Tag Archives: John 20:19-31 sermon

Sent Without Canoes

A Sermon for 8 April 2018 – Second Sunday of Easter

A reading from the gospel of John 20:19-31.  Listen for God’s word to us.  And remember, this story takes place later on the first Easter.  Listen:

“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.”

This is the word of God for the people of God.  Thanks be to God.

 

If you’ve ever been west of the Mississippi – like to California, Oregon, Montana, or Nevada – then I’m guessing you are grateful for the adaptability of the men named Meriwether Lewis and William Clark.  It was 1804 and the newly formed nation just had acquired a huge expanse of land called the Louisiana Territory.  Wanting to know what they had gotten and determined to find a water route that connected the eastern United States to the Pacific Ocean; President Thomas Jefferson commissioned the Corps of Discovery under the command of Lewis and the one Lewis made his co-captain, Clark.

A book called Canoeing the Mountains, quotes historians who describe the defining moment of Meriwether Lewis’ life.  “He was approaching the farthest boundary of the Louisiana Territory.  The Continental Divide.  The Spine of the Rocky Mountains, beyond which the rivers flow west.  No American citizen ever had been there before.  This he believed was the Northwest Passage, the goal of explorers for more than three centuries.  The great prize that Thomas Jefferson had sent him to find and claim for the United States.  With each stride, Lewis was nearing what he expected to be the crowning moment of his expedition and his life.  From the vantage point just ahead, all of science and geography had prepared him to see the watershed of the Columbia; and beyond it, perhaps a great plain that led down to the Pacific.  Instead, there were just more mountains”  (Canoeing the Mountains:  Christian Leadership in Uncharted Territory, Tod Bolsinger, pp. 87-88).  Captured in his expedition journal, Lewis writes:  “’Immense ranges of high mountains still to the West of us, with their tops partially covered in snow’” (Ibid.).

Tod Bolsinger, author of Canoeing the Mountains, writes:  “At that moment in the daunting vista spread out at the feet of Meriwether Lewis, the dream of an easy water route across the continent – a dream stretching back to Christopher Columbus – was shattered”  (Ibid.).  It’s been said that as Lewis and the Corps stood atop the Lemhi Pass in what would become the state of Idaho, the geography of hope gave way to the geography of reality.  Though wanting to cling to the known, as all of us do; Bolsinger writes:  “Lewis wasted no time in casting off assumptions once the brutal facts of his reality were clear.  There was no water route.  There were miles and miles of snowcapped mountain peaks in front of them.  They had no trail to follow.  Food was scarce in this rugged terrain.  And winter was coming.”  Bolsinger writes:  “This is the canoeing the mountains moment.  This was when the Corp of Discovery faced for the first time the breadth of the challenges posed by the Rocky Mountains and came to the irrefutable reality that there was no Northwest Passage.  No navigable water route to the Pacific Ocean.  This is the moment when they had to leave their boats.  Find horses and make the giant adaptive shift that comes from realizing their mental models for the terrain in front of them were wrong” (Ibid., p. 93).  Canoes would not get them over the mountains.  That which had served them well thus far, no longer would work.

They could have responded to the challenge differently – especially because the order from their Commander in Chief specifically charged them to find a water route from sea to sea.  Bolsinger writes:  “They could have decided that they had indeed discovered the vitally important, but certainly disappointing reality that the long-hoped for Northwest Passage and its water route was a myth.  . . .  They could have turned back.  They could have returned to Washington, made their reports, and told Thomas Jefferson that another crew more equipped to travel long distances through mountain passes should be launched on a different expedition.  But they didn’t” (Ibid., pp. 93-94).  History is defined by this moment and all the other things they could have done.  Nevertheless, Bolsinger writes, “at that moment, without even discussing it, Meriwether Lewis simply proceeded on” (Ibid., p. 94).   Deep within, he knew – as did Clark and the rest of their men – to what they really were called – not just some specific order from President Jefferson; but as men of the Enlightenment – even if it meant they would have to learn a whole new way through uncharted territory – Lewis, Clark, and their men were 100% dedicated to discovery in service to others as what gives meaning to life.  . . .  They kept going – re-committing to the principles that lie in the core of their being.  Leaving behind the familiarity of their canoes, they literally left the map.  They journeyed on.

