Easter’s Second Miracle

John 20:19-31

April 12, 2015

I love the story about the Texas rancher who one day bought ten small ranches and put them together to create the largest spread in the Lone Star State. One day a fellow cowboy asked him, “Say, what are you calling your new place?”

“Well,” he said, “one thing I didn’t want to do was to forget the history and the heritage behind this big old piece of land. So, I have named my new ranch The Circle Q, Lazy B, Golden Horseshoe, Bent Arrow, Sleepy T, Triple O Ranch.” “My gracious!” exclaimed his friend. “I’ll be you have got a might big head of cattle on that place.” “No sir, not really” said the newly minted land baron. “Not many of them are able to survive the branding!” (From Mark Feldmeir in his sermon The Ants in the Pants of Faith, April 6, 1999)

The truth is that in life, a lot of folks never overcome the branding they receive either. There is not much debate that in 2015 we are quick to judge, label and make conclusions about other people. And, truth be told, we are often the victims of quick decisions, hastily reached conclusions and devastating knee jerk judgements ourselves. Again, it all leads to a lot of branding for them and for us that is tough to survive.

If we think about it, Jesus’ disciples could have quickly been branded too. After all, as we talked about on several occasions over the last weeks of the Lenten Season, the disciples’ faithfulness to Jesus in the final days and hours of his life could be classified as nothing more than an epic failure. When Jesus needed them most, they were nowhere to be found.

By the evening hours of the first Easter Sunday, John’s gospel tells us that things had not improved very much. For one, the disciples were meeting behind closed doors. This move was apparently out of fear which signified that no matter what they thought or felt about having already seen Jesus alive once, their fears of the Romans still had not been alleviated. Second, while they may have been unable to recognize their own issues and deficiencies, one could also read the text to suggest that the disciples were more than eager to point out the lack of faith and belief that Thomas expressed.

If things had changed at all for the disciples from the passion and death of Jesus until this moment, the needle had not moved much. Without question, even in the early wake of the first Easter, the disciples continued to show their weakness, their flaws and their human fallibilities.

I remember being a part of a group that was working with a group of children one time many years ago. It was in a Vacation Bible School setting and the story for that day happened to be the resurrection story. I seem to recall that I had taught the story that particular day and was asking questions of the children about this moment from Jesus’ life. One of the questions that was asked was why Jesus had come back from the dead. One of the little boys raised his hand and answered rather enthusiastically, “to tan those disciple’s hides!”

If we didn’t know the story, I think many of us would see that answer as very logical and practical. For from a human standpoint, their hides probably needed a little tanning particularly in light of their woeful levels of commitment to Jesus. And, yet, it is in this very moment, that a second great miracle of Easter takes place and its one that we often overlook.

Without question, Jesus’ decision to continue to invest in and place the future of the church that would carry his name in the hands of these fragile, flawed disciples is indeed miraculous. His life’s work and the future work of the Kingdom of God was to be entrusted to them. It was a bold, gracious, amazingly unexpected decision.

God’s continued grace toward and trust in us is equally miraculous. When everyone else gives up on us in light of our flaws and our failures, God continues to believe. This is true of not only you and I as individuals but it is also true of the church. I read a lot, these days, and I am sure you do too about all of the issues, weaknesses and struggles of the church. A lot of cracks are showing in our facade as a people of faith. And, without question, we need to pay attention and learn from these critiques that are often well founded and worth thinking about.

But, what this often leads to is a decision by people both inside and outside of the church to label the body of Christ as being no longer relevant. This conclusion is reached, however, with a total disregard of and ignorance toward church history that goes all the way back to the beginning. From the outset, the church was led by ordinary people who struggled to make wise decisions each day like everyone else. For two thousand years, this reality has never, ever changed. And, I have news for us, it isn’t going to change. Again, that isn’t a cop out but it is a reality. Furthermore, the first person, to risk trusting such questionable folks with leadership was Jesus himself in this very text we are looking at today.

