April 8th, 2018
The Gospel According to John 20:19-31
Sermon, By Pastor Tim Woodard
“Hear now the words of scripture as contained in the Gospel According to John, chapter 20, verses 19 thru 31.”
19 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.” 20 After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. 21 Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” 22 When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” 24 But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. 25 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.” 26 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.” 27 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.” 28 Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” 29 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.” 30 Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. 31 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.
“Having heard this ancient account of how the Disciples experienced the Risen Christ, let us consider its essence and meaning for us who long for the same experience in our lives today.”
“Peace be With You”
“The doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear…” /John 20:19/ Jesus had been executed and buried in a grave which was found empty on that first Easter morning. The women had seen angels and even the appearance of the Risen Christ, yet the Disciples were locked behind closed doors out of fear! Perhaps they were waiting for the next terrible thing to occur! They were afraid for their lives for they had been very close to Jesus and the authorities knew this. Perhaps they would be next! Fear is what filled their hearts, even after the resurrection of Christ! Fear was what they were worshipping that day! Fear! Perhaps they were waiting for the other shoe to drop! Of course, we, you and I, we are living in a different time-period! The religious leaders of the churches who think our understanding of the Bible is incorrect – surely, they would not try to persecute us! Surely, our government would never push us aside or persecute us by taking away our rights. Thank God… we are not in danger! Therefore, there is nothing to fear!
The harsh truth is: we are as human as those early Disciples were! Our response to today’s challenges and tasks, with fear, stunts our ability to fully live into our responsibilities! Surely, fear had gripped the gathered Disciples after Jesus’ death on the cross. The empty tomb had not resolved their fears. The witnessing, by the women, of having seen the Risen Christ and the angelic angels did not resolve their conflict. Many of us suffer from this type of disabling fear. The man Jesus died over two millennia ago. Yet, yet, we all know the truth. Bad things still happen to good people. As this is indeed the case, how are we to move forward? Surely, we have some doubts about this resurrection stuff. We are only human. This Easter happening, clearly is mystical and beyond rational human reasoning. Many of us are suffering from fear fueled by distrust and disbelief in the transforming power of God’s grace and mercy. Clearly, miracles of this nature do not occur in the Twenty- First Century! Surely, Christ shall not appear through the walls of our fortified homes or our churches!
Yes, it is true, there are a lot of ‘Doubting Thomas’s within Christianity! This is sadly – very true. Yet, I cannot, and I shall not tell you which shoe you are holding in your hand. Neither can I tell you when it shall drop to the ground and what the consequences shall be! Nor shall I tell you how to respond, other than to suggest to you that it is necessary for us as individuals to pray for stronger faith – faith ‘in the midst’ of our personal doubts and fears! Furthermore, let us each respond and act based on our personal integrity as like-minded Christians. It is up to us as individuals to put our trust in God and the teachings of Christ. It is up to us as individuals to speak up for what we believe and take a risk, now and then. I know that is asking a lot. Yet, sometimes we must. Furthermore, the time may come when it will be up to you or to me, or no one will speak out and stand up for our beliefs!
As practicing Christians and followers of Christ, we are called to speak out and risk making our voices count in the skirmishes for the truth to prevail in our society, and in our form of government, which the forefathers of this great nation believed in! Christ has offered us release from our fears. The Disciples have testified to the ‘peace’ which Christ brought to them that day in the upper room. It is up to us to choose to have faith, based on faith alone; alone, yet with the ‘peace’ and the ‘breath’ of Christ’s Living Spirit upon us and with us everywhere we go, everywhere we are! No, the Spirit of Christ does not appear to have resolved the political division within our nation. Yet, let us pray God’s Spirit has given us hope which shall help us to continue to move forward in our day-to-day life activities. And the ‘breath’ of Christ is upon us and shall give us the courage and the tenacity to respond when it is necessary!
