Second Sunday in Easter 2021

First Reading: Acts 4:32-35

32Now the whole group of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one claimed private ownership of any possessions, but everything they owned was held in common. 33With great power the apostles gave their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all. 34There was not a needy person among them, for as many as owned lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold. 35They laid it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need.

Psalm: Psalm 133

1How good and how pleasant it is,
  when kindred live together in unity!
2It is like fine oil upon the head, flowing down upon the beard,
  upon the beard of Aaron, flowing down upon the collar of his    robe. 
3It is like the dew of Hermon flowing down upon the hills of Zion.
  For there the Lord has commanded the blessing: life forevermore.

Second Reading: 1 John 1:1–2:2

1We declare to you what was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the word of life—2this life was revealed, and we have seen it and testify to it, and declare to you the eternal life that was with the Father and was revealed to us—3we declare to you what we have seen and heard so that you also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. 4We are writing these things so that our joy may be complete.
  5This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light and in him there is no darkness at all. 6If we say that we have fellowship with him while we are walking in darkness, we lie and do not do what is true; 7but if we walk in the light as he himself is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. 8If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. 9If we confess our sins, he who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 10If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.

1We declare to you what was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the word of life—2this life was revealed, and we have seen it and testify to it, and declare to you the eternal life that was with the Father and was revealed to us—3we declare to you what we have seen and heard so that you also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. 4We are writing these things so that our joy may be complete.
2:1My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; 2and he is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.

Gospel: John 20:19-31

19When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 20After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. 21Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” 22When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”

  24But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. 25So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “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.”
  26A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 27Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.” 28Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” 29Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”

  30Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. 31But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.

CHILDREN’S SERMON: Ali Baba and the 40 Thieves

         I was surprised to read this week that the famous phrase we used as children, “Open SAYS me,” was actually “Open sesame.”  It was made famous in the story “Ali Baba and the 40 Thieves.”  Easter season is 40 days long.  Ali Baba hears about a treasure.  “Open sesame” are the secret words that open the cave where the treasure is hidden.  Perhaps this tale can help us.

         Ali Baba married a poor woman and worked as a woodcutter.  His greedy brother, Cassim, married a rich woman.  Ali overhears a thief talking about his treasure hidden in a cave blocked by a rock.  This is sounding like Jesus buried in a tomb with a stone blocking the entrance.  Ali overhears the secret words to enter, “Open sesame.”  To exit, he needed to say, “Close sesame.”  The brother finds out the secret and gets into the cave to take as much treasure as he can but cannot remember the words to leave.  And so begins the adventure.

         Sesame is a small seed that grows in a pod that opens when it is mature.  Can you think of other plants that grow treasures like that: (audience contributions):  Peas, Sunflower seeds, maybe even cocoons for butterflies. I think today’s passage is similar to this sesame seed!  Let’s pray.

Lord, may the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable to you, my Rock and my Redeemer.

SERMON

Last Sunday was Easter and we are now in the Easter season.  For the next 40 days we will focus on the reality of the resurrection that is the cornerstone of our faith.  Last Sunday the women went to the tomb to anoint the body only to discover it was not there.  Angels told them “He is risen!”  Those three words have echoed through history and been debated.  Was the body stolen?  Was it exchanged on the way to the tomb and Jesus never really died because God can’t die?  Many people saw Jesus in the days between the resurrection and his ascension but as they told their experiences they were met with doubt like that of Thomas in our text today.  “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.”  Locked hearts respond to the message of Easter with doubt until faith grows.  Ali Baba knows there is a treasure in a cave that is locked by a door and only magic words will let him in – and out.

LOCKED

The disciples were meeting behind locked doors that first Easter Sunday for fear of the Jews.  They had heard the words of the women.  Peter and John had also gone to the tomb and found it empty.  These men had seen Lazarus walk out of his tomb recently and had heard and seen but did not understand.  Their hearts were locked.

         What locks our hearts today?  Many hear the testimonies of people who deeply believe in the reality of God in their lives, but they remain skeptical.  As I have talked with people, I often discover there is a story of disappointment.  Some crisis event happened in their life and God did not resolve it the way they thought it should be dealt with and so trust is broken.  We know the stories.  God let my child die – too soon.  We were sure God wanted us to do something and it backfired in our face.  If God is so powerful, how come there are wars and famines and so many people pounding on our borders.  Evil and suffering are so real and God seems locked in a cave promising treasures we just cannot seem to get to.

         Perhaps people believe that there are many passwords to get into that cave.  Do not all roads lead to Rome?  Christians are not the only nice people in the world.  Common precepts seem to be foundational to all world religions.  Tolerance is certainly the mantra in our world today.  We would not want to appear judgmental and so, while it is possible that Mary saw Jesus, I didn’t.  Our materialism insulates us from faith because life is comfortable without God and we do not want to offend someone who sees it slightly differently.  Treasures are wrapped in kindness, tolerance, and acceptance and we are tempted to deny that the cave has a password.  Who needs more treasure, anyway?

         Also, unlike the disciples, we do not fear the Jews.  Christianity used to be considered the rule of our land.  We are free to gather and worship, until Covid anyway.  The Ten Commandments are generally accepted on face value as good guidelines for life.  We do not deal much with “turn the other cheek.”  Efforts to help the poor and needy have been institutionalized by society and so we now demand the government care for the needy rather than accept it as the role of faith.  The platform of actions that differentiate Christians from society in the first century and in times of crisis has disappeared.  Our treasure is locked in a cave that we feel society should open, not faith.  We no longer need a password, just a vote to pass a law.

