Saturday, April 26, 2014

Getting Out of Church

Faith Lutheran Church, Pelican Rapids, MN
April 27, 2014
John 20:19-31
Easter 2, Confirmation Sunday

In the name of Jesus.  Amen.

Happy Easter!   It’s still OK to say that, you know, because Easter just STARTED last Sunday…and the whole blooming season of Easter runs for a full 50 days…the greatest season of the year for Christians and for all people.

The longer I live, the more amazed I am at how much there is in this rich, rich story of Jesus’ liberating death and his hope-engendering resurrection.

Last Sunday, as I listened to a great Easter sermon from my pastor in Moorhead, I was reminded about one of the peculiar little cul-de-sacs in this whole, amazing story.

I was reminded that Matthew’s gospel includes a detail that the other three gospels don’t mention:  that on the Saturday after Good Friday some of the same religious leaders who sought Jesus’ crucifixion convinced Pilate, the Roman governor, to seal up Jesus’ tomb—for fear that Jesus’ followers would come and steal away Jesus’ dead body in order to claim—falsely!—that Jesus had arisen from the dead.

So in this weird scene at the tail-end of Matthew, chapter 27  Pilate agrees that Jesus’ tomb should be sealed up, tight as a drum, so no troublemakers even have a chance to steal his body.   Pilate even dispatches a bunch of Roman soldiers to stand guard--to prevent any monkey business from happening there in the cemetery.

We can picture them—a whole cohort of Roman soldiers--tough guys, packing heat, their backs to the tomb, peering outward, scanning the horizon for marauding grave robbers lurking in the shadows!

Here those grave-guarders thought the danger was “out there” somewhere—Jesus’ followers trying to pull a fast one and bust their way INTO Jesus’ tomb!

But what the soldiers failed to realize was that the danger wasn’t “out there.”  The danger was inside the tomb!

These tough-guy Roman soldiers were dumbstruck when a “grave robbery” actually DID take place on Easter morning—not because some rowdy outsiders got into the grave, but because Jesus, the Resurrected Insider got out of the grave!

Now, this morning, something very much like that is repeated here in John’s story of the first Easter evening.  

We come upon another “tomb” of sorts…..a room in Jerusalem where Jesus’ closest followers are holed up, all the windows shuttered, all the doors locked-tight so that the same enemies who demanded Jesus’ death don’t come after them, too!

Jesus’ disciples, on that first Easter evening, imagined the biggest danger they faced was “out there”--the same mob who condemned Jesus and orchestrated his execution on trumped up charges.   

The disciples were terrified of the dangers that lurked outside their safe house—which left them flabbergasted when they discovered that the Danger was actually on the inside the room with them.

Because all at once, the Risen Lord Jesus Christ just appeared in their midst.   Jesus, the Living One, paid no never-mind to barred windows or locked doors!!

…and that could only mean trouble for his disciples—scared rabbits who all turned tail and ran for their lives  when Jesus was arrested.  Jesus’ disciples had good reason to fear him showing up in their midst—they had let him down.  They deserved condemnation from the lips of the Risen Christ.

But that’s not what they got.   Jesus’ first word to them was such a welcome surprise:  “Peace be with you!”  

The cowardly disciples deserved a blistering attack by the Risen Christ—but instead, they heard him from his lips the sweetest word imaginable:  “Shalom!  Peace to the n-th degree!”

The Danger that showed up in their midst was unsettling….but in a way that broke open life for them, that offered a fresh future beyond their imagination.   Jesus not only freed them from their guilt—but re-enlisted them to continue his mission of piecing back together the whole broken creation, one sorry sinner at a time.   “As the Father has sent me, so I send you.  Receive the Holy Spirit.”   Get going and proclaim my peace, announce my forgiveness!

These two stories…the story of Roman soldiers in Matthew 27  trying in vain to keep Jesus in his grave….and the story of Jesus’ followers trying to keep trouble out of their safe house here in John 20….

These two stories have gotten me thinking about us, our “tombs,” the “safe houses” we try to hole up inside so that the danger out there doesn’t “get” us.

Why, sometimes we even make the church into a fortress where we hide, lest we be tainted by all the evil that’s “out there.”    Sometimes we imagine we’ll be safe if we just shutter our windows, lock our doors, huddle up and seek protection from whatever or whoever might try to lead us astray.

But that’s not how the Resurrected Jesus looks at things---not at all. 

The Risen and Living Jesus is all about breaking out of whatever tight, closed, place—whatever tomb, whatever sealed room—we try to put him inside of.

That’s what unfolds here in these rich Resurrection stories:   Jesus will not be confined.  Jesus will not stay dead and buried.   Jesus will not stay put.   Jesus is always breaking out and getting loose in the world….

….and taking us with him, in the process!

So in the Easter stories of the four gospels, Jesus never just hangs around the Empty Tomb, chit-chatting with pilgrims, signing autographs, or taking “selfies” with his admirers.

No, in the gospels, Jesus is about getting out of the cemetery, running his race, way out ahead of us, leading us out into mission in the world.

Here in what we call the Doubting Thomas story, Jesus shows up inside that sealed room—only so that he can get himself and everybody else out of that room, only so that he can send his followers back into this dangerous world, in order to continue what Jesus began at his Cross and Empty Tomb.

That, my dear friends, is what this Easter season is all about…..and it’s also what this Confirmation Sunday means for us here at Faith Lutheran.

Whatever else happens here this morning with our five dear confirmands and all the rest of us—we’ll be reminded about just what happens here in churches like Faith….where the gift of faith is given in  Word and Sacrament….and where our doubts are heard and taken seriously, where God gives us reasons to keep on believing, just as our Risen Lord Jesus met Thomas in his doubts and restored him to a faith that proclaimed:  “My Lord and my God!”

It’s a matter of life and death, you see, that we come to church, to receive faith and have our doubts removed.  

And it’s just as crucial that we also get out of church!

What was that?   Every relative, every friend of our confirmands is probably worried about just that—that our young friends will “get out of church” now that they’re confirmed.

But I’m not talking about “getting out of church” as in ABANDONING the church.

I’m talking about getting out of church the way Jesus wanted his followers to get out of that locked room in Jerusalem.   I’m talking about getting out of church in the way Jesus talks about that here in John 20:  “As the Father has sent me so I send you.”

So please—I say this to our confirmands and to all of us:  please keep coming to church, so that you can keep getting out of church and returning to God’s world!

The Affirmation of Baptism promises in our confirmation liturgy pick up on that “come and go” rhythm of life…

Notice, please, how these promises include two COMINGS and three GOINGs:

You have made public profession of your faith.  Do you intend to continue in the covenant God made with you in holy baptism: (and here they are…)

To live among God’s faithful people…that’s a COMING…
To hear the word of God and share in the Lord’s supper….another COMING…
To proclaim the good news of God in Christ through word and deed….there’s the first GOING…
To serve all people, following the example of Jesus…another GOING…
And to strive for justice and peace in all the earth? more GOING.

Dear friends in Christ, may we all find here in God’s church a wonderful home, a nourishing haven, a place where we always feel as though we belong…

May we enter and re-enter this community of Christ, time and again…

But please, let’s not stay here.   If the church starts feeling too cozy, the Risen Jesus will come and along and push us out, into God’s world again.  And that’s a very good thing, because the whole human family needs what Jesus sends us to do:  to proclaim his good news, to serve all people, to speak up for justice and pursue peace because that is our God wants more than anything else—for us and for all people.

In the name of Jesus.   Amen.

No comments:

Post a Comment