Peaceful Chaos

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Introduction:

Last Sunday we gathered for a great time of celebrating the risen Christ on Easter. It is hard to not walk away from an Easter service without being full of joy and excitement. It’s like Christmas services – I walk away with this sort of “spiritual high” after we have journeyed through Lent. The light and the joy has filled this house of worship.

For some of us, we return today with an expectation that the hard stuff will be over and the celebration will continue. However, as with our lives today, the same is true over 2000 years ago.

Our world is consumed with the notion of peace. It is an ever elusive state of being that is just always out of arms reach. Just when we think that things will settle down, something else happens and our hopes are left unfulfilled.

It is so often talked about and pursued that even the pageant circuit is affected by it. Check out this video in response to the question of what is the one thing our society needs.

Video: Miss Congeniality

How many of you know what movie that is? One of Angelia’s favorites.

Peace is such a big deal that a former NBA star changed his name to Metta World Peace – better known by is real name, Ron Artest, he was known as a fighter and was the main person in the mix in one of the most historic fights that included fans in 2004.

We drive down the road and we see the Peace Symbol on the back of someone’s car (picture), or the Coexist bumper sticker (picture). I think all of us at some level desire for there to be peace.

Maybe that is why it feels so good to allow silence to break into our routine, or a quick trip to the beach to stand on the shore in front the ocean with nothing on the horizon but water and the setting sun. There is something comforting about peace and tranquility.

Following Easter, Jerusalem and the Roman world must have been in anything but a peaceful state.

Movement 1:

After Jesus was crucified, the Jewish leaders sent guards to protect the tomb for fear that the disciples would steal the body of Jesus. However, the religious elite were still thinking and acting against the physical powers rather than the powers of light and darkness. Jesus was raised to life and overcame death and the grave and an angel of the Lord rolled away the stone covering the tomb.

The guards were dumbfounded and so were the Pharisees. The reigning religious sect must have been in an all out frenzy to try and control the narrative as the chaos spread and they continued to fear a loss of power. How did the disciples steal the body of Jesus and get around the guards and the stone? Was Jesus in fact the Messiah?

After Jesus rose and began appearing to the disciples and others, the Jewish rulers would be suspicious of any gathering of the disciples.

We pick up the story with our text this morning coming from John 20:19-29.

John 20:19-29 (NLT)
19 That Sunday evening the disciples were meeting behind locked doors because they were afraid of the Jewish leaders. Suddenly, Jesus was standing there among
them! “Peace be with you,” he said. 20 As he spoke, he showed them the wounds in his hands and his side. They were filled with joy when they saw the Lord!21 Again he said, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I am sending you.” 22 Then he breathed on them and
said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive anyone’s sins, they are forgiven. If you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.” 24 One of the twelve disciples, Thomas (nicknamed the Twin), was not with the others when Jesus came. 25 They told him, “We have seen the Lord!”
But he replied, “I won’t believe it unless I see the nail wounds in his hands, put my fingers into them, and place my hand into the wound in his side.” 26 Eight days later the disciples were together again, and this time Thomas was with them. The doors were locked; but suddenly, as before, Jesus was standing among them. “Peace be with you,” he said. 27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and look at my hands. Put your hand into the wound in my side. Don’t be faithless any longer. Believe!” 28 “My Lord and my God!” Thomas exclaimed.
29 Then Jesus told him, “You believe because you have seen me. Blessed are those who believe without seeing me.”

The disciples have gathered on Easter day in the evening and they have closed the doors out of fear. They are scared and afraid of what is happening. Yet, Jesus came and stood in their midst. If you think back to the tomb, Jesus was not in the tomb when the stone was rolled away – he was already risen. The rolling away of the stone was for a witnessing evidence to Mary and the disciples. Likewise, Jesus appeared in the room in the presence of the disciples with the doors locked, once again bearing witness to who He is.

In this time of fear and confusion, the disciples could also be fearful of Jesus and wondering if it is really him. Jesus’ word upon entering is “Peace be with you”. Christ is a presence of calm in the midst of chaos and He extends his hands and side as a sign to them of his identity.

I am sure for the disciples they are overjoyed at the thought of being able to see Jesus again. For those of us who have lost people we love, we have probably thought, “if I could just see them one more time” or “if I could talk to them one last time”. The disciples were most likely not any different – that’s why in verse 20 the disciples rejoiced. Here in their midst was the one whom they thought they had been separated forever from by death.

Movement 2:

And then Jesus moves right from offering his assurance of peace to a commission based on the authority of the relationship between Him and the Father. “As the Father has sent me, so I send you.”

If we break this down, we see a couple very important things for us today. Jesus comes on and with the authority of God the Father. The verbs “sent” and “send” are two different words and tenses in the Greek. The first, “As the Father has sent me…”, sent is apestalken, is perfect, and speaks of the mission of Christ in its enduring aspects.

The second, “so I send you”, send is pempo, is present, and so emphasizes the continuing activity assigned to the disciples. Brooke Foss Westcott comments: “In this charge the Lord presents His own Mission as the one abiding Mission of the Father; this He fulfills through His church. His disciples receive no new commission but carry out His.”

Last week we began our new series Breathe Out with this specific mission in mind. That we exist in a constant state of breathing in and breathing out. We breathe in the presence of God by spending time with him through prayer, reading scripture, worship and breathe out as living, embodied agents of Christ in our world.

It is not a new mission, it is continuing the mission that Christ began over 2000 years ago.

