April 15, 2018, Meanwhile, Back in the Locked Room – Mtr. Kathryn Boswell
To listen to this sermon, click here: Z0000077
People complain, from time to time, about how there just seems to be nothing but bad news on TV and radio and in the newspapers. So, sometimes news stations, especially Christian stations, try to make people feel better by airing “good news” stories about people who do kind and heroic things, and that does make us feel better. But the reality is that there is more pain and suffering and grief and darkness in the world than we will probably ever really be able to fathom. And we aren’t acting in love, or with faith, if we refuse to see the evil in the world around us. We’re more like the three monkeys of the old proverb that “Hear no evil, and see no evil, and speak no evil”, covering our eyes and ears against things that are too horrible or scary or sad, covering our mouth because we can’t bear to speak of them.
The news this past week or so has seemed particularly dark. We have been hearing about the desperate situation of the refugees from the civil war in Syria for so long now that we almost become numb to the statistics and the pictures on the news – 5.5 million men and women and children who have lost everything, their homes, their villages, their way of life, their country. Most have lost family members and friends. Can you even imagine how many people 5.5 million is? It just becomes a bewildering number. I am very thankful to Joe for keeping them faithfully in our prayers every week.
But this week everything got even worse. The people of Syria who have not fled their country were attacked by their own leaders, some kind of chemical attack that left dozens of people dead and many injured. We saw pictures of little children with oxygen masks on, and babies, crying in fear and pain. And now, for better or worse, and who can really say at this point, the US and its allies have sent air strikes to bomb Syria in retaliation, while Russia makes threats and accusations against the action.
And then, yesterday, there was a report on the news about an 8 year old girl in India – her name was Asifa – who was kidnaped and gang-raped and murdered, because her family was Muslim, and their Hindu neighbors wanted to get them out of the area. Some of the murderers, it turned out, were local policemen.
And in our own US of A. lest we think that kind of thing doesn’t happen here, there was a story yesterday of a 14-year-old boy in Detroit, who got lost walking to school and stopped at a house to ask for directions. And because the boy was black, the man in the house got out a shotgun and shot at him.
How can we face the reality of a world in which there is that kind, that immensity, of evil, and hatred, and violence? How can we not cover our ears and our eyes to shut out the pain? How can we not be terrified and overwhelmed. The only real answer to those questions is in the locked room on the night of the first Easter, where the risen Jesus suddenly appeared to his terrified and overwhelmed disciples.
Because here we are again, on the third Sunday of Easter, and we still find ourselves coming back to that locked room. We still find ourselves face to face with the man who was dead and buried. And the disciples aren’t the only ones who arrive at the obvious conclusion that maybe they are seeing Jesus, but only in a spiritual sense. Obviously, it must be his ghost, they thought, though that wasn’t a particularly comfortable thought at the time.
But modern man is a lot more comfortable with the idea of spirits, and people today find it quite easy, and not at all scary, to jump to the same conclusion as the disciples. Very eloquent theological books have been written about the “human” Jesus and the “Easter” Jesus. There is – or I should say, there was, the human Jesus, who was a charismatic leader and a gifted teacher, and an unsuccessful political radical, and that Jesus’ dry, dusty bones are comfortably buried in some rocky cave in the Holy Land. But then, there is the “Easter” Jesus, and he, or it, is the warm feeling in our hearts and the love we have for our fellow man. And that, so they say, is the Jesus that never dies – but only because he isn’t, strictly speaking, alive, except insofar as he “lives” in the hearts of his people, etc. etc. It’s a ghost!
But the terrified disciples were wrong, and that modern theology is useless nonsense. The Jesus in that room was no ghost; he was not a frightening vision from the grave, and he was certainly not a warm fuzzy feeling. And he made sure that they had no doubt about that. “Touch me and see,” he said to them, “Do ghosts have flesh and bones?” It wasn’t only that he was showing them the wounds of his crucifixion; he wanted them to know beyond the shadow of a doubt that it was a human body that stood before them, flesh and bones and human DNA and all. And that was so hard for them to take in at the time that they were tempted to doubt even their own senses, though joy was beginning to seep into all the cracks despite their doubts. “Look,” he said, “is there anything to eat in this place?” And someone found a piece of broiled fish, and held it out to Jesus in shaking hands. And he ate it. He chewed and swallowed. He tasted the goodness of it. And then, finally, they knew it was really the Jesus they knew.
And everything we believe depends on that truth. Because if Jesus is just a spiritual energy or idea or force or feeling, then the power of our faith is no greater than our own power. Human beings can be very powerful when they unite their strengths and purposes. Human beings are sometimes very noble and very brave and very good. But the truth is, in the end evil and war and hatred and pain are more powerful than human righteousness, and death always gets in the last word.
But if the Jesus in the locked room is truly living flesh and blood then it has been revealed once and for all that he has power over death itself. If the Jesus in the locked room is flesh and blood – and that is our claim – then our faith is in someone who is strong enough to conquer all of our enemies, even the most powerful.
Because the only God worth having faith in is the one who offers real hope to the children in Syria, and to the homeless refugees, and to the Muslim family grieving the loss of their little girl, and to the black Mom whose son’s life is in danger when he stops to ask for directions. And even real hope to the men who are so afraid and so full of hate that they commit these unthinkable atrocities. The only God worth having faith in is the one who is stronger than all of our very real enemies. The only God worth having faith in is the one who has power to heal the cancers of fear and greed and racism that are eating away at our poor world.
Meanwhile, until he returns, the Jesus of that locked room, the Jesus who alone is entirely worthy of our faith – he has given us just one commandment, and that is to love. Love might mean weeping for the pain and suffering that we see around us, when we would rather not see it at all. Sometimes love hurts. Love might mean forgiving someone who has hurt us. Sometimes love is really hard. Love might mean doing everything we can to understand and show kindness to someone who is different from us, rather than passing judgment on them, or being afraid of them. Sometimes love has to go the extra mile, or turn the other cheek. Love might mean speaking out in the face of injustice. Sometimes love is dangerous.
We have put our faith, our trust, in a God who doesn’t close his eyes or his ears, who doesn’t remain silent in the face of the suffering and evil in the world. He knows the suffering of the world; he knows the sorrows and the fears of each person. We believe in a God who lived among us and shared in our suffering so completely that he handed himself over to those who betrayed and murdered him. In Psalm 10, David wrote, “to you the helpless commits himself; you have been the helper of the fatherless. O Lord, you hear the desire of the afflicted; you will strengthen their heart; you will incline your ear to do justice to the fatherless and the oppressed, so that man who is of the earth may strike terror no more.” Only in Jesus do we find both perfect love and perfect power, both perfect sinlessness and free forgiveness, both divine Spirit and human flesh and blood. Only the Jesus who appeared to his friends in that locked room on the first Easter is worthy of our faith, and the faith of the whole world.