Sunday, April 23, 2017

Easter is Never Really Over

photo by Snow Monkey Pottery / flickr

Our scripture for today is found at the end of John's gospel. Easter had come and gone. The disciples were still trying to unpack what it really meant. But they were still having a hard time. For you see they had forgotten what Jesus had told them.  So they just gathered together behind closed doors. The Lord showed them his hands and his side and John said they were glad.

Thomas was not with them when Jesus came that first time. But his friends told him that Jesus had come back and spoken to them. Thomas responded as probably we would have responded: “"Alive? You gotta be kidding. He died. I saw him die. You must be out of your minds." And the disciples kept trying to convince him and it did no good. "Unless I see for myself," Thomas said, "I will not believe." And so eight days later when the disciples had gathered once more behind closed doors--still afraid— the Lord appeared to them again. But this time Thomas was there. And I love the way John puts it in the King James Version: "...then Jesus came…and stood in the midst, and said, Peace be unto you.”(20. 26) Then Jesus moved toward the old doubter, who had a hard time believing. The Lord said:” See. See."  And he showed Thomas his nailed-scarred hands and he showed him the place in his side. And Thomas for once just stood there open-mouthed, not saying a word. 

We are a lot like Thomas, I think. It’s after Easter for us too. And in some ways it seems a long time since you decorated the Cross with flowers and sang the Resurrection hymns. In just the short space of four weeks we’ve gotten caught up in the thus- and so-ness of life. Wondering who is going to take Julia’s place. Sending in Income tax forms. Dealing with ta multitude of things in our lives. Worried about conditions in the world. What in the world does this Easter thing have to do with all the things we’ve been wading through this week? Thomas asked it and we ask it too. 

But the church came to understand that Easter was not just a one-day celebration.We all get caught up in so many things—and this Scriptures today gives me hope. “Jesus came and stood in the midst of them and said: ‘Peace’.” So here is our sermon—and here are some handles that might be able to help us as they helped Thomas. Two things we find here. Christ came and stood in their midst. So Christ is here with us all. The text also says: Christ brings peace when he comes.

Look at what John writes. Jesus came and stood in their midst. Where were they? Behind
"that feeling"  photo by Sylva K. Ficova / flickr
closed doors. Scared out of their wits. They had already seen him once eight days before—the Risen Lord. But still they double-locked the doors and they were afraid. Over and over they must have wrung their hands and said: What are we going to do? And among them was Thomas. He could not believe. Unless I see, feel and touch—I won’t believe.

What happened? Jesus came through those closed door. Those locked doors could not stop him. It was after Easter, much like we are today. Listen. He came to those who were afraid and did not believe and had some serious doubts. He came. Even with the locks of unfaith on the door and problems galore nothing kept him out. We all need to remember that the lilies may have faded and maybe you have put your Easter outfit away—but Easter just keeps on coming. Nothing can stop its power. 

Could this also be a word for the church. He never did say that the hard, hard times would not come. Did he? He did say, over and over, when the hard times come, I will be with you.  Do you believe that about our church? That here, in the midst of all the things we are trying so hard to work out—we are not alone. This is God’s thing. God’s church. God is here. God will be with us all the way. Remember his promise? Where two or three are gathered in my name I am there. And here among people as flawed as we are—once in a while we see the face of Jesus when we least expect it. 

Let us be clear. Outside those locked doors stood Rome with all its power. And there would be Judaizers that despised them and their new movement. And some days Rome crucified hundreds along the road just to remind people who was in charge. Rome was out there. Poverty was out there. Slavery was out there. Mean-spiritedness was out there. Unfairness walked down every streets and knocked on door after door. And, like us, they tried many things. 

