To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood, and has made us to be a kingdom and priests to serve his God and Father – to him be glory and power for ever and ever! Amen.
What are you worried about? Not long ago, I saw some statistics that struck a chord. It was a study about worry and it found that 40% of the things we worry about never actually materialize. 30% happened in the past and can’t be changed. 12% is worrying about what others say about us, whether true or not. 10% is worrying about health, which gets worse the more you worry about it. If mental math was never your strong suit, I’ll do the addition for you – according to secular research, 92% of the things people most typically worry about are completely out of our hands; which leaves 8% that this study said was “worth” thinking about…as if any of that is within our control? But realizing the worthlessness of worry is hardly a new or novel concept. Back in 1994 the Lion King taught us “Hakuna Matata,” means no worries for the rest of your days. About 500 years ago, French philosopher Michel de Montaigne said, “My life has been filled with terrible misfortune; most of which never happened.” Throughout the centuries, secular philosophers, researchers, and even Disney characters have come down pretty decidedly on the issue – worry doesn’t make sense, practically, philosophically, or even statistically! But that truth goes back even further. Do you remember the words of Jesus himself? Pretty plainly, Do not worry. But why am I telling you this? You’re the people of God! You don’t need percentages and statistics. You have a word of promise from your Savior Jesus.
So did his first disciples, but that didn’t seem to make a whole lot of difference on that first Easter Sunday night. Just a few days ago, on Thursday, they had abandoned their beloved teacher – they ran off into the night, leaving Jesus standing alone. Then Friday came, and they watched from a distance as their friend was nailed to a cross and hung out to die. But now it was Sunday. Reports about an empty tomb had been pouring in all day. A couple of the twelve saw there wasn’t a body in the tomb, but they still didn’t grasp just what that meant. Those Emmaus disciples had walked and talked with Jesus himself. But what did it all mean? Jesus had died – they saw it! You can imagine how they were feeling, can’t you? Guilty, afraid, and downright worried, waiting for the other shoe to drop – If they got to Jesus, that means we’re next! You could walk into that locked room in Jerusalem and tell those disciples “You know, statistically speaking, a full 92% of the things we worry about never actually happen,” but you know it wouldn’t help. Why not? Worry isn’t so much a fear of what’s going on in life right now. It’s a fear that what’s going on right now isn’t going to end well. For the disciples, what they knew, they didn’t like. What they didn’t know; that’s what paralyzed them.
You’ve been there with them, haven’t you? I’ve never even been to Jerusalem, but I’ve been with those disciples on that first Easter night. I tell myself that it doesn’t pay to worry, but my worry can make my worst fears pretty real. So, there I sit, just me and my worries. There I am, all alone in the darkness of my fear and the fog of dreadful uncertainty. Plug my ears, close my eyes, and don’t dare to answer the phone – because it’ll just confirm the bad news I already dreamed up. I set up mental walls and emotional locked doors, thinking that I’ll protect myself from my deepest fears, but how are those working? The disciples huddled behind thick walls and locked doors that would stay locked, maybe thinking their solidarity in worry might stave off what comes next. But they needed to learn a lesson that you and I need to learn every single day: my worry doesn’t fix a thing – only Jesus can, and only Jesus does.
On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when the saw the Lord. The disciples were pretty sure that big walls and locked doors would stop the Jews from coming and killing them next. What caught them by surprise was that big walls and locked doors couldn’t stop Jesus from coming and giving them life. So, that’s exactly what he did. Jesus burst through their self-made walls of worry and locked doors of fear, and the first word out of his mouth isn’t a question; it isn’t a rebuke; it’s a gift. Peace! With one word from the resurrected Jesus, their whole world was turned around. Peace! Jesus says to drive away their doubt and wallop their worry. The disciples felt guilty – they’d all abandoned Jesus – but then Jesus shows up and speaks his word of complete absolution and forgiveness: Peace! They were afraid about the future – what would happen to them next? Would they face death? But then Jesus shows up to provide living, breathing, resurrected proof that not even death could stop him from being with them always: Peace! The disciples were prisoners to their worry, grasping at their straws of uncertainty, but then Jesus busted into their little world of worry and gave them a word of promise proven to be true: Peace! That’s marvelous, isn’t it?
This is going to seem like such an obvious question that it’s not worth asking, but I’ll risk it: What’s the most amazing thing that happens in this account from John 20? Of course, our mind jumps straight to Jesus coming through the walls or locked doors and appearing to his disciples alive. The crucified One lives again! Is that the most amazing thing that happened here? The disciples thought so. After Thomas had missed the first appearance of Jesus, the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord!” The Son of God coming back to life and appearing to his followers is amazing. BUT, perhaps no less amazing is this very thing he said to them!
