Easter People Behind Locked Doors

Andrew Finiish
As a Special Olympian, Andrew has run in many 1 mile “fun runs,” but he has always dreamed of finishing a 5k race. However, Down’s Syndrome and surgically-reconstructed knees have made it impossible. The good news is Easter transforms impossibility into reality.

1 Peter 1:3-9 NRSV

It’s the Season of Easter. The Lord is Risen. Christ is alive! Jesus is on the loose. The Messiah is on the move. And he’s coming for his disciples! He’s coming to offer them an incredible gift!

As our Epistle Lesson testifies:

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! By his great mercy he has given us a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead…” (1 Peter 1:3).

And where are the disciples?

The first verse of our gospel lesson this morning reads: “When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked…”

Jesus is alive. He is moving out in the world, and the disciples are inside a building, cowering behind locked doors.

Now, it is nighttime, a dangerous time in any city, and here in the city of Jerusalem on this night, maybe they had a good reason or two to lock their doors.

The most obvious reason being their fear that the religious leaders who organized to crucify Jesus would soon be coming after them. The ones who began plotting from the very beginning to put an end to Jesus and his message were quite possibly even now plotting to put an end to them.

So, who could blame them for locking the doors.

But then, there may be have been another reason those doors were locked.

Remember, Mary Magdalene has told them, “I have seen the Lord.”

And what do the disciples do? They lock their doors.

Could it possibly be that they did not know what kind of gift the Risen Christ was bringing to them: a new birth into a living hope through his resurrection?

Or could it be that they knew exactly the kind of gift Jesus was bringing?

After all, they were all witnesses to what had to taken place before Easter could happen: Before a new birth into a living hope could come, somebody had to pick up a cross.

So Jesus might be coming with the promise of new birth into a living hope, but before this new life can fully realized, there might be some more cross bearing to do.

And this was certainly no new concept for them. For they had heard Jesus say on numerous occasions: “to gain one’s life, one must first be willing to lose one’s life.”

They had heard Jesus say, the road to rebirth, the way to new life, the route to resurrection, the path to Easter, was very narrow and very few find it. For it’s a road of self-denial. It’s a way of self-expenditure. It’s a route of sacrifice. It’s a path of suffering.

So, when they heard that Christ was on the loose and he was coming with the promise of new birth into a living hope through his resurrection, of course they locked the doors.

Just like we lock our doors.

And my, my: The locks that we use! The barriers we create! The walls we build!

His way is just so radical, so revolutionary, so scandalous, we do all we can do to shut him out.

“I know Jesus said that he is ‘the way, the truth and the life,’ but we still prefer to do things our way, make up our own truth, live our own life.”

“I know Jesus said, ‘Blessed are the poor,’ but isn’t that the Salvation Army’s job?”

“I know Jesus never excluded anyone, but perhaps we ought not advertise that.”

“I know Jesus said ‘the first shall be last,’ but I still think we should put America first.”

“I know Jesus called women to be his disciples, and I am aware that whenever he had an opportunity, he elevated the status of women, but they really shouldn’t serve behind the table or preach behind a pulpit.”

“I know Jesus stopped the self-righteous from throwing rocks at a sinner, but if we are not careful we are going to make our church ‘a haven’ for all kinds sinners.”

“I know Jesus said that when we welcome the stranger we welcome God, but ‘pardon me, I believe you are sitting in my pew.’”

“I know Jesus said ‘forgive seventy times seven,’ but the Bible says those people are abominations!”

“I know Jesus said we could learn from Syrophoenicians and Samaritans, and he said, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself’ but surely he did not mean for us to love our Muslim neighbors!”

“I know Jesus said ‘there are other sheep who do not belong to this fold and we must bring them in also,’ but ‘You’re not a member of this church. So, what are you doing here?’”

“I know Jesus said feed the hungry, but we have to be fed too.”

“I know Jesus talked about being salt for the world, but are we going to let those people use our salt…and our pepper…and our sugar… and our sweet ‘n’ low?”

I want to suggest that it wasn’t just great fear that caused the disciples to lock those doors. It was also great courage.

For it takes some incredible nerve, some brave audacity, some serious brass, to lock the Risen Christ out of the building.

And sadly, ever since that first Easter evening, people who claim to follow the way of Jesus have been brazen in their attempts to thwart the way of Jesus.

Think about it. We have to be pretty bold to dare to reduce the meaning of the death-defying power of the resurrection. We have to be pretty brave to call ourselves “Easter People” and then water down the meaning of it.

