This is Sunday’s sermon on John 20:19-31
Preached at Scott Boulevard Baptist Church
Called To Something Great
I remember the day I let my fear get the best of me like it was yesterday. It was three years ago. I was in my room reading a book by Christian writer Lauren Winner. It was a particularly difficult time for me and for my family.
My parents were trying to make ends meet and keep from having to sell their house, my car had run out of oil and the engine had locked, so I was without wheels,
and I was getting ready to graduate from seminary without even a trace of a clue as to what life would be like after graduation- how I’d pay my bills, what would happen to my family and me-and the health issues that were an everyday obnoxious reality of my life.
My worries snowballed very quickly and suddenly, there was not enough air in the world to fill my lungs and the walls seemed to get closer and closer to my bed. As my face started to tingle and my fingers went number I knew I had to do something. My meditative breathing technique was too little, too late.
There was an urgent care center about a half mile from my house at the mouth of our subdivision’s entrance. I walked over to the urgent care and after a humiliatingly frustrating time of rehashing everything that had landed me there in the first place,
I was treated for a panic attack with oxygen for 15 minutes and then sent on my way with a prescription for a tranquilizer and a burning sense of guilt for letting myself be so overcome by fear.
Fear is one of those crippling emotions that, if left unchecked, can absolutely run us over. Whether we are worried about the future or having financial woes, or maybe we are stricken with ill health and concerns about what happens when the next health crisis comes.
When we start to lose the people we love, or are forced through circumstance to look our own mortality in the face –
everyday situations like that which we face at one time or another are realities of life that present us with legitimate existential fears, that may at times send us straight to the farthest bedroom in the back corner of the house – slamming and securely locking the door behind us.
This is where we find the disciples-locked away in fear-legitimate fear – of what will happen to them should any of the Jewish leaders ever find out that they are followers of Jesus. They’ve been through a traumatic week, which culminated in the crucifixion of their teacher, their friend, their hope.
The women have told them that the tomb is empty, but mere words are not enough to fill the equally empty, Jesus-shaped void in their hearts.
Imagine the scene as, while they hide away in fear, Jesus comes to them bringing peace.
The pinks and purples of the evening sunset settle over the city. In a small building right outside the perimeter, this small group of Christ-followers gather to share a meal. It’s simple, but plenty.
The spices from the curried coconut fish soup perfume the air and the room is still warm from the afternoon’s bread baking. They eat and fellowship in hushed tones, so they don’t call attention to themselves.
Suddenly, there’s a strange noise at the door. They look up just in time to see some guy materialize through the door and stand in the middle of the room!
“You guys should see the looks on your faces right now!” he says, looking around the table. Every one’s jaw is practically on the floor.
“Y’all, relax! It’s me, Jesus! Check it out, I have epic scars.”
“Awesome, Jesus! Wow, this is so exciting!” They are filled with joy, shock and awe as they gather around Jesus to look at his scars, hug him and welcome him back to life. They offer him some soup and bread, and everyone sits back down to finish the meal.
As the meal winds down Jesus says, “Y’all, I noticed that you had the doors shut and the blinds drawn. You’re missing a perfect sunset! I know you’ve had a rough time with some of the patrolling officers lately,
but I want you to know, you don’t have to be afraid of them. I’m here because I want you to have peace, and I want you to know that you can do this. You can live out my teachings without being afraid.
Also, now that you know that you can choose peace, over fear, I want to give you something.”
As Jesus stands and goes back to the middle of the room, the followers look around at each other, thinking, “what’s this about, I wonder?”
He says to them “God sent me to you, and now it’s your turn to continue teaching and preaching in my name.” Then he breathes on them and says
“ I give you the gift of the Holy Spirit, which guided my ministry and will now guide each of you as you teach the things you learned from me, to others. Well, gotta go now.”
After Jesus leaves, the room is abuzz with excitement. “Hey, where’s Thomas?” Someone asks. “ We’ve gotta tell him Jesus is back!”
Some of the followers set off in search of Thomas, the rest go to their homes. When they find him, they tell him the great news. “Thomas, we saw Jesus. As in the LORD!
“Ok,” Thomas replies, “it’s not that I don’t believe you, it’s just, actually yeah, I don’t believe you. I was there when he died.
He lost so much blood – not to mention how would you know it was really Jesus you saw since, oh I don’t know, the last time you saw him, he was beaten beyond recognition?”
“Because he showed us the…”
“Just drop it, ok? I had Jesus once and he was taken away from me. No way will I go through that again. It’s too painful.”
“But it IS Jesus,” Andrew says.
“I have to see it. I’m sorry, but this time, I have to be sure. I won’t have my heart broken and my security stripped away from me a second time. No.”