When those disciples found Thomas, you might’ve expected them to be bursting with excitement about something else: “Jesus showed up and… he forgave us! The rabbi stood in a room filled with men who had turned their backs on him, and the first word out of his mouth was “Peace;” a thing so nice he said it twice! And if that wasn’t amazing enough, he turned to us and put this powerful word of forgiveness on our lips to share with others. Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven. That word of absolution, the proclamation of sins taken away, the promise of perfect peace with a perfect God – Jesus puts that on our lips! Thomas, it’s marvelous!” Amazing, right? The only way Jesus could get in was by coming through the wall, absolving the disciples, and proclaiming peace. Jesus broke into their self-made world of fear with a word of forgiveness, a promise of peace, a certainty of hope. And now he sends those same forgiven sinners into a world filled with more sinners with a clear commission. To those who persist in their sins and want to hold on to them in impenitence, you go ahead and tell them they can have their way for all eternity. But to those who are crushed, broken, and sorry for their sins, to them you speak a word into their ear that comes straight from the heart of God – I forgive you.
This is truly amazing – as the Father has sent me, I am sending you. In the same way that God sent Jesus into the world, so Jesus sends his disciples. Just why did God send Jesus into the world? To save the world from sin. What a remarkable sentence – as the Father has sent me, I am sending you. Go. Rebuke sin. Proclaim forgiveness. Bring life to the world in my name! What grace Jesus shows in sending these guys to do that important work! Remember what just happened? These same men had all abandoned Jesus in his hour of deepest need. Running, hiding, denying, every one of them left Jesus. Any reasonable person would think it’s time for a line change, a complete re-staffing of the apostolic roster, but not Jesus. In the perfect victory of his resurrection, Jesus doesn’t choose to build his church from a pool of better or more promising people. Instead, Jesus takes the doubters, the deniers, the runaways, forgives them, and sends them out to do the very same thing he did for them. Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven. Into their world of fear and worry, Jesus came with a word of forgiveness, peace, and purpose.
Do you see the connection? Jesus has done the exact same thing for you. He bursts into your world of worry and cuts through the fog of your fear with that same word – Peace! I can hear your mental objections already, because my own sinful nature echoes them. That’s what I’m supposed to go home with today? A word?! Like that could do anything! That peace of Jesus might’ve been good for those disciples, but now things are different. Bad things really have happened to me, so I’ve got a right to put up my walls of worry. You don’t know what I’ve been through; how she treated me; how he looks at me. And those just make sense, don’t they? The Devil wants you to think that: perhaps your sin really is too great; your life is a colossal mess that not even God can work through; your worries and fears are completely justified, because deep down you know what you deserve. The Devil can make a whole lot of sense. It seems he was getting at those disciples. The Devil can make a lot of sense, but he can never, not ever put Jesus back in his grave. Satan can cloud my thoughts and make me think my worries will somehow help me, but he can never, not ever un-resurrect the Son of God, my Savior. Jesus lives, and since he lives, you have nothing to worry about because he brings peace with his resurrection. So listen when he speaks of peace through a called servant of Christ and by his authority. Listen when he speaks of peace through the words from a friend you’ve confided in telling you, “Jesus died and rose to forgive that sin, too.”
If you’re starting to think that this is sounding a lot like last Sunday’s sermon; you’re right, and I hope it is. Because here’s the obligatory Sunday after Easter thing for preachers to say: “It’s Easter every day!” I say it, but I don’t always get it. Maybe you’re with me. It seems easier on Easter Sunday – the smell of Easter breakfast, magnificent music, a message of hope in Christ that the world could never dream up. But did things feel different today? A few more empty seats? Not as majestic? Not so emotional? Easter baskets put away, candy consumed, and hope dried up for another year? If you think that, listen to what Jesus says in our gospel lesson – not once, not twice, but a full three times: Peace be with you! He says it because we need to hear it – over and over again. He keeps saying it because he knows you need to keep hearing it. Christ is still risen on the second Sunday of Easter. Christ is still risen on the sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost. Christ is still risen on the Tuesday after Christmas. Christ is risen and with his resurrection he brings you peace. Worry is a thing of the past – not because it’s a statistical insignificance, but because Jesus makes you a promise of peace.
Why don’t we have to worry? Jesus brings peace – think of how he proved that to his disciples on that first Easter evening and then again one week later. Because of the resurrection of Jesus, we live and move and have our being in Jesus; as Scripture says, we are “in Christ.” That means that every part of our existence is lived out in the sphere of Christ – a place where sin longer condemns us, where Satan no longer controls us, a place where death doesn’t contain us, a place where you are connected to the Son of God and he to you. He lives, and he lives to bring you the peace he’s won with his resurrection. So listen every day with ears tuned to Easter Sunday’s proclamation: What are you worried about? Peace is yours in Christ!
And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.