What about Jesus? I mean how would Jesus respond to our fears? Essentially, our scripture gives us the answer. After Jesus mystically enters the locked upper room where the disciples huddled in fear, Jesus says: “Peace be with you!” Wow! Like Wow! If Jesus would only say that to us! “Peace be with you, and you and you!” Isn’t that what we doubters always say? If only Jesus were here now. Then maybe, I could believe, I could have the faith. Then maybe I would find the courage to follow in his footsteps. Then maybe… is a phrase that effectively means – we shall never ever do what we are speaking of! Jesus was most definitely speaking to you and me when he was speaking to Doubting Thomas! “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.”” /John 20:29/ No, Jesus was not overjoyed with Thomas’s doubts. Which raises the question “Why did they record this rebuff from Jesus toward Thomas that day? Isn’t it obvious? Jesus was speaking to all of us whom he knew were not there and would not be able to be there! This is where faith comes in. We are asked to believe and trust without seeing the Risen Christ as the early Disciples did! It is that simple and for many of us, it is that hard!
Let’s take a moment to step back from this amazing encounter for a moment. Let us take a more innocent and fresh view at this scripture lesson. The week after Easter, before I entered Seminary, the Associate Pastor of my home church had arranged for me to preach the sermon. Apparently, she had convinced the Senior pastor, whom would be away on a well-deserved Easter break. She had convinced him that I had the call to ministry and she wanted to get me into the pulpit. In the weeks prior to this she had gotten me to start working on what would be my first true sermon. Now, bear in mind I had no seminary training nor any certified understanding of how to formally interpret scripture. Being untrained and naive about scripture etc. I saw the power of Jesus’ breath, Jesus’ Spirit upon the disciples as a precursor and forerunner to Pentecost. In fact, I didn’t even realize that the celebration of Pentecost was not to be celebrated until sometime in May. And the truth is, I didn’t know that most Christians don’t believe that the Holy Spirit was bestowed upon the Disciples until later-on and spoken of only in the Acts of the Apostles in Acts chapter two! Therefore, I simply read this passage and I believed the writing to be literally true, which it may be. No one knows for absolute sure! Therefore, when I read verse twenty-two, I took it as the gospel truth! “When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit.”” /John 20:22/ As I recall, I linked this with the experiences I had hiking up Mount Washington in New Hampshire. I certainly understood the exhilarating feeling of the breath of God being upon me when I reached the peak of that mountain. Breathless and exhausted from the strenuous hike and climb over those last boulders and rocks above the tree line, I felt the Living Spirit of God as I saw the majesty and splendor of Creation from that mountaintop. Surely, I believed, this ought to have been enough for Thomas that day!
Turning our attention to present day realities I saw on the news, this past week, the reminder of the fiftieth anniversary of Martin Luther King’s assassination and death. Now there was a man filled with the breath and Spirit of Christ. Christ’s peace may have been in his heart, but the fire of the Holy Spirit propelled his message, his ministry ever forward! There walked a man of faith! He had the courage and the tenacity to speak out, when no one else would! I doubt that he was naïve about the risks he was taking as he proclaimed his understanding of the truth. He seemed to understand and be driven by his trust in God to not shy away from being that ‘one voice’ that stood out from the crowd. He was not there when Jesus appear to the Disciples in the Upper Room! Nevertheless, he believed with all his being in the power of God in is life. Someone mused that he would not be taken as seriously if he were here with us in this time in history. Clearly, the writer was suggesting our time is more toxic to his message than it was back in the 60’s. If only he were here among us today, at least we would have his strong voice in the midst the storm that now rages in these United States! May his legacy never be forgotten!
Today, we have received into our active membership list, seven new members. What a glorious day! Praise God! Three have been active friends of this church for a number of years… we are so please you have formalized your relationship and commitment to this your church. Four of our newest members have been with us but a number of months…. Wow! What a leap of faith! We need your kind of faith in our fellowship! Praise God! We thank God for your presence among us today. May the Peace of Christ be upon you all! May the breath of Christ bless you this day with the Spirit of Christ.
“Here is the Good News. Despite the locked doors, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you.'” /Andrew Prior/ Then Jesus breathed on them the Holy Spirit! Amen.