Will You Keep Us in Suspense?

John 10:22-30

At that time the festival of the Dedication took place in Jerusalem. It was winter, and Jesus was walking in the temple, in the portico of Solomon. So the Judeans gathered around him and said to him, “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly.” Jesus answered, “I have told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in my Father’s name testify to me; but you do not believe, because you do not belong to my sheep. My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one will snatch them out of my hand. What my Father has given me is greater than all else, and no one can snatch it out of the Father’s hand. The Father and I are one.”

“How long will you keep us in suspense?” It’s a fair question that is asked of Jesus in today’s passage. “If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly.”

Jesus doesn’t often speak plainly in the Gospels about his own identity or even much else, preferring parables and figures of speech to get his message across. In Matthew, for example, in describing the commonwealth of God, Jesus tells a story in which a servant is criticized for not investing his master’s money with the bankers. I’m not sure that clears things up very well. In Mark, Jesus tells a parable about a sower who casts seed haphazardly, planting among rocks, thorns, and good soil. And right afterward, his disciples ask essentially, “Now, what was that story all about?” In Luke, when asked who should be considered neighbor, he tells the famous story about a particular Samaritan who is attacked and left in desperate need along the side of the Jericho road.  And when asked why he spent so much time with less respected individuals, he tells an incredibly rich story about a son who returns home after losing his entire inheritance in a foreign country. They’re powerful stories, but they can lead to even more questions. We spent most of Lent here at Holy Trinity reflecting on the Prodigal story, and we haven’t exhausted it by any means.

In the Gospel of John, Jesus doesn’t tell stories, but he does use “figures of speech” or metaphors: I am bread, I am light, I am the gate, I am the Good Shepherd. All of these sayings are left open for interpretation; they’re definitely not plain speech. And if comparing himself to a shepherd was confusing to his contemporaries 2,000 years ago, how much more obscure it may be to us, 21st Century urban dwellers whose only encounters with live sheep might be an annual trip to the State Fair?

“Tell us plainly, Jesus, who are you? Just give us the answer. Don’t keep us in suspense.”

None of us likes to be kept in suspense. In today’s technology based society, we’re probably even less comfortable with it than ever. We want the whole story as quickly as we can get it, which is why TV directors love to end their seasons with plot cliffhangers and why telling someone you spent a weekend binge-watching a show on Netflix is likely to be met with nods of understanding. It’s in our nature to want to know what happens next.

“How long, Jesus, will you keep us in suspense?”

It’s an honest question that arises out of sincere longing, not one meant to trap or accuse. In fact, we could even think of it as a prayer, a petition on the hearts of the first followers of Jesus and on ours, too. And I don’t think it’s wrong that we want an answer now. For them the question was Is Jesus someone they could look to when empires threatened to overpower them and destroy their very way of life? For us, it may be Is Jesus someone we can trust in when wars persist and so many throughout the world hunger and thirst for peace and for justice? Or on a more personal level, does Jesus have anything to say to us in our own individual life struggles? Will Jesus be your Messiah as you, say, come to grips with a serious diagnosis…

or when you suddenly become unemployed…

or when you’re afraid that there won’t be a job for you when you need it…

or when the daily stresses of life are becoming just too much…

or when a family member suffers abuse…

or when a relationship ends.

“Tell us plainly, Jesus. Don’t keep us in suspense.” It’s an honest prayer.

When Jesus was walking through the temple, in the portico of Solomon, it was the perfect opportunity for those curious religious observers to interview him about his identity and future plans, to get the full story. The portico was an old part of the temple, a place where kings used to sit and issue judgments, a place named for Solomon, King David’s son and Israel’s wisest leader of the past. What better setting to announce his candidacy for Messiah? Think of Barack Obama’s announcement nearly a decade ago, standing where Lincoln had years before in Springfield, Illinois. Similarly, Jesus was in a place that called to mind the greatness of history. It was an ideal moment to place himself in that line of succession and to make a case for gathering new disciples.

And what if he had? What if he had grabbed the microphone and said, “Yes, I am the Messiah, the Christ for whom you have been waiting?” Would that have changed anything? Would that have made his message any more clear or persuasive? Would anyone have followed him because of it? Or would they have continued to merely observe him to watch and see what he would do, while still maintaining a safe distance? Most likely, he would have become just another issue to discuss and debate and fight about.

