Sermon - Brad Brookins

April 22, 2018 Sermon - Brad Brookins
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Sermon

04-22-18 

John 20. 19-29

19 When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you.’ 20After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. 21Jesus said to them again, ‘Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.’ 22When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. 23If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.’

24 But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. 25So the other disciples told him, ‘We have seen the Lord.’ But he said to them, ‘Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.’

26 A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you.’ 27Then he said to Thomas, ‘Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.’ 28Thomas answered him, ‘My Lord and my God!’ 29Jesus said to him, ‘Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.’ 

 

It’s Sunday evening of the first Easter.  The doors are locked.  The disciples are afraid.  Suddenly Jesus stands among them and says, “Peace be with you.”

 

John says they are afraid of “the Jews”.  Now obviously they aren’t afraid of all Jews.  Everyone in that room was a Jew.  They are afraid of certain Jews—the very small number of priests and Pharisees who had conspired with the Romans to have Jesus crucified. 

 

You have to be careful in reading this portion of John’s gospel.  Don’t start thinking that all Jews were rabid Jesus killers.  They weren’t.

 

That said, however, it is interesting to see how the politics of the day enter into the telling of the story. 

 

John wrote his gospel at least 70 0r 80 years after the fact.  Up until that time Christianity had been sort of a subset of Judaism.  By early in the 2nd century though, the Christian church was becoming less a Jewish sect and more a gentile religion.

 

In John’s day, the grandsons of the priests and pharisees who persecuted Jesus were now harassing the Christians.  Those Jews, not all Jews, are in the back of John’s mind as he writes the story of Jesus.

 

So when John tells of Jesus suddenly standing in the middle a bunch of scared disciples saying “Peace be with you”, he is actually telling his own church folks—80 years later,  that Jesus is with them; that they have no reason to be afraid.

 

Now, one thing you don’t want to do is ask how Jesus got through that locked door.  Well, you may want to ask that question, but it won’t do any good.  You’re not supposed to know how. 

 

There is, in fact, no answer to “how” that isn't chock full of more questions.  It’s all part of the mystery, you see.  If the tomb was really empty, as Mary Magdalene and Peter had discovered that morning, all bets are off anyway.  Anything can happen. 

 

So just read the story.

 

It’s Easter evening and Jesus stands among his friends and offers them his peace.  He shows them his hands and his side where the scars remain.  They see the wounds—then they rejoice.  Then they see the Lord—with more than their physical eyes.

 

And then comes the great commission.  The disciples are given their life’s work.

 

“Jesus said to them again, ‘Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.’”

 

Think about that.  We often  speak of the church as the Body of Christ—the community who would be the continuing presence of Jesus in the world.  With different words, Jesus says the same thing here:  “As the Father sent me, so I send you.  What the Father sent me to do I am sending you to do”.

 

In other words, they are to be to the world—to their neighbors, friends and enemies, what Jesus was to his neighbors, friends and enemies.  That’s a pretty high calling, don't you think.

 

“As the Father sent me so I send you”. 

 

But they weren’t being sent out on their own.

 

“When he had said this, he breathed on them and said, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit’.”  Does that remind you of something—say the creation stories back in Genesis 1 and 2: “In the beginning, when God created the heavens and the earth…?” 

 

This upper room Easter evening first-day-of-a-whole-new-world encounter with Jesus is re-enacting that 6th day miracle, you see, where God shapes the dust of the earth into a human form and breathes into it the breath of life.

 

Jesus stands in this locked up room with his frightened, dis-spirited disciples.  They have had wind knocked out of them. 

They can’t breathe. 

 

So right there, at the dawn of this new age, his wounded hands re-shape their bone-dry dustiness into his body, his church.  Then he “re-inspires” them.  He breathes into them the breath of life—the Spirit of God.

 

And they become living women and men; the living body of Christ.

 

These men and women, who had been scared to death, are brought to life.  In-spired.  In-spirited.  That’s what “breath” means.  No longer gasping for air, they take in great gulps of the Spirit—the breath of God.

 

And there you have another resurrection.  If you’re counting, it’s the third resurrection of this first Easter.

 

“As the Father has sent me, so I send you” Jesus says. 

But, sent to do what?

