Read: Acts 4:32-35 and John 20:19-31
One of the many fascinations with my life is that I love — absolutely love — community redevelopment.
Resurrecting run-down and forgotten communities, hearing ideas about what a community should look like and how it should feel, and empowering those who have a stake in their communities to begin knitting that new fabric together.
It’s really something how my careers and degrees have been in communications and divinity, but this passion of mine for the environment and community redevelopment projects has been a theme that’s been prevalent in my work every since my very first job as a news reporter a long, long time ago.
When I lived in South Carolina, there was a small community called Port Royal.
There wasn’t much there when I first moved to the Lowcountry.
There was an old semi-active shrimp dock and a former Navy yard, a smattering of small houses and a few small businesses.
But the area was poised to become something extraordinary in what remains the fasted-growing county in South Carolina.
It had a great elementary school.
It was situated between Hilton Head Island and Beaufort, right near Parris Island, and on a beautiful stretch of water that could take one right to St. Helena Sound and the Atlantic within just a few minutes on a boat.
And it was great to see residents, business investors and civic officials come together to create this great unified vision.
Port Royal is still blossoming today, but even by the time I had left, what ten years ago, it was all festivals, new businesses — restaurants, artists, shops, services…
And the new homes were beautiful — not McMansions, but these wonderful craft-built Lowcountry homes.
And the old shrimp dock and Navy yard had been converted to an amazing waterfront.
And it’s wonderful to see how a community was rebuilt with this new vision, this new breath of life.
Because He Lives
We have two very special readings in front of us today that specifically resemble this idea of community redevelopment.
Last week, we saw the risen Lord — the resurrection.
We said it was a death to our old lives and the creation of a new life that we all have available to each and every one of us Because He Lives.
Because Jesus Lives, we have been shown what it means to die to darkness and re-emerge to a new life.
Not the same life; but a brand-new life in Christ.
And we said too that God NEVER stops creating, and God is indeed creating in our lives today as well.
The disciples take notice of this for the first time on Easter evening.
Most of them are all hunkered down together in a house with the doors locked because the Jewish leaders had just killed Jesus, and because they were Jesus’s disciples, they were probably next…
And even that Mary Magdalene came back and told them she had seen Jesus, it doesn’t look like any of them believed her.
And even if they did, she told them what Jesus told her to tell them:
That he was going back to the Father, back to God. — Don’t hold onto me, he told her back in Verse 17.
So even if the disciples did believe she saw Jesus, did it matter?
He still was going back to God, and wasn’t going to be with them anymore.
Except while they’re all sitting around afraid and despondent, Jesus appears among them.
He tells them, verse 20, “Peace be with you.”
It’s not just a greeting; Jesus is actually giving them peace.
He’s fulfilling the promise of his peace for their lives.
That peace comes because with Jesus’s return to the Father in the resurrection, they, too, can share fully in the relationship with God.
The veil was torn between God and God’s people.
The sins were accounted for, and now there is no separation.
A way was made by not only Christ’s death, but in his rising.
A way was made. This is the way.
This brings peace.
But doesn’t that peace come with a response?
Jesus tells the disciples they don’t have to be afraid anymore.
Not of the Jewish leaders, not of the Romans, not of anyone or anything.
Imagine being trapped in a cave or a well.
It’s dark, cold and terrifying.
You think you might die.
Then you hear a voice.
Someone who can rescue you, and goes about rescuing you.
They throw you a rope, you just have to hold onto it, and you’ll be pulled to safety.
Is the peace in knowing the rope is there, or does the peace come when you are finally out of that cold, dark hole and back into the warm light above ground?
The response is that you have to hold onto the rope and be pulled from that hole so you can experience the peace — not just the concept of it!
The disciples were locked away in that room out of fear.
Jesus is that lifeline of peace for them.
Do they stay there?
And in case they're contemplating it, Jesus tells them to come out!
He says in Verse 21: “As the Father sent me, so I send you.”
Send them where?
Just to live in the happiness of this concept of peace?
They are called to be images of that peace.
To be representatives of that peace.
To be actors of peace.
They aren’t just called out of that dark place to simply be at peace.
They have to go out and create peace in the world.
And guess what?
So do we!
We don’t just come here each Sunday to bask in the peace;
we are learning how to be disciples who will go out into the world and glorify God, make God’s presence visible in the world and expand God’s kingdom.
Same as the disciples.
How do they do it?
The Holy Spirit.
How do we do it?
The Holy Spirit.
The authors of John tell us that as soon as Jesus tells the disciples that “the Father has sent me, and so I send you,” he breathes on them and says, Verse 22, “Receive the Holy Spirit.”
This is such a wonderful image of creation, is it not?
Remember earlier, when we said that God is still creating?
How did God create us?
We go all the way back to Genesis 2.7:
“The Lord God formed the human from the topsoil of the fertile land and blew life’s breath into his nostrils. The human came to life.”
What Jesus does isn’t just some symbolic or metaphorical detached act.
God is still creating!
And God is still creating the exact same way God always has created:
By breathing into us the Holy Spirit!
What the Hebrews called the ruach.
The breath of God!
The resurrection shows how the human body can die to the old self, but be created new as a new being.
But to animate this new creation — to make this new creation come alive — it takes the breath of God, the Holy Spirit, the ruach.
The disciples are receiving this same breath of life, this ruach, so that they are created new.
Do you see this?
It’s not only that the disciples are created new by the resurrection — but that we, too, are created new.
But to make us truly live in perfect harmony with God takes the breath of God.
That’s what animates us — what gives us new life.