It’s one week after Easter; but later that night according to the gospel of John.  Though Mary Magdalene had come from her garden encounter with the Risen Christ, the other disciples did not yet know what to make of the news.  Frightened, perhaps, that when the religious leaders caught wind of the story that the tomb was empty; their own crucifixions would be next.  Pick them off one by one, over some talk of “he is not here but has risen.”  Until every last preposterous voice was silenced.  There were no known mental models for how to live after your dead rabbi had risen from the grave.  No easy course to travel after one who had taught and healed and inspired was crucified, dead, and buried . . .  only to appear to them alive again just a day after the Sabbath rest???!!!  Standing in their shoes, we too would likely lock ourselves away in fear.  Not knowing the next steps to take after Mary burst in to declare she had seen the Lord!  It was their defining moment.  The moment all of heaven held its breath to see what this little ban of humans would do.

The gospel of John tells the story differently than do the gospels of Matthew and Mark, where the disciples later are given the great commission.  The gospel of Luke links with Acts to expand upon the reception of the Spirit 50 days after Easter at Pentecost.  But the gospel of John tells that it was on that first night of the week, the very night the tomb was discovered empty; the Risen One comes to his faithful followers breathing peace, in order to send them out into the world.  Somehow, he expects them to release others from their sins – a charge likely to clear those who had crucified him; so that the hearts of Christ’s followers would remain open.  Pure.  Ready to give witness to a revolutionary love often unseen on the world’s stage.  “Peace,” the Risen One says to those locked in fear.  “Now go.”  Get on with it – all he had commanded them pre-crucifixion.  They were to live the peace of laying down their lives for another, even as he had laid down his own for the sake of all the world.  “By this,” he had told them just a few nights ago at the supper when he knelt before them to wash their feet, “by this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35).  Almost like Acts of the Apostles records in that part of chapter four that we heard earlier – though it seems like a hyperbolic exaggeration.  The vision of a beloved community enacted.  Living in one accord – heart and soul fully committed to one another so that all was freely shared for the common good.  Giving powerful witness in word and deed to the way God always brings new life.  Epitomizing grace as any in need found themselves filled.  According to scripture, these were the first marks of the ones who followed Christ’s Way.  No matter if the world around embraced the Way or not, together they journeyed on.

Theologian Marcus Borg – as many others – likens the moment in which the church today finds itself to be much like the moment those first followers faced on the eve of Easter.  Locked in fear for what might come in a world that seemed hostile to the Risen One.  Another wise scholar of today describes us as those needing to learn to be “apostles on both sides of the door” (Feasting on the Word, Year B, Vol. 2, D. Cam Murchison, p. 404).  “The missionary people empowered by this peace and this inbreathed Holy Spirit to bear the forgiving, transforming love of God into every sphere of human experience” (Ibid.).  The territory isn’t entirely unknown; for the first followers found their way post-resurrection.  Scripture also inspires us with the way they did finally leave that post-resurrection Upper Room to continue the adventure begun by their crucified and risen Lord.  Changing the course of history day by day in witness to the One whose life, death, and life again showed the Way of the great Creator of the Universe:  the abiding strength of love that triumphs even over death!  . . .  Though the current terrain may be unlike anything the church has enjoyed – at least since the founding of this nation; it is not impossible to traverse.  For remember, we worship the One whose very own mother was told at the announcement of his birth:  “nothing shall be impossible with God!”  (Luke 1:37).  It’s what Easter Sunday tells us!  What resurrection is all about!  . . .  That even when we stand metaphorically at the Lemhi Pass in Idaho – nothing but mile after mile of mountainous, off-the-map wilderness before us; the Risen Christ comes to us.  Breathing peace.  Helping us to let go of our cherished canoes.  Saying:  “Go.  Get on with it!  As the Father has sent me, so I send you!” (John 20:21).

In the name of the life-giving Father, the life-redeeming Son, and the life-sustaining Spirit, Amen.

