Damariscotta Baptist Church
Wednesday, September 19, 2018
Growing personal relationships with God and community

05/01/11 Sermon

John 20: 19-31

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in Thy sight O Lord our strength and our Redeemer, Amen
There were four country churches in a small Texas town: The Presbyterian Church, the Baptist Church, the Methodist Church and the Catholic Church. Each church was overrun with pesky squirrels. One day, the Presbyterian Church called a meeting to decide what to do about the squirrels. After much prayer and consideration they determined that the squirrels were predestined to be there and they shouldn't interfere with God's divine will.  In the Baptist Church the squirrels had taken up habitation in the baptistery. The deacons met and decided to put a cover on the baptistery and drown the squirrels in it. The squirrels escaped somehow and there were twice as many there the next week.  The Methodist Church got together and decided that they were not in a position to harm any of God's creation. So, they humanely trapped the Squirrels and set them free a few miles outside of town. Three days later, the squirrels were back.  But -- The Catholic Church came up with the best and most effective solution: They baptized the squirrels and made them members of the church. Now they only see them on Christmas and Easter.
Today is the first Sunday after Easter. And traditionally the 1st Sunday after Easter is called “Low Sunday”. It’s low for a couple of reasons. First of all the attendance is usually lower than it was on Easter Sunday.  And secondly, the scripture that is often used for the 1st after Easter is this text about the disciples who had not yet encountered the resurrected Jesus.
And as we see, at the beginning of this text, the disciples are feeling pretty low.
First of all we see that they are hiding behind locked doors. They’re afraid, unsure of themselves and what was going to happen to them.  Mary, who had been at the tomb, had told them that Jesus’ body was gone but they hadn’t experienced the risen Christ for themselves.  And with a missing body, and being former followers of Jesus, they probably thought the Jewish leaders and the Romans were coming after them next.  So they’re scared.  But not only scared, they’re also lost.
Jesus was their leader, they had given up everything to follow him and now he’d been humiliated and crucified. And just imagine what they had felt as all of this had unfolded?
Imagine all the “what if’s” and “if only’s” they were experiencing???  They were lost----they were as low and you could go.  But then suddenly in the midst of all this, in the fear, the doubt, the hopelessness, and the regret and guilt, Jesus comes to them.  He comes to them in a physical body, behind their locked doors, behind their brokenness and offers them words of comfort and healing and new life in their own physical bodies in the present.  His message to them that we see three times in this scripture is the words: “Peace be with you” with an exclamation mark!!
Now what does this statement mean?
Is it simply a hello? (or a howdy ya’ll?)
Does it mean be cool, be calm????
What does it mean when Jesus says “Peace be with you”?
Well when we look at this word in the Greek that it’s written, it’s the word Eirene (I-ray-nay)--------- which has the same meaning as the word Shalom in the Hebrew.
Now--- I-ray-nay or shalom has a deeper meaning than just a greeting or a feeling of tranquility and serenity and calmness.  To offer shalom to someone is about offering them a completeness and a wholeness in their lives. It’s about offering them abundant life, fullness of life where they live in hopefulness and freedom and strength even as difficulty and problems come their way.  With shalom, there is a sense of calmness, but it’s the result of the state of being complete or whole.  Jesus’ resurrection brought forth this peace, this shalom.  
And so Jesus comes to the disciples, behind their locked doors, in their lowliness and he offers them this shalom as the key to unlock the doors that their behind and lift them up to a wholeness or fullness of life in the present.
And he does the same for you and for me.
Jesus wants us to live in the fullness and completeness of life in the present. And he does this by offering us this shalom as well.
But what areas of our life can keep us from experiencing this shalom?
Well they can be the same things that kept the disciples behind their locked doors.
So this morning I want to look at 3 different things that locked up the disciples and can also lock us up and keep us from experiencing Jesus’ shalom.
Now the first thing we see that locked up the disciples was their guilt and shame.  Imagine how these disciples must have felt when they first saw Jesus that day.  They must have felt embarrassed and ashamed. After all, it wasn’t just Judas who had betrayed Jesus, they all did.  They must have felt regret that they hadn’t stayed awake in the Garden of Gethsemane when Jesus was arrested. They must have felt like cowards in the way they denied him and abandoned him.  Perhaps they were pointing and blaming each other for their failures. (How could you have fall asleep when it was your watch that night? How could you have denied him Peter….3 times???)  But when Jesus comes to them behind their closed doors of guilt and shame and finger pointing, what does he say?  Does he say, Gee whiz guys, where were you??? How could you??? ---No. Jesus says Peace be with you! He offers them the forgiveness of shalom.  He calms their fears of shame and guilt and betrayal immediately. Jesus knows they need forgiveness and so he offers them the shalom of mercy and grace.
Now we can need this kind of forgiveness too; especially as congregations.
Will Wilimon (dean of Duke Divinity school) speaks about how some churches can live with this kind of non-forgiveness and blame.  He makes the point that as so many churches are in decline struggling to keep the doors open and there is a lot of finger pointing and blame. (it’s the older generations fault, the pastor’s fault,---we should have invited more people, we should have been more hospitable, more faithful)  Willimon then goes on to point out that we need to receive forgiveness ourselves because if we don’t have grace and mercy for each other, then church members will turn upon each other and kill one another.
But Jesus comes to offer the shalom of forgiveness to us so that we might live in the fullness of life needed in order to offer shalom to others.
Now another way the disciples were locked up behind closed doors was in their despondency and disbelief.