 

Way back at the beginning of the gospel another John—John the Baptist, pointed to Jesus and said, “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world”.  That’s what Jesus was sent to do—to take away the sin of the world.

 

 “Sin” is a word with which we are very uncomfortable these days.  And that’s why it is important to understand what John means. For John, sin is not the bad things people do—not the weaknesses and flaws in your character.  For him rather, sin is anything that puts a barrier between us and the kingdom of God; anything that interferes with people finding their way to God. 

So “taking away the sin of the world” means breaking down the barriers and removing the roadblocks that keep us from a full experience of God’s grace.

 

Our world is full of sin—teeming with it; positively overflowing with impediments and road blocks that keep us separated from our neighbors and all of us from the kingdom of God.

 

The sin of the world is painfully evident in our endless and insane destruction of our air, water and soil, and our insatiable hunger for more;   in our almost gleeful response to the launching of hundreds of million-dollar missiles on a pointless mission of destruction in Syria, even as we refuse to take in the refugees created by that conflict.

 

The sin of the world is seen in the fear—and the hatred, directed at black and brown and immigrant bodies; in the continuing attacks on the humanity of gay and lesbian neighbors; in Supreme Court cases about wedding cakes, for goodness sake.

So much effort expended to hurt people.  So much energy, so much money spent on building walls and drawing lines and erecting barricades between us and them.  Walls that have the effect of blocking all of us from the kingdom—the gift, the life of God.

 

So much sin.

 

And here we see the deeper meaning of Jesus’ words.

 

“As the Father has sent me, so I send you… Receive the Holy Spirit.  Forgive—take away, the sins of any, and they will be forgiven”  Break down the walls, he says; open the doors.  Show the world another way to be.

 

“As the Father sent me to forgive, so I send you—to forgive”.

 

Imagine that as the calling of the church—as our calling.  I’m not saying we should all pack up and go to Syria.  I am saying we should follow our Easter calling and “practice resurrection” right here.  That we should move about the world and through our lives as living channels of God’s kindness—breaking down walls, opening doors, making the way wide and clear; doing this where we are, for the neighbors closest to us. 

 

Ever been forgiven?  Ever been shown surprising kindness or generosity?  How did that make you feel? 

 

There are 2.2 billion Christians in the world, give or take a few

million—about 1/3 of the human population.  If every Christian in the world showed kindness today to one other Christian, and to two people who were not Christians, the entire world would be showered in grace by suppertime.  Wouldn’t that be something.

 

“As the Father sent me, so I send you”.

 

Maybe we should get to it, heh?

 

Now, about Thomas—poor Thomas, who is always called in the gospel “the Twin” but is always labeled by us “the Doubter”.  He wasn’t in the room when all this happened.  Maybe he got hungry, and doubted anybody was going to feed him.  So he walked down to the local McMoses for a kosher Big Mac and a coke.

 

Anyway, he comes back to find his friends, who earlier were hardly breathing, now hyper-ventilating.  Everyone speaking at once and saying, “We have seen the Lord!”

 

To which Thomas snorts, “Yeah, right”; though his actual response has more panache than that.  He wants to see Jesus for himself—to touch the scars on his hands.  “Unless I see the mark of the nails…” he says,  “I will not believe”.

 

And we think that’s just awful.  How could he be such a doubter.

But really, folks, we need to lay off Thomas.  Remember, no one in that room believed they were seeing Jesus until they each saw—for themselves, the scars in his hands and side.  All Thomas wants is what everybody else already got.  He’s no worse—certainly no more a doubter, than anyone else.  So lighten up on the guy. 

 

And besides, Thomas isn’t even the focus of this story.

 

The focus, it turns out, is on you; and me.

 

A week later Jesus shows up again.  This time Thomas is there.  Jesus holds out his hands.  Thomas doesn’t even reach out to touch the scars.  He falls to his knees.  “My Lord, and my God!” he cries.

 

And right here, the purpose of this story  becomes clear.

If we were watching a movie, this would be the scene where Jesus turns to the camera and says to Thomas, “Do you trust me because you have seen me? Happy, are those (yeah, I mean you)  happy are you who have not seen and yet have come to trust.”

It’s typical of Bible writers, you know, that they leave us with more questions than answers.  We’ve seen it before; we sure see it here.

