Sunday, April 8, 2018
On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the doors being locked where the disciples were for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, "Peace be unto you."
What does fear do to us sometimes? It shuts the door on great opportunities. Fear is the exact opposite of the faith by which Christ has called us. Today’s lesson from John’s Gospel tells us that; on the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for FEAR of the Jewish leaders, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you!’ After He said this, He showed them His hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord.
We can identify with these anxious, fearful disciples of Jesus. After all, it was the Sunday evening following Jesus’ crucifixion. This had been a traumatic weekend for them. Can we blame them for cowering nervously in the Upper Room? The doors were shut, says John, “for FEAR” of the Jewish leaders.
It's tragic any time the doors of the church are shut because of fear. There was a time when all the churches in our country were never locked. Few churches would risk that today. There are some who harbor so much fear that they’re afraid that someone we don’t know will come in, someone that we won’t like, someone who may take something from us, hurt us, try to cause us harm in any way or heaven forbid carry the church away.
I'm sure many of us will remember when other doors were shut, in those allegedly golden days of old when many of us were growing up. For example, there were doors shut against people of other races. How tragic is it, when fear, which is at the heart of any prejudice, shuts the doors of a church?
How tragic is it when fear shuts the door of a person’s heart? Which happens to people too. They withdraw into their own private worlds because something “out there” is just too threatening. How about you? Are you living behind closed doors because of fear?
One reason the disciples were hiding behind closed doors may have been the rumors spreading in Jerusalem after Jesus’ crucifixion. John says that the disciples were behind closed doors because of “fear of the Jewish leaders.” There’s no clue in Scripture that such fears were justified. There’s no evidence that the violence of that terrible weekend went beyond the torture and death of Jesus. But there were rumors.
Rumors are always that way. Sometimes the results of a rumor is relatively mild. In 1973 on The Tonight Show, Johnny Carson repeated a rumor that had been making the rounds in local newspapers that local stores were running out of toilet paper. You want to guess what happened? That week, millions of shoppers ran out and stocked up on extra toilet paper just in case the rumor was true. It was a national phenomenon. Just the rumor of a possible toilet paper shortage almost led to a real toilet paper shortage all over the U. S.
Rumors can sometimes supply us with a self-fulfilling prophecy. Rumors fly that the country is running out of toilet paper and, because of the fear caused by the rumor, people start buying it up and soon the country nearly does run out of toilet paper. Sometimes, however, the power of idle rumors can have much more tragic consequences.
Idle rumors can ruin a life. They can start a rebellion. They can trap good people behind closed doors because of fear. There was nothing to indicate that the Jewish leaders intended to harm any of Jesus’ followers, but there were rumors and that was enough to destroy the sense of security for those first followers of our Lord.
We should be able to identify with those early disciples. There’s a lot to fear in our society. That fear is often fed by rumor. We’ve perfected the rumor mill in our society. We have the press. There’s no paper or television station willing to waste ink or air time on GOOD news. Bad news IS good news for the nation’s media. A steady stream of bad news feeds many people’s fears.
And we have blogs on the Internet, many of them described as “fake news,” that are devoted to encouraging people’s fears. Fear can be so irrational. Did you know, for example, that you are 11 times more likely to die from a stroke than to be murdered? If we were as careful to watch our diet as we are to lock our doors at night, we would all be in much better shape. The disciples were cowering behind locked doors, because of the spread of rumors. So we can say it another way, the disciples were cowering behind closed doors because they had temporarily misplaced their faith. These weren’t atheists or agnostics that Jesus had called. They weren’t religious scholars by any means, but they clearly knew the Psalms. They probably grew up reciting, “The Lord is my shepherd.” in their synagogues. They were familiar with Joshua and Moses and the other heroes of the Old Testament. They knew that the Lord was the Rock of their Salvation who would never forsake them. Where was their faith now, the faith that had helped them since they were infants?
Besides, they’d been with Jesus. Some of them for three years. How many times had Jesus told them not to be afraid? In case you didn’t know this, there are 366 “Fear not!” verses in the Bible, one for each day of the year and an extra one for Leap Year!
When a time of crisis came along, they’d gone back to acting as they did before Jesus ever called them to follow Him. Where was their faith?
It’s like that small boy who was riding a bus home from Sunday school. He was very proud of the card he had received that day in class which had a picture and a caption that read: “Have Faith in God.” Then he panicked when the card slipped from his hand and flew out the window. “Stop the bus!” he cried. “I’ve lost my ‘faith in God!’”
The driver pulled the bus to a stop, and as the boy climbed out and went to save his card, one of the adult riders smiled and made a comment about the innocence of youth. A more perceptive adult observed, “All of us would be better off if we were that concerned about our faith.”
Under stress, something like that happens to us. We temporarily misplace our faith and go back to acting as if we never heard the Gospel. We do this even though we know that faith is our greatest ally. Those who trust in a good and just God never lose hope. They are perennial optimists. Such faith not only makes us easier to live with but is also of great benefit in dealing with some of our greatest fears.
The disciples had a hold on the handle of anxiety. They were hiding behind closed doors because of the spread of unfounded rumors. They were hiding because they misplaced their faith. And they were hiding behind closed doors because they felt abandoned.
There was something about the presence of Jesus that gave them a sense of calm even in the presence of danger. There was that time that He calmed the storm and walked out to the boat where they were huddled. The first words He spoke were: “Fear not. It is I.”
Where was He now? Crucified. They thought His body was stolen from the tomb. Absent from them in flesh and in spirit. There they were, sheep without a shepherd, children whose parents had abandoned them and left them to face the cold cruel world on their own.
One of the greatest fears of childhood is a parent leaving them in the church nursery for the first time. Deep in the hearts of many children is the fear that their parents are never coming back. That fear continues with us over a lifetime. This is one of the most crippling results of divorce on some children. Why has Daddy abandoned me? Doesn’t he love me anymore? Teenagers have the same fear when they learn of the death of a parent. We’re usually not aware of it, but that emotion stays with us through our entire lives. A new widow or widower will often have an overwhelming sense of abandonment. That is the same experience as life without God. But God hasn’t abandoned His people.
The story’s told about a small village in Poland the day the Nazis came to town. It was on a Sunday and the people were in church worshiping when troops of the Third Reich swarmed into the village. The soldiers entered the church and ordered everyone outside. They set Church on fire. Then the soldiers pointed their weapons at the congregation.
But instead of shrinking in fear, these people began to sing “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God.” Remember, it was a German, Dr. Martin Luther, who wrote this hymn. The people in the congregation as well as the German soldiers grew up singing this hymn. The people sang a verse, and then went on to the next verse, waiting for the bullets. They expected that rifle fire would stop their singing. But the bullets didn’t come.
Finally, looking around at the German soldiers surrounding them, they were astonished to see guns lowered and every hardened Nazi face, filled with tears. The soldiers, one by one, two by two, slowly turned and climbed back into their trucks and jeeps. They pulled away from the little town. The soldiers left behind a congregation of the faithful, standing outside their burning church, singing.
The disciples huddled behind closed doors because they felt abandoned. But they weren’t abandoned. Listen, here’s the Good News. Christ can penetrate the closed doors of our lives. Listen to the reading from John’s Gospel once again; on the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the doors being shut where the disciples were, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, ‘Peace be with you.’ When He had said this, He showed them His hands and His side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord.
There’s the best antidote I know to the fear that so easily besets us. It’s to experience the presence of the Risen Christ, to see the marks of His love for us in His hands and side, to hear Him say, as He said to those early disciples, “Peace be with you.”