Today's Gospel text begins with scared disciples in a locked room. I can imagine them sweating profusely and can even see some occasionally checking the doorknob to see that it was locked. Other disciples might have been looking out of a peephole or a window because of the fact they were now fugitives because their beloved leader, Jesus, has been executed to death on the cross by the means of crucifixion. The disciples fear the Roman and religious authorities that murdered Jesus would possibly murder them for being associated with this radical, itinerant preacher from Galilee. There messianic hopes have dissolved into mere survival, coupled by utter confusion and calamity. But the evangelist John records that Mary reports to them that she has seen the risen Christ. I am sure they thought she was delusional to have witnessed Jesus. In John the 20th chapter, around verse nineteen, something happens when Christ shows up to them.
My first point is that when Christ shows up He gives us Peace. This verse says that the first words that Jesus provides to those disciples that have abandoned him and left him on an old rugged cross is Peace, not "How could you leave me abandoned to die?" I thought we were a band of friends that would stick together through the turmoil of death as he looked sarcastically at Peter. But Christ came through the locked doors in His glorified body and brought the fearful men peace. Note that twice He speaks of peace (vv. 19, 21). The first "peace" is peace with God, based on His sacrifice on the cross. That is why He showed them His hands and side. The second peace is the peace of God that comes from His presence with us. The prophet Isaiah declares in Isaiah chapter 26, verse three, that "thou wilt keep him/her in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on thee," because their trust is in thee. As a good Lutheran, Romans 5:1 tells us that "therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ."
Peace be with you, Jesus says. But how can we can have peace when there is conflict in the Middle East and Libya? How can we have this peace when there are earthquakes and tsunami victims in Japan? How can we have peace when the economic realities of the recession are the worst we have seen as a nation since the Depression? How can we have peace when those who are marginalized socially, economically, politically, have no voice? How do we find peace of mind? How do we empty our minds of all the worry, fear, resentment, and pain that living in this sin sick world brings? How do we find that peace that Christ promises us? One man said that he had been told that one way to achieve inner peace is to finish the things he's already started. He said, "Today I finished two bags of potato chips and a chocolate cake. I feel better already." This outlook perhaps can give us temporary peace and helps to relieve stress--not your waistline--but when Christ shows up, he gives us Peace.
After he gives us Peace, he gives us Power. Verse twenty-two tells us that "when he said this he breathed on them." John, unlike the gospel writer Luke-Acts, forfeits the experience of Pentecost which records the coming of the Holy Spirit in Acts chapter 2, but says in this moment that Christ breathed on his disciples has great significance. Our Lord's breathing upon them is reminiscent of Genesis 2:7 when God breathed into Adam. This action toward the disciples was personal and individual, giving them the spiritual power and discernment they would need to fulfill His commission. In Ezekiel 37 we see the dry bones of an old battlefield come together as skeletons and then organs and tissues and kin, but they laid there like corpses until verse 9. "Then said he unto me, 'Prophesy unto the wind, prophesy, son of man, and say to the wind, "Thus saith the Lord God; Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe upon these slain, that they may live."' So I prophesied as he commanded me, and they lived, and stood up upon their feet, an exceeding great army."
The fact that Christ breathed on them gave them transforming power that commissioned them to be changed. Christ gave them power through his breath and they were transformed. Christ wants to transform us with his breath....I am so glad that God transformed us....Come here, Moses, tell me what God can do; he can turn a murderer into a leader....Come here, David, tell me what God can do; he can turn a lowly shepherd boy into a king....Come here, Nehemiah, what can God do; God can turn a cup bearer into a wall builder....Come here, Jeremiah, I wonder what God can do; he can turn a cry baby and make them a prophet....Come here, Mary Magdalene, what can God do; he can a turn a so-called harlot and make them an apostle and first witness to the Resurrection. Christ's power is not temporary but everlasting.
I am most certain that if you, like me as a child, one of your favorite cartoon series was Popeye the Sailorman. As you recall, Popeye was regularly brutalized by Brutus. Brutus would often seek to wreak havoc in the life of Popeye in all kind of ways. He would try to steal Olive Oyl. I never quite understood why, but that was part of his program. He was always beating up Popeye until Popeye just couldn't take it anymore. And after he had taken all he could stand and he couldn't stand any more, he would reach for that can of spinach. After he had done everything he could to get that can of spinach and swallow it, things changed. Brutus was now the victim and no longer the victor. Brutus was now subject to this new infusion of power that Popeye possessed, and for a while at least Popeye was on top. But you could bank on this one thing: by the time that cartoon ended and another Popeye cartoon came on, he was losing again. So he needed another can of spinach. I am here to declare that we serve a risen Christ that has given us peace and a power by breathing on his disciples that is not subject to how much spinach we consume, but is a power that can transform our tempests into triumphs. When Christ shows up, he gives us Peace, he gives us Power, he gives us lastly Purpose.
This is our purpose. We are to be: a mouth to speak for Jesus; feet to run errands for Jesus, hands to do the work of Jesus, and a heart to love Jesus. In the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America expresses this in these words: God's Work, Our Hands.
One of the ways that you know a bowler is serious about bowling is that they have custom-made balls. These are constructed to have the appropriate weight and grip so that they fit the particular bowler's uniqueness. To have your bowling ball custom-made is to increase the possibility of effective delivery so that you can hit the mark. When Christ shows up in our lives, it displays the purpose for all of us. God has constructed every member of his body in a customized way. God has uniquely crafted everyone of us to hit the mark of His purpose and calling on our lives. We are not an assembly line with the same automated parts. We have been uniquely crafted for His purpose.
On this Pentecost Sunday, Jesus still breathes upon us and shows up in our darkest hours and says, "Peace." What a gift. And in recognition that we are all equally inherited, ours is a common confession: Jesus is Lord.
A song that I grew up hearing by Baptist deacons in the back woods of Greensboro, Georgia, and is still one of my favorite songs captures the affirmation that we should feel in knowing that Christ has indeed showed up. The lyrics are like this: "No! Never alone. No! Never alone. Oh he promised never to leave me, never to leave me alone!" Beloved, God has promised never to leave us alone--never, no not ever, no never leave us behind, abandon us, give up on us, or send us back! If your heart is troubled today about the future, you need to grab hold of that promise--God will never forsake you. As for the future, that is what the whole Easter event is all about. The same God who raised Christ from the dead watches over you and will not leave or forsake you. Our response in knowing that Christ has shown up to give us Peace, Power and Purpose is to tell it now to all: "This is that which was promised of old; the Spirit of God is with us."
Let us pray. Eternal, benevolent God, we thank you that in our darkness hours you come to us and give us the words of peace. Lord, we thank you on this Pentecost Sunday that you still give us the breath of life, the same breath that you gave Adam, the same breath that you give to us. Allow us, Lord, to be carriers of your Spirit, to be recipients of your grace by transformation, by the way we talk, by the way we walk, that people will be able to see the light of the Holy Spirit within us for this changing world, for this changing community, for such a time as this. In Jesus' name we pray. Amen.
- Everyday Miracles: The Inner Art of Manifestation (New York: Bantam, 1996), p.50. Cited in Seven Miracles of Management by Alan Downs, Prentice Hall Press, Paramus, NJ. 1998, pp. 125-126. New Leaf Press, Green Forest, AR, 1997.
- Evans, T. Anthony. Tony Evans' Book of Illustrations: Stories, Quotes, and Anecdotes from more than 30 years of preaching and Public Speaking. Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2009.
- Dean Merrill. The God Who Won't Let Go (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 1998), p. 105.