“Locked Doors Are Not the Answer” John 20:19-30

The doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews…,

This first impulse of the disciples was an understandable one.  

Jesus had been arrested, tried, scourged and crucified.   The disciples had witnessed at least portions of the events, if only from a comfortable distance.

If the inhabitants in and around Jerusalem can go from loud “Hosanna’s” to “Crucify Him” in regards to Jesus, (their master and teacher,) then those same crowds and religious leaders could just as easily go the same direction with anyone identified as followers of Jesus. 

So, there is legitimate danger out there, and the first impulse to danger that we can think of would naturally be “lock the door!”

But if there is one thing that this story shows us for certain, it is that locked doors are never the answer we think they should be.

A locked door does not keep you safe from a larger community.   If anything, it makes you a target by raising suspicions.

“Why are they always behind locked doors?”

“What are they hiding?”

“They must be up to something!”

We are well acquainted with this world of suspicion.  We see it played out in conspiracy theories in our own time.  We watch as segregated communities or little understood peoples, or simply the “other” is demonized or criticized.

The first impulse of fear is protection, not engagement.

We really have no indication that this was the case from John’s telling of this story, only that the disciples clearly felt unsafe, felt fear that caused them to turn to the bolting of doors and keeping to themselves.

Locking the door out of an impulse of fear at least raises the possibility that they were being watched, or they felt conspicuous, but locked doors are at best temporary measures.

You can’t stay behind locked doors forever.

More insidiously, when you go the route of following this “first impulse” and hiding behind locked doors, you close yourself off from any real possibility for communicating to that larger community “out there” either your intentions or gaining any understanding about whatever it is you may feel you are hiding from.

Locking the door and ignoring whoever or whatever is “out there” does not make that person, those people, that situation go away.  It only deepens the divide and intensifies the fear.

Perhaps this was a realization that Thomas came to early on.  It is strictly speculation of course, but is this the reason he was not with the others when Jesus first appeared? 

Maybe Thomas recognized that there was something not quite right about retreating behind locked doors!

Maybe, while he may not have “belief” yet, Thomas does at least exhibit a willingness to venture out and to look for something else besides fear to motivate him.  

For whatever reason, Thomas is not there when we get the second reason why locked doors are not the answer.

Jesus goes right through them.

A locked door does not stop Jesus from appearing, and from breathing the gift of the Holy Spirit on his frightened disciples.

A locked door does not stop Jesus’ care, or his desire to calm fears, or his ability to act.

A locked door does not keep Jesus from issuing the same command he had given to these disciples before they let fear take control of their actions.

 The disciples were, (after all) to be known also as , “apostles” — the “sent ones.” 

“As the father has sent me, so I send you,” Jesus says as he breathes on them. 

You are sent to forgive sins.

You are sent to proclaim good news.

You are sent to bring healing, light, to let your peace rest on the house you enter.

You are sent to bring life.

Sitting behind locked doors is not what Jesus had in mind for those whom he had taught and empowered.

In life, Jesus had been about being out and about among the people. 

He had traveled the Galilee region.

Jesus had been known to get into people’s boats at the spur of a moment to stay ahead of the crowd.

He had been known to give instructions to go to the far shore, to visit foreign lands, to cast demons out in the country of the Geresenes and wreak havok on pork production in the process!

He had ranged far and wide, from the Decapolis to the region of Tyre and Sidon.

Jesus had (in John’s gospel at least) made multiple trips to Jerusalem and was known for being as comfortable sitting beside a well and chatting with a stranger and a woman in Samaria as he was sitting in a Synagogue with Pharisees and worshipers.

Jesus had been a frequent guest at parties and weddings, had stayed more than once at the home of Mary, Martha and Lazarus.

Jesus had been known to accept the invitation of Pharisees, and to invite himself for a meal with tax collectors.

None of this speaks of him being very fond of or acquainted with locked doors at all.

The direction given to his disciples as they began their ministry had been to travel light, take nothing extra, live on the hospitality that was offered.

No locked doors in their travels.