© Copyright JMN – 2018  (All rights reserved.)

Peace Be With You!

A Sermon for 23 April 2017 – 2nd Sunday of Easter

 

A reading from the gospel of John 20:19-31 (NRSV).  And remember, according to the gospel of John’s telling of things, this story takes place the same day Mary Magdalene had been to the tomb then gone and told the others she had seen the Lord.  Listen for God’s word to us.

“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.”

This is the word of God for the people of God.  Thanks be to God!

 

Brother Roger was an amazing man.  As a young adult, he founded the ecumenical monastic community of Taizé.  He brought this community into being in France while Europe was again under siege in the Second World War.   At the age of twenty-five, Brother Roger started this intentional community on the Christian principles he tenaciously saw in his grandmother during the First World War:  “welcoming those in need and seeking reconciliation among Christians” (Brother Roger of Taizé:  Essential Writings, “Introduction,” p. 13).  You may know something of the Taizé community from songs in our new Glory to God hymnal.  Songs like “Wait for the Lord” based on Psalm 27.  And “My Soul is at Rest” from Psalm 62.  And the round “Prepare the Way of the Lord,” sung during Advent.  And “Stay with Me,” sung during Lent by our very own choir.  The Good Friday song “Jesus Remember Me, When you come into Your Kingdom.”  And the one that may be best known, but perhaps not linked by all to Taizé:  “Ubi Caritas.  Live in charity and steadfast love.  Live in charity; God will dwell with you.”  . . .  Because worship in the Taizé community is all about peace, the community creates these chant-like, repetitive songs often based on the poetry of the Psalms and other scriptural phrases.  A deep commitment to prayers for all the world pervades the community and its worship.  Perhaps that’s why young people from around the globe still flock to the community in France on pilgrimage to be a part of things – even if only for a week.  When the community gathers for daily worship, scripture and silence weave round the simple songs to transport worshippers to a centered quiet.  That calm clearing inside in which the Spirit of God has an opportunity to work.  If we are able to imagine entering that sacred space daily, perhaps we would expect spiritual profundity, like the kind of deep wisdom that exudes from Brother Roger.  Listen to his words about the presence of Christians in the world today.  He writes:  “The peace of your heart makes life beautiful for those around you.  Being wracked with worry has never been a way of living the gospel.  Founding your faith on torment would mean building a house on sand (Mt. 7:26-27).  At every moment, do you hear these words of Jesus the Christ:  ‘Peace I leave you; my peace I give you.  Let your hearts cease to be troubled and afraid’ (Jn. 14:27)?”  Brother Roger continues:  “This deep-seated peace provides the lightness needed to set out once again, when failure or discouragements weigh on your shoulders” (Ibid., p. 34).

Peace . . .  earlier in the gospel of John – before his resurrection, before his crucifixion, actually right after he washes their feet on that fatal night – Jesus seeks to cultivate peace in his disciples.  He knows what’s about to happen.  And while they don’t understand much of it, certainly they suspected by that time too.  He’s told them already that he will die because of the path he’s following.  AND he’s told them to still their troubled hearts.  Cease any fear!  . . .  At that beautiful final banquet, Jesus prays for his followers.  He does all he can to comfort them.  He wants them to know that “being wracked with worry” is not the way of living the gospel (Ibid.).  He expects the peace of their hearts to make life beautiful for those around them.  . . .

Just as fear is contagious, peace can be as well.  Think about the last time you spent time around someone who was deeply centered.  Not fretting all about, but relaxed in themselves.  Totally calm and attentive only to you.  In their presence, our own blood pressure begins to settle.  We can move more deeply into ourselves.  Breathing all the way into our toes perhaps, because it’s like the fragrance of their peace enters into us.  . . .  That’s the gift Christ seeks to give to his followers.

