The New Creation: Nowhere to Hide

April 29th, 2018

The New Creation: Nowhere to Hide

John 20:19-23

April 29, 2018

I have good news and I have bad news. Let’s start with the good news. The good news is that there is nowhere that you can go in this life where God won’t be present. By this, I mean, not only that God has been there and done that. I mean that God is here right now. If you pause and think about the word “nowhere” then you’ll catch my drift: “now here.” So, no matter how hard things get, no matter how much despair you feel, no matter how alone you might seem, God is there. How could that not be good news?

Are you ready for the bad news? There is nowhere you can go in this life where God won’t be present! Sounds familiar right? How can that be bad news? Well, it shouldn’t be that hard to imagine. All of us have moments when we are at less than our best, when we are our most selfish selves, when we fall far short of being the people whom God created us to be. Sometimes, we don’t even realize that we are falling short. Other times, we know it before we even do it. If we have some dexterity, we have those moments in our cars by ourselves or in our most private thoughts. If we are lucky, we have those moments with the people who are most forgiving. However, imagine a moment when you fell short and then imagine that the one person in the world (your child? your parent? you most beloved mentor) was there as a witness. Wouldn’t that amplify your remorse into a full-body cringe? Now, hear this: even when you are in your car all by yourself, God is with you. Even when you are just thinking those petty things in the privacy of your own head, God is with you.

God knows us. God knows how amazing we can be. God knows how in the very next instant we can fall flat on our faces and have no idea, ourselves, what just happened. The good news is not ever going to be that we can fool God into thinking that we are only who we are at our best. Rather, the good news is that God knows us and loves us anyway and that there is not a thing that we can do that will break that love. I would imagine that God might be angry or disappointed or sad in the face of our worst moments but like a loving parent, God loves us anyway: “I don’t love all your choices. I’m rooting for you to grow. However, no matter how hard you might try, I’m not going to stop loving you and I’m never going to leave you alone.”

I remember when I was in high school, we had a women’s softball team that won over seventy games in a row. They were perfect across several seasons. Then, one day, the inevitable happened: they lost. I remember asking one of the girls how they felt. She said that she was relieved. Now that they weren’t perfect, they could just play the game.

I remember being with a friend on her worst day. Literally, this was someone who seemingly had always been a winner. She was a straight “A” student. She was the friend that you would want to have. She was talented at music and sports. And, of course, she broke the hearts of just about every boy she passed. Then, one day, she made a huge, glaring, public mistake. Everyone was shocked! Honestly, though, she was relieved. She found out that her family still loved her, that her friends were still her friends, that she still had a future. Before that, she was never sure. “Yes, I love my family and friends and my life but what if all this hinges on not messing up? What if this whole life is “a house of cards” just waiting for the slightest breeze to topple?

The fact that the softball team could lose didn’t make them losers. The fact that my friend could make a giant, public, glaring mistake didn’t make her worthless. The problem, of course, is that the human tendency is to equate our value as people with what we have achieved, particularly if we feel like we have achieved a few things. And the truth about every one of us is that we can splice together a personal “best of” montage of our achievements in such a way that we can put ourselves in that “achiever” category. Why are we loved? We are loved because we earned that love, right? (And then in our most honest moments, we think to ourselves, “Gee, I hope I can keep fooling them into thinking  I’m still worthy!)

Again, though, let’s remind ourselves of the truth: God knows exactly who you are—at your best and at your worst and God loves you anyway. Not only do we not get to edit ourselves, there is no need to edit ourselves. Of course, that doesn’t mean we don’t have our regrets or that we shouldn’t work at changing what needs to be changed. It just means that God’s love (and the best of the love we receive from the people around us) won’t be the reward we get one day when we are perfect. Rather, that love will be the foundation on which our whole push to grow and become even more of who we are will be grounded. The love is not the prize. The love is the very soil in which we are rooted and by which we grow.

