“Armchair Reading – Part I”

John 20:19-31; Judges 6:33-40 (MSG)
South Presbyterian Church – April 27, 2014
The Reverend Deborah Fae Swift


       Today’s message is going to be a little different. 

       Well, ok … it’s going to be QUITE different.

       For one thing, I’m not going to roam around … I’m going to sit right here in the rocking chair.

       And for another, I’m going to have the scripture integrated with the sermon. We’ll do both of them at the same time, not in the serial fashion we usually use where scripture is read and then I explain it.

       Y’see, too often I think we hear scripture in CHUNKS. There’s one reading that’s always done on Easter, for instance, and then the week after, we almost always hear about Thomas and his doubting (or his verifying if you want to think of it in a positive light), then next week there’s the story of a sighting of the Risen Christ, and on it goes.

       But there’s something to be said for reading it as an ongoing story which is why many of us liked The Story when we read it together three or four years ago. And that’s also why I like the translation called The Message. I don’t use it for EVERYTHING, but it’s really nice if we just want to read and get a new take on what we’re reading.

       So think of today as just a little interactive story time. J


       Ok. Let’s begin.

John 20:19-31The Message (MSG)

19-20 Later on that day,[that would be Easter Sunday], the disciples had gathered together, but, fearful of the Jews, had locked all the doors in the house.[We talked last week about how this was a DANGEROUS time for us followers of Jesus because the people in power were afraid of us. We had managed to empower the PEOPLE … the people that were usually silent and helpless … the people who were easily pushed around. Along came JESUS who told them that the last will be first … that the MEEK will inherit the earth.

This was radical STUFF that he was teaching. And as we know from watching other countries rising in their own  self-determination … if someone BELIEVES they have worth, it’s hard to treat them as if they DON’T have worth. They just won’t do what you tell them anymore.

So the disciples … the close followers and students were together in a house with all the doors locked, and] Jesus entered, stood among them, and said, “Peace to you.”

[How did he DO that? How did he get into the house if everything was locked?  We don’t know. It doesn’t say. We just know that he did. And]Then he showed them his hands and side.

20-21 The disciples, seeing the Master with their own eyes, were exuberant. Jesus repeated his greeting: “Peace to you. Just as the Father sent me, I send you.”  22-23 Then he took a deep breath and breathed into them. “Receive the Holy Spirit,” he said. “If you forgive someone’s sins, they’re gone for good. If you don’t forgive sins, what are you going to do with them?”

[WHOA!  What the heck does THIS mean? Can’t you just see Peter and some of the others … first off, they’re SHOCKED to see him.

Remember … who found the tomb empty?  Mary Magdalene. And what did she do?  She went and got the others … Peter and John.  And they ran to the tomb but did they SEE anybody?  No. So they went back to the others.

It was Mary who stayed, saw the angels and then saw the person she thought was the gardener but it turned out to be Jesus. It was MARY who ran back to tell the others, “I have seen him.”  But until THIS point THEY hadn’t seen him.

So all of a sudden … in the middle of a LOCKED room stands their master who just APPEARED out of nowhere. And he says to them, “PEACE to you.”

Yeah, I’d need peace, too … seeing my dead teacher after I’d witnessed his torture and execution???? You better BELIEVE I’d need peace.

But he just assumes they’ll catch up so he keeps going … and his explanation? Just as my Father sent me, so I send YOU.

In other words, you can’t STAY here cooped up in this locked house. Go on. Get out. Do what you’re supposed to do. I’m SENDING you.

And THEN he breathed the breath of the Spirit upon them and told them of the power that they now had by virtue of the Spirit … if you forgive people, they are forgiven; if you don’t, they aren’t.

What does this remind you of … this breathing the breath of the Spirit into them?  (Adam being created … and maybe of Pentecost.)

Pentecost … the account that we know and usually read … the birth of the church which happens 50 days after Easter (hence, PENTEcost) is LUKE’s account of how the church came to have the spirit of God in it.

THIS is JOHN’s version.

This is John’s version of the church receiving the power of the Holy Spirit. Jesus breaths the breath of the Spirit into the disciples and tells them to GO OUT … you can’t stay in this house … I don’t care how bad or how SAD you feel … you’ve got WORK to do.

Now, you KNOW that SOMEBODY in there had to be thinking, or might even had SAID … “But Lord … look at all we’ve BEEN through. You can’t expect that we’re just going to go on like nothing has happened. We need time to ADJUST. We have to get used to this idea that things are going to be different. We have to figure out how we’re going to worship … WHERE we’re going to worship … if the NURSERY SCHOOL is going to still be part of the church … J  

Oh no … wait … that’s US.  Not the disciples. WE are the ones who think we need to wait and let the dust settle.

Huh … kinda funny, isn’t it?

WE think we need to go slow and let things happen when we’re more comfortable with them. Yet what WE have been through … voting to sell our building and move on to a new kind of ministry … that’s NOTHING compared to what THESE GUYS and gals went through seeing their teacher  … their FRIEND … truly TORTURED and killed in front of their very eyes.

THEY were traumatized.

We are … what?  What are WE? … inconvenienced? J

And even in their traumatized state, Jesus says to THEM … Get OUT of here. Go do your WORK. Just as the Father sent me, I send you.]

24-25 But Thomas, sometimes called the Twin, one of the Twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. The other disciples told him, “We saw the Master.”

… he said, “Unless I see the nail holes in his hands, put my finger in the nail holes, and stick my hand in his side, I won’t believe it.”

[In other words, this guy didn’t BELIEVE it. He must’ve been representing the members of the group who said, “This is too good to be true.”  Or maybe the ones who said, “No, it can’t be the Master. He’d never send us out THIS soon.  Or maybe he was the one who said, “But it would be so much better if we did it THIS way.” 