“Behold, I stand at the door and knock…” he had famously said, giving us an image reproduced now in countless churches and paintings.  The teacher who beckons those behind their locked doors to come forth and follow.

An already sealed tomb had not stopped him from raising Lazarus from the dead.

In fact, the most final of locked doors, the stone that had secured his own tomb, sealed (according to Matthew) by Pilate could not contain him. 

The stone was rolled away.

But still, locked doors seem to have their appeal to his followers, and the appeal is strong. 

It is strong enough that we find the disciples still behind those same locked doors a week later, this time Thomas is with them.

And this time, the locked doors are just as useless in stopping Jesus from getting in, breathing on them all again, (this time including Thomas) and giving that gift of the Spirit again, the gift given to be sent.

Locked doors are not the answer for keeping you safe.

Locked doors are not the answer for keeping Jesus out either.

Which makes one wonder, with all this evidence of the uselessness of locked doors, why we clamor for them still?

What makes us think that locking down or securing borders will somehow keep out those who long for a better life? 

Would not the “Jesus thing to do” be to take the basin and towel and wash the weary feet of those who are fleeing the violence and economic insecurity of their home country for asylum here?  

Would not the “Jesus thing to do” be to meet them with bread and fish, feed them, and call them blessed?

What makes us think that locking doors of opportunity for some will keep them from aspiring to find a way through?

Would not the “Jesus thing to do” be to accompany them, walk with them, multiply the resources at hand as if by miracle to give them a chance to eat, be fed, and to find hope?

What makes us think that locking criminals behind bars of steel, or children in cages of chain link fencing, or multiplying the number of “for profit prisons,” or pursuing policies of “zero tolerance” will keep us safe? Do they not instead widen the gap and isolate us all the more, making suspicion “king” instead of Jesus?

Does not hiding behind doors of shut-out opportunity, ignoring those outside, simply increase our level of fear, our anxiety about those “others” out there, who will forever be “other” and “out there” so long as we continue to seek the safety of separation of locked doors and gated communities?

If this gospel lesson shows us anything, it is that what we do out of the motivation of fear can never keep us safe, nor can it keep Jesus from getting to us, finding us, calling us by name (as he did Thomas!) and reminding us what kind of Spirit we have been given.

In fact, the more we clamor for our locked doors, the more Jesus seems to come at us with his Spirit, relentlessly reminding us who and whose we are, and what we were called to do and be as his followers.

We were called to be the “sent ones.”

We were called to proclaim forgiveness.

We were washed to be the servants of others, to take up the basin and towel as Jesus did.

We were fed with the bread of his own body and blood to become those who will hunger and thirst for justice and righteousness, and who will work tirelessly spreading the peace that we ourselves have received from Christ.

We were gifted by the power of the Holy Spirit breathed upon us to not look to locked doors, but rather to be reminded of the God who was, who has always been, on the move!

We are to be followers of Jesus, who was apparently not afraid to go anywhere, (including Jerusalem if that is what it took to bring the message of the forgiveness of sins to this world.)

We are recipients of the Spirit of God from Jesus, who showed us how to scoff at political power, calling Herod an “old fox”, and who called Pilate in his darkest hour to consider and hear “truth.”

No, locked doors were never in the lesson plans anywhere for Jesus’ Disciples, and locked doors are not the answer to any of the ills of this world.

This is what Thomas and the others learn this day.   The world can be changed, and peace can be given, but only if we are willing to claim what has been given to us already, that Spirit of God, and become at last the “sent ones” instead of being seduced by the appeal of locked doors.

“Incidental Characters” Palm/Passion Sunday

As they led him away, they seized a man, Simon of Cyrene, who was coming from the country, and they laid the cross on him, and made him carry it behind Jesus. 

Now there was a good and righteous man named Joseph, who, though a member of the council, had not agreed to their plan and action. He came from the Jewish town of Arimathea, and he was waiting expectantly for the kingdom of God. This man went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. Then he took it down, wrapped it in a linen cloth, and laid it in a rock-hewn tomb where no one had ever been laid. 

It’s a curious detail in the Passion narratives.  Of all the people involved in the events of Jerusalem on this week called “Holy”, we are introduced to two “incidental characters” who are named.