In the gospel reading before us today, three times Jesus speaks the words:  “Peace be with you!” (Jn. 20:19).  Now, it makes sense that he might start his first appearance among them again with such words.  But after their excitement over him, he says it again:  “Peace be with you!” (Jn. 20:21).  This time sounding a little bit more like a command than a common greeting connoting God’s blessed shalom.  And again he’ll speak the very same words to troubled Thomas when at last Thomas is present among them all and the Risen Christ again returns with the very same message:  “Peace be with you!” (Jn. 20:26).  . . .  It’s helpful for us to know that three is kinda significant in this part of John’s gospel.  You might remember that three times Peter is going to deny Jesus while he’s being held captive.  Then, upon the third time he shows himself to his followers, three times the Risen Christ will ask Peter if Peter indeed loves him.  And here:  three times the Risen Christ commands:  “Peace be with you!”  . . .  Since his first time at the supper telling them he’s leaving his peace with them until now when the Risen Christ comes again among them, their hearts have known everything else but peace.  How could they cease any troubled and fear-filled spirits during his arrest, execution, and burial?  Jesus told them he was leaving his peace with them and after three days of anything but, he returns pleading:  “Peace be with you!”

Think about the powerful witness peace in them would be.  I mean, when they finally left that locked upper room, what would others be wondering to encounter in them such amazing, abiding peace?  Panic would proclaim to others that nothing extraordinary happened after his death.  Fear would confirm the lies others were telling.  Angst never would lead others to waste any time listening.  Peace in them was the only way.  . . .  Peace that everything was not as expected.  Peace that another Way had been made.  Peace that all he said and did was not in vain.  . . .  Peace would flower to change the world all around them.  The peace of their hearts would make life beautiful for them and for rest of the world forevermore.

Let those with ears to hear, heed.  Peace is the gift we’ve been given.  Peace remaining in us forever.  For Christ is risen!  God miraculously made a Way.  Wouldn’t you agree that we could use a little more peace in this world now?  Peace that begins with us.  Peace that reverberates from us to those all around.  Peace:  inner calm, steady trust, quiet strength no matter the headlines that cry for our attention or the chaos that swirls all about.  The world needs peace today – just like the world around Jesus’ disciples needed peace in the days following his crucifixion and resurrection.  Peace that ripples beyond the boundaries of our souls to bring ease to those around us.

Brothers and sisters of the Risen Christ, blessed are all who have come to believe; for the peace of our hearts now makes life beautiful for all and forever.  Sent out abiding in such peace, the whole world will experience our amazing God!

In the name of the life-giving Father, the life-redeeming Son, and the life-sustaining Spirit, Amen.

© Copyright JMN – 2017  (All rights reserved.)

After Easter

A Sermon for 12 April 2015 — Second Sunday of Easter

Click here to read scripture first:

http://www.biblestudytools.com/nrsa/john/passage/?q=john+20:19-31

John 20:19-31

I don’t know about ya’ll, but last Sunday after worship; I was exhausted! I hadn’t even helped out in the kitchen all morning for that wonderful Easter Breakfast as many of you did, but I just was wiped out. Monday and Tuesday I saw all sorts of messages from other pastors, even a blog post or two that showed I was not alone. All across Christendom, it seemed, us preachers were laying low Sunday afternoon through sometime Monday or Tuesday to recover from all the festivities. A few I know have been off all week. They never preach the low Sunday after Easter when guest preachers and Associate Pastors across the land typically are up to bat. . . . I know some of you were here Holy Week on Wednesday night (for choir rehearsal), followed by Thursday night for Maundy Thursday worship, Friday night for Good Friday worship, then shopping or cooking much of the day Saturday in order to get ready for Easter celebrations that began early in the morning Sunday through however your family went off from here to celebrate later that afternoon and evening. Maybe you too found yourself dragging a bit by Monday morning. Wishing that like the church office, you also could have been closed for the day after Easter.

