April 16, 2018
“Peace Be With You” ~ sermon for Sunday, April 8, 2018
Our gospel reading this morning continues the story of Easter evening as we near the end of John’s gospel.
The disciples are hiding in a locked room, huddled in fear of what fate might await them.
There are ten disciples present.
Judas has killed himself and Thomas is not there.
Hear now a reading from the book of John 20:19-29.
Here ends the reading of God’s holy word. May God add to our hearing and understanding, God’s blessings.
Please pray with me.
Ever-present God, who by the power of the Holy Spirit transforms us individually and as a church to be your dwelling place, confront us here in the midst of our doubts, grant us your peace while we face our fears, and increase our trust that we may embrace life in all its fullness.
Speak to us now the word that we need, empowering us to be a unifying presence in our broken world.
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable to you, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer. Amen.
What a joy it is to be able to share this Good News with you!
It feels comforting and empowering to be able to say to you:
No matter what you have done; what lies you have told; what deceit you have engaged in; what judgment you have professed; what fear has you paralyzed; what anxiety plagues you – Jesus comes and stands right in the middle of it and offers you ‘Peace.’
‘Peace be with you’ he says to the group of people who deserted him and left him to die, nailed to a cross!
‘Peace be with you’ he offers to Peter the liar and Thomas the doubter.
Cyril of Alexandria, writing in the 5th century said:
“When Christ greeted his holy disciples with the words, ‘Peace be with you,’ by peace he meant himself, for Christ’s presence always brings tranquility of soul. This is the grace Saint Paul desired for believers when he wrote, ‘The peace of Christ which passes all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds.’ The peace of Christ which passes all understanding is in fact the Spirit of Christ, who fills those who share in him with every blessing.”
Put yourself in this story.
You are locked in a room somewhere in Jerusalem with at least ten other people trying to understand what has happened to the prophet you have been following for the past few years.
You have been witness to a riot, a murder, and have heard reports of a resurrection.
How do you wrap your head around that?
It is no wonder that the disciples were frozen in place.
What do you think you would do?
Are you the type of person who would take charge and organize the team to get back on track?
Would you, perhaps like Thomas, go out to buy food, distracting yourself from the enormity of the situation by attending to details?
Could you envision yourself praying under these circumstances?
Of course, we have no way of knowing what we would do in the face of such trauma but we surely can feel some empathy for this group.
I’m always intrigued by the fact that they are still in the locked room a week after Jesus has appeared and breathed the Holy Spirit into them.
Jesus sends us out into the world, to put our hands on the marks of its suffering, to bring good news and hope to all of God’s children.
This is the mission of the church: to love the world.
Writer Parker Palmer says, “the mission of the church is not to enlarge the membership, not to bring outsiders to accept your terms, but simply to love the world in every possible way–to love the world as God did and does.”
We may feel overwhelmed on this Second Sunday of Easter, like those disciples one week after Easter, even though we have experienced the risen Jesus.
We may feel like locking our doors and hiding out.
Indeed, it’s a great temptation in the life of the church to huddle behind massive, beautiful doors, to hide out from a world in pain and great need, and to make our faith a personal, private thing that has nothing to do with that pain or that need.
In Tuesday’s daily UCC devotion Molly Baskette reflected on how we trap ourselves in Satin-lined coffins.
She said: “Christians pay a lot of lip service at Easter-time to “putting death to death.” In other words, affirming that: we love to be alive!
But do we, really? She quotes her spiritual director as saying “we love our satin-lined coffins. It’s cozy and predictable in here. Death, as it turns out, does not actually have much of a sting. It’s life that hurts, with all its uncertainty, intense feelings, learning curves throwing us for a loop.
In the coffin, we know exactly where the boundaries are. We are In Control. In a thousand little ways we have made absolutely certain that our lives will be deliciously safe and homeostatic, even though, in the natural world, the only things that don’t change are dead.”
I do not particularly want to envision my life as taking place in a coffin or a locked room.
I want to embrace the charge from Jesus that we go out into the world, sharing the peace and love that have been breathed into us with others.
Among the miracles Jesus performed I do think forgiving this group of frightened disciples is the greatest.
I feel blessed to know that Jesus, the miracle worker, the great forgiver is going to offer me the peace of Christ which passes all understanding; that peace that will guard my heart and mind.
But I also feel compelled to try and live in such a way that I won’t need too much forgiveness.
I want to model my life after Jesus, not Thomas, not Peter.
While it is comforting on some level to know that the disciples were no stronger than we are, I want to reach for a higher standard.
I want to figure out new ways to spread God’s love in the community…in the world.
We are an Easter people.
We have been gifted with the Holy Spirit.
We have been graced with faith.
Our challenge is to figure out how we live out this responsibility.
I believe that we must start by getting out of our satin-lined coffins and locked rooms and into the world.
We must seek opportunities to spread God’s love.
We must work for peace and justice in the world.
And most importantly, we must orient ourselves so that we find joy in serving.
God is not interested in those who serve because they must…God is looking for people who are bursting with love that needs to be shared.
I want to close with the prayer of St. Francis which sums it all up:
Lord, make me an instrument of your peace:
where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
where there is sadness, joy.
O divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek
to be consoled as to console,
to be understood as to understand,
to be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive,
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.
Let us pray.
Gracious, loving, forgiving God we thank you for the blessings you bestow upon us.
Help us to understand how to use those blessings to manifest your love in the world.
Grant us the grace to venture out of our locked rooms, into the streets, searching for neighbors who need to hear the Good News of Jesus Christ.
Remind us over and over again that we are an Easter people, children of the resurrection, instruments of your peace.
Hear our prayers this morning for those whom we love.
For those who are sick, we pray for healing.
For those who mourn, we pray for comfort.
For those who are trapped in locked rooms of addictions, anxiety, fear and hatred, we pray that the breath of your Holy Spirit will set them free.
We pray that the peace that passes all understanding will guard our hearts and minds.
We turn to you now in the sacred silence of this Meetinghouse with the silent prayers of our hearts…Amen.