Simon of Cyrene, (who is compelled to take the cross from Jesus’ shoulders for a time on the long walk up to Golgotha in Matthew, Mark, and Luke) and Joseph of Arimethea, who, takes the body of Jesus and lays it in his own tomb in all of the Gospels.

The fact that they are referred to specifically by name seems significant.  It becomes more so the more you read this story and begin to tally up all the people who are involved who are named, and how many are simply faces and voices.

For instance, we don’t get the names of any of the people who shouted “Hosanna, Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”   

They are just referred to as “the crowds” or “his followers.”

Peter is named for both his bravado and for being the target of Satan, who wants to “sift all of them like wheat” and perhaps that is what we see being done in the scattering, in the denial, again by all the nameless characters around a fire or peering out from doorways, recognizing Peter.

“Surely this man was also with him.”

We don’t get the names of any of Jesus’ accusers.  We hear of “chief priests, temple officials, soldiers, the council, and elders.   They surely all had names, but none are recorded here in Luke or referred to as reliable witnesses. 

No one stands and says, “My name is, and I heard him say…”

Anonymity and shadow seem to drape most of the events of trial and arrest, as if we aren’t supposed to know the names.  As if, somehow having them remain nameless allows us to wonder where we might have been, could have been in that mix, in those events.

We know who bestows the kiss to betray, (Judas) but those who bind the hands and carry out the arrest are simply agents of the unnamed Chief Priest, Elders, and Officials.

The slave who loses his ear in the scuffle, and is healed, is never named.

No names of soldiers are spoken as they beat, taunt or jostle Jesus to and fro.

Pilate is named, for he alone has power to bring the proceedings to a halt.  He finds no guilt, but lets it go on anyway.  Having a powerful name does not always avail you of doing the right thing.

Herod is named as one who could have taken Jesus under his wing and interceded on his behalf, keeping this as a “local matter”, but he also begs off and sends Jesus back to remain Pilate’s issue.   Having name recognition with representatives in your district does not give you any access or privilege to call upon either.

Perhaps, that is why Herod and Pilate became friends in this matter.  They recognize in these events that some things are simply not in your power to control to act upon or to change, and so they nod to each other as the crowd noise rises.

We do not know the names of those in the crowd who shouted “Crucify”, nor do we know the names of those who whipped such crowds into a frenzy, urging them on.

We do not know the names of the thieves crucified with Jesus.

But somehow, we know the name of this foreign visitor from Cyrene who was compelled to carry the cross for Jesus for a time.

Cyrene is in North Africa, modern day Libya.

Perhaps Simon was darker skinned, or perhaps he was one of generation of Jews who had lived in Diaspora and who had made pilgrimage back to Jerusalem for the Passover.

The city is crawling with worshipers from all over the known world.

It’s just a curious thing to think about, that of all the people who could be named here, the Daughters of Jerusalem for whom Jesus weeps, the Centurion who proclaims him innocent, the women who watched and waited at the foot of the cross, the “named ones” are the incidental characters in the story who did acts of kindness.

One out of compulsion, being told to take the cross.

The other at great risk to his own reputation and standing, going to Pilate to ask.  Joseph we are told is a member of the council.  He stood by and watched his fellow members instigate the events.  He is a follower of Jesus, a person who perhaps did not speak up when he could have, or whose voice was ignored or drowned out in the proceedings.   He now does what he can out of another kind of compulsion. 

“I can’t just let the body hang up there….”

Sometimes I wonder if we aren’t all just incidental characters in the events of God’s coming kingdom.

Some of us do things out of a sense of necessity, things that are forced upon us, as all “cross bearing” tends to be.

No one grabs this thing willingly, only Jesus….

And some of us do what we do as followers of Jesus out of sense of it being the right thing to do, or out of a sense of not acting when we should have, or being silent when things could have been said.

Some of us do what we do in response to the need, or because we just can’t stand to see something, or as an act of final kindness to someone.

Perhaps we are all just “incidental characters” in the ongoing story of God’s Kingdom breaking in upon this world, but we are named, and somehow that makes us much more than incidental.