So Jesus did not give them the plain answer they were hoping for. Jesus clearly was not interested in titles or theological formulas or even drawing attention to himself. He was passionate about inviting people into relationship with God and into joining God’s work in the world. Calling Jesus the Messiah is good and right, but you can’t really understand what that means until after you have joined in and opened yourself to the new thing that God is doing. Belief, he says, follows belonging. Belief is not a prerequisite for being a part of the flock; it’s something that emerges along the way. Our lives of faith are complex and deserve so much more than simple, easy answers. We can speak plainly and honestly about faith, but we also recognize that there is a mystery to faith. It involves a journey of learning and growing and questioning and doubting and believing.

So I guess it would make sense that the answer Jesus gives to our questions for him is still likely to be a story. It’s the story of our own lives. Keep watch today and tomorrow and see how the risen Jesus will accompany. Open yourself to trusting that you are not alone and that you and this world are still so deeply loved. Faith isn’t about getting the right answer. It’s about relationship and about being part of God’s unfolding, amazing story.

Surely, there is much to faith that is complex and confusing, but we do have a plain and sure promise from God: we belong. You belong to God’s promise of love and eternal life. You belong to God, and God will never let you go, through all of the joys and challenges you encounter and even through death into eternal life. No matter what, you can be assured that God chooses you and chooses to surround you with love and grace.

Today Jesus may be inviting us to leave our worship today a little unsettled. We leave from here not in suspense exactly but hopefully with at least a sense of anticipation. We go from our worship looking for the risen Christ, whose story is still unfolding in our lives, in our church, and in the world. We can’t predict all of the plot twists and turns that may be ahead, but we can trust that no matter what, we will not be alone.

I’m grateful for a thought-provoking essay by Debie Thomas on this passage at http://www.journeywithjesus.net/essays/919-belonging.

 

 

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Left with a Love Song

Pastor Ingrid’s sermon from April 10, 2016. Listen along here.

The gospel according to John, the twenty-first chapter:

After these things Jesus showed himself again to the disciples by the Sea of Tiberius; and he showed himself in this way. Gathered there together were Simon Peter, Thomas called the Twin, Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two others of his disciples. Simon Peter said to them, “I am going fishing.” They said to him, “We will go with you.” They went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing. Just after daybreak, Jesus stood on the beach; but the disciples did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to them, “Children, you have no fish, have you?” They answered him, “No.” He said to them, “Cast the net to the right side of the boat, and you will find some.” So they cast it, and now they were not able to haul it in because there were so many fish. That disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put on some clothes, for he was naked, and jumped into the sea. But the other disciples came in the boat, dragging the net full of fish, for they were not far from the land, only about a hundred yards off. When they had gone ashore, they saw a charcoal fire there, with fish on it, and bread. Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish that you have just caught.” So Simon Peter went aboard and hauled the net ashore, full of large fish, a hundred fifty-three of them; and though there were so many, the net was not torn. Jesus said to them, “Come and have breakfast.” Now none of the disciples dared to ask him, “Who are you?” because they knew it was the Lord. Jesus came and took the bread and gave it to them, and did the same with the fish. This was now the third time that Jesus appeared to the disciples after he was raised from the dead.

When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my lambs.” A second time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Tend my sheep.” He said to him the third time, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” Peter felt hurt because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” And he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep. Very truly, I tell you, when you were younger, you used to fasten your own belt and to go wherever you wished. But when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will fasten a belt around you and take you where you do not wish to go.” (He said this to indicate the kind of death by which he would glorify God.) After this he said to him, “Follow me.”

When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my lambs.” A second time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Tend my sheep.” He said to him the third time, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” Peter felt hurt because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” And he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep. Very truly, I tell you, when you were younger, you used to fasten your own belt and to go wherever you wished. But when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will fasten a belt around you and take you where you do not wish to go.” (He said this to indicate the kind of death by which he would glorify God.) After this he said to him, “Follow me.”

Word of God. Word of life. Thanks be to God.


