15 Apr “Here, There & Everywhere” (Read)
Rev. Peggy O’Connor
Date: April 15, 2018
Happy Easter everyone! Does my greeting surprise you? After all, Easter was two weeks ago, right? Well, yes and no. Easter Sunday was two weeks ago but Easter is a season that lasts for seven weeks. So, we are sticking with Easter until Mother’s day.
Today we start with the Easter appearances of Jesus. Our text from the Gospel of John, recounting the third appearance on Easter is the one we will focus on but I want to start by reviewing all three.
The first appearance, of course, was to Mary at the tomb. With the rock, rolled away and the tomb empty Mary wept. Suddenly Jesus appeared. After her initial inability to recognize him passed, they talked. Then she ran to tell the others. The second appearance came when Jesus joined two of his followers as they went home, discouraged by his death and what they assumed is the end of his ministry. When Jesus, whom they did not recognize, joined them for supper they knew him as he broke bread. They were so excited that they ran back to tell the others. The third appearance is todays passage which tells us that Jesus appeared to 10 of the remaining disciples, who were in a house with all of the doors locked. Jesus came through the door, stood among them, said “Peace be with you” and they recognized him and rejoiced.
There are a lot of ways to react to these stories. We can be amazed and astounded, or confounded and confused. We can debate their possibility or proclaim their factuality or we can move from the details of the stories to their lessons. We are going to do the latter this morning, asking what these ancient stories are telling us for the living of our lives today.
In the first place, the appearances, all of which happened on the same day, tell us that we cannot contain, control or predict what God is doing or will do. It is a lesson the disciples had to learn again and again when Jesus lived and again after he died and rose. It is also lesson we have to learn.
Some of the disciples and many others wanted Jesus to raise an army to free them from Roman rule. When he didn’t, they got angry at him. Some say this is why Judas betrayed Jesus…to force his hand. He thought that once arrested, Jesus would use his power to overcome the Romans. No one imagined that he would willingly go to the cross or forgive his executioners.
Peter tried to control Jesus when he told the 12 that he would die, saying “don’t ever say that again”. Mary and Martha told him he was too late when he came to them days after their brother died. Religious leaders repeatedly told him could not heal or minister to people on the sabbath. Everyone wanted him to do and be who and what they wanted him to be. But Jesus/God/Holy Spirit cannot be contained or controlled or predicted.
So, how do we try to control, contain, and predict God’s actions? In many ways. We build churches and call them the house of God, as if God is contained within these walls. Many different denominations truly believe that they and they alone are “right with the Lord” because of their specific beliefs or practices. We pray for particular outcomes…things that are in line with our political or personal views; and for personal favors for ourselves, our families or friends; we pray for football teams and baseball teams; we pray for many things in hopes that God will grant our prayers without adding, as Jesus did, but thy will, not mine.
Jesus’ appearances remind us that we are not in control and that we cannot predict what God is doing or will do or has done that will come to fruition when it will. And they remind us that we cannot contain God. Tombs sealed shut with boulders and locked doors cannot keep God out.
This is the second lesson this morning and the really good news of the day. God/Jesus/Holy Spirit is Here! God/Jesus/Holy Spirit is There! God/Jesus/Holy Spirit is Everywhere! And will come to us, no matter what. We know this and yet we need help hanging on to it. It is, in part, why we come to church…to be surrounded by the presence of God together. We see the cross and the table, which remind us of the last supper and the resurrection. We see the font, and when we are lucky we a baptism, and we remember Jesus’ baptism and the promise of God’s unending and undying love for us. Here we remember the miracles and the paradoxes of faith, which author and essayist Brian Doyle says, “bind us each to each: that we believe, against all evidence and sense, in life and love and light, in the victory of those things over death and evil and darkness.” Here we are reminded and we remember. God is with us…the Holy Spirit is active in our lives…and Jesus is forever coming to us.
Lastly, these three stories teach us a lesson about doors: the door to the tomb, the door to the inn and the locked door of the room. They reassure us that Jesus comes to us in the worst moments of our lives. But they also remind us that we would do well to attend to the doors in our lives. And not just the exterior, physical doors we encounter. We have to attend to all of the interior ones: the doors to and in our hearts and our minds. We are filled with doors. But mostly we are unaware or blind to them. A recent article in Christian Century had a piece on doors I want to share with you.
A woman visited a prison to participate in a prison ministry of prayer had to pass through multiple doors, each of which had to be unlocked and relocked as she passed through them. After several doors she entered a lobby where others were waiting. A guard took them through another door into a cramped holding room. When they were all in the door shut and locked with a bang. The woman in front of her said “Ohhhhh, I don’t like that door closing.” Our woman looked at her and seeing a tall blonde wearing a bright paisley dress and heels she immediately judged her as being rich, spoiled, white, privileged and self-centered hypocritical Christian. Imagine her complaining about a one hour visit with people who might never leave the prison…I mean really?
The the guard opened the next door and led them to an auditorium where he told them to sit on the opposite side of the room from the prisoners. They found seats and worship began. At the end of the service the leader said a former inmate was with them and asked her to stand. The woman in the paisley dress stood and faced the inmates who roared their appreciation. She stood weeping with her hand over her mouth looking at women she had left while the applause and cheering kept going and going.
We all have issues with doors. The ones we demand be closed and locked for fear of someone getting in…or fear of being changed or challenged. The ones we insist stay open so that the lost can return or so we can escape. The ones we have torn off the hinges in anger or fright and keep tripping over again and again. And the ones we have reclaimed and refinished with love or possibly defiance. They all keep us in…no doubt seeking safety…but still they create little prisons for us. And they are all barriers keeping people and things out…probably originally out of fear but now…like a door with rusty hinges from disuse, they will not budge.
As the famous painting of Jesus knocking at a door without a handle portrays, Jesus will come but we have to open the door. The doors we close and secure have to be opened by us or we may well, unwittingly leave Jesus…or the one Jesus sends…waiting while we wonder, inside, where is He?