Good morning, my friends.
I’m glad you’re here today.
All of us at The Kirk are grateful for the ties that bind us together
in Heartland Presbytery, for your friendship and your encouragement in the faith.
Sometimes our work has us so focused on our little piece of the pie
That we forget how God has an entire bakery goin on
With so many good treats in the oven for hungry people to savor.
Not to go overboard with a metaphor:
–But when we worship together,
–when we gather in plenary
–Or around shared mission, as some of us at The Kirk have begun to do at the invitation
Of our friends at Second Presbyterian Church
With our Be The Church Sunday in October,[i]
(I know many of you have your own examples of shared mission)
–Or when we share our resources
for disaster relief through Presbyterian Disaster Assistance
For fighting hunger, for helping people develop their own lives well
Through our giving to One Great Hour of Sharing
–Or today, when we will offer gifts to the Heartland Youth Encounter
When we do these things,
we see more clearly how our slice of Chocolate Cream or Apple or
If we’re really on top of it
Maybe its Strawberry Rhubarb pie…
We see how our own particular slice is one of many many goods
Available in God’s wonderful Bakery.
I did go overboard with that metaphor. Wow.
So I am glad you are here today.
And I’m honored for a chance to preach for our worship today.
I’ve not preached since Easter.
That’s a strange thing: you go go go through Lent, to Palm Sunday and
Then Maundy Thursday and Good Friday and maybe for some of us
A Holy Saturday or midnight vigil or Sunrise service, and then
The emotions and the energy and the brilliance of the resurrection itself
The empty tomb and the wonder that follows
just the movement of that morning
All of it pushing forward, pushing outward into the world
As the awareness of that amazing gift slowly becomes real.
If you live it, it kind of knocks you over. And you are ready to get moving.
To go out and be part of all that energy and wonder and excitement.
This is Easter, you know. Easter.
I am surprised how hard its been not to be in the pulpit since Easter Sunday.
I had to travel last weekend.
I didn’t really feel that power of Easter walking from terminal to terminal at some airport
Going from Uber to hotel to meeting back to Uber and home again.
I wanted Easter! Give me resurrection excitement. Give me new life!
Instead I dealt with turbulence at 28000 feet. A different kind of excitement, to be sure.
Besides, I love these stories the first few weeks after Easter.
Sure, A friend and colleague filled in quite admirably for me,
And, as more than one of you have told me,
it is a designated “Associate Pastor Preaching” Sunday after all
on some church calendars with more than one pastor on staff.
But these post resurrection stories are so rich,
So full of possibilities, and hope
Both of which I know many of us in this room seek to have more of
In our individual ministries, in our churches,
Possibility and hope.
So last week it was John: the disciples, huddled in a room,[ii]
The door locked, the shutters drawn
And Jesus comes,
And he stands among the ten remaining apostles hidden away there
Peace be with you
And they are astonished and they see and they touch and they
Ten? you say. I thought there were twelve?
And that’s true. But one was Judas, he’s not there
And other was Thomas, the twin,
who was out running errands or something
stocking up on milk and cereal and bread and fish…who knows
When he gets back with all the groceries
those others are quick to tell him
“Thomas, Thomas, it was Jesus. Just as Mary said
He is risen! He is risen!”
“But, you know, guys. I’m not so sure. I’m not so sure…
It would have been nice to be shown his hands and his side
Like you all were shown…
That’s the last time I volunteer to go to Price Chopper.”
A week later, though, the door is closed, locked, again
they’re all still there,
And again comes Jesus, he stood among them
John says, and there it is again: Peace be with you
Dear Thomas: look. My hands. My Side.
I’m here for you, whatever you need to believe.
A beautiful, inimitable story about the persistent will of God
To come to us with God’s transforming grace.
God will come to you: that’s the stuff of possibility.
When the doors of your life are locked
God can come and stand, even there
With an offer of peace.
That’s the stuff of hope, real hope.
That was last week.
Today we have Luke’s version of these encounters.
A bit different.
But many echoes that ring so similar
that there’s a comfort in considering them side by side.
Listen, you may hear them:
The Easter Gospel, from Luke:[iii]
36 While they were talking about this,
Jesus himself stood among them and said to them,
‘Peace be with you.’
37They were startled and terrified,
and thought that they were seeing a ghost.
38He said to them,
‘Why are you frightened,
and why do doubts arise in your hearts?
39Look at my hands and my feet; see that it is I myself.
Touch me and see;
for a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.’
40And when he had said this, he showed them his hands and his feet.
41While in their joy they were disbelieving and still wondering,
he said to them, ‘Have you anything here to eat?’
42They gave him a piece of broiled fish,
43and he took it and ate in their presence.
44 Then he said to them,
‘These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you—
that everything written about me in the law of Moses,
the prophets, and the psalms must be fulfilled.’
45Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures,
46and he said to them, ‘Thus it is written,
that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day,
47and that repentance and forgiveness of sins
is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations,
beginning from Jerusalem.
48You are witnesses of these things.”
May God bless to us our Reading
And Our Understanding
And Our Applying of these words,
To how we live our lives. Amen.
I’m thinking about those locked rooms.
The locked rooms we seek out, for safety
Or the rooms from which we try to break free.
The New York Times had an article this week about a booming franchise opportunity.[iv]
Derailed Subway Cars
These are usually the stuff of nightmares or Hollywood theatrics.
But, apparently, more and more people are building locked rooms
that mimic these sorts of situations
finding people are willing to pay 40 or 50 dollars a person
for the opportunity to try to get out.
These so called escape rooms are all the rage.
My eleven-year-old daughters have been to six this school year already
Birthday parties, one holiday bash
Nora, my oldest twin, even devoted a school research project
to the escape room phenomenon.
According to the New York Times
In 2014, there were 22 escape room companies in the United States
Now, there are more than 2000.
One of the most successful, Mission Escape Games,
Opened in 2014 in New York City. They now claim operations in four different cities
And attracted 140,000 unique visitors last year alone.
These are ornate games: groups of four to six people, typically
You band together to decode clues, find secret items
You discover hidden doors
Trying to get out of the locked room in under an hour.
I know many of you have that very goal for this presbytery meeting.
If this interests you, there are locations in Union Station, River Market,
Lees Summit, Down here in Park Place. You have your choices.
That’s one kind of room we lock ourselves in, voluntarily.
There are other locked rooms in our lives, some of which are, well, more terrifying.
My wife’s grandfather was from central Nebraska
His professional life started just after the Second World War,
When he bought a backhoe.
He went into business constructing fall out shelters
In the backyards of farmers and school teachers and bank tellers
During the height of the Cold War.
With enough provisions, you could rush down there when the sirens wailed
And huddle for oh 6, 8, 10, 12 months.
How depressing, that sort of business must have been?
How hopeless, to contract with someone to prepare to survive nuclear winter?
All those shelters had a lock on them.
There was another newspaper report I saw this week,
this one by video-journalist David Botti,[v]
He was describing what it is like to experience an air attack.
Did you see that video? Its just horrifying.
You see a plane, or a drone, or a missile.
Do you run? Do you wait? Do you hunker down?
I can’t imagine how many locked rooms
There are in Syria this morning.
My undergraduate alma mater, Grinnell College, sent us news in the last couple of years
of a new security system installed on campus
Sophisticated locks on all the dorms and office buildings
To enhance security after concerns about assaults have been raised.
Back in 2013, in the days following the death of Travyon Martin
President Obama offered a passionate reflection about what it meant
To be a person of Color in America:[vi]
“There are very few African American men in this country
who haven’t had the experience of being followed
when they were shopping in a department store. That includes me.
There are very few African American men
who haven’t had the experience of walking across the street
and hearing the locks click on the doors of cars.
That happens to me — at least before I was a senator.
There are very few African Americans
who haven’t had the experience of getting on an elevator
and a woman clutching her purse nervously and holding her breath
until she had a chance to get off. That happen[ed to me].”
We have our own locked doors, in our lives, in our day, in this world.
These are just a few. You can name your own.
Not just the ones we create for our own amusement.
We lock ourselves up, out of imagined fear, or because of actual danger,
or sometimes just from boredom
And then we wonder about the roots of anxiety gripping our neighbors or our kids.
Our very selves.
But here’s the thing:
the Easter Gospel won’t let us dwell just on our locked rooms.
That’s the heart of the resurrection story:
Into every closed place, through every shut door
That’s where the risen Jesus comes.
Look. There the disciples are, John reports: doors locked, ready to ride it out
And Jesus comes, and stands there, and offers them his Peace.
There the faithful are gathered, Luke recounts
Sequestered inside, trying to make sense of these idle tales
these strange appearances to friends walking to neighboring Emmaus
And Jesus comes, and stands there, and offers them his Peace.
Into every closed place. Through every shut door.
That’s where the risen Jesus comes.
Well, to be more precise, that’s where Jesus stands.
Each of the accounts uses that verb:
Jesus appears, and STANDS among them, and shares his peace.
Now, I’ve been that preacher who took the opportunity, at this moment
To go through how the authors are trying to give resurrection bona fides here
This wasn’t a ghost. Nope. Can’t be. This Jesus asks for breakfast. He’s Hungry
“Hey Thomas, when you went to the store, did you pick up any fish per chance?”
Ghosts don’t do that. What ghost needs to eat?
“Hey everyone, look at these wounds still on my hands. See my side.
