Jesus Sightings: Fear and Hope

Epistle Lesson: 1 John 1:1 – 2:2

We declare to you what was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the word of life—  this life was revealed, and we have seen it and testify to it, and declare to you the eternal life that was with the Father and was revealed to us— we declare to you what we have seen and heard so that you also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. We are writing these things so that our joy may be complete. This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light and in him there is no darkness at all. If we say that we have fellowship with him while we are walking in darkness, we lie and do not do what is true; but if we walk in the light as he himself is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us. My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; and he is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.

Gospel Lesson: John 20:19-31

When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “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.” But Thomas (who was called the Twin ), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “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.” A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.” Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.” Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.

 

Sermon

Let me begin my message today by saying, “Happy Easter!”

(Pause)

I know, I know, you all think I still have not recovered from Holy Week, and here I am again giving you another Easter sermon. Well, you are absolutely right! I mean we have been building up and building up to this great festival of Easter through many weeks of Lent and we celebrate Easter Sunday with a high festival and celebrations, and the weeks after we are just supposed to “get back to business” and forget about what happened in the previous weeks? I don’t think so. Sadly, we as a church often think of Easter as a one day event, probably due to the commercialization of Easter. But to tell you the truth, the Church thinks that there is more to the Resurrection than what one Sunday could handle and so we have an entire season of Easter, 7 weeks of it actually. And so, over the next six weeks, I hope to look into the resurrection as we, the Easter Children of God seek understanding about what the Resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ means to us. So let us begin today seeking understanding about who God is and who we are with our narrative from the Gospel of John.

This story of doubting Thomas is a story that many of us in the Western culture continually come back to time and time again. I believe it is because we find comfort in the similarities found between Thomas and ourselves. That Thomas, one of the 12 saw Jesus in his earthly ministry, heard the good news proclaimed by his friends, and still doubted until he saw it for himself. This is often the message that we hear preached from this scripture passage. But I would like to offer you today another take on this passage. A take that looks at the whole of the situation instead of just focusing on Thomas. Let us begin by taking a look at the disciples. Earlier that day, the disciples had all heard a proclamation from Mary Magdalene that she had an encounter with the Risen Lord. She had spoke to him, seen him with her own eyes, and heard him with her own ears. And still after hearing this news, apparently the disciples did not believe or have trust in her account of what had happened earlier that morning as they had locked themselves behind closed doors. Listen to this, they LOCKED themselves behind closed doors. Why would someone be behind closed locked doors? I know earlier this week I was staying alone this week while Jackie was visiting her mother. And on Monday night, we may all remember the winds were high. I remember as I was laying in bed hearing sounds that I do not normally hear and I began to wonder if there was someone else in the house. My mind raced as I wondered whether or not I had locked the door? I was exhausted from driving home, but my fear kept me awake until I went and checked it out myself. I grudgingly got up out of bed, turned on the lights as I walked down the steps, and cautiously wandered through the empty house. Before I locked the door, I went through the house in every room to check to see if I could find out what was making those noises. After I assured myself I was the only one in there, I went to the back door, attempting to lock the back door without waking the puppy, as I tip-toed back upstairs. Did you get it? I LOCKED the back door because I was ____________. The only reason one specifically mentions that they were locked behind closed doors is because of Fear. They even name this in the scripture, it says, “the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for FEAR of the Jews.”  What were the disciples afraid of? They were afraid of the Jews? All of them? Weren’t some of them in the room Jews? The Disciples were not afraid of all the Jews, they were afraid of the Jews who had just crucified their Lord and Teacher a few days ago. They were afraid that their discipleship may also sentence them with the same punishment. And so, from Fear, something that is not of God, their human condition had them with their tails between their legs and locked up, enslaved to their own fears.

So now, from this state of the disciples we learn something about the nature of God. Jesus, in his resurrected self, breaks in through the locked and closed door, and reveals the TRUTH to the disciples who are afraid. And Jesus speaks. He does not say, Do not be afraid, he does not say hey what’s going on here, why didn’t you believe your sister Mary?, Jesus comes to them where they are and offers a gift. He says, “Peace be with you.” He offers the Shalom, the peace of Christ. These words should sound familiar as we each and every week after we have confessed our sins before God and one another, we offer each other the Peace of Christ. This peace that says, No matter what you have done, no matter what sins you have committed, Jesus loves you, and so do I. Offering the Peace of Jesus is not about catching up on the latest Gossip, it is about proclaiming the power of forgiveness in the resurrection. You cannot tell someone that you wish the Peace of Christ to them and remain holding a grudge. It is about forgiving past wrongs, and offering comfort and assurance to one another. And Jesus is doing exactly this. He even tells them after sending his Peace among them, “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” And you know there is not one of the 10 that are in that room can go to Jesus and say I did not sin against you, I did not forsake you, I did not leave you, I did not deny you. Not ONE of them can say any of these things to their Master. And according to our Epistle lesson today, neither can anyone of us. But Jesus comes and offers Peace to them anyways. He offers Grace to a group of people who are so in need of his Grace.

