Sermon of Christ Lutheran Church, Staunton VA
April 28, 2019
Pastor Robert McCarty
Preaching Texts: John 20: 19-29
You come today to receive the blessing from Jesus. Every year on the second Sunday of Easter, Jesus ends the gospel lesson by blessing those who have not placed their fingers in the scars and seen his wounds and yet believe. You have experienced God in the breaking of bread, the reading of scripture, and the fellowship of the faithful. Yet this blessing is for you who missed out, like Thomas in the first half of the story, and still have come to know Jesus Christ as the Son of God.
I love this blessing, but this week, as I read this Gospel passage, my heart and attention turned to the fear of the disciples locked away in the room. Churches bombed in Sri Lanka last Sunday, Easter Sunday. A Synagogue attacked in California yesterday, in the midst of passover. Mosques in New Zealand attacked to a horrific extent. Today, I understand their fear. It may seem like God is under attack. Even fires at churches fit that motif. The truth is a lot more complicated.
Music concerts in Manchester (Aria Grande) and a huge outdoor musical festival in Las Vegas. We have had to deal with school shootings for twenty years. There was a bombing at the Olympic Festival concert in Atlanta in 1996, so another musical concert. You may also remember shootings at places of employment—recently that includes the newspaper in Baltimore, a shipping company in Chicago.
It is not just churches that are under threat. All of that which forms community and gathers people together is under attack. That which gives us joy, and purpose, and fellowship. If you understand joy, and purpose and fellowship as gifts from the Creator, then yes, God is under attack, and it is more than just the faithful who are at risk.
No wonder the disciples gather in fear. You might want to lock the doors as well, cloister yourselves together. Hide out. But the question is not how long can you hide for? (You can get anything delivered now.) The question is not how long can you hide for, but if you hide, what are you living for?
Life gains purpose and spirit by that which builds community and gathers people together. Joy comes from the fellowship, purpose comes from employment and education. And hope comes—along with other gifts—from the worship of God. Hope tells us we are stronger together than we are apart and that we are stronger praising God than we are bemoaning the pains of creation.
I know this topic is not for everyone, and I will be brief. For those of you who have these questions, I will listen to your questions and try to give some answers the next three weeks in our Rejoice Sunday school class. I will be there at 9 AM with coffee. (People will wander in from before 9 AM, at 9:10, even later at 9:20 AM. I do not guarantee there will be coffee if you come at 9:20 AM.) Whenever you come, we will give you a chance to voice your questions. I have a video that might help us. My older son introduced this video to me the includes Christopher Hitchens, who before his death was a notable author and atheist. He wrote a book called God is Not Great. Mr. Hitchens struggled with some of the same questions that St Augustine and Martin Luther and Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Rabbi Harold Kushner struggled with. (Rabbi Kushner wrote the book Why do bad things happen to good people?)
That is what we will talk about next week. Why do bad things happen to good people? What does evil tell us about God? And your questions about Faith God Hope and Love.
Love often gets lost in all of this. Because of the love of God and because of the love we have at the church, places of worship place themselves in the middle of issues that matter. That makes us targets.
Churches placed themselves in the middle of the civil rights movement of the 1960s and that made them targets. Whenever there is war churches have a voice. Pastor Reynolds told me how during the last Iraq War, thirty Methodist Bishops went to Capitol Hill and said, “Don’t do this.” Churches and Mosques and Synagogues have reached out to immigrant communities for hundreds of years. Now, synagogues and churches and mosques are participating in interfaith dialogues to better understand and know one another, and some people don’t like that and what to stop it.
A couple of years ago this congregation willingly struggled with the question about same-gender marriages, because it was a social issue that mattered. We ventured into that conversation even though we have a variety of opinions on the subject. As church we will struggle with issues that matter, and we will not be deterred by fear. What happens here matters, and builds community, strengthens fellowship. We call purpose, “mission.” Joy, hope love all of that happens here.
We will gather like the disciples gathered. We will keep the doors unlocked, and we will trust that Jesus will cut through all our angst and break into our presence. Just like he does today and bring us a moment of peace. He tells us all today, “My peace I give to you.”
As you notice, Thomas misses out on the first part of the gospel lesson, which reflects other people who have missed out on Today’s message and worship and blessing of peace. We pray for their presence here next week, and take a moment to invite them in.