My mother recalls a time when I was a teenager that I fell head over heels for a particular love song on a music album. My thirteen-year-old-self was really moved by the melody and the lyrics. I had just made the jump from cassette tapes to CDs, which meant that I could play this favorite song on repeat. I played it incessantly, I’m told. My mother says that a particular crooner’s voice was floating across the hallway from my bedroom when she fell asleep, and the same crooner’s voice was the first thing she heard in the morning. I contend the phase didn’t last very long—a few months at most.

We all have tracks playing on repeat, so to speak. Some of them are songs we choose; some of them are given to us. They are highly conditioned by gender, race, and culture; by ability, age, and family; by religion, geography, and economics. I hear y’all describe these tracks in my office, in the Community Room, and in the emails you write week after week. Some tracks are wonderful and say things like: I am loved. I have gifts to share. My voice matters. I can participate in the healing of the world. The tougher tracks say things like: I am not enough. This grief will never soften. I’m sick. I have no purpose. I really messed up this time. This arc cannot be bending toward justice. My kids. These—and others like them—are often the melodies to which we fall asleep; they’re the first voices we hear in the morning.

We cannot know for certain how the disciple Peter would title his track at the end of John’s gospel, but we can make some pretty good guesses. In order to catch the fullness of today’s beautiful gospel story, we need to remember that Peter was the disciple who publicly denied his relationship with Jesus. Not once. Not twice. But three times. He abandoned his dearest friend when his friend most needed him. The rooster crowed, just like he was told it would, and his friend was crucified by those who didn’t like the changes his very presence demanded. From that point on, I have to imagine that Peter’s was a song of shame and regret and sorrow and fear that none of us would want on repeat, though I suspect some of us are familiar with its melody.

I bet Peter’s song was playing that hazy morning on the Sea of Galilee while he was out fishing with his friends. Jesus had appeared to them in the Upper Room and said “Peace be with you.” And then disappeared. And then appeared again to Thomas, who had missed him the first time around, and let Thomas touch him so he might believe. And then Jesus disappeared again. At this point, the disciples were no doubt wondering if they were delusional or if Jesus had really been raised from the grave. They made the sensible decision to return to the lives they knew before they impulsively went on the road with Jesus. They go back to fishing. And all the while Peter’s song played.

Suddenly in the text we hear Jesus shouting instructions from the shoreline, “Drop your nets on the other side.” The naked fishermen do as they’re told. They catch 153 fish, which in bible talk is a gazillion fish. And in that moment they know that Jesus is back. He’s managed to find them, again. Peter gets dressed and jumps in the water. Bible commentators say it’s kind of a silly move. I, on the other hand, think it’s one of the most beautiful confessions I’ve ever seen played out on paper. Peter starts swimming toward the one who can forgive him, toward the one he knows—despite all of his missteps—will offer him a new tune. We see Peter show up on the shoreline wet and out of breath and filled with hope that shame and regret and sorrow and fear aren’t the end of his story.

Jesus asks a question that he already knows the answer to. Why? Because it allows Peter three opportunities to say, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” It’s so merciful. Fredrick Buechner says that “what we really want in our deepest need is not proof that there is a God somewhere who exists or even scientific evidence that a resurrection happened some time ago in history. What we need is a God who is right here, knee-deep in the mud and mire of human existence—a risen Christ who comes to us every day to give life and hope.” Here we see Jesus taking Peter’s spinning record of shame and regret and sorrow and fear off of the player. Peter is no longer bound by a melody that undermines his ministry. At the end of the scene, all that Peter is left with is a love song.

Let’s be very clear, this isn’t the sentimental love song I played on a silver boom box as a teenager. This is the love song of the Risen Christ. In the wise words of musician Nina Simone, this is a love song with “a purpose far more important than the pursuit of excellence.”

It’s a love song that locates itself alongside the hurting and oppressed; a song that finds its way to the Samaritan woman’s well and to the tax collector’s table; a song that freely forgives the follies of others.

This is a love song that—as far as I can tell—doesn’t believe in privilege that isn’t equitably shared; a song that honors the interdependence of the community; a song that’s always rooted in the pursuit of justice for those who have been denied justice.

This is a love song that empires always want to squelch; a song that is willing to suffer for the sake of the neighbor; a song that says all creatures everywhere are blessed.

