I have much more to say to you, more than you can bear now (John 16:12).
The stories don’t change much.
Every Christmas Jesus is born in the Bethlehem stable, visited by shepherds and sought out by wise men. Every year Caesar Augustus takes a census and taxes his constituency.
And every year the angelic choir trots out the same anthem. Same song, first and only verse, over and over.
Every Easter the stone is rolled away. Every year we get a week of anticipated suffering that includes a very somber day of execution. The women go early in the morning to properly anoint the body of Jesus and every year they are surprised by a blazing figure sitting where Jesus had been laid. Every year the good news is announced “He is not here. He is risen.”
The stories don’t change much. In fact, they don’t change at all. But the occasion for telling them keeps coming around, relentlessly, year after year, ready or not.
We didn’t have enough pews to fill the sanctuary we had built. One day we would need more – but for now we had plenty of pews and plenty of floor space with which to do something else. So in the back corner of the sanctuary there was a table where a Sunday school class met every week before the worship service.
Early one Easter morning, long before anyone else would be at church, I went in the sanctuary and took a seat at that table. I was the church’s pastor and within a few hours it would be up to me to tell the never changing story. I would be called upon to announce the good news. That day, however, it didn’t feel like good news to me. It just felt like news, often told and barely heard.
I sat in the sanctuary feeling kind of dead inside and then feeling ashamed because I felt that way. I had heard that story so many times. I hadn’t preached very many Easter sermons, but I’d spent a lifetime on the receiving end. Now it was my turn: my turn to say what people expect me to say or what I think they expect to hear. It’s a good message, it’s a true message. But it’s always the same message.
Looking back, I know now that my problem that Easter morning had nothing to do with the story. The problem was me. I thought I’d heard it before. I thought I’d heard it all.
“I have much more to say to you,” said Jesus to his anxious followers. And he still has more to say. Jesus has more to say even to those who think they’ve heard it all before. Jesus has more to say to us about what we think we understand.
It’s not hard to get stuck spiritually. Stuck-ness doesn’t mean you no longer believe; it means that what you believe is no longer helpful as you live your life. To use Paul’s image, you’re still on a diet of milk when you should have moved on to solid food. In our infancy, milk supplied what we needed. But it didn’t take long to grow out of that. We needed more.
Jesus has more to say to us. None of us has exhausted the limits of our spiritual life. But when we think we’ve heard it before or we think we’ve heard it all, we stop paying attention. We hear but we don’t listen very well. We settle for milk when our souls need something more substantive.
The good news for those who find themselves stuck somewhere in their faith journey is this: Jesus has more to say to you, and the Spirit will lead you to what it is. Our task is to listen carefully, for when we do our “soul will be satisfied as with the richest of foods” (Ps. 63:5).
We give you thanks, Lord Jesus, that your word is a living word and that you still have more to say to us. Help us to hear familiar truths in ways that we’ve never heard them before. Give us fresh eyes as we read the scriptures. Reveal to us more of who you are that we might share more of your love with the world around us, we pray. Amen.