2019 APR 28 “A Quieter Pentecost”

THE WORD    John 20:19-31

      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 for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”

      But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.”

      A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.” Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”

      Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.

MESSAGE     “The Quieter Pentecost”      Rev. Jim Renfrew

     When do you feel most connected to Jesus, in the noise of activity or in the quiet of contemplation?  How does God usually get your attention, in a mighty thunderclap or the rustling of the leaves in a light breeze?  Does the Spirit grab you roughly by the arm and propel you in a new direction, or does the Spirit just sit with you as you think and pray, slowly bringing out the best in you?

     This story from John’s Gospel usually draws our attention to Thomas and his unreadiness to accept the good news of the resurrection.  But there are some other parts of the story also deserving more of our attention.  I’ll get back to Thomas in a moment.

     When Jesus appears to his disciples in the locked room, it is a time of fear.  We can imagine the disciples saying to themselves, “Keep that door locked.  First, they came for Jesus. Next, they’ll come for us.  Lock that door!”  Peter and John had seen Jesus risen from the tomb, and told the others, but they are still in serious fear, soul-crushing fear.  So they are hiding behind the locked doors.  Stuck and not knowing what to do next.

      In a way it reminds me of how we all have been affected by the resurrection story.  Jesus is alive, and we celebrated that story with great joy last Sunday.  The choir sang their hearts out.  The children found the hidden Easter eggs in record time, and loved the surprises held in each one.  Easter is a story that fills out hearts with joy.  There were 171 people in worship last week, with 45 children.  Wow!  But a week later our worries, suspicions and fears are still overwhelming us.  We witnessed the greatest story the world has ever seen, but nothing has changed.  We are right back where we started.  Help us, Jesus!

      Then, in today’s story from John’s Gospel, Jesus appears, and it is one of the most intimate of all the stories about Jesus.  They are afraid, more afraid than they’ve ever been, and it is at that moment that he appears.  Jesus appears not when they have achieved perfection of thought, belief and faith, but when everything they thought they knew has crashed and burned.  This is when he appeared.  So in those moments when you have felt lost, defeated, and afraid, that’s especially when Jesus comes looking for you. Not to criticize, not to complain, not to judge, but to lift you up.

      The more dramatic version of the story of Jesus returning to them is Pentecost, when the Spirit comes to anoint them with new purpose and strength.  It is a dramatic story with powerful wind, tongues of fire, and the people eagerly telling the story of Jesus Christ in a cacophony of languages.  We will celebrate Pentecost on June 9th, and what a day it will be!

      This story from John is a quieter Pentecost.  The Spirit is given not in the public square involving thousands of witnesses, as told by Luke in the Book of Acts, but in this small group of disciples in the upper room,  behind locked doors.  No rushing wind, no tongues of fire, but a simple intimate act of Jesus breathing on them.  Can there be a more intimate experience of Jesus than this? 

      So think of how Jesus breathes on you in quieter moments like this.  It’s more subtle, it’s easier to miss, but the result is the same, the heart of God touching your heart.  Jesus’ breath, felt in a soft breeze at sunset, felt in a gently rocking boat on nearly still waters, felt as the words of a special song sung so softly that you nearly miss them, felt as the gentle squeeze of a friend’s hand, felt as his quiet response to your prayer.  

      I loved finding the cover picture for our bulletin.  It was done by an artist from Japan, China or Korea.  You see subtle hints of Jesus’ breath weaving among them, but most of all you see expressions of surprise, joy and hope.  That picture represents my hope for every Sunday service that we celebrate, the gentle Spirit of Christ flowing around us and through us, equipping us, changing us. 

     Yesterday we sent a team of nine youth and adults to Presbytery’s Neighborhood Mission Day in Batavia.  There were nearly 40 youth and adults in involved in Batavia.  Our group went to the YWCA for a morning of painting.  I am especially proud of our two 9 year olds, whose enthusiasm for painting may have exceeded their skill level, but the room they painted looks great.   We found out that that room is where the coordinator of the YWCA’s Domestic Violence program works.  I like to think that Jesus breath was all around us as we painted, creating a welcoming space for families in great distress.  On our return home my granddaughter proudly told her grandmother on the phone, “It looks like I fell in the paint bucket!”.  Being touched by the Spirit can do that!

      The Bible text we used to guide our Mission Day was this same one from John’s Gospel.  The final verses tell about how Jesus did many other signs that are not included in John’s Gospel, and I’ve always been a little frustrated that more of these stories are not included.  But John was smart, knowing that written evidence will only take us so far, that we have to see the signs of resurrection for ourselves.  As we reflected on the Mission Day, we began by describing how each one of us can be a sign to the world of Jesus alive, but at the end we realized that those signs can be seen in the people we are helping, too.  So there it is:  we are signs of resurrection hope, and we met people who were signs to us!  That’s what we discover when our churches are out in the world.  

      And to finish, a short word about Thomas.  Years ago, as a student intern at a small church in New York City, I asked Mary John, a nurse from India, to tell us about the Christian missionaries who had brought the faith to her village.  Usually a very nice, quiet lady, she jumped all over me for the utter naivete of my question.  It was the Apostle Thomas himself who came to her village, she told us.  Her answer gave me reason to reassess my thinking.  I thought it was the Portuguese or English who brought the faith to India, but I was off by 1500 years.  Her Church of Mar Toma in South India had heard about Jesus from Thomas long before Europe ever did.  I underestimated Mary John, and I underestimated Thomas, too.  Thomas was not a man of doubt, but a man with a story to tell! 

     And here is where I end.  Jesus breathed on those frightened disciples, and left them with a life-giving, life-changing story to tell.  Jesus breathes on you.  What life-giving, life-changing story will you tell?  Take a deep breath, and breathe it out.  Amen

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