They drop it, and a week later, the followers plus Thomas gather again to share a meal. This time it’s Mediterranean style pizza. The artichoke hearts are perfectly marinated.
Jesus shows up again, same way as before.
“Dude, that never gets old!” Peter exclaims. “Jesus, can you teach us how to do that?”
As usual, everyone turns to look quizzically at Peter, and then they shake their heads.
“No,” Jesus replies. “I’ve got something better for you. Wait, is Thomas here? Oh, there you are. Come here, Thomas.”
Thomas steps forward and stands in front of Jesus, an awkward smile on his face.
“Hey buddy! Check it out,” and Jesus shows him his scars. “Thomas, put your finger inside my hand right here. Awesome, right?”
Thomas’ defenses start to break down one by one. He wants to believe, but if it’s not Jesus, he’ll be crushed.
“Jesus?” He says, timidly touching the scarred hands one more time.
“Yeah, buddy, it’s me,” is Jesus’ soft reply.
Think about what it must have been like to be in that room with Jesus and the twelve. Imagine the emotional reunion between Jesus and Thomas.
Notice the gentleness in Jesus’ voice.
Watch each of Thomas’s defenses break down, one by one.
See the tears in Thomas’s eyes,
feel the relief on Thomas’s face.
Listen to the joy in Thomas’s voice as he exclaims “My Lord, and My God!”
Hear the spirit of Jesus’ peace fall on Thomas and reverberate around the room.
This is the kind of holy moment that happens when the peace of Christ falls on the broken; healing wounds that still bleed and soothing fears that still grip our hearts.
This is the he kind of holy moment that happens when Jesus calls us to be a part of something greater than fear.
Jesus says to Thomas, “you’ve seen for yourself and you believe. I’m gonna send you out to do great things You’ll be great at it and you’ll always have this moment to look back on, for encouragement when the going gets rough. And trust me – it will.
But there are even greater things in store for those people who will only have stories about these things, who have never seen me or touched my hands and side, who will choose to believe anyway.
They, like you, will have my peace and my blessing to continue this mission of love and forgiveness.
One of professors once told me that the reason I get so tired after getting to preach was because I’m a quiet person and when I preach, I’m having to be more outgoing than I’m used to.
Then she said something I’ll never forget.
“And,” she said “you’re speaking for God during those 20 minutes. It’s pretty audacious when you think about it – believing that you are equipped to speak for God. That’s a tremendous emotional weight.”
She’s right. And it’s not a weight solely given to vocational ministers, it’s not even only for those who have put their hands into the scars of Christ.
The weight of God’s message of love, and of Christ’s peace is one that we each share in- one that Christians over the world have shared in for centuries.
And what better weight to be on our shoulders than the responsibility of sharing Christ’s love and God’s forgiveness?
It’s wonderful to think about, and yet daunting at the same time. Not in a bad sense, but in the sense that we recognize that a most holy savior breathes onto a most unholy people the spirit of his peace.
The very essence of who Christ is lives inside of us, and calls us out from behind the locked doors of our fear into a new life of mission with him.
I think about this story and I imagine Jesus coming to stand among us as we gather to worship.
Imagine him breezing through the back door and walking up the isle, stopping to shake hands with every single person in the room. Imagine him stand at the front of the room and commission us, like he did them.
Feel the sweet breath of Jesus fall like a welcome rain and empower each of us to be brave as we think about how we are joining and can continue to join with Christians all over the world in the church’s mission to be the presence of Christ,
When Jesus said peace be with you, he was recognizing that the mission he gave to the disciples, that the mission he gives to us-
To unlock doors and set fears free – is a big mission, a heavy mission that will not always be easy.
There will be times when we doubt our readiness or our abilities to carry out this awesome and heavy calling. There will be times when we, like Thomas, will want to say “you know what, unless I can see, taste, touch and feel what’s coming – what reward there could possibly be in this waiting – I’m done because I can’t do this anymore.”
There may even be times when we feel so inadequate, so worried about circumstances, so burdened by life that we want to to hide away, close the door and lock it tight.
Let’s be different, you and me.
Let’s be people who embrace our mission as a wonderful gift, rather than a burden;
let’s be people who are filled with the peace of Jesus instead of fear of inadequacy;
let’s be people who let the peace of Christ be enough for us as we continue what Jesus started:
let’s let the peace of Christ inspire us to love as Jesus loves us,
let’s let the peace of Christ guide us to forgive as Jesus forgives us,
let’s let the peace of Christ live in our hearts as we carry on Christ’s ministry
with our words
with our actions
with our lives.
Let’s be people who have the audacity to believe that we are called to something great.