Peace for Anxious Times

Wesley Memorial United Methodist Church
April 8, 2018

John 20: 19-31 (CEB)
It was still the first day of the week. That evening, while the disciples were behind closed doors because they were afraid of the Jewish authorities, Jesus came and stood among them. He said, “Peace be with you.” 20After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. When the disciples saw the Lord, they were filled with joy. 21Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father sent me, so I am sending you.” 22Then he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23If you forgive anyone’s sins, they are forgiven; if you don’t forgive them, they aren’t forgiven.”
24Thomas, the one called Didymus, one of the Twelve, wasn’t with the disciples when Jesus came. 25The other disciples told him, “We’ve seen the Lord!”
But he replied, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands, put my finger in the wounds left by the nails, and put my hand into his side, I won’t believe.”
26After eight days his disciples were again in a house and Thomas was with them. Even though the doors were locked, Jesus entered and stood among them. He said, “Peace be with you.” 27Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here. Look at my hands. Put your hand into my side. No more disbelief. Believe!”
28Thomas responded to Jesus, “My Lord and my God!”
29Jesus replied, “Do you believe because you see me? Happy are those who don’t see and yet believe.”
30Then Jesus did many other miraculous signs in his disciples’ presence, signs that aren’t recorded in this scroll. 31 But these things are written so that you will believe that Jesus is the Christ, God’s Son, and that believing, you will have life in his name.

One of the sad truths of our society today is that our school kids have to have active-shooter drills. When we were kids, we did fire drills and tornado drills, but “active-shooter drills” never even crossed our minds; at least not until after Columbine in 1999. In other countries, there are air-raid drills in schools. It’s disgusting that our children have to live with such fear as they go to school each day. It’s also indicative of the great fears that grip our whole society right now; not only in our country, but around the world. I suspect that if I went around the room today and asked each of you to name something that is causing fear or anxiety in your life right now, we would hear a few dozen different issues named; illness, economics, and violence—there are so many things that scare us. And often our response is to try and protect ourselves in some way, which often means we try to withdraw, or hide-away; huddled together, behind closed doors, until the storm passes.

It’s interesting that we are saddled with these fears that send us seeking shelter and protection. In so many ways, this is the exact experience of the disciples on that first Easter so many years ago. You see, the disciples of Jesus that first Easter Sunday were downright terrified. John’s gospel paints a picture of a group of frightened, discouraged, downhearted DISbelievers! The crucifixion of Jesus had devastated them, and no matter what anyone said to them, they could not be shaken of their grief and sorrow. Though the women had shared the news of Jesus’ resurrection with the disciples, the disciples could not believe it, and they had to see for themselves.

John picks up that story in the reading we heard this morning. He begins by saying, “On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jewish leaders.” The disciples were locked behind closed doors because they were afraid. They were a timid, frightened group of followers, and it’s no wonder. Not too long ago, throngs of people were welcoming Jesus, waving palm branches and singing praises to him. Then, just a few days later, he was arrested, put on trial, and crucified on a cross. The picture John gives us is of a shell-shocked bunch of disciples who gather in hiding to mourn the death of their leader. But they also gather in a common fear, afraid of that knock on the door that will signal they are next.
Fear shut them out and anxiety locked them up. We know that feeling, don’t we? Ours is a world that is anxious and afraid. We live with the realities of school shootings, bombings, cancer, tornadoes, wildfires. All around this world there is terrorism and random violence. We worry about our health and our savings. We fear the future and dread the past. We fear the stability of our jobs and worry if our lives have or ever will amount to anything. We are afraid of sickness and the ever-present concern that as we grow older our bodies will give out. We fear diseases that have no cure and cures that have no effect. There are all sorts of things that make us afraid, all kinds of disasters that send us running for protection. And that is exactly what the disciples faced that first Easter evening.

It seems as if the lives of those eleven men were in ruins. For three years they had devoted their lives to Jesus. They had left home and family, jobs and security. They had dropped everything to follow him. They had seen him preach and teach, cure the sick and perform miracles, they had even seen him raise the dead and proclaim the word of God. And then they had watched him die on a cross! The worst of their fears had come true and now they find themselves caught in a whirlpool of anxiety. The mocking, the beating, the horror of his death had left the disciples a shell-shocked, frightened, disbelieving bunch whose worst fears were now a reality.

