April 7, 2013 – 2 Easter C
Acts 5:27-32; Revelation 1:4-8; John 20:19-31
Robert C. Wisnewski, Jr.
The doors are shut and locked yet our Lord Jesus Christ enters to give everyone in the room peace. Thomas is not there the first time and does not believe the others when they tell him they have seen the Lord. The door to his heart is shut and locked. Yet our Lord Jesus Christ enters to give Thomas peace. Today I would like to ask you to consider just how you may have shut and locked the door of your heart. And I would like to remind you of the gospel truth: Christ Jesus our Lord and Savior enters your life to give you peace. If you’ve let him in before, he is going to enter in deeper and more powerful ways. If you’ve never let him in, he is coming to give you peace. Do you seriously think that you can keep the greatest force in the world from entering your heart and transforming you? I don’t want to underestimate your stubborn and willful spirit. But we can never overestimate the great power of grace which enters where nothing else can enter. As you are made more aware of the ways in which your heart is shut and locked, God’s grace will enter you more and more until you are given the peace of Christ.
Every good sermon should hold up two truths simultaneously: God is graceful; human beings are sinful. Every good sermon should emphasize that God extends grace to each and every one of his creatures. And every good sermon should remind the listener that his job is to accept the grace extended to him. A gift not accepted is refused. A gift refused is a gift not received. A gift not received is not known. A gift not known is in some ways worse than a gift never offered. You and I have great choices in life. Force is not the way of God, as the great hymn says. He lets us choose to receive grace or not to receive grace. Yet most attempts to inspire people to accept the great gift of grace end up making it sound like we hold all the power in the relationship with God. As we emphasize the need to accept grace, sometimes it sounds like the matter of our choice is more important than the matter of God’s grace. The very nature of grace is that God holds all the power. Grace is bigger than us; grace defeats sin; grace begins and ends salvation. Our choice is important but grace isn’t dependent on our choice. Grace is. Grace always has been. Grace always will be. When we refuse to accept it, grace waits for another day. Grace never disappears. Grace is continually extended because that is God’s nature.
The disciples are gathered together three days after the crucifixion, on the first day of the week, Sunday, the Day of Easter as it will come to be known. They are gathered, we are told, in fear, fear that they too will be scourged and crucified, executed for being followers of Jesus. Perhaps, too, they are afraid of what God might think of them. They have all deserted Jesus in his time of need. All of them chose to protect themselves over faithfulness. Each of them resigned himself to what seemed inevitable. Each of them, to some extent, participated in the horrible crucifixion. Maybe they didn’t do the crucifying but they have their guilt. No one comes out looking innocent or good. So they are afraid, afraid of the Jews, afraid of the Romans, afraid of God, afraid in general, but at least they don’t run for the hills. At least they have the courage to gather with each other. Probably they couldn’t help that and were responding to a great need to be with each other.
That fear forms as formidable an obstacle as does the shut and locked door where they gather. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, scripture tells us, but the better word for that kind of fear is awe or humility. This kind of fear is the fear we all know, the fear that tells us nothing can change us, nothing can protect us, nothing can save us. This kind of fear is hopelessness. This kind of fear gives more power to the circumstances we face than to the Lord. This kind of fear pushes God outside, convinces us that we are lost forever. This kind of fear isolates us and puts us in a do-or-die battle with whatever we face. If we defeat the enemy in front of us, or if we wrangle free of the painful circumstance, or escape what seems inevitable, we feel like we win. But if the enemy comes out on top, or the circumstance continues, we feel like we lose. And even if we win, we’re still afraid, afraid that something else will come along, something bigger, something that will defeat us. Fear makes me think it’s just me against the world. Fear hurts, fear isolates, fear gnaws at us, lurks around waiting for an opening. Fear is so arrogant: all I see is the potential pain and me.
The door to the room is shut and locked, the doors to the hearts of the disciples are shut and locked. Yet the risen Lord enters. Those shut doors do not keep the risen Lord from making his appearance. Not only does he appear, but he acts in a way more forceful than he ever has before. He gives them peace. Maybe that’s not instantaneous. Maybe what begins here grows and grows throughout their ministry, certainly it must have grown. But it begins here. Something happens which transforms these scared, cowardly, self-centered men, to take the message of Jesus Christ into all parts of their world. They hide out fearing capture but are transformed into people willing to take incredible risks. Each of them will suffer much more pain that this fear as they spread the gospel, but they are given the strength to do that. Something happens right here that changes them and from now on, they will not be so afraid that they cannot function.
What I would like to suggest, or remind you of this morning, is that something very similar happens to each of us in our journey. Each of us has experienced fear. Each of us has been a coward. Each of us has thought a circumstance would defeat us. Each of us has become isolated where we have come to think that it’s just us against the whole world.
And none of us, no one, can make that kind of fear go away. We cannot defeat that kind of fear. The more we try to convince ourselves not to be afraid in those times, the more afraid we seem to get.
But isn’t it also true that fear eventually runs its course? After torturing us, fears do ease. We don’t beat fear but we eventually come to a place where we can let it go. We get tired of it, or used to it, or just realize we can’t be this afraid any longer. We don’t really know what might take its place but we just give up fear. We let it go. We come to see we just can’t stay in that place any longer and we step away, usually not knowing exactly what we’re stepping into next. We don’t win out over fear. We actually surrender and admit it has beaten us. We quit. Ironically, as long as we’re doing battle with fear, it is winning, but once we quit, fear loses its power. When we say we can’t do this any longer, something else enters in.
This isn’t something we accomplish. It’s more something that happens to us. We can help the process or hinder it, but it’s not an action we instigate and control. Fears run their course, fears ease, fears do not last. The reason they do not last, the reason fears are eased, the reason fear is defeated when we surrender to it, is that something greater than fear exists at a deeper level. The reason fear does not win is that God has defeated the power of fear in the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. God has given the world his peace. That has already been accomplished. Our fears are eased because God has acted in the world. Grace has won out over fear. Fear is temporary. Grace is. Grace always has been. Grace always will be. The resurrection is the eternal act of God revealing the eternal nature of his grace.
I don’t have to remind you that it’s a tough world out there. It’s a tough world in here sometimes too. Innocent children suffer and die. People who need to die, linger on. Good people have horrible things happen to them. Bad people have good things happen to them and we have to watch it. Families divide. Various diseases rise up at the worst times. Just when we think life is getting comfortable finally, something comes along to threaten it. Poverty and the suffering of others makes us wonder if there’s any hope for this broken world.
And yet, today you and I will experience joy. We will see a glimpse of the eternal nature of the grace of our Lord. Something a child
does will cause a big smile to break out.
Laughter will roll up from somewhere deep inside us. In the midst of the worst things we can imagine, we will experience a sense of peace. There is something bigger than this, we will know. Pain and suffering is temporary. The Lord has prepared something better.
Today I proclaim to you the great truth of the gospel: grace has already won. The resurrection is here. God has defeated satan and sin in the glorious resurrection of his Son. Christ is risen. Whatever fear you face today, God has already conquered. The world shuts the door to God and God opens that door. Grace will not allow us to hide out in fear forever. Fear is temporary. Grace is, always has been, always will be, through our Lord and S