Monday, April 8, 2024

Looking for peace. . .

Sermon for the Second Sunday of Easter, preached on Sunday, April 7, 2024.

We are an impatient people.  We have unreal expectations of others and of ourselves.  We fear that if things do not change quickly, they will not change at all. We presume that if change does not happen quickly, the folks trying to change are not trying hard enough.  It becomes a convenient way for us to give up when the change becomes difficult or to surrender when we feel too many defeats and too few victories.  How vain we are for presuming that change has to happen overnight!

The disciples were gathered in the Upper Room, behind a locked door lest some of those who came for Jesus might be coming for them.  Into their prison of fear and trembling, Jesus enters.  Not by way of a door but as if He had no more boundaries or could be constrained by any more limits.  All of a sudden He was there.  There with the scars of His cross still on His body even though it had been glorified.

To the assembled disciples minus Thomas, He showed them His hands, feet, and side.  He breathed on them the Holy Spirit.  He ordained them into the office which holds the keys of the Kingdom.  Whatsoever sins you forgive, they are forgiven and whatsoever sins you do not forgive, they are retained.  In one fell swoop they had seen the risen Lord enter the room through a locked door, show them the scars He now wore as marks of His victory, and been ordained to be His servants bringing the Word and Sacraments to a world still in darkness and death.

Now it is a week later.  No matter what Jesus had said and done last week, they were still hiding behind a locked door.  This time Thomas was not absent but brought his doubts and fears to dump at the feet of Jesus.  Again, our Lord thrusts out His hands and invites him to touch His side.  He is not a ghost.  His death was not a trick.  Neither is His resurrection.  “My Lord and my God,” says Thomas while the whole room bobbed their heads up and down in agreement.

Now do you suppose that the same group that had run away from the crucifixion of Jesus and hid behind locked doors after the resurrection was suddenly different?  Do you believe that their fears dissipated and their hesitation was overcome in a moment?  Did their doubts disappear and they suddenly stood up with a steely countenance to all the threats and powers against them?  You would be wrong.  Theirs was no sudden transformation.  It happened over time with missteps and backtracks and the Holy Spirit rescuing them from their fears over and over again. 

So why do you think it should be different for you?  Why do you think that the sins which have been your friends for so long should be easy to end and righteousness easy to learn?  Why do you think that the doubts that have so long inhabited you should suddenly give way to an assurance and confidence that cannot be shaken?  Why do you think that the courage which is so hard for you to muster should become easy in testifying to your faith or applying your faith to the troubles life hands you?  Why do you think that your life should be transformed from the daily struggle against the devil, the flesh, and the world into some downhill slide that no longer requires much effort on your part?

The disciples never reached any plateau in their growth in the Lord.  Their lives had steps backward as well as forward.  They learned anew what they had already learned but forgotten in the face of challenge or fear or worry or anxiety or disappointment.  It is the same for you.  You are not super heroes.  You are sinners.  You will always been sinners – at least until Christ comes to finish what He began in you.  You will always struggle to believe as much as you struggle to live the new lives God has declared for you in baptism.

The key here is this.  The more distant you are from the Word of God and the fellowship of His table, the harder it will be for you to endure against your doubts, your fears, your worries, your anxieties, and your disappointments.  Christians are not immune from the hard things in life.  We are strong only because we are in Christ.  We endure only because we are in Christ.  Christ abides in us as long as we abide in Him and in the means of grace where He bestows His gifts and grace.

Like Thomas, we are creatures of doubt.  Like the disciples we are creatures of fear.  The Lord does not once address those doubts and fears never to address them again.  Instead He constantly lives among our doubts and fears with His Word and Supper and the Holy Spirit working through those means of grace.  He does not still one storm but every storm that arises from the seas of our sins, our doubts, our fears, and our disappointments.  He is constantly rescuing us not simply from others out there but from the person inside.              

We look for locked doors to feed our sense of security but the only security we have is Christ.  Whether we live or die we belong to Him.  We look for plans and scapegoats to make us feel better about making what we want to happen and keeping what we don’t want from happening. But Christ is our plan, our only plan.

We think anxiety can be medicated away but Christ is our peace and our only peace.  This is what a room of disciples began to learn when Jesus walked into their panic room on Easter evening and a week later.  This is what Thomas began to learn having tried to answer doubts with proofs to replace faith.  This is what you begin to learn.  A trip to Church is not a vaccine against the woes of this mortal life.  No, the trip to Church is the healing medicine we must live on day in and day out until Christ brings the whole enterprise to its final consummation.

These things are written so that you might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in His name.  The greatest sign and wonder is the crucified One who lives and who gathers to Himself disciples without backbones and doubters who refuse to believe anything but what they can touch.  Well, here He is.  The risen Lord is among you.  He speaks through the voice of His Word.  He works through baptismal water to give us the new birth to everlasting life.  He works through the Eucharistic bread and wine to sustain us through our disappointment and doubts, amid fear and trepidation, so that His claim on us will be stronger than any other claim on us.

There is no security stronger than the One whom the grave could not hold.  There is no longer stronger than the One willing to sacrifice all for your sake and mine.  There is no peace stronger than the One who stills our skeptical minds and doubting hearts by inviting us to touch His wounds and be healed.  All of us are named Thomas and imprisoned by our doubts.  All of us are like the disciples hidden behind the locked doors of our fears.  But the good news is this.  Jesus has come to set us free.

Christ is risen!

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