We are known.

We are recognized, not for the power we wield, or the influence we can throw around, or the ability to move and shake.

We are recognized and named for what we do in the face of need and necessity, and out of love.  Amen

“What We Value” John 12:1-8

Dinner parties have a way of revealing competing interests.   

I’m not sure if it’s the liberal flow of the libation that often accompanies such gatherings that makes that happen, or whether it is the relaxed atmosphere where we feel free to share our thoughts and ideas.   

Maybe it is because a dinner party it is one of the few places where electronic devices get put away long enough for actual conversation to transpire, sharing to take place.

But at any rate, this is the way it is.  You will find out things about people at dinner parties if you pay attention and listen.

          You will see people reveal their inmost preferences and thoughts.

          People will be happy to explain things to you, or comment on their point of view.  

There is always the “know it all” uncle, aunt or friend that (once they get started) just can’t seem to let a subject go, no matter how you might want to or try to change subjects.

          And you will see love.   Extravagant, unbridled, absolutely unnecessary but “sure glad it’s there and don’t mind if I do” kind of things offered up – “just because.” 

Pleasures will be indulged, little touches of decorations, candles flowers, or your favorite food offered to you “just because.”

          “Just because we had to celebrate.

          “Just because” it was a “special occasion.”

          “Just because” I was able to find some and I knew you would enjoy it.”

          Yes, one might say that we find out who and what people truly value in settings such as these.

          When I read this story from the Gospel of John I cannot help but put on my “dinner party” glasses, watching the characters as they interact.   I watch them the same way I might watch one of my own extended family gatherings, looking for the competing interests and revealing interactions.

          There is first of all the hint about the reason for the gathering.   It’s “six days before the Passover,” so very soon families will be gathering to celebrate the Exodus event. 

The events of leaving the bondage of slavery, wandering in the wilderness, and entering the promised land will be remembered, relived.  That celebration with all of its deep meaning and symbolic food is yet to come.

          This celebration is held for another reason however, and he’s sitting right here.  It is honor of Lazarus who was dead and has now come back to life. 

          The meal is at his house.

          The gathering is in his honor.

          We don’t know much else about Lazarus, the brother of Mary and Martha at this moment but putting on my “dinner party glasses” I can imagine just how strange this all must seem to him.

          “Who would have thought I’d ever have a party again?”   Perhaps he’s thinking.

Or maybe, “What’s all the fuss about, I don’t remember a thing between going to sleep and Jesus calling my name.”  

          How do you treat a man who had been dead four days when you go to a party that is held in his honor?

          Do you ask him how he feels?

          Do you ask him questions, or do you simply hover in the corner pointing, whispering and wondering with other party members about him?

          This speculation may seem a bit sacrilegious, but the point is well taken because we’ve all been at the dinner party where the guest of honor is one to whom we don’t exactly know how to relate.

          Maybe it’s the family member who was recently divorced.  I mean, there are all kinds of deaths going on there!  

Do you ask them what happened in the relationship?  

Do you ask the person who has been divorced whether it’s o.k. if you still maintain a cordial relationship with their ex? 

Will you hear things from the divorced person that will change the way you feel about the person they divorced?  I mean, you spend years getting to know that spouse, integrating that person into the family, do you just put all that aside?  Can you?

Or maybe it’s the ex-husband showing up at the wedding unexpected.  Who is going to walk her down the aisle, you wonder?  Both the ex and the current dad?   What’s the daughter thinking?   What’s the mother appear to be thinking?  Doing?  What’s the “mood” of the gathering?

          Maybe it’s the first extended family gathering after the person has come out, or as the person is in the midst of transitioning.

Now the little boy that you remember helping up on a phone book to sit at the table claims a new place at the table on their own, and a new identity that you have to adapt to, or figure out. 

“What is your preferred pronoun again?”

          Was this how it was at the dinner party in Bethany?  

Was it a celebration where there are competing interests, uncertain and awkward moments surrounding the reason for the gathering?

          Were there whispers in the corners as people tried to figure out just what to do with a resurrection? 

How to treat one another now?

