Jesus Came and Stood Among Them
Pastor Diane Gordon
Mt Pleasant FUMC
April 23, 2017
Scriptures: 1 Peter 1:3-9 CEB and John 20:19-31 NRSV
††††††††† Here we are on the Sunday after Easter. Some call it Low Sunday because the numbers in attendance are down comparatively, the lilies, tulips and daffodils are gone, and the hoopla of the special day has passed. One writer likened it to coming late to a party after most guests had gone home and the remaining few are telling stories of all the excitement that was missed.
††††††††† For the first disciples, Easter morning may have brought a great discovery, but even they werenít sure what it meant or that they were safe. They locked themselves in, fearful that the other shoe was going to drop; fearful they would be accused of stealing Jesusí body and be punished similarly.
††††††††† Being locked away with a few close friends was a sign that they were afraid. Jesusí coming to them and standing among them, despite the locked doors, was a sign that the excitement was far from over. The reason to celebrate was standing right there with them and the first thing Jesus did was speak directly to their fear. ďPeace be with you,Ē he said.
††††††††† Easter Sunday, for us, may have passed, but our reason to celebrate is still present, offering peace to us as we live in a world seriously in need of Godís grace and peace. Imagine what it would feel like to have the experience they had that day, seeing Jesus with their own eyes, seeing his hands and side. Imagine how that would erase all doubt and instill new courage and excitement, filling us with such faith and certainty that Jesus is alive!
††††††††† We are more like Thomas, who missed the original appearance. We have heard the story from our friends, how one minute they were huddled together pondering where to go and what to do next in order to avoid what they feared, and the next minute there He was, standing in the room with them, alive, offering them peace and breathing the power of God into their Spirits saying, ďAs the Father has sent me, so I send you. Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.Ē
††††††††† So often, we read on to the bit about Thomas not believing until he could touch and see for himself, and we gloss over what Jesus came back to tell his followers. Yes, we are blessed when we believe Jesus is the resurrected Son of God, despite not having seen with our own two eyes, but simply believing is not the end of it. What we do with our faith; what we do with the power of the Holy Spirit breathed into us is what matters.
††††††††† It is not good enough to say, I believe, therefore Iím good to go. Now Iíll go about living my life with that faith in Jesus thing checked off my list so I can rest easy when I die. It is not good enough to live only for our own eternal self-interest.
††††††††† Jesus commissioned them to be ďsentĒ out of the locked room where they were surrounded by like-minded friends and into the world that didnít all think the same way or understand what had just happened and what it means for humanity. They were commissioned to practice forgiveness and to teach the power of forgiveness. That commission wasnít just for those first disciples. It was for all of His disciples through all of time.
††††††††† Jesus came to earth and modeled for us that even when the worst possible pain is being inflicted upon us, we can still forgive. Father, forgive them for they donít know what they are doing, he had said. The soldiers were following orders because they feared the consequences of not doing what they were told. The crowds were influenced by Temple leaders who feared losing control. The only person that wasnít afraid that day was Jesus. Was he in pain? You bet he was. But did he hold the event against those who carried it out? No, because he knew that they couldnít see the bigger picture. They didnít know that this wasnít going to be the end of it. He forgave them and came back to empower us to live his fearlessness and faithfulness to God.
††††††††† What does God want us to do NOW? God wants us to do what Jesus taught and commissioned us to do. Think of all the red-letter words in your bible. These are Jesusí words. There is a reason he often spoke in parables. Thatís because stories carry higher truths that can transcend time and culture. He knew that when his followers in later ages lived in and went out into new cultures, they would need to be armed with eternal truths rather than lists of rules that were appropriate for one time and place but not all times and all places.
††††††††† Jesus gave us directions through his stories, through who he made the heroes of his stories, who he chose to associate with, and how we would be measured on the last day. Love God above all else. Forgive as you want to be forgiven. Do to the lowest and least as if you were doing for Him. Feed, clothe, visit, give water to drink Ė all as if it is Jesus himself you are offering compassion and care. Find new ways to tell/show everyone the good news of Jesus Christ. Share with them the power of our risen Lord and pray that they too may come to faith.
††††††††† More than ever before you and I are living in the diaspora. We live in a time where being a Christian follower of Jesus is not always the norm. Technically, we may live where we have always lived, but the culture around us has changed or is changing. There are times when it gets very frustrating because our assumptions no longer hold true. We have a couple of choices as we live in this age of post-modern, post-Christian, post-whatever else it may be called tomorrow.
We can choose to be like the ostrich who buries his head in the sand and figures if he doesnít look at it, itís not there so he doesnít have to deal with the changes. We can go about our routine, associating only with our friends and other like-minded people, as if living in a snow-globe world. Thatís the choice many Christians have chosen and itís why so many churches are dying. They donít interact with or listen to their community which is changing every day. They just keep doing what theyíve always done Ė which doesnít always include following Jesusí instructions.
Choice two (of many) would be to ask God to help us. We pray, pray, pray. We pray for the love of Christ to overtake our lives and give us the courage to talk with people, listening to their stories, connecting with them on a human level. We actually begin to care more about them than our own comfort level, and we share with them. We share as our resources allow. We share our own stories of life and faith and how we have felt Godís hand at work through those difficult times. In our sharing of ourselves we plant seeds of faith.
This is the far riskier path. We hope to see those faith seeds sprout, but as often happens, they donít for a long time and we lose track of people. We forgive people for things that made us very unhappy in the moment. We forgive, not because we want to but because Jesus says we must if we want to be forgiven. Sure, there was the bit about retaining of sins, but that is above our pay grade. We are to offer grace and peace to all in hope that they will turn their hearts and lives around and live in the light of Godís love.
Will this always happen? Maybe not, but when it does it is beautiful and it cements relationships and creates an environment that fosters even more grace, peace and love. Some of the most famous evangelists are those who used to be drug addicts and have left that life because of Godís redemptive grace.
What will you risk for the sake of the gospel? Who will you reach out to this week and listen to? Where will you go that is outside your usual routine so that you can bring the love of Christ into a new place or relationship? What will you share, as if with Jesus himself? Who will you invite to faith?
The Holy Spirit will guide you and provide opportunities, if you have eyes to see and an open heart. Be brave! Amen.