Readings John 20:19-31; 1 Peter 1:3-9 (NRSV)
I have a joke for you as I begin today. It’s a bit of a dad joke, though I think I first heard it from one of my grandchildren, so perhaps it’s more of a kids’ joke. It’s the sort of joke you get along with the paper hat in Christmas bon bons. I’ll warn you in advance that’s it’s not very funny. In fact it’s probably more of a riddle than a joke. Anyway… here it is. When is a door not a door?
Now I’m not going to tell you the punchline straight away. If you already know it or you think you have an answer, here’s what I want you to do. Sometime during the sermon I want you to go and get a sheet of paper and a texta and write down your answer. Then near the end of the sermon I’ll get you to hold your sheet of paper up to your camera so others can see.
I’m doing that today because today’s sermon is about doors – open doors.
Today’s passage from John’s Gospel begins with the disciples shut away inside a house for fear of the Jews. They are worried that if the Jewish leaders find them, they’ll be arrested for being supporters of Jesus and possibly killed as he was. The doors of the house are locked.
It’s the evening of Resurrection Sunday. Peter and John have already been to the tomb and found it empty. Mary Magdalene has already told the disciples about her encounter with the risen Lord. But the predominate mood is still fear and uncertainty and they’ve locked the doors.
Then, despite the locked doors, Jesus appears amongst them bringing the word they need to hear – Peace!
The following Sunday they are in the house again, and the doors are shut again. Jesus appears to them again, despite the doors being shut. John emphasises that. Again Jesus says to them, Peace!
I read that and I think: Has nothing changed, apart from Thomas being there this time? What are they still doing shut away in the house? Especially when Jesus said the first time: “As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” (v21)
But after this second encounter, and after Thomas’ declaration of belief, they do move on from Jerusalem. In the next chapter they are by the Sea of Galilee, and we know from the book of the Acts of the Apostles that they did indeed go, proclaiming their belief in Jesus and the Good News of forgiveness and salvation through his death and resurrection.
I believe this story has some important things to say to us and our world, especially during these times.
These are times when doors are shut and locked around the world because of fear of Coronavirus.
These are times when many are struggling with issues of faith and asking where is God in all this. Some are turning to God during this crisis. Others are doubting the existence of a good God when something like this is happening.
These are also times when Churches and Christians around the world are rethinking mission and what it looks like given current restrictions.
So I want to consider 3 doors this morning, 3 metaphorical doors – the doors of peace, belief and mission.
Many doors are shut to us currently. We can’t do some of the things we used to do, at least for the time being, and that’s appropriate. But there are also doors that we can open, and should open.
Door of Peace
Jesus’ disciples were shut up in the house with fear and anxiety. Only a few days before Jesus had said to them: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let
your hearts be troubled, and do not be afraid.” (John 14:27 NRSV)
Now he’s back. “Peace” he says to the, reminding them. “Peace” he says to them again, reinforcing.
Jesus is the antidote to fear, whether that be anxiety about Coronavirus, or your family or something else. He is the antidote because he is the Prince of Peace and brings peace into our lives, a fullness of peace that the world can’t give.
So open the door of peace and let the Prince of Peace enter.
Sometimes, in grace and mercy, Jesus will enter our lives miraculously even when we haven’t opened this door. But more often, he stands at the door and knocks, inviting us to open; waiting for us to open; longing to dispel our fear with his peace.
Door of Belief
This is the door that Thomas struggled with. To begin with, it was firmly shut. He wanted evidence in order to believe. He wasn’t going to believe on the say-so of others. “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.” (v25)
But this door ends up wide open. “My Lord and my God!” he says to Jesus. (v28)
Jesus’ comment back to him is: “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.” (v29)
That includes us today who believe even though we didn’t have the privilege of seeing Jesus as he walked this earth.
John picks up on this comment and makes a comment of his own as the author. It’s a fascinating one in which John explicitly indicates why he wrote his Gospel. He says while there were many other stories about Jesus he could have included, he’s included enough for readers to come to believe that Jesus is the Son of God and the way to life. Remember that John was one of Jesus’ closest disciples and was an eyewitness to his life, death and resurrection. Many throughout the centuries since have indeed come to believe through this book he wrote with the Spirit’s inspiration.
So we need to open up the door of belief. I could have just as easily called it the door of faith or life or even salvation, because all those things are so closely intertwined.
We see that in the reading from 1 Peter, where at the end, he makes a comment very similar to what Jesus said to Thomas and what John wrote about it. Notice how he links belief, faith and salvation.
“Although you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and rejoice with indescribable and glorious joy, for you are receiving the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.” (1 Peter 1:8,9)
Peter was also very close to Jesus and an eyewitness to his life, death and resurrection. He was someone who knew what he was talking about. He was writing to people suffering great trials which were testing their faith. He says that because of their belief they have an imperishable inheritance awaiting
So, in my words, not Peter’s, keep that door of belief open.
Door of Mission
I’ve already pointed out that the first time Jesus entered the locked room, he said to them:
“As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” (v21)
And eventually they did venture out, continuing the mission of Jesus.
In these days with bans on travel and visitation and gathering , it might seem that this door is firmly closed and can’t be opened. But we can open up this door if put our hearts and minds to it, as many of you are doing.
- Phoning or Zooming friends, neighbours and others to chat and check they are ok.
- Participating in dialogue discussions of faith with others on some of the social media platforms.
- Sending a letter. (A bit more old-school, but still effective.)
- Delivering food to those in need or helping with shopping.
- Donating to ministries to those in need.
We have many doors of mission opportunity open to us that just weren’t there a generation ago. Next time you open your computer or device and a window appears, maybe think of it not so much as a window to the world to look through but a door to enter; an open door to the world which provides new and creative opportunities for mission.
Now it’s time to see if anyone has an answer to the riddle.
When is a door not a door? I can see some of you have the answer — When it’s ajar!
I know of a father who tried to tell this joke to his 4 year old son. The son looked puzzled and the father had to explain that ajar means slightly open. With that new insight, the son rushed to his grandfather and asked him: When is a door not a door? When the grandfather said he didn’t know, the little boy proudly blurted out the punchline: When it’s slightly open.
I want to give you a slightly different take on that riddle. A door is there to open and go through. If the door is never opened, never fulfils its function, is it still a door?
Let me suggest, philosophically, that it isn’t. It’s no longer a door. It’s just part of a wall, or perhaps a window if you can see through it.
Keeping our doors locked keeps others out and there can be a sense of security in that. But doors that never open also lock us in and imprison us.
Are you with me? Don’t worry if you’re not. The simple point I’m trying to emphasise in a roundabout way as I conclude is just this: open up those doors – the door of peace, the door of belief and the door of mission.