In this end, this love song isn’t about honor or recognition—it’s not even about comfort; this is a song that is always imagining a way out of no way; a song that that demands engagement, leads with mercy, and opens doors—these days, even North Carolinian bathroom doors.

Jesus sends Peter out to sing the song they had been rehearsing all along. It’s the tune that led to Jesus’ death; ironically, it’s the same track that sounded from the grave on Easter morning. This is the love song the Risen Christ leaves with all those who follow him—Peter, you, and me. May it be the melody to which we fall asleep, and the first voice we hear in the morning.

AMEN.

Our Idle Tale

Pastor Ingrid’s sermon from Easter Sunday.

The Holy Gospel according to Luke, the twenty-fourth chapter:

But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, the women came to the tomb, taking the spices that they had prepared. They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they went in, they did not find the body. While they were perplexed about this, suddenly two men in dazzling clothes stood beside them. The women were terrified and bowed their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen. Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, that the Son-of-Man must be handed over to sinners, and be crucified, and on the third day rise again.”

Then the women remembered his words, and returning from the tomb, they told all this to the eleven and to all the rest. Now it was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women with them who told this to the apostles. But these words seemed to the apostles an idle tale, and they did not believe them. But Peter got up and ran to the tomb; stooping and looking in, he saw the linen cloths by themselves; then he went home amazed at what had happened.

Word of God. Word of life. Thanks be to God.


 

Sadness had never smelled so good. Cardamom, turmeric, cinnamon, nutmeg, cumin—so many spices were tucked into the folds of the women’s robes. Like the flowers we leave at the grave, the spices were symbols of enduring love that the women could see and hold and smell.

Under the cover of morning darkness, they had worked it out—that is, how they would roll the stone away. This wasn’t their first rodeo; they knew it would take their collective strength. “Once the tomb was open, they whispered, Jesus’s body would be right where they expected it to be.” The dead are predictable that way. And, in this case, predictability was good.

Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women have their world turned upside down the moment they enter the cemetery. Two dreamy guys in fabulous clothes tell them that Jesus is dead no longer. The tomb is empty; the women see it with their own eyes.

All four gospel writers place the resurrection accounts in the mouths of women. These women—who, because of their first-century womanliness, couldn’t legally be witnesses in a court of law—knew it would be a tough story to sell to the dudes who were hiding out back home in the upper room. [We won’t hold it against them.] The women’s suspicions were quickly confirmed. The disciples’ response to the women’s story was the Greek word “leros”—the root of the word delirious. It’s the only time this word is used in scripture.

It sounds like an idle tale.

Idle, to be sure. But, after he heard the women’s report and saw the plethora of unused spices spilling out of their pockets, Peter—also known as The Rock—took off in an embarrassingly fast sprint to see if it was true. He arrived to find the grave was bare, apart from the strips of burial linen gently folded and stacked where his friend ought to have been. He was amazed.

It sounds like an idle tale.

Who among us hasn’t thought so? The translations of the Greek differ—“an idle tale,” “empty talk,” “a silly story,” “sheer humbug,” “utter nonsense,” and, my personal favorite, “a foolish yarn”—but they all point to the persistent doubts carried by followers of The Way, followers of Jesus. (These are my teacher Tom Long’s translations.) Can the dead really be raised? Can this world really be arcing toward life? In spite of all the evidence we see around us, are we really resurrection people living in a resurrection world?

The truth is that there is plenty of Good Friday to go around. With the images from Brussels and Ankara and Istanbul and Grand-Bassam and Peshawar seared into our minds, with vitriolic political rhetoric ringing in our ears, with warmer temperatures recorded in our books, and with our own hardships tucked away where we think no one can see them…

It sounds like an idle tale, right?

“But remember what he said,” Joanna says to Mary Magdalene, “about the third day when everything would be turned upside-down.”

Another woman spoke up, “And remember when his mama used to sing that the proud would be scattered and the mighty brought down from their thrones and the lowly would be lifted up, and the hungry would be filled with good things and the rich would be sent away with nothing?”

And Mary, James’ mother, said, “We heard him say the last would be first and the first would move to the back of the line.”

And yet another said, “He was the son of a carpenter from Nazareth, and people listened to him.”

