Posted on Jun 04, 2017 by Pastor Dave Whetter
For the past six weeks we have focused on the importance of gathering as a faith community. That is, why is it critical for Christians to gather regularly to worship? We learned that we gather to love, to learn to see Jesus, to learn Jesus’ voice, to make room for others, to be transformed and finally, we gather so that we might be one.
Today, our focus changes! Oh, we still need to remember why we gather, but we have gathered it is important to realize that we are now prepared to be sent. Yes, as people of the resurrection, we are now called to leave here and go into the world to be the hands and feet of Christ. Today, we discover that we are Sent to Love!
Today is Pentecost Sunday. It is the day that we celebrate the birth of the church. But in the Jewish tradition, and in the ancient times, the festival derived its name from the festival of Pentecost, or more precisely for the Jews, Shavuot, and it was, and is, celebrated fifty days after Passover, thus the name Pentecost was also used. On the 50th day after Passover, the Jews celebrated the giving of the Ten Commandments by God on Mount Sinai. To celebrate this festival, Jews from all over the world would gather in Jerusalem. So, fifty days after Jesus’ Resurrection, with Jews from all over the world in Jerusalem to observe the festival of Shavuot, or Pentecost, God fulfilled the promise Jesus made to his disciples before he was crucified. Remember, before Jesus died, he told his disciples that after his Resurrection and ascension that he would ask God to send his Holy Sprit to be with his followers. Now, Jesus didn’t tell his disciples when this would happen, but on the fiftieth day after his Resurrection the promise was fulfilled. This Spirit that has the power to heal, forgive, inspire, and unite was given to God’s people. In the Book of Acts, Luke describes this day with images of wind and fire coming and descending on the disciples, but in John’s gospel it is described a little differently. John tells us that the risen Jesus breathes the Spirit on his followers on Easter evening. Which story is true? Well, I would argue they are both true, but the technical way it happened is unimportant, but what is important is that in the Spirit of God that is in each of us, we are baptized into one body, and at the Lord’s table the Spirit unites us for witness in the world.
With that in mind, let’s take a closer look at our text from John for today. Again, it is the evening of that first Easter and John tells us, “the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews” (John 20:19). Earlier that day, Mary Magdalene had gone to the tomb and discovered that Jesus’ body was gone. She ran and told Peter and the disciple that Jesus loved (John 20:2) about this and they ran to the tomb. Both looked in the tomb and saw it empty, so they returned home (John 20:10) and locked themselves in because they were afraid of the Jewish leadership and that they too might be killed for being a follower of Jesus’. Mary on the other hand, as she looked in saw what she thought was an angel,” but when the angel spoke her name, “Mary,” she immediately recognized that it was Jesus and he told her to go tell the others that he was alive. Apparently knowing he was alive, though, didn’t dissipate their fears.
That night, still gathered in fear, behind locked doors, something remarkable happened, though, “Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you” (John 20:19). Now I know John says that they were locked in that room because they were afraid of the Jews, but I also think they might have been afraid because of what they had done to Jesus. They had turned on him, they had denied him when he needed them most and now, there was talk that he might be alive. What would he do to them if he was now alive? Would he be mad? Would he now reject them? Well, suddenly, all of their questions, and all of their fears were wiped away. Jesus, knowing they were filled with fear, instead of coming in anger, comes and says, “Peace be with you.”
Have you watched the news lately, bombings, murders, violence of all kinds, political bickering… all fill us with fear. We, too, often want to stay home and lock our doors. Even here at church, we would prefer to gather in the safety of our friends and stay here locked away in a safe space. Now, don’t get me wrong, our homes, and our church home ought to be safe places, but what we hear today is that in these places of safety, Jesus brings us peace, offers us peace, and then sends us to be that peace. Jesus’ greeting of peace is a call to action. A call to action that is meant to challenge us to see that these “locked doors” we stay behind are really opportunities to change the world. What if, instead of being afraid of all Muslims, because we think all Muslims are terrorists, we actually took the time to get to know our Muslim brothers and sisters? What if instead of condemning those in the LGBTQ community we took the time to get to know them as human beings and not people with sexuality labels? What if instead of treating immigrants as criminals and “illegals” we got to know them and saw them as people seeking what you and I are constantly seeking, a safe home and safe life for their families? What if, instead of responding in fear to the world we responded with the love of Christ?
In our story today the word we translate as “door” is “thura” (Θύρα). Now “thura” in the ancient times literally meant “opportunity.” So when we translate it as door, we are saying that doors are really opportunities. A door is the opportunity we have to come in or go out. The disciple had locked away their opportunities to go into the world to offer Christ’s love and peace, because they were afraid. Too often, we lock ourselves behind closed doors, both literally and figuratively, because we are afraid of the opportunities that God is setting before us.
Here at Salem, for too many years we have locked ourselves behind doors because we were afraid of the opportunities set before us. We used excuses like, we don’t have the money, we don’t have enough people, or we don’t know enough. Yet, when we have set our fear aside we have done incredible things such as our Pantry Pack Ministry, the completion of our addition of the narthex and elevator to this sanctuary. We purchased Koinonia Hall and that land. We have become an RIC community and now are an active supporter of the Pride Festival and recently we have entered into relationship with our Muslim bothers and sisters here in Johnson County. But, there are many more opportunities set before us. To support all our ministries, we need to raise about $600,000 every year. Will we stay behind these locked doors, or will we accept Jesus call to step out and commit to meeting our financial goals. To maintain and grow our ministries, we need to update and expand our facilities, but this too will cost money. Will we see challenges as opportunities for ministry, or will we stay behind closed doors. As racial issues continue to rise, and fear of other nationalities continue to be fostered in this world, will we live in fear, too, or will we seek to enter into relationships with others so that we might offer Christ’s peace and come to truly know them?
Brothers and sisters, the opportunities are endless, but are we ready to accept them and be willing to be sent? Amen.