Saturday, October 19, 2013

Sermon on John 20:19-31

Scripture:  John 20:19-31
19-20 Later on that day, the disciples had gathered together, but, fearful of the Jews, had locked all the doors in the house. Jesus entered, stood among them, and said, “Peace to you.” Then he showed them his hands and side.
20-21 The disciples, seeing the Master with their own eyes, were exuberant. Jesus repeated his greeting: “Peace to you. Just as the Father sent me, I send you.”
22-23 Then he took a deep breath and breathed into them. “Receive the Holy Spirit,” he said. “If you forgive someone’s sins, they’re gone for good. If you don’t forgive sins, what are you going to do with them?”
24-25 But Thomas, sometimes called the Twin, one of the Twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. The other disciples told him, “We saw the Master.”
But he said, “Unless I see the nail holes in his hands, put my finger in the nail holes, and stick my hand in his side, I won’t believe it.”
26 Eight days later, his disciples were again in the room. This time Thomas was with them. Jesus came through the locked doors, stood among them, and said, “Peace to you.”
27 Then he focused his attention on Thomas. “Take your finger and examine my hands. Take your hand and stick it in my side. Don’t be unbelieving. Believe.”
28 Thomas said, “My Master! My God!”
29 Jesus said, “So, you believe because you’ve seen with your own eyes. Even better blessings are in store for those who believe without seeing.”
30-31 Jesus provided far more God-revealing signs than are written down in this book. These are written down so you will believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and in the act of believing, have real and eternal life in the way he personally revealed it.

Well, I would like to welcome you all to the weekend services AFTER Easter: otherwise known as Clergy By-Pass Sundays.  This typically involves the Sunday after Christmas too.  Youth pastors around the world get their crack at the pulpit. 

I have a confession to make.  I love FEAR.  I always have.  I enjoy scary movies.  The movie that scared me to death as a child was the old Steve McQueen movie called “The Blob”.  And I always had a cross by my bed to ward off any possible vampire attack. I can have a fluent conversation in a wide spectrum of horror movies from zombies, to the demon-possessed, to monsters of the likes of aliens, predators, vampires, werewolves, Frankenstein, mutants, Godzilla, King Kong, and on and on.  I could talk about some of the most notorious villains in film from Hannibal Lector, to Freddy Krueger, to Jason Vorhees, to Michael Myers, to the villains of Spiderman, Batman, Superman, Indiana Jones, the Star Wars universe, Star Trek, Lord of the Rings, Sherlock Holmes, and James Bond. 

In fact if you think about it, the greater the fear in any given story the more intense and rewarding is the climax that eventually overcomes the fear with victory.  

I have always been one to play on people’s fears.  Ever since I was a little boy I would be so excited to wait around a corner of a room for one of my parents, preferably my mom, to come around so I could jump out and scare her.  Of course, if I got my dad I always knew the revenge would double back on me and I would be scared silly waiting for his retaliation move.  But, still to this day I do this now to my own kids.  If I am home when they get off the bus, I am always tempted, and willfully give in, to run to the door and hide so that when they come in I can scare them. 

But I will have you know that I, Scott Russ, do so have an arch-nemesis right here in Loveland.  When you see the picture of this person you may be shocked, but I tell you as Sigorney Weaver warned in the Aliens movie “BE AFRAID, BE VERY AFRAID!”  BEHOLD THE FACE OF FEAR!!!  I know, I know.  This young little girl looks very innocent and sweet.  This little girl goes by the name “Nayomi”.  She goes to pre-school and then gets dropped off at the church at around noon on the weekdays.  She has this uncanny ability to catch me deep in thought and unaware of her presence and then shrieks like a banshee right behind me as I am walking through the offices.  And here is the thing that really, really irks me to no end.  I, being in the nature of who I am, feel this overwhelming need to seek revenge.  No one can ever “one-up” me.  In fact I have made it my mission to never be “even” but to always be one-up on any of my arch-nemesis.  So I deploy the same exact tactics on Nayomi to scare her.  What does she do? She pouts and cries to the office staff and then I am the big bad guy!  I get sent back to my cave down in the youth room for scaring a sweet, little girl.