The women quickly piece together their recollections from the last thirty-odd years.

It sounds like an idle tale that the world can be transformed; that empires can be overturned; that the hungry can be satiated; that the order of the proverbial line can be reversed. It sounds like an idle tale that the powers that hold us captive can be overcome when we stand together; that addiction doesn’t have the last word; that underemployment doesn’t define our worth; that greed doesn’t dictate who we are. It sounds like an idle tale that racism and sexism and xenophobia can be unraveled, one painful thread at a time; that terror doesn’t stand a chance when drawn into love’s embrace; that the Earth’s abusers can, in fact, become careful lovers of creation. It sounds like an idle tale that death’s sting isn’t the end of the story.

There are tombs that some would have us believe cannot be opened—deaths that cannot be undone. But magnificat theology tells another story—a story of the great reversal that God is continually unfolding in our lives and in the life of all that God has made. Take it from someone who knows, resurrection isn’t a walk in the park. It’s hard work—this being pulled from the grave, this coming alive again. When the tombstone is rolled back—when everything is different and yet everything remains exactly the same—life can feel a little bright.

Despite our reliance on and love for trumpets and white lilies, however, Easter need not be seen as shiny. Had the gospel writers wanted to tell a sparkly story, they wouldn’t have told it like this, and Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women wouldn’t have been the tellers. Instead, we get a plain account. We hear what the women saw. We hear what Peter saw. And, in turn, we are invited not to only look behind us at the tomb that stands empty, but also to peer around and see stones being rolled away, tombs being emptied, and God’s commonwealth unfolding around us.

The late E.B. White was a fine essayist, who was most famous for his book, Charlotte’s Web. He was married to a woman named Katharine. As [he] watched Katharine planning the planting of bulbs in her garden in what they both knew would be the last autumn of her life, he wrote,

There was something comical yet touching in her bedraggled appearance…the small hunched-over figure, her studied absorption in the implausible notion that there would be yet another spring, oblivious to the ending of her own days, which she knew perfectly well was near at hand, sitting there with her detailed chart under those dark skies in dying October, [there she was] calmly plotting the resurrection.

On Easter morning, we ask: Can the dead really be raised? Can this world really be arcing toward life? In spite of all the evidence we see around us, are we really resurrection people living in a resurrection world? God’s definitive answer is “yes…start plotting.”

It sounds like an idle tale, this tale of Resurrection life. And today, thank God it’s ours.

Amen.

Opening Doors

John 20:19-31

19When 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 for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 20After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. 21Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” 22When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” 24But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. 25So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.”

26A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 27Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.” 28Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” 29Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.” 30Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. 31But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.

 

I don’t buy it. There’s something in this Gospel passage that I just find unconvincing. I’m not talking about the post-resurrection appearance of Jesus to the disciples, though the Easter news is something I wrestle with and will continue to wrestle with my whole life, I imagine. Any faith that takes seriously the amazing promises of God will be a questioning faith. Thomas shows us that today. But the little detail that I want to argue with this morning comes earlier in the passage. The Gospel writer says, “the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews.” I don’t buy it.

I think John’s editorial comment about the reason for the locked doors that first Easter evening is simply wrong. “Fear of the Jews?” Well, they themselves were Jews, were they not? And Jesus was, too. That had not changed during the three years of his ministry and had not changed on Good Friday, either. John is probably speaking more out of his own context, 60 or 70 years later, when there was some animosity between the early Christian community and synagogue authorities. But that was much later than the day of the resurrection. Besides, there is no evidence that Jewish leaders or Roman leaders, for that matter, had tried to hunt down any of the followers of Jesus after his death. Crucifixion meant it was all a settled matter in their minds, I presume, a closed case. Earlier on that same day some of the disciples—first Mary Magdalene and then two of the men—had walked right up to the tomb where Jesus was buried. If ever there were a location where they were vulnerable to arrest, the tomb was it. But still they went. Fear didn’t stop them earlier when the empty tomb was thought to be the work of grave robbers. So what had changed? Why the locked doors now?

What had changed, of course, was the news of resurrection. Mary had reported to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord” and now everything had changed. Could it be then that the threat they feared was not capture by the Jewish or Roman leaders but in fact the possibility of running into Jesus?