I think it was in my first church that I saw this advertisement. You could get this rubber band and slip it tight around your stomach and ta-dah—just walk around—you’d lose all that pudgy stuff. So I ordered one and tried it. Even wore it on Sundays when I preached. What happened? Nothing. And they finally quit selling those contraptions. And guess what? I picked up a magazine the other day and they’re coming back. Twice as much as they were. Maybe I should have kept my old rubber corset. Maybe if we add another praise song or as traditional hymn that would bring them in. Maybe we could expand the parking lot. Jazz up the sign out there. Or call a real live bonfire preacher who will help put chairs in the aisle.There are some things that will not budge easily despite our efforts. 

photo by Thomas Hawk / flickr
John’s story contradicts this. Easter just keeps on coming behind whatever closed doors there are. We’ve all knocked on doors that just would not open. We know them too. Jobs or lack of. Marriages or its failures. Health…Depression…Family stuff…the mess in the world. The forces of evil had tried to stop him--and still he came. Christ came and stood in the midst of those earthy broken disciples. They didn't unlock the doors. Some of them, like Thomas did not believe. It hardly matters. God will not be defeated by the work of our hands or the lack of work we do. Christ is here. And even if the storm rages outside those locked doors--it does not matter. God is here in the midst of his people.

The next thing Jesus said was just one word. He said: Peace. In fact, he said it twice here. It is a wonderful word. He said it when the storm came up and the disciples were so scared. He had already said it when he was trying to prepare them for his death and they were so afraid of the future. "My peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give it to you." And then when the shadows of the cross were so evident: "Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid."(John 14. 27)

He said the same thing before his death and after his death. Peace. They weren't peaceful in that upper room behind closed doors. They were scared out of their wits.The word peace comes from the Greek word, eirene. The Hebrew word is shalom. It does not mean the cessation of war or an absence of trouble. After those disciples left that room with the locked doors ten of the twelve disciples would by martyred for their faith. Times would be hard and the little churches they established would limp along and sometimes break their hearts. This word peace meant wholeness, completeness, health. It means: "I will give you everything that makes for your highest good." Peace.

There is a lot of despair and isolation and pain out there.  Somehow so many haven’t heard that word that Jesus whispered behind closed doors. Easter really does keep coming. And he still brings Peace. That peace spoke to internal affairs and external situations. It means to lay down the weapons we use against ourselves-because we are our own worst enemies. It means to lay down the weapons we use against those closest to us--for we maim and cripple them the most. And it means to lay down the weapons we use against one another in the Church and in the larger world. 

Remember what he said in the Beatitudes? If you want to be children of God you will be peacemakers. Doesn't mean to stand around smiling when we are raging inside. It means to lay down our weapons. You cannot have a fight without two opposing sides. We learn to make peace. We are all peace-lovers but the hard thing is being a peace-maker. It took those behind those locked doors a long time to unpack what the risen Jesus told them. I bring you peace. To Thomas and all the others—Easter just keeps on coming.

And the good news today is that whatever locked doors you live behind or with—Peace—the peace that passes all understanding—can even come to you and to me. 

Sometimes you find that place in the strangest places.A couple of years ago we went back to one of the first churches I ever served. As part of the service they enlisted three people to stand and talk about: “I remember Mr. Lovette.” It scared me. What in the world would they say. I had hoped they had forgotten a lot of my mistakes. 

The first person that came forward was a beautiful young lady from the Choir. She still had her robe on. Frances was her name. She had rejoined the church again after living somewhere else for several years. She told us that she had lived behind the store in an old shack when I was Pastor there. One of eight children. No Daddy—he had left them. They had a hard time. Her mother died when she was just 39 years old. Just gave out. And Frances was the oldest and the burden for the family was on her shoulders. She told us that she started coming to church. I got to know her like I did all the kids. I even baptized her. She talked about what I said when I brought her up out of the water. She said I whispered,. “You did good.” I did not even remember that little girl. But she talked about all the things that made a difference. How far she had come from that old house back of there store. 

Who would believe that this little shy fellow from a cotton mill village whose parents never had a car and never finished the eighth grade would one day move to the state of Virginia and touch a little nine year old girl and make a difference.  

I hope I don’t sound too self-serving in telling that story. But I would remind you that Easter isn’t over by a long shot. For any of us. It still happens. Your life. Your marriage. This Church. Like Thomas and Frances and even me. This is why we come. God offers new life to us all. And that’s the best news I know. Easter is never really over.

"Calm After Storm" photo by Michael Peterson / flickr

(This sermon was preached at the North Anderson Community Church, Anderson, SC, April 23, 2017)

--Roger Lovette / rogerlovette.blogspot.cpom

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