Anyhow, the kind of fear that I am talking about is manufactured fear.  For the past 8 weeks I have looked forward to Sundays more so than usual.  Is it because I get to see all my favorite teenagers throughout the day? Is it because I get to hang out with the coolest adults ever who lead our small groups? Well, yes to all that but these past 8 weeks I was also able to look forward to getting home and turning on my TV at 9PM to watch the latest episode of “The Walking Dead”.  Now that season 3 is officially over I promise to be a good pastor and watch “The Bible” series now.  It is on my DVR.  But people, my March Madness has been “The Walking Dead”.  This show provides great story telling with occasional zombie attacks.  Perfect television for me.  Just imagine how much better television shows would be if they all included random zombie attacks!  The Bachelor? Dance Moms? What many of you don’t know, for those of us who are really insane fans of The Walking Dead, is that there is another full, one-hour program right after called “The Talking Dead”.  For one hour, they dissect the story line and all the events that just happened.  I love it!  But a part of the benefit of this program is that you realized how they manufacture fear.  You get to see how they shoot certain scenes.  What they use to make blood and guts.  How they turn an actor into a zombie.

Now let’s try to transition into our Bible story.  We just celebrated Easter.  Jesus faced death on the cross, he took on the weight of the sins of the world, he overcame temptation and defeated Satan.  But the story did not end with the cross.  He rose again and defeated death once and for all.  He established his kingdom here and now.  Victory is his. Now he is taking back the territory that the devil thought he owned.  Where does he begin? With the very people who abandoned him at his arrest. 

As our story begins it is very important to recognize just where exactly are the disciples.  They are hiding.  Behind closed and locked doors.  They are afraid.  This is not a manufactured fear but a real fear that they have given themselves over to.  They are afraid of the religious leaders who were so zealous to work the crowds against Jesus and bring about his crucifixion.  They were afraid of the Roman government who seemed to cave to the demands of the people in order to maintain their control.  They were afraid of the common people who might recognized them and point them out to others who might feel free to persecute them.  They were in fear for their very lives.

But then, all of a sudden, Jesus appears to them.  They knew his body was not in the tomb, but at this moment they weren’t sure what to think.  Now with the doors locked, Jesus all of a sudden is there.  Are there new properties to Christ’s physical resurrected body? It is very possible.  But I think the bigger lesson here is that no locked door is going to prevent Jesus from entering in.  Because the disciples chose to hide in fear, they missed the greatest event ever, the resurrection of Christ!  Their fear of the world prevented them from seeing what God was doing so as to be a witness to His resurrection. 
And I also find it interesting what Jesus says to them over and over again.  I remember learning in seminary that often times in Scripture when you see something repeated 3 times it is very, very important!  Jesus three times says, “Peace to you.” 

The first time Jesus says this, it helps the disciples to understand who the source of peace ultimately is, Jesus.  All the disciples just went through an experience that was anything but peaceful.  They were in fear for their lives.  They were afraid of a gory, horrific, agonizing death just like they knew Jesus went through.  But now Jesus stands before them alive!  As painful as all that was, Jesus ultimately defeated death!  He was a visible demonstration that there was no longer any reason to fear death.  He defeated it!

The second time points the disciples in the direction of where they are to take this peace: “Just as the Father sent me, I send you.” They are all hiding behind closed and locked doors.  They have disconnected themselves from the outside world.  Jesus was there to bust open the door and send them out in many directions as a visible demonstration of God’s peace and love.

And the third time is to help them understand that even in the face of doubt, there is peace.  We trust in the accounts of those who were there and wrote about it.  But as we live our lives in the 21st century it is easy to be just like the disciples and hide in fear and doubt when we look at the world.  It is easy to cave into the divisions and dissentions that stoke fear in people.