I am grateful that church pews all over Enid were full last Sunday. However, I am afraid that the only reason many people came to church was merely to thank God that they, like Christ, will one day be resurrected to live forever. I am afraid the reason some church pews were so full on Easter Sunday was simply because “Easter People” wanted to remember Jesus’ resurrection and look forward to their own.

But if that is all Easter truly means, do you really believe those disciples would have locked those doors on that first Easter Sunday?

No, those doors were locked, because those disciples knew exactly what Easter means. They knew that Easter means the resurrection offers a living hope for this world, and not just for the next world. Easter is something to be lived today and freely shared with all who need re-birth and new life now.

But to do that, to offer that Easter hope to others, to truly live as Easter people, means that someone is going to have to pick up a cross.

It means that someone is going to have to deny themselves. It means someone is going to have to lose themselves. It means someone is going to have to open a door, leave a building, remove a barrier, tear down a wall, go outside, bend down to the ground, pick up a cross and walk in the steps of Jesus.

It means someone is going to have to share. It means someone is going to have to sacrifice. It means someone is going to have to suffer. It means someone is going to have to do something more than study a lesson, sit on a pew, sing a hymn and listen to a sermon.

So, the disciples, like you and like me, locked the doors.

Now listen to the good news:

When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked… Jesus came and stood among them.”

The good news is that the doors we lock, the barriers we create, the walls we build, will not thwart the way of Jesus! Despite our bold and brazen attempts to stop Jesus from coming, to shut him out, he’s still coming. And nothing is going to stop him or even slow him down.

And he is coming to lead his Easter people get out of the building, to pick up a cross and bring rebirth and new life to all whose lives have been diminished, to all those who have been de-humanized by poverty, disability, bigotry and hate.

And here is some really good news: To bring new life, by the grace of God, we may not have to hang on that cross. We might not have to shed any blood. We may not even have to get arrested. We just need to be willing to pick up a cross and carry it a little way. The Risen Christ will carry it the rest of the way.

Running 3.1 miles is nothing for Gary Hula. Gary has been running 26 miles before church on Sunday for the last several weeks in training for the Oklahoma Memorial Marathon. Gary can run 3.1 miles while reading the News and Eagle and drinking a cup of coffee!

But that is how far Gary usually runs while pushing someone with special needs for Ainsley’s Angels.  Just 3.1 miles. Takes Gary 20 minutes.

But after a 3.1 mile race last week, the mother of the 26-year-old man with surgically reconstructed knees and Down’s Syndrome, who rode in a running chair that this church purchased for just a few hundred dollars, said and I quote: “My son’s dreams have come to life.”

Can you hear the resurrection in that statement? Do you hear Easter in that mother’s voice?

The next day the risen Christ came and helped us to welcome some of the most impoverished people in this community for a meal in our Fellowship Hall. Now, we didn’t do that much. The Oakwood Country Club prepared all the food. All we had to do was warm it up and put it on some plates. We just had to show up, unlock a couple of doors, and invite people in. We just had to be kind to people, treat people as we would want to be treated.

But after serving that meal, one of the guests said to a volunteer: “Today, you have made me feel human again.”

Do you hear the rebirth in that statement? Do you hear the new life? Can you hear Easter in that woman’s voice?

The good news is that because the Lord is risen, because Christ is alive, because Jesus is on the loose in this world, because the Messiah is on the move, all we may have to do to be the Easter people the Risen Christ is calling us to be is to be willing to unlock a door.

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Baptized into a Living Hope

two rainbows1 Peter 1:3-9 NRSV

They were yearning for the good old days—days when their lives were far less chaotic, days when their lives had some sense of routine, normalcy.  They had been through so much; overcome so many storms.  It was no way they could handle anymore.  At the ends of their ropes, they had simply had enough.

There they were, tired and broken.  No lights, no power, no heat. As soon as they half-way recovered from one storm, another storm was almost on top of them.

With the angry Red Sea before them and Pharaoh’s Army behind them, they cried out to Moses, “We would have been better off dying as slaves in Egypt than out here in the wilderness.  At least they had fine cemeteries back in Egypt to lay our tired, broken bodies.  Out here, we have nothing!”

They continued: “Moses, we can’t take it anymore.  We can’t handle any more stress.  We can’t face another storm.  Moses, we can’t take another step.  We can’t go on any further.  We can’t fight another fight.”

It is then that Moses gives them the good news.  I believe it is one of the most comforting verses in the Old Testament.  To all the people who could not go any further, who had reached the end of their ropes, he said: “You don’t have to take another step.  All you have to do is be still, and the Lord, the Lord will fight for you.” 

