“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.”
Grace and peace to you from God our heavenly Father, and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
Today we read that the disciples are scared. They’ve heard that Jesus has risen and is alive, and yet they still don’t really understand what’s happened. This news could cause a whole lot of trouble for them. The simple fact that they were known as Jesus’ disciples could still get them into trouble! So they hide, and they wait…but for what? For the Roman soldiers to bust in on them, ready to do battle? Nope! Not at all. They are waiting for their Lord and teacher to meet them…somehow.
Then he appears! Jesus comes to them with words of greeting and peace. Not even a closed door could stop him from being with his brothers, his disciples. Jesus is there to tell them that they don’t have to be afraid anymore, because everything he said about himself has happened; it was all true. He was indeed the Messiah and their risen Lord; the one who had been killed, but who has now been raised for the forgiveness of sins. He’s there to tell them it was now their turn to go out and share the Good News of Jesus Christ with the world. Yes, they were afraid, but they had a job to do.
This text has been running in my mind all week, especially so when I was attending a conference with other pastors and church leaders from South Dakota down in Sioux Falls. We spent our days talking about the connections between faith and daily life, and what it meant to be the church—the body of Christ—out in the world. Our presenters called it being “scattered saints”, a people who are gathered in our churches for worship, but who are then scattered about our communities, called to be disciples in whatever ways doing so takes shape in our lives. Their challenge to us as church leaders was to invite us to journey with those whom we minister to and with, in your daily lives as disciples of Jesus Christ.
This challenge from our presenters at the conference might seem like a weird connection to make with this text from the Gospel of John, but somehow, it fits. You see, Jesus’ disciples were gathered together on that resurrection day. They were fearful about what would happen to them, and then—in a way— they were given new life themselves when Jesus appeared to them. He gave them the gift of the Holy Spirit; he gave them the charge to be scattered and sent into the world to share the Gospel. Even though they were afraid, even though they (especially Thomas) doubted ,and even though many of them had abandoned Jesus as he went to the cross. They were to be scattered, and not shut behind those locked doors, so that they might speak of Christ’s peace, forgiveness, and grace in places and to people who would so sorely need to hear the Gospel. They were to continue to live as disciples of Christ.
Today, we might find it easy to stay behind our locked doors. That is, here in this church. It’s comfortable here, talking about Jesus with one another. It’s safe here. Out there, it’s maybe not so comfortable. We may think that we haven’t got the knowledge or wisdom to talk about our faith in Jesus Christ with others, especially with a person who may be being beaten down by life. We may think it’s inappropriate to share with another person just how we see God working in the world. And we sure as heck know that there’s a lot to be afraid out in the world. Violence, hatred, bigotry. What can we do about it all?, we may be thinking. And so we stay here, where it’s safe. And we say, let God handle “out there”.
But, here’s something to think about today. God is just as much out there in the rest of the world, as God is here in this church. We cannot keep God behind locked doors, and we can’t stay behind those doors either. God has gathered us around the communion table and the holy word, so that we CAN be scattered. So that we can go from this place, even when we doubt and are afraid, and proclaim boldly the Good News that Jesus has risen and that death and sin no longer have dominion.
Being a disciple, a follower of Jesus Christ,is a big job. It’s a scary job. And we might not always know how to do it, or at least where to start. But, whether we are a teacher, a grandparent, a farmer, a caregiver, a “whatever we are”, God has indeed equipped us for discipleship. We’re not going around passing out flyers and pamphlets, maybe. But we are meeting children of God every day of our lives, who are yearning for God to speak and act through the difficulties they face and the fears they experience. We are journeying along with the doubters like Thomas, the deniers like Peter, the sinners like each and every one of us. And when we journey with these fellow children of God, the Holy Spirit works in us in countless ways, showing others the power, mercy, and goodness of God.
I can totally understand why the disciples were so afraid. And I can totally understand why we may be afraid of talking about God’s presence in our daily lives, or even how we may struggle to see where God is at work in the world. The disciples had some real things to fear. The authorities’ power, whether or not anyone would believe that Jesus had been raised. Us being called bible beaters, or feeling like we cannot effect any real changes in our world through our vocations, or by speaking out as people of faith in a very divided world.
I get it, and I’m often afraid too. But, today, we read that Jesus is risen! That we can see his wounds. We are witnesses to the resurrection. Today, we read that we too are being sent out with the power and gift of the Holy Spirit to proclaim Christ crucified and risen so that none would ever have to fear the sting of death,sin, and hate. Where we are sent, and how we are sent, to proclaim the Good News will be different for each of us. But, we need not fear, for Jesus walks with us, promising a peace that no one else can give. A peace that brings us to wholeness, gives us confidence to share what God in Jesus Christ has done for the world, and that makes it possible to see God at work in the every day.
You see, even when we doubt, become afraid, or would like to stay behind closed doors for fear of whatever is “out there”, Jesus reminds us that we don’t go the way alone. He reminds us that we are not inadequately equipped for discipleship, that we have been fed and nourished in communion and by the Word. And that those things, and just being who God has made us to be, is enough. We are called to share the Gospel, through whatever ways or words God has placed in us. That we need not be afraid when we are commanded, as Thomas and the others were, to unlock the doors we hide behind and go out to the scattered saints, proclaiming Jesus’ grace, forgiveness, and peace.
Now may the peace of God which surpasses all our understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.