No one had a harder time taking this in than the disciples. After all, Jesus had come to them and called them: “Follow me!” They were Jesus’ first picks. He could have chosen anyone but he didn’t. He chose them. And, to top things off, they made real sacrifices to follow him. They left their families and friends and lives behind. They left behind everything that was familiar for a life on the road, living from town to town and meal to meal. The fact that Jesus called them must mean that they were special right? The fact that they sacrificed to join him must have made them extra special, right?

There are moments in the Gospels when we see these dynamics in play. The disciples think they should be able to sort who gets access to Jesus. Jesus shakes his head and says, “Let the children come to me.” In another moment, the disciples get all wrapped up in an argument about who is the best disciple: “Ya…we’re all special but I’m more special than you!” I’m pretty sure that Jesus must have been slack jawed in the face of their self-centeredness…

Or maybe he wasn’t at all. Maybe Jesus called these men not because they were special but because they were run of the mill, average, every day, broken but lovable human beings. He didn’t need them to be perfect. He needed them to listen and learn. He needed them to discover the joy of caring for others. He needed them to learn to seek forgiveness and to forgive. In short, he needed them to become humble servants of God. Of course, humility is one of the hardest things for a human being to learn, because we think we can avoid the moments that would humble us or at least hide those moments from others.

So, think about those disciples in our text. Again, it is not like they had some perfect track record as Jesus’ disciples prior to Holy Week. Mistakes were made. Broken human tendencies were put on full display. All I would have to do is take you on a canoe trip for a few days and you would see such things in me and I would see them in you. Now, imagine traveling together for three years. The chance to be perfect would have been long gone for any of them. Remember, Peter? He’s the disciple to whom Jesus says, “Get thee behind me Satan.”

Here’s the thing, though. If the mistakes that we make aren’t the worst ones we can think of, then there remains that little thread of possibility in the back of our heads that we still might be loved because we earned that love, because we are still special. There is so much of a part of any of us that feels so much more secure thinking that we are loved the way we are loved because we deserve to be loved that way. There is a part of us that feels like we are owed that kind of love.

That part of us is there until that possibility is utterly destroyed. That’s the story of Holy Week for the disciples. When he was in anguish, none of them could even be bothered enough to stay awake with him. When the guard came to arrest him, it was one of them who betrayed him with a kiss. If anyone had a leg to stand on it was Peter which is why it was so utterly terrifying to hear Jesus tell them all that Peter would deny ever even having known Jesus before the rooster crowed the next day. That denial came…three times. And the cock crowed. When push came to shove and the man who had shown them how to live was being taken off to be die, they ran for their lives. They saved their own skins. They abandoned him.

And having utterly and completely failed to stand up, not only for what they believed in but for the person who loved them most, they hid. They gathered in a room and closed the windows and locked the doors and cowered together. Certainly, if you think they were hiding from the Roman and Jewish authorities, you would not be all wrong. They were in danger. No doubt the authorities would have leapt at the chance to crucify them, too.

Yet, we don’t really understand what they are hiding from unless we tell one deeper truth: they are hiding from the risen Jesus. They utterly and completely failed to be there for their friend. The report that somehow, some way he was somewhere near—do you think that was a comfort to them? How angry must he be? How hurt must he feel? How ashamed must they have felt? Don’t you imagine that they would have given anything to avoid having to face all that? Isn’t this what we all do when we have totally failed? We hide, hoping that the truth will remain hidden, too.

The truth, of course, is that they couldn’t hide. Lock the doors. Close the windows. Cower all you want. God will be there. The amazing, astounding, jaw-dropping truth will be, though, that God will be there not to “smite” you or shame you or rub your nose in your brokenness. God will meet you in your worst hour with grace. The risen Jesus shows up and says to the disciples, “Peace be with you.” Somehow, God will show up and speak words of peace and forgiveness and grace to you, too. You cannot hide from unconditional love. And once you’ve received it, you cannot help but pass it on.

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