We weren’t even there for all the physical and emotional drama of the first Holy Week. So the level of our exhaustion may not have been as high as that of those first disciples. Come that first Easter Sunday evening, they still are locked away behind closed doors. Their hearts and minds have been put through the ringer, what with the highs of Palm Sunday and that Maundy Thursday supper only to be seized in terror a few hours later when in the dark of night in the garden of Gethsemane, their leader is rough up during his arrest. Drug off to wait in a dark pit under the house of the high priest for the sentencing and execution yet to come. The horror of those hours on the day that was supposed to be their Preparation for the Sabbath feast of Passover. Instead he was humiliated, tortured, and hung up to die. . . . By Holy Saturday, I can’t imagine which was deeper in those first disciples: the grief or the fear. Both are intense emotions that leave us human beings absolutely wrung out. Which might explain why, even after the news of the Risen Christ came to them from Mary Magdalene; according to the gospel of John, we find his first disciples behind closed doors. Locked away – if not to rest up then most probably to hide out. Either way, news of the empty tomb would demand a lot from them. If they weren’t about to be harassed by the same religious authorities and Roman soldiers who saw it done; then another much more terrifying, much more demanding visitor just might hunt them down.

According to the gospel of John, he found them. He hadn’t come to make them more afraid; but I imagine the presence of the Risen Christ sent shivers down their spines. What now? . . . “Peace be with you! Receive the Holy Spirit!” he says. “As I’ve been sent; so now I send you!” Agh! The weight of his commissioning meets the weariness in their souls. It’s only the first Easter evening and according to the telling of the gospel of John, they’re already supposed to get out there with the message of God’s undying love. The same message that just a few days earlier, got their Lord killed. Might that be why a week goes by and still they are locked up there in that Upper Room? Coming back to give Thomas the first-hand experience he too wants, I kinda wonder if Jesus was a little miffed that the rest of them still are there. As the gospel of John tells the story, they weren’t instructed to hide out until the Holy Spirit would be given at Pentecost, fifty days after that first resurrection Sunday. According to the gospel of John, he came to them that first Easter evening with a gift and charge: receive the Holy Spirit and go too as I’ve been sent! No wasting time according to the gospel of John’s telling. It’s of the essence. Those first disciples are to get out there immediately to live the good news!

Sunday after Easter, the lectionary sets this story as the gospel story. Fortunately we’ve had a whole week to recover from the weekend of the actual events, so when the gospel of John’s Risen Christ comes to us today, we don’t really have any excuse. Time is of the essence. While the sounds of the Alleluias, the smell of the lilies, and the leftover baskets of Easter bunnies remain; we hear this message: Go! Go now and tell the good news! Live out the forgiveness of God. Spread the hope we now know completely because of the resurrecting work of our God!

Are you ready? Because what’s the point of Easter if it just leaves us exhausted each year? What’s the point of all the extravagant fanfare if we keep ourselves lock up tight behind closed doors? What’s the point if we’ve not once again been changed somehow? . . . This week more than any other, the people whose path we’ve crossed should have been able to sense the spring in our step and the joy in our hearts. If we’ve not grown brave enough yet to speak of our own experiences of God’s resurrecting power; then at least others should have been able to see something different in us. A deeper peace. A brighter joy. A firmer resolve to live a little bit more like our Christ – trusting that we too are God’s: precious, loved, and embraced now and forevermore. . . . We’ve just rehearsed the most incredible story of absolute grace. On the cross, while the worst in us human beings did to him the most unspeakable things, he said: “Forgive them.” If that’s not enough to melt our hearts and motivate our feet, then will anything?

Christ is risen. And as his people, it’s time we get out there to tell. Not just some story about what happened centuries ago. No, the whole reason the Risen Christ appears to Mary Magdalene, and then to the rest, and finally to Thomas is so they don’t have to act only on some story someone else told them. We need to know that information and then we need to experience the joy of encountering the God who transforms everything – even death. We need to tell the good news of Christ living and dying and living again. And then we need to tell how we experience that same good news in the living of our days. How the Spirit of God comes to enliven us to face whatever. To give purpose for the living of our days. To be with us as we undergo some of the darkest moments of our lives. To whisper in our hearts through it all “I shall make all things new. I shall make all things new. I make all things new.” . . . Blessed! Blessed all those who don’t just let Easter wear us out but show us the truth we all need to hear – we all need to tell – we all need to live each day of our lives.

In the name of the life-giving Father, the life-redeeming Son, and the life-sustaining Spirit, Amen.

© Copyright JMN – 2015  (All rights reserved.)