But then suddenly, that first Easter evening, as they huddled together terrified in that locked room, everything changed. In an instant, Jesus was with them, among them to soothe their fears. In the midst of all their worry and anxiety, the risen Savior came back into their lives. And his first words to that terrified bunch were, “Peace be with you.” That is what they most needed to hear. What they needed was their lives, their thoughts, their hopes and dreams back again. They needed to be set free from the fear that locked them in. They needed what only Christ could give them; peace, forgiveness, new hope, and a reason for living. And that’s exactly what Christ did for them. It’s what Christ does for us. He sets us free and makes us whole again. That’s what the peace of Christ is all about! Being restored to the goodness that God created in us, being made whole, being restored to live and love again without all the fear and anxiety. Christ gave the disciples peace because that’s what they needed the most.

And Christ offers us that same peace as well. It’s easy when troubles surround us and difficulties come our way to forget God’s promises and act as if Christ never existed. But when we are huddled in a tiny closet with storms whirling all around us, when we are lying in a hospital bed crippled by illness and disease, when grief or depression saps all our energy and our hope, Christ says, “Fear not!” That is God’s message for us today! Fear not, for my peace is with you too. “Peace be with you,” Jesus says. I have conquered death and the grave. Is there any bigger obstacle than that? I will always be with you. Though we stand behind the locked doors of fear and anxiety, Christ opens the door to the way of faith, and peace, and hope.

We can build up all the walls we want. We can try and hide from all the difficulties of this world, but Christ will find us there. More than anything else, when Jesus appeared to the disciples behind closed doors, he was showing them in an unmistakable way that there were no doors that could keep him out. There was no way they could ever be separated from Christ. There was no circumstance in which they would ever be alone.

That’s the good news that God brings us today. There is no closed door that can keep the love of God away from us. There is no lock that can shut God out. There is no dark room and no storm-ravaged corner of our lives that God will not enter, and there is no one, no one, that God does not love! That’s the answer to all our fears and anxieties! Certainly, we cannot live our lives without experiencing times of great fear and anxiety. In spite of all the hurt and harm the world can and does inflict, and even in the midst of all that unsettles us, God’s compassion and care are offered to us. Christ comes into our midst. “Peace be with you,” he says. I don’t care how bad tomorrow looks, how gloomy the prospects may seem, how dreadful the problem is, or how hopeless everything appears. Jesus says to us that with his presence, peace is possible.

Do you all remember that day all those tornadoes came through this area back in 2011? I remember one of the stories that emerged out of that very scary day. This man and his family had been taking cover in their laundry room when one of the tornadoes blew through their neighborhood. The tornado ripped a wall off the house, and before the man knew it, his son was being carried off by the tornado. The man reached out to grab his son, but as he did, the washing machine fell on him, and he and the rest of his family were trapped and unable to move.

Can you imagine the anxiety of that moment? Can you imagine being completely powerless and knowing that your son was out there somewhere in great danger? But all they could do was wait. They, along with hundreds and thousands of others that day, were at the mercy of the rescue crews. Then, a bit later, the family noticed a flashlight bobbing in the distance, and they watched as it approached where they were trapped in their home. Finally, they were able to see that it was some firemen, and with the men was their son. He had been carried quite a distance, but he emerged unhurt, and right where he could get the help his family needed. And that’s what Christ does for us. He was taken away, beaten, and crucified, but he rose. And he comes to us in our deepest need, ready to offer his peace and his love.

There is hope for each of us in the midst of all our anxieties. There is help when we feel like giving up. There is courage when we are tempted to hide; for there is one who can enter any room. There is one who can overcome any problem. There is one who can bring peace to every anxious heart. On this day and every day, he holds out his hands to us and shows us his side and says, “Peace be with you.” And if it’s hard for us to hear those words, if it’s hard for us to imagine that this story can be true in our lives, that’s OK. Jesus still has the power to give us what we need today and everyday. Praise God. Amen.

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