Now we get to Thomas. Oh Doubting Thomas. He was not there when Jesus appeared. The disciples cannot keep a secret and they go and tell Thomas all that happened. And surprise surprise, Thomas responds to them, just as they responded to Mary Magdalene. He wants proof. You know, throughout the ages, many have tried to understand why Thomas did not believe. “In the annals [history] of Christian theology, there are numerous accounts of why Thomas doubts, each reflecting the skeptical impulses of the era in which they arose. In the early church, doubters questioned whether God, as eternal and divine, could die and still be God, and Thomas bore the weight of those Trinitarian debates. Later, medieval scholastics depicted his doubt as logical, putting in his mouth the question, “Is resurrection metaphysically and analytically intelligible?” For the mystically oriented, doubt is described as the “dark night of the soul” where, in the midst of unbelief, belief germinates in shadows. More recently, Enlightenment theologians used rational, empirical arguments to craft their brand of Thomastic doubt. When they asked, “Who has actually seen the dead rise?””[1] they are rationally saying how can Thomas believe in the Resurrection if no known accounts of someone rising has ever been known. These are the many ways that people have tried to make sense of Thomas’ doubt. But I confess to you, I am not sure what laid beneath Thomas’ doubt, but I have an inklying that it was not all too different from why the disciples doubted Mary, and why the disciples were locked behind closed doors: Fear. I believe Thomas was afraid that the disciples were telling the truth, he was afraid of the unknown, afraid of what resurrection of Jesus may mean.

(Go Get Ladder)

I brought with me today a ladder, because I want us to grasp and struggle with fear and what the Resurrection means. All of us in our Christian faith and journeys have doubts, and have locked doors of fears. I want to ask you what are those fears? Is it opening yourself up to someone else and sharing your faith with someone else? Are you afraid to confess those deep dark sins that are in your life? Maybe you are afraid to speak in front of a small group? Or perhaps afraid of speaking in front of a large group? Maybe you are afraid to reach out to the needy? I know personally in my ministry, something that has held me back in my ministry is fear of not having the right words or answers. But these fears, I want you to relate them to this ladder. You know, I understand that some of you are certainly afraid of heights. And like fear of heights, there are fears that bring about different levels of anxieties. Being a little bit off the ground may bring about uneasiness, while being really high off the ground may bring about a great fear. Someone may be uneasy about speaking, and it is like stepping up on the first rung of the ladder.

[Begin climbing the ladder]

Pastor King Climbing Ladder
Taken by: Becca Severs

While someone may be afraid of reaching out to someone in need and it brings about greater discomfort. But as we climb this ladder, the level of anxiety is greater and greater. But it is when we get to the top of the ladder that we begin to get to the real challenges of fear in our lives. What really is it that lies underneath all of our fears? What is the one thing that we as a people continually have on our mind when we are in places of high anxiety? I believe the thing we as humans fear the most is death. And Death is the top rung. Death controls many of us. Many throughout life are afraid of it. But the Cross and Resurrection of Christ stands in adversity to Death. As we talked about this past Wednesday night, Christ has victory over death and sin, and as he was resurrected so are we. When we trust in the cross, we, you and even I can face our biggest fears and stand over death. (Stand up on the top rung). But only when we trust the cross and the promise of the Resurrection.

(Come off Ladder)

I actually initially tried this out on the floor with no support and could not do it, But when placed beside the cross as support, I could. I believe this gives us a great metaphor for understanding who we are as an Easter people, as a people of the Resurrection. When we try to do things of great faith and trusting in our own selves, we will fail, we will fall and possibly end with death. But when we trust the Cross and the Resurrection we do not need to fear, we do not need to be standing behind closed doors with our faith. The Resurrection is like an unbreakable rope to a rock climber. What happens if a Rock Climber has a rope that CANNOT break? When there is no fear of death? What happens when we as Christians put our full trust in the Resurrection? When you begin to trust the rope, when you begin to trust the Resurrection, you can begin to dance on the rocks and do some awesome and wonderful things to glorify God. It is only when we let go of our fears and believe in the power of the Resurrection does God begin to do great and wonderful things with the community of faith. If you don’t believe me, just look at the awesome testimony that these 11 disciples had when they came out without fear from behind locked doors and stood and proclaimed Jesus Resurrected in the face of death: People were healed, thousands came to believe, the Kingdom of God becomes present. Climb the Ladder, partake in the Resurrection of Christ.


[1] Bartlett, David L. and Taylor, Barbara Brown (2011-05-31). Feasting on the Word: Year B, Volume 2, Lent through Eastertide (Kindle Locations 14099-14105). Westminster John Knox Press. Kindle Edition.

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