Growing Up: The Community that Renews Us
John 20:19-23
January 26, 2014

I have little doubt that almost all of us in this room remember where we were on September 11, 2001. My memory of that day also centers on the fact, that it was one of the most unusual if not the most unusual day for me as a minister. I recall that as the day began, the church that I was serving at the time had staff members in various places. Some of us were in the church office and others were out and about either on their way to or from appointments. Ultimately, we all communicated with each other and agreed to meet in the early afternoon. What I remember is that when we gathered, the main question on the table was how should we respond? What should we do? What opportunities and resources should we offer to our people? I don’t suspect there was anything unusual about that gathering. Rather, my hunch is that church staffs all over the country were having similar discussions that day.

What I also remember is that what quickly emerged as we talked was our collective sense that we needed to offer our people a chance to be together. We didn’t know what it was going like, we didn’t know what we were going to say or how our people were going to react, but, we simply sensed that we needed to open the church and to let our people know that we were going to come together to pray, share, read scripture and be with each other as we collectively tried to process what was happening.

I sense that a similar feeling was afoot in our text for today. This text is an interesting one. It is the story of how the disciples spent the evening after first hearing the unexpected and startling news that Jesus’ body was gone and the news from Mary Magdalene and the others that he was alive again. Generally when we read this story, we do so from the perspective of Jesus and from the viewpoint of his aliveness. After all, we usually talk about this passage on the days surrounding Easter which focus on the Resurrection. Yet equally important is the story from the viewpoint of the disciples and what happened as they came together to be with one another in the midst of that very confusing time. And, what strikes me and I would suggest should speak to all of us from the very beginning is the mere fact that they seemed to feel a collective need to be with one another.

For some reason, in the midst of their confusion, their collective response seems to have been to return to where they had last been with Jesus before the crucifixion that they might support each other, talk together and try to understand what was happening. In a very mysterious way, they seemed to all recognize that they needed to be with one another.

This morning, as we reflect on the importance of being a part of a community of faith or a church and the discipline of regularly being here, I think this is the appropriate and important place to begin — that somehow, in a mysterious but innate way, we as the church today like the earliest disciples, recognize in some basic human way that we need to be together on a regular basis as God’s people.

People express this feeling in a variety of ways. Our statements are as simplistic as “I missed being at church this week” or as complex as “I felt like something was missing from my life on Sunday when I had to be away from church.” All of this I think, speaks gently, simply and yet clearly to the fact that God has created all of us with a need and desire to be together regularly to worship and support one another as God’s people. It seems to simply be how we are made.

Yet, at the same time, having said this, what is it about being here, together that is so important? I think this text speaks to that question in two basic ways through these same disciples on that long ago Sunday evening.

On the one hand, they remind us, that when we are together, God offers us grace for where we have been. One thing that we often miss in the story of Jesus’ resurrection is the fact that this reality was likely at least somewhat unsettling to the disciples. Remember, the disciples had by and large let Jesus down in his last hours before death. They had betrayed him, denied him, questioned his statements and abandoned him. It was the women much more so than the disciples who had remained faithful to the end. It turn, hearing that Jesus may now be alive likely worried them. Certainly they were excited by the possibility but they were almost certainly also somewhat frightened.  What was he going to say to them? How mad was he going to be? How much hurt would he feel?

In turn, it is interested to notice the first thing Jesus said to them. “Peace be with you!” In fact, he says it twice. “Peace be with you!” “Don’t worry, let your fears and shame about the past go. Yes, I am back, but I still love you despite your poor decisions and failures.”

The same thing happens for us when gather. We come to this place so often with feelings of regret, unworthiness, sadness and self-disappointment. We are people with clay feet. We get it wrong more than we get it right and we worry that perhaps God is finished with us or that we are beyond repair and redemption. Yet, week after week, part of our innate need to be here is to be reminded of God’s grace for our past and to hear again God whisper into our ear that we are loved and important.

Back in 1990, the Boston Globe wrote a story about one of the most unusual wedding receptions every held in that city. It happened at the Boston Hyatt when a very well healed couple decided that they wanted to hold the party after their wedding there. Their plan was to spare no expense but with the finest china, wonderful food, beautiful invitations and a first class setting to throw a celebration for the ages. When it was all totaled up, they wrote an advance check for $13,000.

Well, as often happens, the groom got cold feet and decided to back out of the wedding. But, when the bride went to the Hyatt to discuss canceling the reception, she was informed that the best they could do was to refund ten percent or $1300. She was too close to the date of the anticipated party for them to give back any more — too much had already been prepared.

That was when she made a rather interesting move. She decided to go forward with the party but not with the planned guests. Rather, she threw an elaborate party for the current residents of several downtown Boston homeless shelters. For that one night, those homeless citizens were treated as the kings and the queens of the city.

The same happens for us each and every week. Out there, out there in the world our worth is dictated by our actions, our decisions and by our ability to do the right thing and to live up to everyone’s expectations. When we fail by and large the world lets us know about it.

But here, each week, God’s lavishes us with his love and reminds us that we are his. God whispers anew, “Peace be with you! I love you, you remain important to me.” And, believe you me, we all need that regular assurance.

On the other hand, the disciples also remind us that when we are together God offers us guidance for where we are going. The other thing that Jesus said as he gathered with his followers that night was “as the Father sent me, so I send you.” “I am giving you my ongoing presence through the Holy Spirit,” Jesus told them, “so that you can go out there and share with all of humanity, the same love and forgiveness that I have given to you. I have come to remind you of my love for you, but, I have also come to give you your marching orders yet again. You need to go and offer this same love to the world.”

That is why we come here too. Yes, we come to be reminded that God loves us but also that he loves the world too. But, we also come to remember that we have a job and a life focus. We come so that God can remind us that the work of the Kingdom of God should be the most important focus in our lives for the next six days ahead. For without the reminder, we are prone to forget no matter how often we have heard it before.

I was curious about something and so I checked. Since there seems to be an App on the iPad for pretty much everything, I wondered about Reminder Apps. With one search I found over 40. You might want to take notes at this point. Did you know there are Apps that will remind you to take your medicine, of anniversaries and birthdays, to get up from your desk and stretch at appropriate intervals, to drink enough water each day and to eat right and watch your calories? My personal favorite is an App called the Aida Reminder. It allows you to set countless alarms and even voice reminders. They can go off one time, every day or even once a year so that you won’t forget anything that you need to remember.

The point — we as human beings are prone to forget. Even in the span of just seven days, we forget. We forget that God loves us and we forget that nothing is more important than loving him and the world. We forget that our faith defines our lives and how we are to live them.

And yet, in God’s wisdom, when we come together to start the week, in quiet, reverence and openness — we have the gift of all gifts- the chance to remember again…Amen.