Every time we come upon the story of the disciple Thomas we think about his doubt. But in reality, Thomas’ more serious issue was not doubt. It was rather his despair and hopelessness.  Thomas had given up. We see that he wasn’t with the disciples earlier when Jesus had appeared. I get the feeling that Thomas was done. He wanted no more of this. He had fallen hook line and sinker for Jesus and now he felt like a fool.  He told the disciples He was done with this faith stuff; he wanted hands on, real scientific proof.  Thomas was cynical and pessimistic about faith pessimism which is different than doubt. Doubt will lead you to seek but with Thomas, he was quitting. In fact you get the sense that the disciples had to drag him back to where they were staying.  But Jesus comes to him too. He doesn’t scold Thomas. Instead he offers him the peace of faith and hope as he gives Thomas his nail-scarred hands to touch.  Jesus then goes on to tell Thomas to stop doubting and believe because Jesus knows that when we are always looking for proof, when we’re cynical toward belief and miracles and the imagination then we become skeptical pessimists afraid to trust in the ways of faith.  Thomas' cynicism and need for proof was turning him into a scorned lover who was vowing to never love again. Without faith and trust he was on his way to bitterness.
Of course it's not just individuals who can depend on the tangible, show me the scars proof like Thomas.  Churches can be despondent and act in disbelief too.  It happens when churches become dependent on the tangible things like money to determine its future actions.  The tangible things make the decisions. They determine faithfulness.
Without money, without a building, without a full-time pastor, without a paid staff, the church can become despondent and be willing to throw in the towel because it identifies itself with the tangible proof that it’s a church.
But when we live as a group by faith and hope, we dont let the tangible things lead us and determine our future. We instead focus on faithfulness, like seeking Jesus’ ways of selflessly giving ourselves away to others. We act with expectation that our actions will lead to God's redeeming work being done thru us in the community in which we live.
We expect miracles because we believe in them and we act in faith not dependent on buildings or portfolios.  And we see this happening in churches all over the country today. Churches are beginning to sell their buildings, hire bi-vocational pastors, and eliminate paid staff positions in order to be free from the tangible things that are dictating their ministerial existence.  Instead of letting the tangible things lead them, instead of the inner focus of hanging on to the material things, they are following God’s call to minister to the community.
The focus is on faithfulness to Jesus which frees a congregation from the burdensome despair of depending on the tangible things that we believe proves our faith. A church is more than a building, it’s more than an institution, it’s more than a pastor.
A church is a group of believers who love and trust God and love God’s ways of loving others.
When we walk in faith with that kind of faithfulness leading the way, we are blessed with so much more than those who put their faith in things they can only touch.
Jesus said to Thomas: “blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed”  Jesus gives us a shalom of hope that as we act in faith, trusting in God and God’s ways we will live abundantly because we are doing God’s work.
Now the last way the disciples were locked behind closed doors was in their fears.  The disciples feared for their lives. They knew of the cruel death of Jesus and the hostility he brought forth. They had to believe that they were next.  But when they saw Jesus alive and he spoke words of peace to them they knew they had nothing to fear.  Because Jesus lived and overcame death, they knew that as forgiven followers, they were secure no matter what happened.
Now for you and me, Jesus has offered that same peace of bold assurance over our fears to us.  Thru the power of Jesus' shalom, we are given courage whenever we face difficulties in our own world. And we will face them:
Our lives can be changed in a millisecond. An accident, the loss of a loved one, a bad diagnosis at the doctor, the loss of our job, a broken marriage, a terrorist attack, a crash in the stock market, a natural disaster.  We live on the brink of fear and chaos. At any moment we can be driven behind locked doors, dwelling in darkness and fear. You may be there right now.  But Jesus’ gift of shalom will come to us and remind us that ultimately we have nothing to fear, that God is in control. He has defeated our worst fear; the fear of the finality of death.
But besides this kind of fear, Jesus' shalom also fills us with a bold assurance to step out in faith to do God’s work.  It was this freedom over fear that gave the disciples the courage to step out from behind those locked doors to spread the news of the risen Lord and Savior to the world.  When we aren’t afraid to step out in faith, when we are willing to trust in God, we will begin to truly live in the shalom that Jesus offers because we are doing God’s work.  When we receive this shalom we are free to become who God created us to be and we live abundantly using the skills and gifts that God created us to use to further his shalom to others in the world.
Jesus is coming to you today and asking you to let go of your fears. He wants you to live in wholeness and completeness that you might experience joy while being his instrument of sowing the seeds of shalom to others.
In closing this morning, on this low Sunday, we’re being reminded that Jesus is coming to us to offer us the gift of his peace.
How do we receive this peace??? Well it comes to us thru the power of the Holy Spirit breathed into us from Jesus---
Jesus comes to ALL of us------He wants to breathe into us the gift of his peace. He wants to lift us up from our lowliness and empower us thru his forgiveness, thru his hope and thru his bold assurance.
It simply takes a willingness on our part to receive it.
Today, ask yourself if you have locked yourself behind some closed door?
Jesus has the key. He comes to you to offer you the forgiveness and hope and courage of his resurrection
Surrender to his breath of life, receive the gift of his shalom and step thru the door of abundant and eternal life right here, right now….
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, Amen