         Martin Luther describes the cave of unbelief in the explanation of the second article.  “I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him; but the Holy Ghost has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith.”  Paul describes our fallen state in 1 Corinthians 2:14, “Those who are unspiritual do not receive the gifts of God’s Spirit, for they are foolishness to them, and they are unable to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.”  The cave of faith is closed with a huge stone and we do not know the right words naturally.  There is a cave.  There is a big stone.  How will we roll it away?

DOUBT

“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,” says Thomas and many of us who doubt.  Jesus came through locked doors of fear and appears to the disciples who do not believe Mary.  He shows them his side and his hands.  Other Gospels say he invites them to touch him and he asks for fish to eat.  The resurrected Jesus appears, three dimensionally.  It is only as the disciples encounter Jesus that they are able to come to terms with their fears and doubts.  “Peace be with you,” Jesus says and breathes on them.  Open sesame!  The pod, the cave, the heart opens and Jesus walks in.  There is no longer a division between God and his creation and the disciples are at peace.  It reminds me of creation when God creates humans and breathes life into his creation made from dust.  As Jesus breathes on the disciples, life enters, the door opens, and the treasure is there to be shared.

         Thomas has become famous because he was absent from this appearance of Jesus. He doubts the report.  Thomas does not want second-hand faith but demands the real thing.  Sometimes when we share our story it does not appear that anything happens and we get discouraged.  We share our encounter and the magic words but somehow it does not seem to make a difference.  I fear we have made the words into a mantra, “I believe in Jesus Christ as my savior,” is all that needs to happen and instantly we think the person should be saved.  For some, the cave of faith opens just like that, at some revival meeting or after hearing someone share.  The person goes forward or a child kneels by his bed with a parent.  But many others are like Thomas.  We want to encounter Jesus for ourselves.  So how does that happen?

         Many meet the “living Word” reading the written word.  As they read the Scripture a verse touches their heart and faith enters.  The parable of the sower told by Jesus says that sometimes the seed, perhaps a sesame seed, the word of God, falls on good soil and immediately takes root.  Faith germinates.

         Others meet the Lord through prayer.  In college I determined I would read through the New Testament to find Jesus.  I was having a crisis of faith in my World Religions class.  I quickly decided I was not smart enough or patient enough to find faith by analysis of the Bible.  I knelt by my bed and cried.  It was in prayer that God met me.  That emotional experience was grounded in a foundation of Scripture from confirmation and from study.  The apostles had walked with Jesus for three years and so this “aha moment” was the fruition of a preparation process.

         Jesus meets us today in many ways.  Nature, music, testimony and even dreams are ways that God in Christ speaks into our reality today.  As doubt dissolves into certainty about faith, it is as if the pod cracks open or the door of the cave is opened.  Jesus honored Thomas’ plea for proof.  Be patient as we share with others for we are helping to prepared a foundation for the revelation.  The cave can be opened.  We can be at peace.  God breathes on us and we know he is real.

FAITH

The sesame pod opens at the right time and inside is a tiny seed.  Thomas is invited, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.” Thomas believes and proclaims, “My Lord and my God.”  History has it that Thomas became a missionary to India and died a martyr’s death.  I met a care attendant for an Indian woman and the man claimed he came from the mountain where Thomas was martyred! He was a real person, from a real place, talking about a Biblical person I knew.  He was not Internet information.

         Faith starts like a tiny seed.  It starts like a piece of treasure that Ali Baba found in the cave and claimed to enrich his life.  The faith seed when released from the pod or cave of unbelief, is set free to grow.  The resurrection is the moment when the pod pops open and the journey of faith begins.  In our culture today we buy something and it comes with a warranty for success or at least a phone number to call and talk to someone if you have trouble, and if that fails there is the Geek Squad.  I fear that often we fall into the trap of treating faith in the same way.  Faith should make life work better or easier and if things are not working we expect prayer to resolve the problem and if all else fails, talk to the pastor.  But as you and I know, it isn’t that easy.  Faith is a journey and is a spiritual muscle that needs to be used to grow. 

         I like Thomas’ response to realizing Jesus is risen, is real, and is God.  He says, “My Lord and my God!”  Those words imply that Jesus is not only the creator and provider but is also the master, guiding and directing in ways he may not always like, and Jesus is the counselor, the source of wisdom for the journey.  Take a moment and ponder the title you give Jesus in your heart.  Is he your Lord, your Savior, your Good Shepherd, or your Friend?

         The text concludes:

“Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”
  30Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. 31But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.”

         We are the people John is talking about and we are the receivers of these testimonies. The story of Ali Baba and the 40 Thieves does not quite fit ours but it is similar. Jesus is the one who stands at the door and knocks on our locked hearts, he is the treasure that is found when our heart open, and he is the magic word that comes through our locked doors to us.  We cannot force faith and make that stone roll away. Jesus does.  “By grace are we saved, through faith, it is a gift of God and not of works lest any man should boast.”  May the seed of faith be growing in your heart this Easter season as we learn more and more what it means that Christ is risen and wants to be our Lord and our God.

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