Sunday, March 30, 2008

John 20:19-31: It’s time to sit out on the front portal

The other night Kay Calvacante and I were going to my house after playing soccer. It was a beautiful evening, about 50 degrees out, warmer than it had been, the sun had just set. As we pulled onto my street just off of Cerrillos, everything was completely quiet. No one was to be found outside, no movement in the street or in anyone’s front yard. Kay said that that is one thing he misses about living in Brasil where he lived for about 10 years; there during the day or in the evening there is movement and activity in the streets, people are out and about.

But not least not so much anymore. Once, it may have been common practice to sit outside, to interact and live life in the presence of others. Know the names of those who live nearby. But not so much anymore. If we sit outdoors in the evenings it’s in the back of the home rather than the front—it’s more quite there—we can read and relax and have a drink without being disturbed; Or better yet indoors: there is climate control, and no disturbing noises from birds, plus there’s a TV indoors, that has a lot of programs. We can lock our doors and close our blinds and escape from the outside world altogether.

John sets up the story of resurrection by telling us of the disciples hiding behind locked doors out of fear. Mary had made it back from the tomb, she had told the disciples she had see the Resurrected Lord!!! But they were still paralyzed by fear.

Going down the street that night with Kay and seeing no one on the streets, you’d think we lived in a pre-Resurrection world. Everyone hiding behind locked doors out of fear.

And without a doubt, had TV’s existed back in Jesus’ day, our story may have gone like this: “When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked, the disciples were watching TV. And Jesus came and said, Peace be with you, but he was standing in front of the TV. “Uh, Jesus, you know you make a better door than a window. What’d you say anyway?”

Funny thing is that the disciples still don’t seem to get it even after this encounter with Jesus. They had seen him but a week later they’re still behind closed doors by the time Jesus comes around for a second time. This time Jesus appears to Thomas.

I’ve said it before, but for me Thomas is a real hero. He assures me that it is okay to be pragmatic, a realist; fool me once shame on you, fool me twice shame on me. Was it because Thomas didn’t believe his friends that Jesus came to him? He had to see Jesus himself, he had to touch Jesus, hear his voice, and then he would believe. Thomas knows that the world is not a safe place; and that the ones who did in Jesus are out there probably ready to get Jesus’ disciples as well. So he demands proof.

We know the world is dangerous, which is why we must stay inside behind locked doors.

The other day when I was in the airport, I was bombarded with security measures:

Your attention please, in the interest of safety, please do not leave your bags unattended. If you see an unattended bag please alert airport security at once.

Your attention please, the current level of threat is orange. Orange is the current level of threat. Enjoy your travels. What the heck is orange?

Going through the security checkpoint: Sir, can you please remove your jacket, your hat, your belt and your shoes before passing through the scanner. Please remove your laptop from your bag; and I’ll need to see your boarding pass.

I’m sure all of these measures are necessary, but it sure does make me suspicious of everyone.

It makes me want to stay behind locked doors…Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands.

Thomas demands proof because he knows the world is disappointing. Thomas experienced this first hand at Jesus’ crucifixion; disappointment with himself for having run away in fear, disappointment with Jesus for not having lived up to what Thomas had hoped. Thomas had been with Jesus for three years and seen some incredible signs pointing to a reality beyond the one he had previously known…water turned to wine, sight given to the blind, the lame made to walk, the forgiveness of sins. This was what Thomas hoped to be really real. But now Jesus was dead… disappointment.1

This is the same disappointment we have all experience when the reality of life has crashed down on us. When we’ve let ourselves down, when others have let us down, when God lets us down: Been praying for so long for that child to get clean…and nothing changes. I’ve been hoping for so long for a job to come along…and nothing is working out. Inability to conceive a child, relationships failing in bitterness, death of someone so close to us. It makes it hard to go outside…"Unless put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side."

I’ll wait for Jesus to appear, and say, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt, do not fear, believe.”

It’s hard to tell if Thomas ever does place his finger in the mark of the nails, or his hand in Jesus’ side; Jesus invites him to, but standing face to face with the Risen One, he can only fall to his knees in confession: My Lord and my God. Thomas knows he is in the presence of God; he has been saved and redeemed by God; He has encountered grace. He has known peace.

His reality that was once full of despair has been transformed into a reality of hope.2

One week ago we celebrated the hope of resurrection. It was pretty cool, a friend told me that because of Easter, because of the message of hope, he was inspired to share hope. After church, a homeless couple came by his place looking for a bit of work. Sure, he said, and he had them clean his small front yard; took about an hour and he paid them $40, and bought them lunch. After eating the lunch they made their way down the road, but then a few minutes later strangely, they came back to his house. “Excuse me sir,” one of them said, “we found this dog wandering in the street, would you like to have it?” My friend and a small chihuahau-pug mix, with the cutest little face, an under-bite to make it look tough were staring at one another. A sucker for animals, this dog—now named Fred—found a home instantly. Fred’s become an instant companion on walks and while watching TV. Fred had a collar with no tag, he looked fairly well taken care of; we wonder if this homeless couple had been taking care of Fred, but maybe couldn’t any more, and wanted Fred to have a good home. They knew they had found one in my friend. And it all began with my friend wanting to share Easter hope of grace.

Peace be with you, Christ says to the skeptical, frightened Thomas. Grace comes in so many forms. The unexpected apology of a coworker for not treating you with respect. The undeserved forgiveness of your sibling. The all too often unnoticed tenderness and fidelity of a spouse. But when grace comes, it means that lives are transformed by the mercy of God in Christ Jesus: Peace be with you.3

Easter hope does not mean we escape the realities of this world. But things can be different. Something is new. We can witness to God’s grace, God’s new kingdom, intruding into and transforming the kingdom of this world, and nothing, not work, not school, not our relationships, not even life and death will ever be the same.

When we live life in hope, with grace and mercy, we live as people who believe yet have not seen. Blessed are those who have not seen, yet have come to believe. Our lives are transformed as we see the world differently. We can celebrate Easter not just on one day, but everyday. Easter becomes a way of life, because we become people full of hope.4

Hope for today. Hope that a relationship may be reconciled. Hope that an adoption can take place. Hope that war will end. We can pray for Waldo, or Suzanne, or anyone else when illness comes, and we can hope for life, and we can also rejoice that God has defeated the power of death: Where O death, is your victory? Where, O death is your sting. The resurrection did not alter the reality of death. What the resurrection did was defeat the power of death to rob life of its meaning or hope. Where there is life there is hope.

Enough hope and enough courage to move out from the “safety and security” of our living rooms and away from the television, and out on the front portal. Where we can sip on tea, we can read a good book, we can watch kids walk home from school; cars ride by, and folks out walking their dogs without fear, but with reassured hope that our lord has risen.

We can trust: a blessing indeed!

Praise be to God. Amen.

1 David J. Lose, “Realities Old and New,” Journal for Preachers, Easter 2007, pp. 12-14.
2 David J. Lose, “Realities Old and New,”Journal for Preachers, Easter 2007, pp. 12-14.
3 David J. Lose, “Realities Old and New,”Journal for Preachers, Easter 2007, pp. 12-14.
4 David J. Lose, “Realities Old and New,”Journal for Preachers, Easter 2007, pp. 12-14.

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