Sermon preached by the Reverend Nicholas Lang
St. Paul’s on the Green, Norwalk, CT
The Second Sunday of Easter – April 7, 2013
An older lady was pulled over for speeding. “Is there a problem, Officer?” she asked. “Ma’am, you were speeding,” “Oh, I see.” “Can I see your license please?” The older woman replied, “I’d give it to you but I don’t have one.” “Don’t have one?” said the officer. “Nope, lost it, 4 years ago for drunk driving.” Surprised by this detail, he asked to see her vehicle registration papers. “I can’t do that.” “Why not?” he asked. “Because I stole this car.” “Stole it?” “Yes—shot the owner and dumped him in the trunk. You want to see?”
The Officer looked at the woman and slowly backed away to call for back up. Within minutes 5 police cars circled the car. A senior officer slowly approached the woman’s car, clasping his half drawn gun, and says, “Ma’am, could you step out of your vehicle please!” “Is there a problem sir?” she asks. “One of my officers told me that you stole this car and murdered the owner.” “Murdered the owner?” “Yes, said the officer, “could you please open the trunk of your car.” The woman opened the trunk: empty. “Is this your car, ma’am?” “Yes, and here are the registration papers.
The officer is stunned. “One of my officers claims that you do not have a driving license. The woman digs into her handbag and pulls out a clutch purse and hands it to the officer. He examined the license. Now he looks real puzzled. “Ma’am, one of my officers told me you didn’t have a license, that you stole this car, and that you murdered and hacked up the owner. The older woman snaps back, “Bet the liar told you I was speeding, too!!!!”
Some stories are really hard to believe. Every year on this Second Sunday of Easter we find an example of this in John’s account of a resurrected Jesus walking through locked doors smack into the midst of his frightened disciples.
One of them is missing—Thomas who will later question the authenticity of this visit and demand proof that it was Jesus who was there with them. Thomas can’t just take the word of the others. He wants to touch and feel resurrection. For seven days after he will struggle with his doubt, his inability to believe his closest friends when they tell him that they have, indeed, seen the risen Jesus.
What is so remarkable about this incident on that Easter evening is what is tells us about God and about God in Christ. We would not be surprised, I think, if Jesus had some harsh words for them. I wonder if they were in that locked room for a closed-door meeting to get their stories straight. What were they going to say to Jesus if he confronted them? What could they say? It would be hard to put a spin on all this—denial, betrayal, abandoning their dearest friend.
To their amazement, the very first words out of Jesus are a blessing of peace. He gives them a gift they neither expected nor thought they deserved: the gift of acceptance just as they are, who they are, and in spite of what they had done.
The word Jesus would have used is “Shalom,” a vision of the city of God on earth, a community where people are at peace with each other, place where justice is the rule of the day, where prejudice has vanished, where the diverse gifts with which we have been so abundantly blessed are equally valued.” That is the kind of peace that Jesus breathes into the room that Easter evening.
When Jesus returns the following Sunday evening and enters again through the sealed doors, Thomas is with them. Here we find again an amazing lesson about God’s willingness to meet us where we are. Jesus recognizes Thomas’ need, not just to see, but to touch, to feel, in order to believe and he gives him exactly what he needs. Needing is essential to being human. Every aspect of life needs something—air, water, something to eat—and rather than chastise Thomas for his failure in faith, Jesus honors his neediness and supplies what was lacking for him to come to a place of trust and faith.
No doubt, the disciples didn’t just feel badly about their behavior on Good Friday. They were ashamed. Shame is a debilitating thing. It tells us that we are not worthy of God’s love. Sadly, religion has often fostered a culture of shame, for some more than others. That culture sometimes spills over into our family and even school life where shame may have become a tool to teach us to walk on the right path at the risk of devaluing our genuine goodness. We may feel badly about things we have done to hurt others and ourselves. We should seek forgiveness and work for restoration. We should never feel shame for the person God created us to be because we are made in God’s image.
The good news we hear in the Gospel today is that God wants to bless us with peace—to offer us acceptance just as we are and in spite of what we have done. The better news is that God recognizes our neediness and wants to give us whatever it takes to help us discover the way to believing, no matter how strong our doubts, no matter how many or enormous our questions. But perhaps the best news that Easter brings is that God will walk right through locked doors and will sometimes unexpectedly intrude in our lives to reassure us that we are God’s beloved ones.
Can’t we all somehow identify with the idea of “locked doors” behind which we may be hiding—our difficulty in believing, our fears about our health, about the economy, uncertainty about our security, our poor self-esteem, just our basic human desperation and vulnerability.
What the Easter appearance of the risen Jesus to his friends guarantees is that there is no door in our life secure enough, bolted sturdily enough, that will prevent God’s walking right through it and bringing us Shalom, the blessing of peace, of acceptance, and whatever else it is we need to make believing more than making believe. Pure grace.
Author Robert Farrar Capon calls it “the gift unearned, the wonderful unanticipated presence, the blessing underserved. It is sunshine in a place where only the darkness can be explained. It is a bursting presence of love at a time when we have the right only to expect condemnation or emptiness and aloneness.”
When Jesus appeared on that Easter evening, walking right through those locked doors, the disciples probably expected a severe tongue-lashing, great humiliation, or worse. What they got was peace—the peace of God that passes all understanding. No anger. No harsh words. No judgment. Just forgiveness…and peace.
That how God works. That’s what God does. And that’s plenty good news for me. How about you?