I invite you to join me in a word of prayer.
Almighty God as we come once again, we ask that you would bless us, hold us, unite us, but most of all, fill us for the places that you are preparing to send us. This we ask in your wonderful name. Amen.
In the gospel that has been read and shared this morning, we are often immediately drawn to Thomas and miss that Thomas is just one part of a larger assembly. The text sheds light, not on just one individual, but is inviting us to look at the community as well. If we look closely, both are struggling with who they are and what they are purposed to do. Here they are trying to figure things out in the world in which they find themselves. There is perhaps a crisis of identity taking place, as the disciples are seeing and seeking shelter in a hiding place rather than moving into the open space. In John’s gospel, we are meeting the disciples who will make up the foundational witnesses and the foundational workers of the church that Jesus Christ was ushering into existence.
Most of the recorded narratives of Jesus’ ministry shared with us, they take place in the public square, or the marketplace, where crowds are gathered. But on this day, in this reading, we find ourselves locked behind closed doors. As the gospel writer John shares with us, this key account of Jesus and the disciples post resurrection. Perhaps what many of us might have as our expectation, is a glorious and grand reunion of Jesus and his disciples. It would not be difficult to anticipate, and even imagine, that we would find Jesus meeting excited, confident, revived, and courageous disciples, who are celebrating the news that Jesus had risen from the grave and that Jesus was truly alive. It makes sense to me, or perhaps I wanted to be in my mind, and in my thoughts, that once they had received the news, we would meet them in open space, celebrating what they had heard. And ready to take on the world because they had all of a sudden become aware that through Jesus, once again, the impossible becomes possible. That that which others have said couldn’t be done, can be done. But after wrestling with this text, I was reminded, and once again, I was apprehended, by the fact that when we look closely and listen carefully, the disciples were not immediately pushed into celebration and excitement by the reports that Jesus was indeed alive.
It was just a few verses prior to this portion of the text that was read, when John reminds us that Simon Peter and the disciple who Jesus loved were eyewitnesses to the empty tomb. Eyewitnesses to the fact that the stone had been rolled away. And in addition, they had gone inside the tomb only to find the linen grave wrappings neatly rolled up in a place all by themselves. Mary Magdalene, who was first to arrive at the tomb very early in the morning, had seen the scene for herself and had been brought to tears. As she met, not Roman soldiers that had been stationed at the entrance, but two angels that had been divinely positioned. In her moment of grief, she tuned suddenly only to encounter Jesus face to face. Her joy and excitement led her to share the good news with the other disciples. And in a clear narrative, John tells us that Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord.” And she told them all the things that he had said to her. But this morning, in a sudden shift on this day, in a sudden shift, we meet the disciples of Jesus, not celebrating and rejoicing over the new. We meet them behind closed doors.
We meet the disciples of Jesus, not just behind doors that were closed, but doors that were locked. As the disciples feared the people and the politics that were just beyond the doorstep of their gathering and circulating throughout the world that they knew and were navigating. Here they were behind closed and locked doors, even after hearing good news like that. These disciples had heard the news, but had not yet been transformed by the news. And just because you’ve celebrated the news of last week, doesn’t mean that you’ve been transformed by the news that we’re all sharing. He’s alive. He has risen. He’s alive. He has risen. It doesn’t mean that there’s been a change in our lives. It just means that we’ve got news in our lives. And I’ve got to wonder this morning, how many of us have been transformed by news or have settled to be comfortable behind closed doors? It is revealing to me to see the disciples of Jesus in this state, after the resurrection, as these were the disciples Jesus planned to use to bring the world into a fresh relationship with God and each other. These are the people who the church would be built upon. This is the gathering that would turn the world, hopefully upside down.
These were the individuals that Jesus were purposing to establish his church and bring deliverance for all those who, as Howard Thurman would characterize, had it backs against the wall. Remember, this is the crowd that had decided to follow Jesus and join him in proclaiming good news to the poor. This is the crowd behind closed doors who decided to join him in proclaiming freedom to the prisoners. This is the crowd who behind closed doors now, had given themselves to recovering sight for the blind, setting the oppressed free and proclaiming the year of our Lord’s favor. This is the crowd who is now more comfortable behind closed doors than they are in the streets that in the world in which they live. Here they were. They had settled behind closed doors. And most of us would be hoping that disciples would be walking in faith, rejoicing in the news, ready to turn the world upside down. But what we discover are disciples that are behind closed and locked doors, wrestling with issues that keep them from going out into the world.
These same disciples that had walked with him, listened to him. These same disciples that accepted the invitation to follow him were now struggling with the assignments that Jesus had given them. In this moment after the resurrection, what began to concern me about this text is not limited to what was said by the text. But what began to concern me and began to shake me, like most preachers and readers, I found myself wrestling with not just what the scriptures said. I had to wrestle with what the scriptures were saying. As I sat in my office over the days of preparation, both here at the cathedral and at home, I couldn’t help but recognize that there I sat in a peculiar, but similar situation, wrestling with a host of issues behind closed doors. What I realize that before the disciples could be sent, before they could be prominently and powerfully used as messengers, change agents and effective prophetic voices for the beloved community, they would have to deal with the issues that often come up behind closed doors.
