Sermon from April 24: That You May Have Life in His Name

That You May Have Life in His Name
Easter II; April 24, 2022
John 20:19-31

We usually read this story about Thomas on the Second Sunday of Easter, because the main part of the story happens on that Sunday. On the day Mary and the others discovered Jesus’ tomb empty, the disciples gather behind a door that is locked out of fear. Jesus comes to them. Then a week later they are gathered again, the door shut but not locked; clearly they are no longer afraid. This time Thomas is with them, and you heard about all that when I read you the story. It leaves Thomas – an apostle with a lot of positive things to be said about him – with the unfortunate moniker of “Doubting Thomas.” How would you like to be remembered for the one time you didn’t quite measure up?

Anyway, Thomas believes and that, it seems, is that. But this story concludes with a short purpose statement from the writer. He points out that he didn’t tell us everything he could have. Thank God. One sort of person who I find tedious is the person who thinks they need to tell you everything they know about a subject. When I was doing my PhD dissertation, I read everything I could find on the doctrine of original sin. Someone asked me a question about something, and I said, “I don’t know; I can’t think about that right now. I’m up to my eyeballs in original sin.” They said, “Do you want to rephrase that?” Anyway, when I wrote my dissertation, my Committee pointed out forty pages of material that was interesting enough, but didn’t advance my argument. It had to go. It went.

Ever since then, part of my method as a preacher has been to draft my sermon several days in advance and then go back to it to see what I should cut out of it. You don’t need to hear everything that I know about a particular subject, only enough to inform you or persuade you. And so John made the same decision when he wrote his gospel. People sometimes complain that he has a lot of stories that aren’t in the other three gospels and that they have stories that he doesn’t. I imagine he read their gospels and, with a few exceptions, decided, “I don’t need to tell that story; Matthew got it just fine.”

So he tells us that he wrote what he thought we needed so that we would believe, and believing, have life in the name of Jesus. Not just believe because this is information that it is good for us to know, but believe so that we may have life in the name of Jesus. And so John tells us that everyone who believes in Jesus has eternal life (3:15), that Jesus gives us living water (4:10). He reminds us that Jesus is the bread of life (6:35), has the words of eternal life (6:68), came to give us life abundantly (10:10), and that Jesus is the resurrection and the life (11:25).

And if you, like Thomas, sometimes doubt: that’s alright, but use your doubt to fuel your curiosity to find out what it will take to believe, so that you too may have life in the name of Jesus. My intellectual and spiritual guru, Miguel de Unamuno, wrote some very complicated and difficult thoughts, but a central thought that has meant a lot to me for decades is this: to believe is to want to believe (“Creer es querer creer.”)[1] To have life in the name of Jesus does not require that you are fully confident of everything that Thomas got to see on that second Sunday, only that you desire to believe, that you turn to Jesus with the yearning to have life in his name.

John hopes that if you read his gospel, you will draw close enough to Jesus to want to believe in him, to have life in his name. So he didn’t tell us everything he knew, only that much. Well, it’s possible he did as I did: he wrote a lot more than was needed, and then went back and took a lot of it out.

Another thing about the Second Sunday of Easter is that we sometimes call it Holy Humor Sunday. We celebrate the great practical joke that God played on the Devil by letting Jesus be killed and then raising him from the dead. You may remember that two years ago we filmed me doing a silly stand-up routine in honor of Holy Humor Sunday. We thought about doing that again. But I decided it would be better for your spiritual life to hear Camille Metoyer Moten sing than to endure me doing a stand-up routine.

So I’ll stop now. I know that Camille’s songs will help us know more about having life in the name of Jesus. With those and with what John has written, that will be enough.

Robert A. Keefer
Presbyterian Church of the Master
Omaha, Nebraska

Recording of the service of the day:

[1] Miguel de Unamuno, Del sentimiento trágico de la vida (Losada, 1977), p. 104.