Peter, for one, would have understandably been reticent about meeting Jesus again after denying him three times the night after their meal together. The other disciples had also essentially done the same and hid themselves in the shadows. Could Jesus forgive them? Could Jesus still love them?

Then again, something more than guilt could have led them to avoid the risen Jesus. Maybe their disappointment in him did, too. They were probably getting used to the idea that they had wasted their time and energy by placing their hope in him and had been foolish to follow. Maybe they had simply had it and were preparing to readjust to the status quo and did not want Jesus to mess with their lives any more, resurrected or not. It wasn’t worth the disappointment and embarrassment.

The door was locked; I think John has that right. But I can’t believe that it was locked to keep anyone out. It was locked to keep them in. In the safety of that room, they could deny resurrection and what it would mean for their lives. There they could try to forget about the things that Jesus had done and said. There they could continue to guard themselves from entering into the new possibilities and the new call to follow that the risen Christ would offer to them.

The Church of Christ today does face external threats in many places of the world, but I would guess that’s not the reason for most of our door locking. What might prevent us from going out to meet and join the work of the risen Christ? Could it be guilt? Could it be fear? Could it be greed or restlessness? Could it simply be a feeling of being overwhelmed by the suffering and sadness out there in the world, beyond the locked doors? It is appropriate for us on this Sunday after Easter to consider what keeps us back from living into the good news of resurrection.

The past several days, everywhere I’ve gone, from the hardware store to the dentist office, I’ve heard people talking about the county attorney’s decision not to indict the police officers involved with the killing of Jamar Clark. We’ve all been talking about it. There are so many details of the case that have been commented on that are so easy to share and discuss. What’s harder, I’ve noticed, is talking about the big issues of institutional racism that lie underneath the details of this situation, the history that has led to a lack of trust of police officers, unjust sentencing guidelines, housing policies that have segregated our neighborhoods. It’s so much harder to open the door to conversations of racism and privilege in our world. It all seems overwhelming, and it often feels like there’s nothing we can do about it.

I wonder if there might be some fear that resurrection could actually be at work among us if we let it. Could there be an overwhelming fear that the risen Christ wants to be found in our very lives and in our very communities? If that were true, what would that mean we’d have to risk? What would we have to give up? Oh, it would be so much easier, so much safer, to keep the door closed and locked and forget we heard the witness of Mary Magdalene, that she has seen the risen Lord.

And maybe we would…except that Christ comes to us even when we are behind locked doors. It happens without angels and trumpets, typically; it’s much quieter than that. And yet before we can say anything, the first words out of the risen Christ’s mouth are “Peace be with you.” Peace in the midst of fear. Peace in the midst of discouragement. Peace in the midst of heavy burdens and sorrows. Peace in the midst of doubts. Peace in the midst of hopelessness. Christ is present, wounds and all, to give us a peace that can open any locked door. Christ is present to breathe the Spirit into our very beings, giving us all we need to be sent into a world so badly in need of resurrection.

Each of us has different reasons for locking doors, for guarding ourselves from what’s beyond them. Maybe there’s a fear or regret that is difficult to face. Maybe there’s a situation in need of forgiveness. Maybe there’s a sadness that has been privately protected for a long time. Christ’s response to each one is to speak peace. It is a word that does what it says, a promise that cannot be unheard.

Today we are breaking ground on a new church building project to renovate the east entrance and move the offices to where we can more easily welcome and help those who come to the door. We have called it the “Opening Doors” project, as it will make that main door on the side of the church much more accessible and welcoming for all who use it. But this project has never been just about that physical door. It has been and will be about our ministry together as a congregation and our call to open all kinds of doors to freedom and love and reconciliation in our world. We continue to seek ways of loving our neighborhood, and to seek peace and justice for our neighbors. We are a people who have received the peace of the living Christ and have been sent out with it. Christ’s gifts do not come without a sending. We are sent to love the world as God loves the world.

Of course, we are a church made up of real people who may have real fears and doubts and regrets. But much more important, we are a church with the peace of Christ and a sending by the Holy Spirit. We are a church that has a promise to trust. It’s not on our own but with God’s power that we, followers of Jesus, are opening doors.