In case you haven’t noticed lately, the very things that we enjoyed in science-fiction stories as kids are now becoming reality as adults!  Han Solo and Chewbacca saved the Rebel Force on the planet Hoth by attacking the Imperial drone that was scouting out the planet.  Now we hear stories of drone technology, robots, war machines and Google glasses that will be able to track our every move.  There are even those who are celebrating the year 2045 as the date of the Singularity.  Computer technology will be so advanced that you will be able to take all the information from your brain and put it onto a computer chip, then when your physical body dies you put the chip into a synthetic body and live forever.  Then all our brains can be connected into one collective consciousness.  This is the futurist’s idea of eternal life through science!  It sounds like another horror movie to me.  It increasingly is becoming a strange, strange world that we live in.  Technology is moving so fast that we don’t even have the time to ask ethical and moral questions as to whether we should or should not be pursuing this.

We live in a culture that is just saturated in fear.  People are buying up guns and ammunition like crazy because of fear; either fear of a made-up bad guy that they imagine, fear of the government (who by the way has science-fiction type weapons now!), fear of the unknown, and there are even people who truly believe in being prepared for a zombie apocalypse.  Of which any zombie expert would know that guns would only make the matter worse because the sound would attract even more zombies.  You need a good sword or crossbow to quietly defend yourself against roaming zombies! Duh!  There are many understandable reasons why a person may buy a gun but when the driving force is fear, we really need to be honest with ourselves that that really does say a lot about the nature of our faith, our culture and our society.

We have good Christians around the world who have to deal with fear all the time due to persecution.  I am not talking about some lame “war on Christmas or Easter” as if the American Church is being persecuted.  I am talking about the Christians in Egypt, India and Iran; the Christians all throughout the Middle East who suffer and face death for their beliefs.

The fact is that we live in a world that at times seems to be going completely insane.  Do we give into that insanity? Do we allow the fear to penetrate our hearts and control our thinking?  Do we hide behind closed doors with locks thinking that we are sheltering ourselves from an evil world out there? 

Jesus told his disciples to take his peace and open up that door and go out into the world and be visible demonstrations of God’s peace.  The church is called to be counter-culture when it comes to fear. 

I will be straight up with all of you.  I do not want to die.  I want to live a full life and then have Jesus return so I do not have to deal with a physical death.  But the fact of our faith entirely hinges on one event: THE RESSURECTION!  Jesus defeated death.  He triumphed over sin.  He empowers us to be his kingdom people.  Come death, disease, war, terrorism, or even a zombie attack, through the power of the Holy Spirit, death will not have the final say, but one day I will live in God’s Kingdom with a resurrected body.  It is in knowing this power, this outcome, this victory that helps us understand how to live in peace when there is so much around us that screams out just the opposite.

Many of the disciples were transformed when they finally understood this.  They lived lives of courage and conviction spreading the message of God’s love and peace wherever the Holy Spirit directed them.  Many of them died a martyr’s death just like Jesus.  They overcame their fear with a peace that transcends all understanding. 

 In closing let me remind you what Paul said to the church at Philippi who must have been struggling with this very thing.  He says to them in chapter 4, verse 7:  And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

The grand and mighty peace of God, that transcends our puny little, limited-knowledge-filled minds, this all-encompassing peace will guard our heart, the center of our emotions, and our minds, the center of our intellect and rational thought, and keep us focused on Jesus.
For Lent I gave up something that was an important part of my morning.  I regularly would watch Good Morning America.  But I was beginning to realize just how much negativity was in the news and it would always start off my day focused on all of the fearful issues that made headlines.  I wanted to push all that aside for 40 days and give up the morning to focus more on Bible reading and prayer.  It definitely helped me be more focused at the beginning of the day on Christ instead of the latest crisis. 

Do not let the insanity of our world out there rob you of the peace that can only come from God.  Do not let your self-worth be determined by cultural standards.  Instead, realize that God has invited you into His Story.  He is sending you out to show an insane culture that it is possible to live in love and peace despite the latest news headlines.  Our inner peace will not be provoked by the constant stream of news.  Our peace will not allow us to run and hide behind things that give us some false assurance that we are safe.  Our peace comes directly from God who is the author and finisher of our faith.  He has defeated death and now offers eternal life to all who believe in his one and only Son.  Do you have that peace? Do you want to have that supernatural peace in your life? If so, give your fears over to God and open your heart and mind to the Holy Spirit’s power to transform your fears into peace.  Amen.

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