your house only had one phone. The old and fairly lame family meme about the daughter getting a phone in her room to take the pressure off of the rest of the house has lost all of its currency since most pre-teens have a phone in their own pocket these days.
Words, words everywhere but not an idea to latch onto, none of them great enough to hang our hats on, let alone plan our lives around.
Especially when we leave them as words and do not embrace what it is that they bring to us, these words we speak here this morning, when we do not embrace what it is that they offer to us, which is freedom from the sting of sin, from the fear of the grave, from the meaninglessness of a life lived without either boundaries or dreams. These words, this Word this morning offers to us something that few other words can manage but it is an offer that we leave on the table as often as not because we simply do not think we can make the words true, we simply do not think we know how, we do not think that it can possibly be true.
The Bible can’t mean us can it?
When they say that the disciples “with great power” gave their testimony they just mean the power of their words, these were great orators, these barely educated peasants from Judea, and so it was the power of their words that turned the audience to faith and brought the early church into being.
When John 1:12 says that “to all who received Him He gave the power to become the children of God,” they’re talking about, as it is translated in some Bibles, the “right” to become the children of God, so it’s like the right to vote, something you can pick up and set aside as you wish, right?
We’re not talking about actual power, are we?
What transpired a little over a week ago was not something that can be fully encapsulated in words. Trust me I have read tens of thousands of words on the subject and at the end of all of that reading, of all of that listening to lectures and sermons and all of the rest of the words involved in explaining and unpacking and examining the scriptures and the motives and activities of God in this singular moment I can tell you without reservation that nobody has a good enough grasp on what transpired on Golgotha to make it clear in words.
So much so that I think I can say without reservation that even God could not take what happened on the cross and make it a present reality to us all these generations down the road let alone the disciples who were huddled together in a room apart from the people out of their fear using only the tortured and inconsistent witness of words alone.
It is hard to see, from our vantage point, what with the taste of Easter candy still on our lips and the squeals of children searching for Easter eggs in the rain still ringing in our ears, but strip all of that away, strip away the empty tomb and then try and use words to tell me what happened on that cross and why I should believe it.
It took an act of power, and love and, understanding but at the core, to breach the impassible barrier between life and death, to make a point of showing the world that the promises of God had indeed been brought to fruition, well, that took power, Power from God most High, dropped like a bomb in a little Jerusalem neighborhood.
We strut and fuss over how great was the faith of the other disciples and even Jesus pokes Thomas a little about “blessed are those who do not see and yet believe but we should remember that Jesus is not speaking about any of the other disciples in the story we read this morning.
All of them saw the Lord as well. All of them were there the first time, while Thomas was at Starbucks picking up three trays of lattes for the gang and missed out on the Lord’s first appearance.
Thomas would not believe because He had missed out on the actual demonstration of the depth, the grandeur, the unquenchable love expressed in this one act of heavenly power, this resurrection of Christ. Until that moment it had all been words and they had left Thomas just a bit unsatisfied.
“With great power the apostles gave their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all.”
When did we decide that we could let go of that power and all that it offers us, all that Christ died and was raised to bring us? Once upon a time the disciples walked the face of the earth healing the sick and casting out demons. Were they just the twelve special guys who were given that power by what they had seen?
I thought we, who had not seen and yet come to believe were supposed to be blessed? Says so right there in this morning’s reading from John, and I have no higher authority to which I can point.
Why do we no longer feel that we have power?
After all, we take the time to consider that God is at work in our world, that God is active and doing things, blessing and creating and saving all the time; that the Holy Spirit still calls, enlightens and sanctifies even to this day but for whatever reason, we seem to think that this happens somewhere else, that it happens outside of our control, outside of our view. The power of God to be sure, is at work, but we’re okay over here with these words.
If God is at work, If it is God’s will that the whole of the world come to faith in Christ and thereby have salvation in His name; who exactly do we think is doing the work? Who is using the power, carrying the words out into the world but also the Word out into the world, following our faith to create the world that our values lead us to create, that we would want to see come to pass, not for our own sake, salvation is ours and that is that, but for the sake of those who have not heard, who have not believed who will not see unless someone carries a torch into their midst and illuminates their darkness?
How exactly do we build such a world with words alone?
It has to start with the Word, to be sure, with the faith that comes through hearing but it cannot simply stop there. If it could stop there and still be a faithful witness then the first twelve could reasonably have been the last twelve.
We have to trust as well. We have to trust that if we have the gift of grace, if God’s will for us is to thrive and work arm in arm with the rest of the body of Christ fort the sake of the world and that nothing can bring us down so long as we do all in Jesus name, then we have to trust Christ to empower us, the Spirit to enlighten us, God almighty to embolden us to take up the power of the disciple, the power to speak and the power to act and the power to labor in the fields of the Lord so that a better world might come to pass for all creation.
Lt. Ray Navarro of the local police department lamented at a conference I attended on Friday that the Violence Prevention Partnership of the City of Santa Rosa was struggling to get enough pastors or people of faith involved in the effort. I wondered at that since a cessation of violence is in the interest of all people, church people as well as everyone else.
“I don’t know enough,” holds hands with “what can I do,” which embraces “we’d better leave that to the experts,” and we all get to sit around and trade words back and forth while other forces, forces working against our values and the values of the Kingdom of God exercise what power they have to achieve the ends they wish to see.
A people unafraid is a people mighty and empowered. They meet the world with open hearts and willing ears and find that God is at work where they did not expect but they pitch their own efforts alongside those of God and pick up the power of the disciple, to become the children of God, to speak in the marketplace words amplified by power, to realize that power made perfect in weakness could not possibly find a better host than us, weak and faltering but with new senses, new hearts, called by God to be a people unafraid; a people as weak as can be, and therefore, perfectly powerful.
Or we can sit back and let other people, other forces remake the world in their own image. That’ll probably be fine too, right?