The Very Rev. Nathan D. Baxter
O Lord, let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in thy sight, my Redeemer and my strength, Amen.
It was the evening of the first Easter Sunday. Some Disciples, not just the Apostles, but some of the Disciples, men and women who were followers of Jesus, had gathered in a room. Perhaps it was the secret room rented for the Last Supper. And the locked the doors to the room for the fear of Jewish officials and the Temple police who had arrested Jesus. The initial joy of the empty tomb had faded into a reality of fear.
Had Jesus really resurrected? You know we only have the empty tomb they thought, and the words of some hysterical women. If the Jews wanted Jesus that badly, maybe they wanted the Disciples also? Had it all been for naught? What difference had their faithfulness made?
There was no peace in that room. It was just fear.
But into that locked room, that tomb of fear, Jesus came and stood among them. And Jesus said to them, “Peace be with you.”
How often have we as Christians shut the doors of life because of fear, of grief, of anger, of pain? Because of disappointment, because hope has been lost? How often have we experiencing the fear that the confident pride that we have worked so hard for is threatened by new circumstances, by embarrassing situations, or by the needs of others? When the call to serve conflicts with our need for comfort, how often have we closed the doors to life, and locked them tight, to be safe?
Think of the times in your life. There certainly were times in my life, when we felt humiliated by failure, when the dreams of life came tumbling down, when all we trusted to include God seemed to have forsaken us.
One young man whose marriage was falling apart, and as we talked he said, “You know, I feel like my life is like sand in my hands. It ’t matter whether I close or open them. The sand just runs through my fingers.” Have you ever felt like that? I have.
We shut the doors when we are afraid of life. Medicine refers to it as depression. Group behaviorists speak of moving to the fringe. But the Bible simply calls it “shutting the doors for fear.”
But therein is one of the most joyous truths of the Christian life. For no matter how tightly we shut the doors of our life in such times, as a Christian community or as individuals, we cannot shut out the love of God. It is as though Jesus would walk through the walls of our fear, of our anger, of our pain, of our despair, and speaks to us, “Peace, peace.”
It is not always that we have some quick answer or fix to our dilemma, but that peace brings to us a sense of hope, of renewed courage to go on what we as Christians call faith.
The writer of Hebrews in the eleventh chapter said, “Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” But I like the translation of the Living Bible, which says it this way, “Faith is confident, assurance that something we want is going to happen. It is the certainty of what we hoped for is waiting for us even though we cannot see it up ahead.” It may come to us in the moments of quiet. Sometimes we have to go into that depression, of closing the doors and locking things in so that we can get settled down enough to hear the word of God’s love speaking to us in the privacy and stillness of our own life saying, “peace, peace to you, to you.”
Sometimes it comes in a moment of worship. We hear a hymn or there are words of Scripture heard over and over, but we hear them in ways we’ve not heard them before. Sometimes it’s a prayer. Sometimes Christ comes to us in others.
I remember when I was serving as a priest. There was a time in my life when it seemed that all of my goals were failing. I felt like a failure. I was losing confidence. It seemed as though my prayer life had dwindled. And I began to lock myself into a cocoon. When we would have preparation for the liturgy, usually the lay ministers and the priest would all gather and we would vest. We would have nice chitchat and chatter. Then we would stop and have a time of prayer. And then we would walk together through the courtyard into the church, and then process in. But I’d come to a place where my prayer was, “Lord, just help me get through this service.” I didn’t want to chitchat. I would come and vested early and then slip out so I didn’t have to talk to people. And then we’d have the prayer because of course the priest is supposed to lead in prayer. So we’d have the prayer. Then I would zip out early and go stand until everyone else was in procession and then come in like I had been busy. I didn’t want to be engaged. I wanted to be closed in and protected with my frustration and with my disappointment.
And I remember one Sunday as I’d gone through that routine of isolation, as I came into the church from the courtyard, there was a little girl who was very shy, hardly ever said anything. Her name was Leslie. And as I stepped into my place in the procession I noticed her raise her hand as she came out of the restroom. “Father,…” And I looked straight ahead like I hadn’t seen her. And something said, “That’s ugly.” So I looked, and I said, “Oh Leslie, did you want to see me?” And she said, “Yes, yes, but I just want to say that I love you,” and she put her arms around me. Jesus had broken into my locked doors and spoke peace and saw my problem. But I couldn’t pretend that that love of God was not there for me.
