The Sanctuary Sermon for 4/19/20
The Sanctuary Sermon for 4/19/20
Hello Sanctuary people, I trust that you and yours are well and holding on as we ride this virus storm out. It’s getting ugly out there isn’t it? I mean with all the hair and nail salons, waxing and tanning places closed; it’s getting ugly out there. I’d tell you a coronavirus joke now but you’d have to wait two weeks to get it.
Oh well, let’s look at our text.
19 That Sunday evening the disciples were meeting behind locked doors because they were afraid of the Jewish leaders. Suddenly, Jesus was standing there among them! “Peace be with you,” he said. 20 As he spoke, he showed them the wounds in his hands and his side. They were filled with joy when they saw the Lord! 21 Again he said, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I am sending you.” 22 Then he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit…”
26 Eight days later the disciples were together again, and this time Thomas was with them. The doors were locked; but suddenly, as before, Jesus was standing among them. “Peace be with you,” he said. 27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and look at my hands. Put your hand into the wound in my side. Don’t be faithless any longer. Believe!”
28 “My Lord and my God!” Thomas exclaimed.
29 Then Jesus told him, “You believe because you have seen me. Blessed are those who believe without seeing me.”
He is risen church; He is risen indeed! Last Sunday our Lord’s resurrection was celebrated around the world, though albeit, differently. Our human condition is in many ways like the disciples that first Easter evening—we’re locked inside the shadow of four walls in fear and in hiding. Hiding mainly do to Covid-19. The unseen enemy that would keep us anxious, timid, and fearful. But Timothy reminds us, that, God hasn’t given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and a sound mind.
A week ago, we declared resurrection. That, “Jesus is Risen from the dead!” There comes a time, however, when we must live the resurrection. That’s not always easy. There are days when we prefer to just stay in bed, pull the covers over our head, and close out the world. Some days it seems easier and safer to lock the doors of our house and avoid the circumstances and people of our lives. Sometimes we just want to huddle in a corner, hide, and not deal with the reality of our lives.
However, every time we shut the doors of our life, our mind, or our heart we imprison ourselves. That’s what’s happened to the disciples in our text. It’s Easter evening, the first day of the week, the day of the resurrection, the day they saw the empty tomb, the day Mary Magdalene announced, “I have seen the Lord!” Yet, the disciples are gathered all in one place, the doors locked in fear. A week later they’re still in the same place. It’s the same house, the same locked doors. Nothing much has changed.
I wonder, one week after Easter, is our life different? Where are we living? In the freedom and joy of resurrection or behind locked doors? How is our life different after Easter? And if it isn’t, what are the locked doors of our lives, our hearts, our minds?
When John describes the house, he’s speaking about more than a physical house with walls, doors on hinges, and deadbolts. He’s describing the interior condition of the disciples. The locked places of our lives are always more about what’s going on inside of us than around us.
So, if the resurrection is such a big deal, such a life changing event, why are they still locked up in the same place? What difference has the empty tomb made? How has it changed them? Has it let them see themselves and their world differently? Has it done anything for them at all? It doesn’t appear like it’s made much difference.
I used to be critical of the disciples here. They’re stuck in the same place. They should have done better than that. After all, death has been defeated in six short words, “Jesus is risen from the dead.” Why aren’t their lives different?
Which leads me to ask about my own life. Is my life different after Easter? Am I stuck in the same place? I should be doing better than this. I should be living the resurrection better, more fully, more authentically, than what I am. After all, Jesus is risen from the dead. Isn’t he?
I’ve begun to think about today’s gospel differently from how I used to. Here’s what I think it’s telling us:
That Christ’s resurrection is a big deal; the empty tomb is a life changing event; that the resurrection does make a difference in our lives; and…
It also takes time.
Resurrection takes time. It’s not a one-time event, but something that we grow into. It’s a process, a way of being and a life to be lived. By the grace of God, we grow into resurrected people through our relationships and the circumstances of our lives. God wastes nothing, every day we are moving into the resurrected life. It’s not always easy and some days are just plain hard.
I wonder if we sometimes come to Easter Sunday and the empty tomb expecting to wake up on Monday to a whole new life and world. I’m guessing that you awoke on Easter Monday to the same life and world you had on Good Friday. I did. It’s not because the resurrection failed or because Jesus didn’t do “the Jesus thing” in our lives. It’s because the Jesus thing takes time.
Maybe we need to let go of the fact of the empty tomb and start claiming the story of resurrection. There’s a difference between facts and story. Facts are one dimensional, stories are multidimensional. Facts inform the mind; stories touch the heart. Facts transmit information, stories transform lives. Think about it like this. A fact is static, like a snapshot of a particular moment in time. A story is dynamic and fluid, like a book or a movie that takes us across time.