And fight the Lord did, making a pathway through their storm, through the middle of the sea.  But God did not stop there. That’s what’s so great about our God.  Our God never stops there.  God then provided the Israelites with an all-you-can-eat buffet of quail and bread from heaven, even cool, fresh water from a rock.  And in their dark, cold world, God said to them, “I will be your light.  I will be as a pillar of fire leading you through this storm.”

This is of course what we call the Exodus story—the story of God providing a way when people thought there was no way, the story of a God not only granting salvation and life, but granting it abundantly.  It is THE story of the Old Testament.  It is the one story of the Old Testament that best describes how our God works in this world.  There is something built right into the very nature of God to create something very good out of something very bad, and abundantly so.

It should not surprise us then that the Exodus story of the Old Testament directly corresponds with the THE story of the New Testament—the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  The story of God making a way, when there was no way, the story of God not only granting life, but granting it abundantly, the story in the New Testament that best describes how our God works in this world—creating and recreating, transforming and resurrecting.    

When wine gives out at a party, God not only turns water into a little bit of wine for one or two people.  God makes 180 gallons of wine for everyone.  When night is falling on a hungry multitude, God not only feeds 5,000 people, God feeds 5,000 people with an abundance left over.  When angry, sinful people crucified Jesus, God not only resurrected him to reign in heaven.  No, God didn’t stop there.  God resurrected him and gave him back to the very same people who killed him.  And promises that one day, they too will be resurrected.

And the good news is that this New Testament story, this story of resurrection, which in a way is a culmination of the great Exodus story, is not just a story or an event in history to remember, and it is not merely an event in our future we look forward to, it is an event to be lived in the present.  In 1 Peter we read, that God has given us a new birth, we have been baptized into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.   

During this week’s winter storm, the second storm to cripple the South in four weeks, I was listening to the radio as people were calling in reporting damage, snow or ice accumulations, and sharing how they were coping. I don’t believe I will ever forget one woman who called in from South Carolina.  She said that a tree came down on her carport crushing her car and her husband’s truck.  And another tree is leaning on the back of the house.  She said, “We made a small pathway outside the back door so we can get outside.” 

The man on the radio asked her, “Do you have any place to go?  Can you go over to a friend or relative’s house?”

She said, “No, but we’re fine.  We have each other and the Lord is good.  I don’t have any power.  But thankfully my house has got a gas stove. And we have wood for the fireplace.  And I just made us a big ol’ pot of chicken ‘n dumplin’s!”

That is when the man on the radio said, “That’s one thing about us Southerners.  Our power can be knocked out.  Our cars destroyed.  Trees on the house.  Can’t get out the front door.  But, one thing’s for sure, we’re going to eat and we’re going to eat good!”

I laughed.  For I had been through enough hurricanes to know that was true.  I thought, “Yes, there’s probably no other place in a world where people go through a natural disaster and gain weight!”  However, I believe that radio jockey missed something else that was in that woman’s voice.

When that woman said, “The Lord is good.”  She was not referring to God being good raising Jesus from the dead in the past.  And she was not looking forward to one day in the future God being good and resurrecting her. She was talking about God being good in the present. In the midst of her storm, she had found a way when there was no way. She was taking a bad situation and making something very good come from it. She was living the hope of the resurrection, today.

This is especially good news for many of us.  For the snow and ice this week are just the least of our troubles.  We face so many storms. Crime seems be up as just in the past weeks we have seen both Southern Bank and Zippy’s robbed. And then there are the storms of sickness, cancer, heart disease, Parkinson’s disease, diabetes, auto-immune diseases—it’s everywhere we turn.  Someone we love is either diagnosed with something dreadful, or someone we love passes away.

And, at the ends of ropes, we feel like we cannot take another step. We cannot go any further. The good news is, that we don’t have to. God will fight for us right now, here in the present, and will make a way when it seems to be no way. God is here now, resurrecting and recreating and restoring filling us with the hope that although we cannot go back to the good old days, before the storm, before the diagnoses, before the accident, we can go forward with God into good new days.

 

Another man called into the radio station from Georgia this week to report that the sun was starting to peak through the clouds. And then he said, “And would you believe that there are two great big rainbows in the sky over the field behind my house!”

The radio jockey acted surprised, “really?” he said, “Two rainbows? How about that!”

But, from what we know about our God, none of us should have been surprised. Because that is just the way our God works.  God never stops at just one rainbow.

Benji, Anna, Johnathan and Jenny, your baptisms this morning, you rising up out of the water symbolize that no matter what storms come your way, you will always rise up. For God is going to be there, not to just remind you of something God did in the past–resurrecting Jesus, or something God is going to do in the future–resurrecting you.  God is going to be with you helping you live the resurrection in the present.  In the middle of your storm, there will always be a rainbow, and there is a good chance there may even be more than one.