 

You haven’t seen Jesus.  Neither have I.  You haven’t seen the scars on his hands—and you never will.  Do you trust, anyway, that he is somehow—in some way, alive?  Can you imagine how this story might be true, even if you can’t believe it happened just the way John says it did?

 

I’m pretty sure, by the way, it didn’t happen just the way John describes.  Or if it did, then it didn’t happen the way Matthew, Mark and Luke describe—because their stories don’t match up.  Do they have to match up?

 

You haven’t seen, and you can’t be sure of the facts.  That’s a pretty high wall.    Have you gotten over it?  Do you trust anyway?  Do you recognize the breath in you as the breath of God—the Spirit breathed by God into the first man and woman and breathed by Jesus into the first disciples?  Have you been “in-spired”?  Do you see through eyes enlivened by that Spirit?  Has this vision  taken away your sin—your barrier to trust?  Are you prepared to take away the sin of the world?

 

“Blessed—happy, are those who have not seen with their eyes, and yet have come to trust.” 

 

Do you have to have all the answers?

 

These are the questions John is asking here at the end of his gospel.  You’ll notice he’s not answering them.

 

So neither will I.  Amen.

Bible Study

04-22-18  Text and Questions

 

The complete text for this week is below.  You may want to read it over a couple of times before tackling the questions.

 

Useful details to consider:

1.        The Greek word (verb) for “to be faithful” or “to believe” or “to trust” is “pisteuo".  The Greek word for “unbelief” or “unfaithfulness” is “apisteuo” (think theist/a-theist and you’ll get it).  The Greek word for “faith” (noun) is “pistis”.  The Greek word for “doubt” is “distazo”.  You don’t have to know any of that, but you might find it helpful for today’s study.

2.       The writer of the gospel of John is very interested in what it means to be faithful (trusting) and how one becomes trusting.  Matthew and Mark use the word “pisteuo” 9 times.  Luke uses it 14 times.  John uses “pisteuo” 100 times.  You might call it his noble obsession.

3.       John never uses the word “pistis”—the noun for “faith”.  I’m not entirely sure, but I think this is important; especially for people who see “The Faith” as a list of ideas, doctrines and facts we must believe to be “true”.   John, it seems, has less concern for right ideas than for right relationship.  That is to say, for John being faithful (trusting Jesus) is more important than having the right “facts” about Jesus.

4.       Good news for anyone named Thomas—the Greek word for doubt, “distazo” is never used in reference to Thomas (even in John 20:27).  Jesus never tells Thomas not to doubt, he tells him not to be faithless (apistia); he urges Thomas not to be without trust.

 

Now for your conversational pleasure:

 

1.        Define your terms.  What do these words mean: trust  faith  faithful  unfaithful  belief  unbelief  doubt?

2.       What is the difference between “trust” and “belief”?

3.       In English, faith (trust) and belief are 2 different words with (presumably) different meanings.  What do you think happens when we apply the English meaning of “belief” in a Bible verse that calls for the Greek meaning of “trust” (or vice versa)?  (V. 27 and v. 29 are places where this happens.)

4.       Discuss this statement:  “One cannot “have” faith; one can only “be” faithful”.

5.       Refer to Useful Detail #3 above.  Is it possible to “trust” Jesus without having “right facts” about Jesus?  Why or why not?

6.       Why does Thomas need to place his hand in Jesus’ open wound to “be faithful” (trusting)?  Why does Jesus say this is not necessary for faithfulness?

7.       Everything in this passage moves toward v. 29.  This is one time where the last word really is the most important:  “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.” 

            a.  What does it mean, in this context, to “see”?

            b.  What are the different ways we have “to see”?  Can you see

                 with your eyes closed?

            c.  “come to believe” what?  Do you think “to believe” is the                        best translation of “pisteuo” in this verse?  How does the

                 meaning of Jesus’ saying change if we use the word “trust”                  here instead?

 

 

 

 

John 20. 19-29

19 When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you.’ 20After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. 21Jesus said to them again, ‘Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.’ 22When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. 23If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.’

24 But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. 25So the other disciples told him, ‘We have seen the Lord.’ But he said to them, ‘Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.’

26 A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you.’ 27Then he said to Thomas, ‘Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.’ 28Thomas answered him, ‘My Lord and my God!’ 29Jesus said to him, ‘Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.’