That was Thomas’ role.

And it was an IMPORTANT one.

I can tell you that two thousand years later, he’s the one I identify with the MOST because he is the HONEST one who says, “Whoa … wait a minute. I need to SEE him.”

26 Eight days later, his disciples were again in the room. This time Thomas was with them. Jesus came through the locked doors, stood among them, and said, “Peace to you.”

27 Then he focused his attention on Thomas. “Take your finger and examine my hands. Take your hand and stick it in my side. Don’t be unbelieving. Believe.”

28 Thomas said, “My Master! My God!”

Y’know in OUR case, I think that Thomas would be like the ones who have questioned and doubted that what we are doing is the best or the right thing by selling the church … which has been SEVERAL of us at one time or another.

We NEED our Thomases… just as the disciples needed him. He ARTICULATED what needed to be SAID.

And y’know WHAT?  HE was the one that Jesus RESPONDED to. Thomas needs to see me?  OK, Thomas. Here I AM. You need to put your hands in the holes?  C’mon up, Buddy …  put ‘em right here.

Blessed are those who ask for what they need for they shall be comforted.

When we decided to list this property on the market and look for a developer or a buyer, we put it out there in the Universe that we’d like to stay here for free or maybe for $1.00 a year.

WE knew it wasn’t logical. But it was, in some ways, placing a fleece before the Lord.

You might remember that story from Judges 6, right? It’s one of my favorites. Let me just tell you a bit about that … I’ll start reading from Judges 6, verse 33.

33-35 All the Midianites and Amalekites (the easterners) got together, crossed the river, and made camp in the Valley of Jezreel. God’s Spirit came over Gideon. He blew his ram’s horn trumpet and the Abiezrites came out, ready to follow him. He dispatched messengers all through Manasseh, calling them to the battle; also to Asher, Zebulun, and Naphtali. They all came.

36-37 Gideon said to God, “If this is right, if you are using me to save Israel as you’ve said, then look: I’m placing a fleece of wool on the threshing floor. If dew is on the fleece only, but the floor is dry, then I know that you will use me to save Israel, as you said.”

38 That’s what happened. When he got up early the next morning, he wrung out the fleece—enough dew to fill a bowl with water!

39 Then Gideon said to God, “Don’t be impatient with me, but let me say one more thing. I want to try another time with the fleece. But this time let the fleece stay dry, while the dew drenches the ground.”

40 God made it happen that very night. Only the fleece was dry while the ground was wet with dew.

That practice of putting something out there so that we can get a sign from God that we understand is the practice of placing a fleece before the Lord, and in essence, that’s what we did last fall.

We said … we want to follow you, God … but we need to know that it’s really YOU. So … how about you make something happen which is not LIKELY to happen (like the fleece being DRY with dew but not the ground around it … because usually it would be the other way around. Usually whatever is lying on the ground will get wet first. The dew SHOULD have been on the fleece (like it was the first time) but this time it was on the GROUND as Gideon had asked).

So… we know it’s not logical, God … but let’s ask for an ability to stay here while we figure things out, but to do it for FREE … or maybe for a dollar a year.

How much clearer could God MAKE it?  We

OK … a dollar a month instead of a dollar a year.  Call it INFLATION. J  But really … God WANTS to be in relationship with us and so God finds ways to help us BELIEVE.

And that’s what THOMAS did. If this is Jesus … I need to SEE him. I need to TOUCH him.

So Jesus shows him.  BOOM!

OK, Thomas. Here ya go.

Did Thomas TOUCH him?

Not as far as we know.

As far as WE know, having the OPPORTUNITY to touch him was enough for Thomas. He knew it was Jesus.]

29 Jesus said, “So, you believe because you’ve seen with your own eyes. Even better blessings are in store for those who believe without seeing.”

[That would be us. WE are the generations who have not seen Jesus as Thomas did, and yet who still believe. WE are the ones who are sent out of our home … which served as their worship space, let’s remember … it’s where they gathered to BE with him … to STUDY with him … it’s where they came TOGERHER.

He sent them OUT, away from that into the world.]

30-31 Jesus provided far more God-revealing signs than are written down in this book. These are written down so you will believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and in the act of believing, have real and eternal life in the way he personally revealed it.

       [OK. This is the end of Part I of a 3-part series. The scriptures we will be looking at next week and the week after are found in your bulletin. They continue ahead with John 21.

       I urge you to read ahead.     

       This is GREAT stuff … and as we talked about Thursday night in Casual Praise, it is where we ARE right now. We are HERE … smack dab in the middle of Resurrection.

       Resurrection is not a one-day thing … it took JESUS 50 days … through Pentecost. It’ll probably take us a little longer than that.

       But we can NOT just hole up in our homes – or in this CHURCH home – where it’s safe and wait until we are comfortable to follow the Risen Christ.



       I know that some of you will disagree with me. You’ll say, “Pastor Deb. It’s a big change. We need time to adjust.”

       And I’ll be honest. I think it would be nice to have that, too. I did not SET OUT to write this sermon. I thought I was going to be writing a be a nice little, “Ok, folks, let’s re-group the way the disciples did” kind of message. But when I sat down to write it yesterday, THIS is the message that God placed on my heart.

Frankly, I was hoping for a little breathing room … a little R&R … maybe even a little vacation. But … it is what it is. And each one of us is called to be as faithful as we can be.

We have placed our fleece before the Lord and it’s is dry. The time is right. God is here. 

It’s time to get out of our closed building and get on with the business of being the Church of Jesus Christ here in this neighborhood and in this city.

Next week … we’re going fishing. J



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