How to relate to one another in its wake?

How to understand one another?

          Those who made such a gathering possible, Jesus and the disciples are also invited and assembled, and maybe that is what makes some sense of Mary’s gesture.

          A pound of pure nard.   300 Denari worth, roughly $20,000.00 worth of precious ointment in today’s currency is lovingly being caressed into the dry and cracked feet of Jesus, wiped and smoothed with Mary’s own hair.

          It is extravagance beyond comprehension.

          It is like – well what is it like?

It’s having the lobster flown in from the coast just for the party.

          It’s like opening the expensive real caviar, serving the fresh oysters on the half shell flown in for just this occasion, and popping the cork on the champagne.

          It’s what happens in the dinner party when the host rolls out the unexpected delicacy, the treat at which everyone gasps or “oo’s and “ahs”.

 It’s the child opening the huge, strange box under the tree at Christmas and finding mommy back from her deployment overseas crouched inside, waiting to give her children hugs.

          This moment of the ointment fills the room, as does the aroma of the nard.

          Martha is doing what is her gift to do, serving through it all, the steady presence in the midst of otherwise incomprehensible events.

          We know that person.

          There is always one in every family who coordinates the setting out of the meal, the timing of the turkey, the calling to the table of all assembled with their competing interests.  The person who soldiers on despite any distractions and refuses to put up a fuss for the sake of keeping things on schedule and in good order.

          Judas is there too, doing what he is gifted to do according to John.  He’s the “know it all uncle” who has to make some comment and won’t be put off.

          “Do you know how much that stuff cost, and what you could have done with it???”

          It is very likely yes that Mary knows exactly what it cost.   She procured it, after all.  And this is what she chooses to do with it, … because.

          “Just because…”

          “Just because” one person’s value is not another’s.

          “Just because” one person’s sense of gratitude and desire to express it is not another’s.

          “Just because” sometimes logic needs to be thrown out the window, and life has to be lived.  

          What would you give to have your brother back after all?

          What would you give to have a second chance at life together?

          What do you give as a proper expression of thanks to someone who has returned your family to you, the provider of the household?

          In that pound of nard and the fragrance that fills the room we see all the host of promises made that once seemed dashed, never to return.

          You know what I mean.

          All the promises that must have been made in daily life when Lazarus was still alive, and around, and Mary kind of assumed that he always would be, the way we tend to live life.   

We go through life thinking that things will remain pretty much the same, and so things get put things off.

          Maybe next year we’ll take that vacation…

          Maybe next week we’ll spend some time talking about the future, or go over the genealogy and write it down, or the childhood memories and record them, or….

          All those things that would be done “someday” but put off died with Lazarus.  Now they were cut off, and in an instant Mary recognized that the only moment given is now.

          All of those things that she thought would “never be” are now wrapped up in her gesture here, in the fragrance that fills the room, in her own hair and tears of gratitude.

          Jesus has given her a gift beyond measure, more time with her brother.

          It’s something Judas has no way of perceiving, no way of valuing.  He can only see the cost benefit ratio, the exchange that could be made for bread and fish.

         Mary is exchanging in hopes and dreams recounted, and in future possibilities restored to her, and recognizing that what she now has again (her brother) will likely come at great cost.

          We know from John’s gospel that the hour in which Jesus raises Lazarus from the dead is the very hour that the Pharisees begin planning Jesus’ own death.

          Word of that is bound to get around.

          Maybe Mary had heard it, knows it, and so the time for extravagance is now.  There is no putting it off, ever again.

         The time to express love, to give honor, to show devotion, and to express gratitude is now!

          Yes, I think this dinner party is like many others I’ve seen or been involved in, it shows us what is valued.

          Maybe what we are to take away from her gesture that she now sees the precious gift life is in this moment.

          Now is the time to express your gratitude for what Jesus has done for you.

          Now is the moment to drop the protests of what “could be done” or what “should be done” and instead set your eyes upon what you will do since Jesus is here with you.

          What will you do as someone who is at the dinner party of this life, and in the presence of resurrection, and in an atmosphere that is filled with the aroma of extravagance and gratitude?