But the question remains. Why does God transcend the locked doors of our lives? Why does God take the time to speak peace to our chaos?
I believe it is because God wants to use us. We are no God, Christians, hanging from the world, no matter how convenient or how comfortable it may be. God has work for each one of us to do. There’s something for you and for you and for you and for me. God has work for us to do. And the world is in need of the message of our lives, the message of our lives that says, ’Yes, God does transcend the pain and tragedy of our lives, that God does redeem us, that God does give peace and empowerment for living.
Remember that after Jesus appeared and spoke peace his words were these, “As the Father has sent me, so I send you.“
Now friends, this is not what the Disciples wanted to hear. How did the Father send Jesus? He sent Jesus to be a person for others, to heal, to liberate, to reach out to the spiritually lost, the socially marginalized, the sinners, the poor, the social outcasts, the eunuchs, the harlots, the lepers, to reconcile Jew to Gentile, rich to poor, brother to sister, stranger to neighbor.
Remember Jesus’ first sermon? He went into the synagogue of his hometown and he opened the Scripture before he preached, and he said, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the spiritual captives and recovery to those who are blind, to let the politically and socially oppressed free, and to proclaim the year of God’s favor for all persons.
Sounds good! But this was difficult for Jesus.
For Jesus, as you will remember, was always struggling with the Will of God. Jesus loved to teach. That was what Jesus’ will was—to be a teacher of the way of the kingdom of God, a religious and moral teacher as the great prophets. As we reflect upon the other great religious and moral teachers, when we think back we think of religious leaders as being those who are great teachers and insightful on the moral aspects of life. We think of Mohamed and Buddha and Confucius and Krishna and Socrates, and others. The teachings of Jesus though are still the most superior basis of moral community and justice of any religious leader of history. For you and I as Christians know, God wanted more from Jesus. He sent him to be the one for a greater purpose.
But Jesus wanted to teach. Think about it. Jesus was never waiting for others to ask him to teach. He used every opportunity to teach. If he was on a mountain he taught. If he was at a well and there was only one person, he taught. If he were at a lake, he would get out on a boat so his voice could project. He was always teaching. He the marketplace, he taught. When he went to peoples’ homes for dinner, he taught. He would be an awful dinner guest because you’ve invited him, and now he wants to tell his message!
Jesus loved to teach. But healing, as you think about your reading of Scripture, were always request, which were often interruptions to his teaching. And Jesus often seemed reluctant to stop teaching at times so that he could heal. And people begged him. You would think that Jesus would see the condition and no one would have to beg him. But they would say, “Lord, will you heal my daughter?” Or the man whose son was epileptic, he would say, “My son, my only son.” And once, someone had to tear the roof off the top of a house and let their friend down to get Jesus’ attention to heal him.
Even the miracle that was worked at Cana, the first miracle. Jesus didn’t want to be bothered. He didn’t want to be bothered with other people’s problems. He was there talking with his Disciples, and his mother Mary came up and said, “Jesus, they’ve run out of wine.” Jesus said, “It’s not my problem, mom. And besides it’s not my time to do miracles.” But Mary let him know that he had been sent for others. And as most of our mothers do, or did, she ignored him, and she said to the servants, “Whatever he tells you, you just do it.”
Think of the great justice debates in Scripture. Questions like, “Jesus, if there is a woman who is widowed seven times and she keeps marrying a brother, when she gets to heaven which wife is she going to be?” Now that sounds a little stupid, but when you think about some of the things we argue about, in a few years they will sound stupid.