Last Sunday afternoon, we watched Driving Miss Daisy at our house. I love that movie and am particularly fond of Morgan Freeman as Miss Daisy’s driver named Hoke. Toward the end of the movie, Hoke gets a job offer from someone who knows Miss Daisy and her family. They offer to pay Hoke more money to come and be their driver. Out of loyalty, Hoke goes to see Miss Daisy’s son, Boolie, who pays his wages. Ultimately, as you likely know, Boolie agrees to give Hoke a raise to keep him working for he and his mother. As Hoke is about to leave the meeting, he says to Boolie, “Mr. Werther, you ever had someone fighting over you?” “No..” Boolie replies. To which Hoke says, “well it sure feels good, it sure feels good”.

It does feel good to know that someone would do anything to have us for their own. It feel good to now that God feels this way about us. And, it feels good to know that God loves us as we are and sees us as we can be. God is the eternal optimist in terms of you and I as individuals and in terms of the church. And, God invites us to be eternal optimists in relation to each other.

At the same time, as was the case with the eleven disciples, this continued grace, faithfulness, and optimism comes with expectation. God doesn’t shower us with grace just so that we can feel warm and fuzzy inside. God expects us to do something with this gospel.

In our text, two thoughts emerge in this regard and they emerge by being mentioned more than once. First of all, Jesus’ grace wanted to compel them and wants to compel us to live out our faith publicly. In other words, He didn’t want their being behind locked doors, a reality that is mentioned twice, to be a permanent thing. He wanted his aliveness and his abiding confidence to compel them to live courageously out in the open.

It is easy for us to live out a locked door faith too. It is easy for our faith to become confined to this place called the church or to a neighborhood or community bible study. It is easy for our faith to become confined to our homes. It is easy for our faith to be lived mainly when we are among those whom we know to be believers and thus rarely see the light of day in our public lives.

I am proud of our students here at First Baptist. Last fall, they decided to give our youth group a name. Its a name that at least conveys what they are trying to become as followers of Jesus. If you have noticed, they have a t-shirt with their group name on it and other items that display that name and their logo. There is also a banner as you enter the gym that includes the name. It is Diverge. The word diverge means to deviate from the norm. To be willing to be different, unique, set apart. That is mainly a public idea of faith. There is no need to deviate from the norm in here or when we are with fellow believers for we are all alike. Deviating is what happens when we dare to take faith out there. That takes courage. And, it doesn’t simply take courage for them. It takes courage for all of us. Yet, God’s grace and the Easter story should compel us to move out from behind our doors to live this way.

At the same time, Jesus’ continued willingness to believe in the disciples and to believe in us also involves a calling to live at peace and without fear.

As we read a few moment ago, did you notice how often Jesus said the words “peace be with you”. I think that at least part of the reason was to hammer home to the disciples the fact that if he still loved them and believed in them after all of their mistakes in recent weeks then they needed to know that this feeling toward them wasn’t going to change. This should put them at peace, free them from worry and give them the unencumbered ability to reach for the stars.

How often do our fears keep us from being courageous? A lot. But, beyond that, how often do our fears of failure and loosing people’s faith in us, keep us from living with abandon and with a willingness to do whatever we feel led or compelled to do? Almost every day I would argue.

Jesus, however, said to the disciples and Jesus says to us, “be at peace. I still love you, no matter what you have done in the past. This means that I am still going to love you no matter what you do in the future. So, go out there and give life your all! Live without fear of failure. Live risking everything. And, be at peace as you try to be all that I have created you to be as my child. Risk it all without worry for yourself and risk it all without worry for the sake of the kingdom.” For whether we fail or whether we succeed, God’s love for us remains. Without a doubt, it is far better to try and fail than to sit here with God’s grace in front of us, not willing to try at all.

While our service has been underway today, the last round of The Master’s Golf Tournament started. In the very first group to play today is a man named Jeff Knox. Mr. Knox is not a professional golfer. He is a regular member of Augusta National Golf Course. He is also the member who is the best golfer so he has a rather interesting responsibility. On Saturday and Sunday of the tournament, when the players play in twosomes, if there are an odd number of players and one will have to play alone, Jeff Knox the member, becomes the playing partner to a professional for the day. He has done this now for 12 years. But, he recently admitted something when asked about the task – he is still afraid. He said “it is only after I get that first shot off the tee and into the air that I am okay”. There is still a need every year to prove himself, to prove he belongs.

Jesus says to us, “you have my grace and thus you have nothing left to prove and you have nothing left to fear.” So, go out there, unafraid, and give life your best for your sake and for the sake of the Kingdom of God. Amen.