s025g99 Somerton Park 11/4/99 Second Sunday of Easter
"Jesus came and stood among them and said, "Peace be with you."" (John 20:19).
One of the passages of the bible beloved by disciples is the picture in Revelation:
"Listen! I am standing at the door, knocking; if you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in to you and eat with you, and you with me." (Rev 3:20). There must be countless stained glass windows of this scene - Jesus in a scarlet robe, carrying a lantern, knocking on a wooden door surrounded by foliage. And in times past I have preached about God being the perfect gentleman, waiting to be invited in.
And in some senses this is true. God cannot act within our lives against our wills. It is magicians, hypnotists and charlatans who attempt to do this - and we rightly resist any attempt at coercion. Anything that demands we let go of our own wills is not of God. Our inhibitions are given for good purpose.
But for all this reassurance, I want to point out that Jesus did not knock on the door of the upper room where the disciples were "for fear of the Jews". I am grateful for the perception given to me some years ago that in all probability, the Jew the disciples most feared meeting, was Jesus himself. In their own estimation, I am sure that none of them considered their contribution towards the kingdom of God in the very recent past was particularly glorious. All had essentially left Jesus to his own devises.
Last Sunday I spoke about Jesus going before the disciples to Galilee. God has got a mission, and it is up to the disciples to keep up with the risen Jesus, not to do his work for him. The impression I get from the accounts of the various appearances of the risen Jesus, is that far from Jesus being restored to the former position at the centre of the small band of disciples, Jesus transcends that completely. He is here one minute, somewhere else the next. In the gospel reading for last Sunday, Jesus didn't wait at the tomb after he was raised, for the women to perchance come to see the tomb. An angel is left at the tomb while the risen Jesus is off elsewhere, doing other things. Jesus comes back from wherever he was to talk to Mary Magdalene and the other Mary, but then only to repeat the words the angel had told them already.
There is a distinct urgency about God's mission - and Jesus hasn't got the time to wait for us to answer our door. For there are other doors the risen Jesus has to knock on - there are more people who need to know of God's love than just us. The risen Jesus is not raised to be restored to his former place as the leader of the band of disciples - his provenance is far, far wider than that. So too the risen Jesus is not restored to a central place as the leader of the Church.
The message of the risen Jesus to the fearful disciples was "Peace" - not accusations or recriminations. And they are sent - as the Father sent Jesus - not with accusations or recriminations, but with the same message: "Peace".
I point out that the disciples are surely bidden to forgive the sins of those they meet, though the opposite is of course a logical possibility. And I wonder if the most frequent sin we will need to forgive others is the "sin" of believing in different terms to us. I really wonder if believing in different terms to us is actually a sin anyway. How frequently do we think of these words when we are confronted with someone who comes from a different tradition within Anglicanism, let alone from a different denomination or faith.
And I ask the question: Are the words primarily directed towards ourselves, as the "descendants" of the disciples, or towards others? Last week I also quoted from Antony Campbell's article in "Eureka Street", and he goes on in the article to talk about forgiveness: "Forgiveness is given by the lover, ultimately for the lover's own sake ... Forgiveness is not merely a charity I extend to the offender; it is also and above all a gift I offer to myself for my own healing and wholeness ... Is there any point in begging for forgiveness? ... Where love is strong, forgiveness can be there for us before there is any move on our part ..." Or as I say to my confirmation candidates when we come to the appropriate place in the "Catechism": "Who do we hurt if we store up malice and hatred in our hearts?" Certainly not the person we hate. We are bidden to forgive, that we might be whole.
We are bidden to forgive; the words are not directed to the "world" to tell them where they might, if they say the right things, make the right noises, gain absolution. The words are directed towards us. We are bidden to take the initiative.
Or as the second of the great commandments puts it: "do unto others as you would have them do unto you" - not - "when someone does something nice, respond appropriately ..."
In the season of Easter, there is a spirit of freedom - the doors which were locked were no barrier to Jesus.
There is a spirit of dynamism - things are happening that we daren't ignore. God has spent all of eternity looking for the man and the woman who had hidden themselves in the bushes because they suddenly realised they were naked - as if that fact mattered to God. The paradigm has not changed one iota. God still seeks us out to say "peace" - naked or clothed. Jesus has gone before us to the Gentiles, and beyond, to do precisely that.
For as disciples of Jesus, we know that we have nothing to fear. We know that the message is truly one of peace. And yet clergy know only too well the experience of people who shy away from us simply because we are clergy. One would think that the world thinks we have supernatural knowledge of things they did wrong 30 years ago. I spend enough time lamenting the things I did 30 years ago to worry about anyone else's sins. As the widow of Zarephath said to Elijah: "What have you against me, O man of God? You have come to me to bring my sin to remembrance, and to cause the death of my son!" (1 Kings 17:18). Elijah ignores the question and deals with the sick boy.
And so often others who know not the peace of God, erect barriers or assume barriers exist, disqualifying them from communion with God. It might be past sins - but it might as well be simply not wanting that communion. And perhaps this is because it comes dressed in such high falutin' language, when all Jesus wants to say is "peace". And Jesus wants us to hear his "peace" not so that he can have another disciple to add to his parish roll, but so that we don't have to climb over others to gain self respect.
Of course the reality is that we all have our walls behind which we hide, myself as much as anyone else; but these walls can't keep out the message of peace, simply because the message of peace doesn't batter down walls to get in. It would hardly be a message of peace if it were to do this. Like the risen Jesus appeared to the frightened disciples, "peace" appears to us as we hide behind the walls, simply because it accepts the walls. That peace invites us to unlock the doors ourselves, that we ourselves might stride into the real world of life and love.
So all is not rosy in the garden. God does have an agenda, an agenda of love and acceptance which we ignore at our (own) peril, and the peril of all humanity.
Jesus has no interest in demolishing our inhibitions but that we act in love toward our brother and sister. And that will be to accept their inhibitions and barriers, their reticence and shyness. In this way we too will allow the word of "peace" from Jesus to get behind those walls, but only in invitation, never in demand.
Let us praise God that Jesus is raised, that the message of Easter continues to this day, and that the risen Jesus continues to come with a message of peace, for us and for all.
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