I know that most of us look like we’ve got it all together. I know that most of us have come out into the world this morning, giving the oppression that everything has been settled behind our smiles, behind our clothes, behind what we’ve been driving and living in. Here we are, in public face, looking like it’s all together. But I raise this morning, what are the issues behind closed doors that we have yet to deal with? What are the real issues that are seeking to control us? What are the real issues that are seeking to divide us? What are the real issues that are seeking to diminish us, that we become aware of when we are behind closed doors?
Who are we really not in public, but who are we really, when we’re all by ourselves? Who are we really, when no one is looking at us? Who are we really, when we are gathered with certain cliques and groups and organizations? Who are we really, when we don’t have on our religious garbs and walking around with titles and position? Are we really dealing with the issues that come up behind closed doors? What are the issues that move us to settle for counterfeit concepts rather than authentic truth? What are the real issues that keep us locked behind closed doors, or that are locked behind the closed doors of our hearts? That hold us back rather than propelling us forward? Some of these issues are personal and some of them are shared from person to person. Some of them get strength when two or three get together. But I remind you today, just like these disciples, we find ourselves on this day, post-resurrection. And we must recognize that there are issues that can only be addressed when there’s a great leap of faith. When we decide to walk in faith, to live by faith, to act on our faith, there is something that we can only accomplish when we embrace our faith.
These are issues in life. And there are issues in life that we cannot buy our way out of. There are issues in life that we cannot not negotiate an ending to or transact simple solutions and conclusions. There have been, and there are moments, when we need, when we are all sometimes creating and using natural tools with the hopes of trying to fix spiritual problems.
The disciples are aware of the truth that Jesus had risen, but they had not yet embraced the truth that Jesus had risen. In spite of the promises of Jesus, the disciples were now hiding behind closed and locked doors. And as disciples this morning, we have check ourselves to make sure that our hiding places have not become our preferred places. That our hiding places have not become our places of comfort. That to walk in here is to deceive ourselves and not deal with the issues that keep the poor, poor. That keep the hurt, hurt. That keep those who have been knocked down and who have been stepped on in places. For those that are here, when we’re wrestling this morning, we’ve got to wrestle with the fact that there are issues we must deal with in here before we walk out of here.
So that in leaving here, we’re not the same way we walked in here. We have to wrestle with our fears and make certain that we are grounded in faith in order that our witness is not at its best behind closed doors. But our best witness is the witness that transforms the world on the other side of these doors. Transforms our homes, transforms our families, transforms our communities, transforms one generation to the next generation, to the generation that follows that. It was Harry Emerson Fosdick that stated, “Fear imprisons, but faith liberates. Fear, paralyzes, but faith empowers. Fear disheartens, but faith encourage. Fear sickens, but faith heals. Fear makes useless, but faith makes serviceable.”
In spite of the doors being locked in this text, Jesus appears in their midst. Jesus had not knocked and had not entered in a conventional manner, but here Jesus shows up and steps into the midst of them. By coming through the walls, the doors, I cannot tell you how he got in, but the good news is, is that he was in the midst of the crowd. Jesus’ appearance was so sudden that the disciples were immediately thrown into a state of fear and fright. And in that moment, Jesus greets them in a familiar manner and said, “Peace be unto you.” I cannot fully imagine all that was running through their minds as he showed them his hands and his side. It was then the disciples rejoiced as they saw the Lord. And Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you.” “As the father sent me, I send you. As the father sent me, I send you.” It was now their turn to take up the ministry, their turn to take up the assignment, their turn to carry the news forward. Our turn to do what he has given us to do.
Our turn to be real with each other, and not just when we have certain people around us. Our turn to love the unlovable. Our turn to set the captive free. Our turn to bring good news to a dying world. Our turn to act as if he is alive and to celebrate the good news. A few days later, the church was gathered behind the closed doors and Thomas would join them. But once again, there was an issue to be resolved. This time it was not a group issue, it was a personal issue. The other disciples shared good news, but Thomas would not be convinced. Jesus was once again, appearing and addressing the crowd, but he decided to address Thomas personally. And some of us have got to put ourselves in position where we’re not following the crowd, but we have made a personal decision for ourselves. To make a personal decision is a major decision.
Not just because someone else is doing it should we do it. But we ought to do it because we believe who he is. We know who he is. We know that he is Jesus, who is the Christ. We know that he is not dead, but he is alive. Thomas surrendered. And after surrendering and receiving evidence declared, “My Lord and my God.” I know that’s good news for me because I can say, he’s my Lord and my God. I can’t speak for you, but you gotta speak for yourself. And you gotta be able to say my Lord and my God. You have to be able to get excited about the fact that he is not dead. He is alive. You have to be able to hold for yourself that because he lives, I can face tomorrow.
Well, behind these closed doors, we recognize something changed. Behind these closed doors we recognize that they were ready to go out into the world. After they had come in, they would leave here different than the way they walked in the door. And what I’m praying this morning is that the more we know about Jesus, the difference will be seen when we leave out of this place. That we gain more news about him, understand him more, love him more, love each other more, but there’s something about Jesus that the more I get of him, the better my life is really going to be. Everything’s not written down like John says, but some things ought to be written on the table of our hearts. And just like my mother taught me years ago, I am reminded of so many who sang that hymn that said, “More about Jesus, I would know. More of his grace to other show. More of his saving fullness see. More of his love, who died for me more. More, more about Jesus, more about Jesus, let me learn. More of his holy will discern. Spirit of God, my teacher be. Showing the things of Christ to me.” Amen.