Its me. I mean it. Not someone else. You’ve not mistaken me. Its really me.”
That Jesus, who met them there
It wasn’t a phantasm, or a spirit, or some wild dream they all shared.
No, this Jesus STOOD there. Right there. That’s why they all make that point.
Jesus Stood, its says.
Planted his feet right in their midst, in that closed and locked room.
It really was him. Christ is risen!
And that’s true. That’s a fair reading of the story.
But this time, reading it again, in the aftermath of a Syrian bombing
In the social unrest of our national body politic
In a world of school shootings and Narcan and special prosecutors
I’ve come to hear it as so much more than just a point
Asserting the bodily reality of the risen Jesus.
Jesus DOES something by going right there,
Into the locked room
And STANDING. Planting his feet in the very heart of our concerned lives.
Without it, there is no awareness of the resurrection
No opportunity for transformation
No freedom from the things that ensnare us, that bind us, that entrap us, that lock us in.
But because Jesus stood there, in the locked room:
there is the possibility of an encounter that can change everything.
New life: right there.
Fresh perspective: right there.
A mission to leave those locked rooms and to go and serve: right there.
It doesn’t matter which of the three gospels you read:
All three of them have the disciples, shortly after this encounter, heading out to serve.
“Do not be afraid, go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee.”
Says the risen Jesus, according to Matthew.[vii]
And when they got there, they got commissioned:
“Go and make disciples, baptizing and teaching. I am with you always…”
In the Gospel of John, the very next scene after the story of Thomas[viii]
Has the disciples now, lo and behold, outside
At the Lake of Tiberius,
Far away from that locked Jerusalem hideout
“Feed my Sheep” the risen Lord tells Peter there.
“Come! Follow me!”
and Luke, after today’s reading, the very next section:[ix]
“Jesus lead them out, as far as Bethany…”
And there they await the gift of the holy spirit, the establishment of the church.
The pattern is unmistakable:
Into every locked room
Into your locked room
The risen Jesus comes, and stands among us
Shaping our worry and our fear and remaking it
into hope, into purpose, into mission.
We have so many locked rooms.
This isn’t anything I need to tell you, my friends.
keeping neighbors of different races or nationalities or cultures
or partisan identities apart.
Locked communities, trying to hoard our things
while the poor march for equity.
Locked churches, circling the wagons
Wondering how to give up the things that hinder our renewal
But which are so comfortable, or safe.
But thanks be to God that, into those places,
Into our places: our God comes, our God stands,
God asks us to not be afraid.
Peace be with you. Now come, lets get out of here…
The lines that startle me, every time
I read the Confession of Belhar, our denomination’s newest addition
To the Book of Confessions,[x]
The lines that startle me are the lines that talk about where Jesus stands.
I can’t get that image of where Jesus Stands out of my head, This week,
as I ponder the impact of the resurrection on my life,
On our lives, this morning as we gather as Heartland Presbytery.
“We believe” says the Confession of Belhar
“…that the church, as the possession of God,
must stand where the Lord stands,
namely against injustice, and with the wronged.”
“We believe…that the church must therefore stand
by people in any form of suffering and need,
which implies, among other things,
that the church must witness against and strive against
any form of injustice
so that justice may roll down like waters,
and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.”
How many locked places we’re called to seek out!
How many closed rooms we are called to go stand in the middle of
Bearing the peace of our Lord Jesus!
That, my friends, is the stuff of Easter.
That’s new life
That is real possibility
That is lasting hope, for us, and for the world.
That is the stuff of the transformative power of God
To bust open our locked places
and to shower them with the love and the grace of God.
That is the word of God, calling to us this, and every, Easter morning.
As we do our work, today
As we dream of the ways we can be the church of Jesus Christ for the world
May we, always
Look for where Jesus is standing
Those hardened places
Those shackled rooms
And lets go stand with him.
Let’s go bring God’s compassion to the world, with him.
Let’s go bear God’s peace, with him.
Let’s go feed the hungry, with him.
Let’s go change the world, unburdened by the anxiety of our age
Unlocked and set free to do amazing things
because of the inimitable, prodigal love of God.
May it be so.
[iv] Aili McConnon, “Breaking Into the Boom in Escape Rooms: What Entrepreneurs Need to Know” April 11, 2018. https://www.nytimes.com/2018/04/11/business/escape-room-small-business.html (Accessed April 14, 2018)
[vi] Transcript of President Obama’s July 19, 2013 remarks are available at The Washington Post. https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/president-obamas-remarks-on-trayvon-martin-full-transcript/2013/07/19/5e33ebea-f09a-11e2-a1f9-ea873b7e0424_story.html?utm_term=.1d26d8e79002 (Accessed April 14, 2018)
Image: Christ is Risen At Saint Andrew’s Church in Blenheim Cresent.