The Rev. Jimmy Abbott
Second Sunday of Easter
April 3, 2016
There are the disciples. It’s Easter afternoon. They have locked themselves up in a room because they are afraid. They’re afraid because their leader, their Lord, Jesus, has just been crucified and died. But what is more, some women in their group claim to have seen him alive. These are strange times indeed. And fearful times as well. They’re afraid because they don’t want to be arrested and crucified. They’re afraid because they probably don’t know what to do with their lives now. They’re afraid, because, well, ghost stories are scary.
And I wonder about that locked door. Was it locked on the inside or the outside? Did the disciples lock the door to keep everybody else out? Or did they lock the door to keep themselves in? It’s a valid question, and it’s one that could be asked of us as well.
See, for a long time now, the church has stayed within its doors not so much because we want to lock other people out, but because we want to keep ourselves in. This is one of the tricky parts about being a church. We can be lured into thinking that the church exists for our benefit. Like it’s a social club. But the church has never been called by God to function that way. The Archbishop of Canterbury once said, “the church is the only institution in the world that exists for the benefit of those who are not its members.” Yes, we’re friends in the church. Yes, we’re friendly to those who come in.
But Jesus comes into our midst and does something, well, unfriendly. He goes to the disciples on Easter afternoon and breathes on them. Now that’s just socially unacceptable. Even friends don’t do that to each other. He says, “receive the Holy Spirit.” See, in Hebrew, the word for breath is the same word for spirit. And then he says, “As the Father has sent me, so I send you.”
Now, imagine you’re the disciples. You’re afraid. You’re afraid of the people in the city. You’re afraid because one of your own, Judas, betrayed Jesus. You’re afraid because it sure looks like you’ve seen a ghost. And now, that ghost has told you to unlock the door, to go out there. To where the danger is. To meet the poor. To proclaim good news. What Jesus is telling them to do, to go out there beyond the locked doors, that is the unsafe thing to do.
This is part of the problem with Jesus. We all have a problem with Jesus, just admit it. Whenever we feel comfortable with Jesus, he goes off and does something or says something that makes us uncomfortable. I think that’s part of God’s nature. We can’t ever expect to be completely one hundred percent comfortable with God. Because if that’s the case, then we’ve totally lost sense of the grandeur of God. The God of risks. The God of crucifixion. The God of resurrection. The God of mission. Jesus is going to make us uncomfortable.
So, Jesus is with us here this morning. He comes into our presence. We pray with Jesus. We confess our faith in Jesus. We break bread with Jesus. It’s all so very comfortable, until he sends us out. Out there. Where we don’t know everybody. Where other people don’t believe the same things we do. It’s uncomfortable out there. But just as the Father sent Jesus, now Jesus sends us.
In just a few weeks, we are going to be doing just that. The uncomfortable thing is called “The Church Has Left the Building.” Unlocking the doors that are holding us back to go out into the community. On that day, Sunday, April 24, instead of me encouraging you to come here to church, we’re encouraging you to go out into the community to serve the community. To preach. To meet the poor. To share the good news. On that morning, we’ll have a whole slate of service projects for you to get involved with. You can visit the nursing homes and assisted living facilities that we’re partnered with. You can go pray with our homebound parishioners. You can meet up with people who are on the fringes. You can help homeless people get a haircut or poor people get their laundry done. You can pray with people. Worship with them. Share Jesus with them. We exist for the benefit of other people.
Last year in our capital campaign small group listening meetings, this desire for outreach was overwhelmingly apparent. Every single group said that one of our priority’s as a church should be to serve the community. So, we heard you. We talked the talk, and now let’s walk the walk. The mission of the church, the mission of Jesus, is always and has always been to go outside. To go beyond the locked doors. No matter how frightening it is to leave our comfort zone. The church campus, this place, this safe place is not a bad thing. In fact, I think it’s an essential thing. This is our place to gather for worship, for prayer, to re-engage with our friends and our community. But this is also the place that recharges us to go back out there. To serve the community. This church building serves as a vehicle for getting us out there.
So, over the next couple of weeks you’ll have opportunities to commit yourself to working on one of these projects on that Sunday morning. Now, there will be worship services of prayer here in the church at our normal times. Part of that is because we have visitors every single Sunday. So we need to be here. So that’s an option. There will also be service projects taking place here on our campus. Our children’s nursery will be open all morning so if you want to drop your kids off and do some work here, that’s totally cool too. We want to include everybody in this. We’ll have worship services of prayer in every place where we’re serving. Because it’s Sunday. And Christians gather to pray on Sundays. Sometimes it’s in the church, sometimes it’s not. And, you’ll see that we don’t have sign up sheets out there today, because I want to think about this first. I want you to pray about it first. Take this whole week and pray that God reveals how you should go out on that day. A Christian should never do anything without first praying.
Now, is this idea a little bit risky? Does it make us feel a little uncomfortable, a little unsafe? I hope it does. Because it should. Remember, the church that does not take risks for the sake of the gospel, is a church that is sinning. Holy Comforter cannot become a church that is complacent, a church that plays it safe, a church that locks its doors. Jesus is calling Holy Comforter to step out, to try new bold things, to take some risks. Jesus is calling Holy Comforter to be a church that cares for its community. And we need to show the community that we do in fact care.
But finally, this whole day coming up, this opportunity, this is about our opportunity to grow closer to Jesus. I tell kids who go on mission trips the same thing – you’re going to go do some good work and improve somebody’s life – but the real thing that happens, is that Jesus changes your life. That’s one of the reason that Jesus unlocks our doors and sends us out of our comfort zones. Because we can learn about him out there. When we first did Drive-Thru Ashes, I didn’t think it would be successful. I thought people would just give us crazy looks. And I will stand here and tell you the honest truth, that day has changed my life. I have grown closer to Jesus on that day, because I’m standing in a parking lot, more so that any other day in the church year.
Jesus has sent us as far as the parking lot. Now it’s time to think a little bit further. One more step. Into a nursing home. Into a laundromat. Into a coffee shop. Into someone’s home.
As the Father sent Jesus, now Jesus is sending us. May we go into the world with courage, without being afraid, to serve everybody in the name of Jesus.