But how are we to carry on this mission? Jesus was God’s own Son, how are we to do that in our humanness?

In verse 22, it says, “he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit.”

For those of you who are familiar with Pentecost, this receiving of the Holy Spirit is different. The giving of the Spirit here is for the same reason as the Resurrection scenes; to prepare the disciples for the mission that lies ahead. However, there is a problem. One of the disciples is not present. Thomas is missing.

Have you ever thought about where Thomas was? Did he flee in the chaos? Maybe he was like Forest Gump who just started running, and running, and running (picture). Did he need to run to the market for groceries? Maybe he had to go to work the night shift?

Movement 3:

Whatever the reason Thomas was missing, after the disciples encounter with Christ in the room, they go and tell him about it later. He quickly spurned their claims, saying that he needed proof to believe that Christ appeared to them.

“Have you ever wondered how Thomas must have felt right then? Were the disciples pranksters, maybe, and he thought they were playing a joke on him? Or were they telling the truth, and if so, why hadn’t Jesus stayed around for him to see him too? All he knew was that the other ten remaining disciples were in on something, and he wasn’t.”

The following Sunday all of the disciples were together again, including Thomas and guess who decides to show up unexpectedly? Jesus.

Again as Jesus appears to them in this room, he begins with “Peace be with you”. Then he immediately turns to Thomas and offers to him the proof he had requested.

Thomas is instantaneously struck by how Christ could have known of the proof he asked for and in a confessional manner proclaims, “My Lord and My God!”

I think it was natural for Thomas to doubt, maybe even surprising that the others didn’t doubt as well.

I think that it is natural for us to have doubts. I saw a sign that someone made that looked like this…(picture of faith/doubt road sign).

One pastor notes:

“We think of faith and doubt as opposites. But that’s not really true. Faith and apathy are more opposite than faith and doubt. But doubt is often a key part of the journey of faith. It’s a stop along the way that most of us make more than once. And when we find ourselves there, it’s not an indication of us being bad Christians or disbelievers. It’s a sign that we are taking our relationship with God seriously enough that we are letting ourselves be honest, and we are letting ourselves start a journey without knowing exactly sure where we are going.” (Emily Heath)

Do you remember a time of doubt? Maybe you have doubts right now. Poor Thomas has been forever defined by perhaps his greatest moment of weakness. I would hate to be remembered for my greatest moment of doubt or weakness. I have had plenty.

What we see in Thomas is quite possibly the best example for who we are as followers of Christ, living between faith and doubt. It’s not an either/or proposition but a part of our journey, seeking to know God more fully and constantly learning to trust and abide in Him.

I was reading a story recently about a woman in her 30’s who one day had this overwhelming spiritual experience. She knew God was present, and she felt God calling her to do something new, and scary, and hard. But she felt God so clearly that day, that she couldn’t deny it. It’s the sort of spiritual experience most of us want. The moment of clarity. The clear marching orders. It’s like Thomas getting to touch Jesus’ hand.

The young woman did go out, and for the next 50 years she did amazing things. But inside she doubted. She wrestled with faith. She had what Christian writers for centuries have called a “dark night of the soul”. Sometimes she even questioned the existence of God. Her lack of faith bothered her.

The other disciples may have called her, “Doubting Teresa”. But you and I know her as Mother Teresa, the woman whose life many call saint-like. (picture) I used to see pictures of her and think, she must be so holy. So full of faith. She must be so certain of what she is doing. But in the last few years, we’ve learned that wasn’t the case. She was like us. And she was like Thomas.

We Protestants don’t canonize saints anymore, but our Catholic brothers and sisters do. And Mother Teresa became Saint Theresa in 2016. Even with her doubts, she was found worthy of this title. Or, maybe, because of her doubts.

Thomas is known to millions as St. Thomas because as Christian tradition holds, he set sail for India and was the first one to spread the Gospel of Christ there. In the end, it was Thomas’ desire to know Christ that drove him to such great faith and to make such a mark on the world for Christ.

We all doubt, our faith gets shaken, we question it, and we wonder why Jesus doesn’t appear to us when everyone around us seems to have seen him and his power at work. Thomas in his doubt started the week with a big mistake. He chose to withdraw from his fellow disciples and sought loneliness rather than togetherness.

But he chose to gather with the disciples a week later for some reason – perhaps like many of you here today – in hopes of seeing Jesus. He chose community over isolation even in his doubt and questions.

Bishop Gene Robinson was talking about the parting of the Red Sea and how we have this movie version in our heads where Moses lifted his arms and you could see across to the other side. The reality, he says, was more like this: the people put one foot into the water, tentatively, and the waters rolled back a little. And then they put another foot down, and the waters rolled back more. And so on, and so on, until they found they had safely reached the other shore.

Our life of faith is similar. We do not have to see the other shore – God is already there and is with us in the waters. He is just asking us to follow Him and take one step at a time and just keep putting one foot in front of the other.

And even in the midst of what we see as chaos as the waters rage, Jesus stands before for us and says, “peace be with you”. The things of our life that stir the waves are not the source of our peace. Jesus Himself is peace and offers it to us.

Our world is searching for peace. You may be searching for peace. It will only be found in the person and presence of the Son of God, Jesus Christ.

Response:

Do you have His peace? Do you need His calming presence in your life? Maybe you need to see to believe? Perhaps you have His peace and a firm faith but the Lord is nudging you, saying, “As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” What is He asking you to do? Where is He wanting to send you?

Prayer

Breathe Out
Breathe Out
Breathe Out