And there was the woman who was being stoned, and Jesus was on a teaching journey happened to stumble into this situation. And then the debate about taxes: should we pay taxes to Caesar? There were always interrupting his teaching. And no where is it clearer than when Jesus went to the home of Mary and Martha. And Martha was angry because Mary was not helping to serve the guests who had come to hear Jesus teach. In fact, Mary was sitting at the feet of Jesus, just like a guest. Martha interrupted Jesus and protested that she had all the work of hospitality, would he please tell his sister to help? And Jesus looked up, broken in from his teaching, perhaps munching on some pita bread with some honey and crumbs in his beard, and he said, “Remember, Martha, hospitality is great, but hearing my teaching about the Kingdom of God is better.”
No, Jesus’ will was to teach about the Kingdom. But God’s will was that he be a man for others, to be a teacher, but also to be a servant, a healer, a reconciler, a brother to sister, a stranger to neighbor.
And finally, as we know, Jesus was to be the crucified Messiah who died for the sins of the world that there might be peace between God and humanity.
My brothers and sisters, the world around us needs healing, and it needs reconciliation. I know that many of us would rather be worshipping for an hour or so on Sunday, sing a hymn and read a familiar Scripture, hear a short sermon, and get set for the week. But those who are voiceless in our society who are powerless, who are needy, need the Church and the Christian to be a voice for them. We need to be mindful that the peace of God must be spoken in the worlds around us, to bring together those who are of different cultures, of different races, those of different economies, those of different social strata, of different gender, of different sexual orientation, the homeless, the ill educated,…they need us to speak and to bring them into that circle of God’s family. They need to hear that peace spoken.
In Acts it talks about the coming of the Spirit, and how the Spirit gave new languages, that heard people speaking in their own language, Meads, Parthians, Phrygians. But what was special about this is that these were people different from these Jewish Disciples. But when the Spirit comes it empowers us to speak new language. You may feel like, “who am I?”, “what can I do?”, “I don’t want to be embarrassed talking about my faith on the job or at school.” But when the Spirit comes it gives renewed power to the people of God. And in giving us renewed power, it gives us a new language.
And oh how we need a new language today. We need to be set afire with God’s Spirit. When we are set on fire to speak a new tongue, like those in Acts, we have a language to speak to our young people, without judgement, but with faith and joy and the power of living. We need a new language so that we can hear and understand what our children are saying to us. We need the Holy Spirit to teach us a new language. We need a language to speak to our colleagues and our fellow students, obsessed with professional success and material gain. Sometimes when I’m downtown, I just stop and look and I see the people with their brief cases and their pressing going from one meeting to another, one building to another, their faces contorted, they’re in the rat race.
That great philosopher Lily Tomlin. She said the problem with the rat race is that even if you win you’re a rat.
God has called us by the power of the Spirit to be fully human, and fully human for our selves, but fully human for others. And we need the passion of the Spirit of God. We need as Christians to have the Holy Spirit give us a new language. In these times of religious and cultural diversity, so that we can speak to Muslims and Jews and Buddhas and others of our brothers and sisters of other faiths that they might hear and see in our lives the Spirit of Jesus’ love. And know that there is something about him that makes people different even if they choose not to follow him.
And we need a language that then enables to also hear their stories, to hear their experience of faith, without fear of sensing that we have lost our own faith.
We need a language today that will enable us to talk to liberal and conservatives that somehow as brothers and sisters we can find a way through these moral and political experiences of morass. We need, in all we do, the spirit to enable us to talk as sisters and brothers. My mother had three rambunctious boys, and I was the eldest and the one normally right? But there were times when my brothers weren’t persuaded of that, and when we couldn’t solve it we would come to our mother and, I can see her now hanging up clothes, and I’d say, “Mom, he has my ball.” And my mother would say, “You boys go back and solve it. Just remember you’re brothers.” And then someone would say, “But mom, you know it’s not right if you know if we had moral appeal.” And my mother would say, “No, you boys go back and solve it, but just remember you’re brothers.” Then another one would say, “But mom you always said—we liked to quote Scripture—mom, you always said,….” “No, you boys go back and solve it, but remember you are brothers.”
What she wanted most was not simply the solution, but that we understand that we are brothers and sisters, and there are many challenges before us that the answer won’t be found in some quoting of Scripture, but it will be found in the struggle of brothers and sisters working to build human community. We cannot afford to remain passionless. But God will set us afire.
For as Bishop Ralph Cushman, the