The empty tomb is a fact. Resurrection is a story. Maybe we need to begin to understand resurrection as the movie of our life instead of a snapshot of Christ’s life. The fact of the empty tomb is not the story of the resurrection. The facts of Jesus life are not the story of Jesus. The facts of your life and my life are not the story of our lives.44
The facts are just the starting point for the story. The fact of the empty tomb is the starting point for the resurrection story. Whatever facts you woke up to on Easter Monday are simply the starting point for your story of resurrection. Too often, however, we take the facts as the entire story. Isn’t that what we’ve done with Thomas?
What facts come to mind when you hear his name? He was a doubter. “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.” That Thomas doubted may be the only fact that comes to mind. It’s so prevalent that we call him Doubting Thomas.
What if that fact, however, is just the starting point for his resurrection? What if it isn’t the whole story? What if where we start is less important than where we go, where we end?
Do you know the end of Thomas’ story? Do you know where he died? He died in India. He was the apostle to the people of India, bringing the gospel of Christ to India. He died a martyr after he was run through with five spears by five different soldiers. That doesn’t sound much like a doubter, does it? It sounds like someone who grew and changed, someone for whom the resurrection of Christ was real, someone for whom the empty tomb made a difference. It just took time, as it does for most, maybe all of us.
We know Doubting Thomas but let’s not forget Confessing Thomas. He’s in today’s gospel as well. “My Lord and my God!” With those words Thomas has recognized and named a new relationship, a new worldview, a new way of being. Somewhere between Doubting Thomas and Confessing Thomas is the story of resurrection in Thomas’ life.
All that stuff about Doubting Thomas, the fact of his disbelief, is just Thomas’ starting place, nothing more and nothing less. It’s neither good nor bad, just a starting place. And we all have our starting places.
What’s your starting place? What are the facts of your life today? Whatever your circumstances are, that’s the starting point for your story of resurrection. Maybe you’re dealing with loneliness, sorrow, and loss, that’s your starting point. That’s the room which Christ enters. If you’re locked in a house of fear, confusion, or darkness, that’s your starting point and the place in which Jesus stands. Perhaps illness, old age, disability, or uncertainty are facts of your life, that’s your starting point and the place in which Jesus shows up. If you feel lost, disappointed, overwhelmed, that’s your starting point and the house Jesus enters. If joy and gratitude are the facts of your life today, that’s the starting point for your story of resurrection. Whatever it might be for you, it’s just the starting point.
The tragedy is not that the disciples are in the same house behind the same locked doors. That’s just their starting place. The greater tragedy would have been if the disciples had refused to unlock, open the doors and get out of the house. The word of the empty tomb and the fluid story of Jesus would have dried up. Their stories would have never been completed and the Church would not have been born.
What are the closed places of your life? What keeps you in a tomb? Maybe, like the disciples, it’s fear. There’s a whole lot of that stocked up today but not so much toilet paper. What are the things that have kept you stuck in the same place? I’ll say it again, that’s just the starting place. Don’t judge it as good or bad, right or wrong. It’s just where you are and it’s the place where Christ shows up.
Jesus is always entering the locked places of our lives. He comes ‘Eastering’ in on us. Unexpected, uninvited, and sometimes even unwanted he steps into our closed lives, closed hearts, closed minds. Standing among us he offers peace and breathes new life into us. He doesn’t open the door for us, but he gives us all we need so that we might open our doors to a new life, a new creation, a new way of being. This is happening all the time. He steps into the midst of our circumstance and breathes peace and life into us. He breathes peace and hope into us, peace and courage into us, peace and strength into us. And that breath of peace is the key that unlocks the door. So, take a deep breath, take it all in, let it fill and enliven you. Let it give you the hope, courage, and strength to unlock and open the doors of your life. Get out of the house for you’ve received the Holy Spirit as he sends you to be an instrument of life in this dying world.
Life and peace are resurrection reality, yet they don’t instantaneously change the circumstances of our life and world. Viruses of all kinds will still spread, tornados will still form, the hungry will still need to be fed, our loved ones and this life will pass away; but the life and peace of Jesus’ resurrection enable us to meet and live through those circumstances.
So, God’s shalom to you. The word peace is a greeting from Jesus to us and it says more than just, “Hello.” The salutation conveys a joining or binding together after a period of separation. Like the emotional effect when the person that you love is reunited with you, it implies inner rest, well-being, and harmony. Two becoming one, entwined.
During the darkest night of his life, Jesus had his disciples and you and me in mind as he left them with this promise, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” Hold onto that promise Church, we can experience his peace in our hearts and be free from fear during these troubling times.
This is the Word of the Lord for the day.