Now, there certainly have been more dramatic neighborhood redevelopment projects in our lifetimes than just the one in Port Royal, South Carolina, of which I opened this message with today.
There are communities that have been raised from poverty, drugs, gangs, and violence and turned into wonderful places.
Today, you would never have known they were so destitute, so broken, once-forgotten.
It was that vision of what they could become.
Just like Port Royal.
But what if no one showed up for the visioning meetings?
What if they all stayed home, locked in their homes away from it all?
There might be a dream — a hope — but that unified vision would never have happened.
And how do you believe in something that isn’t happening?
Case in point: Thomas wasn’t there with the other disciples when Jesus showed up and breathed into them the Holy Spirit.
And poor Thomas, he always gets the reputation of “Doubting Thomas” because, well, he wasn’t there at the time.
But he didn’t see. He didn’t experience it. And instead, he couldn’t believe it.
“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.” (Verse 25).
Well, the others were doubters, too.
They didn’t believe Mary when she said “I have seen the Lord,” back there at the tomb…
They’re all doubters — and so are we — until we experience the Holy Spirit.
Until we feel that breath upon us.
Until we see the vision that is taking shape.
But if we’re not there, will we ever see it?
If we don’t participate in it, does it really exist?
Will we ever believe in it if we don’t try it?
It’s so easy to come here on Sundays and learn about all this and celebrate in worship.
I love it, too.
But, like the disciples in that room behind closed doors, I have to ask why is it that we, too, feel so much safer in our faith behind these closed doors?
Are we the same living and God-praising people out there?
Do we join hands to pass the peace, do we pray together, do we sing hymns out there?
When we say that we know the power of the resurrection,
That Jesus is Lord
And that God saves us…
These are the very words of our conversion:
our transformation from the old life in death and darkness ….
to the new life in resurrection and light.
Does anyone here disagree that that Jesus called the disciples to action when he tells them “I send you?”
Does anyone here really believe that Jesus was talking solely to the disciples, and that we don’t have to do anything in our own discipleship?
I mean James also tells us that “faith without works is dead” (James 2.17).
No, we can’t earn the resurrected life; that was given to us, absolutely by his grace.
But can we honestly believe we can simply come here on Sundays, say some prayers each day at home and read our Bibles, and that is all Jesus calls us to do to be disciples?
The very word disciple means discipline.
Not harsh discipline;
but practice toward the greater perfection.
Why? For our own selves?
For some trophy or plaque?
No, to make God visible in the world to those who also need God’s love.
So that we can expand God’s kingdom here today!
Can you imagine what that would look like?
If everyone followed Jesus’s teachings and commandment to love one another as I have loved you, we would have: PEACE!
“Peace be with you” isn’t some greeting like “hello” or “how you doin’”…
It’s a command:
“MAKE THIS PEACE BE WITH YOU!”
“Peace must be with you.”
Have this vision.
Participate in this community.
Live into your conversion.
If we don’t believe that, we’ll never, ever see what God has for us in full here in this life.
Once Thomas believes, then he receives.
Thomas understands that call.
Thomas is converted, transformed, changed.
Given the resurrected life.
Death to the old life — buried away forever.
Life to the new creation.
We cannot ever go back to being dead. We’re changed.
In fact, we have to ask ourselves, if we think we can go back, or if we have gone back, were we really converted in the first place?
Did we really believe?
Maybe we don’t know because we never really opened the doors of this place in which we hide and try…
We can’t go back to the tomb, but we can hide from the new life.
You see, that’s what we read about in Acts 4:
“The community of believers was one in heart and mind. None of them would say, “This is mine!” about any of their possessions, but held everything in common.
The apostles continued to bear powerful witness to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and an abundance of grace was at work among them all.
There were no needy persons among them. Those who owned properties or houses would sell them, bring the proceeds from the sales, and place them in the care and under the authority of the apostles. Then it was distributed to anyone who was in need.”
Can you imagine such a thing?
Sounds too good to be true.
Yet this is how Jesus calls us to live.
This is what the church — at the very least — is supposed to be.
How did we get here?
Here, meaning our society today?
We argue about how to handle the poor.
We fight bitterly about those who we don’t want to help have healthy lives.
Our healthcare system is a mess in this country.
We want to expel from our country people who came here as little kids and who have worked hard all their lives, only to tear them away from their own families and send them away because we’re afraid of them.
We treat people with different beliefs or skin color as less than us.
And we fail to love not just the least, but even our own neighbors.
Acts tells us: “Here is how to live.”
Because we have been given the ability to be born anew.
Not some improved version of our old selves that still die and dwell in eternal darkness;
but new creations who live life here and in eternity in the light.
We’re called to walk outside of these doors in the power of the resurrection.
Not to hide here and be all comfortable among ourselves.
No, there’s an whole big world right outside of these doors that needs the love of Jesus Christ,
and WE are the only ones who can give it to them.
They’re not less than us if they don’t have that love.
Just as we’re no better.
We are all God’s children, and we are all equals.
But love for one another will never exist if we don’t believe that we’re equals.
That’s what Luke is telling us in this chapter of Acts.
That’s why the disciples lived in this wonderful community of believers.
All equal, because that’s where love resides.
Because love only resides in equality.
It’s not to hoard what we have, but to share it.
And in sharing it, we are passing the Peace to one another.
We are sharing God’s love for one another.
We are making God’s presence in the world visible.
We are expanding God’s kingdom to everyone.
We are sharing that same vision and creating a new community where we live as resurrected people —
new people in Christ —
and we are loving as Jesus called us to love.
And we do it through the breath of God — the Holy Spirit — that was breathed into us because Jesus Lives.