“Pentecost… And the Door Was (un)Locked”
Acts 2:1-13 & John 20:19-31 ~ Rev. G. Scott Turnbrook ~ May 20, 2018
And the door was locked…At least that is what I found when I had returned to my hotel room and my magnetic key card would not open the lobby door to my hotel in the middle of the night. It was late. It was way past bedtime. Actually, it was way, way past bedtime. Following a great night enjoying Nashville’s country and western music and theological conversation amidst the preaching conference, I really needed to get some rest. I arrived back at my hotel only to find that after midnight, they lock out the main lobby door and that my magnetic key card had become demagnetized. I also found that the flooding that downtown Nashville suffered has not been particularly friendly to my hotel’s intercom system as I tried to call the front desk for assistance. The door was locked …and I waited. Surely someone will come home soon. The door was locked…and I waited and started to see some rough looking characters wandering around the downtown. The door was locked…and I was separated from safety, separated from sleep. And I was alone, tired and afraid.
How many of you can relate to that story? I suspect that we have been on both sides of a locked door before. Admit it, most of us have locked the keys in the car or in the house … and as we sit awaiting the locksmith’s arrival, we feel powerless, separated, perhaps even a little foolish. It is not a good feeling, is it? When we stand on the outside and the doors are locked… We have also been on the other side of the locked door. We have felt warm and safe, nestled comfortably on the inside of a locked door. In this modern era, many do not feel safe until the lock is fastened, the deadbolt is engaged, and perhaps even until the alarm is activated and the red light glows. We rest comfortably…because the door is locked. As we gather in the comfort and security of Northwood’s sanctuary, we ponder what is wrong with this picture. Locked doors separating us? Locked doors creating divisions? Locked doors are latched with misunderstandings and fear? And the door was locked…
Doors have been locked for a long time, haven’t they? Locked doors…some, safely locked inside…in fear and frustration, others locked outside. As I awaited entry to my hotel, I pondered what the gospel says about locked doors. The gospel lection is among several accounts of Jesus’ post-resurrection appearances. To back track, Jesus has been crucified. The tomb is empty. What is going on, they wonder? This group of Gentiles, these non-Jews who understood Jesus telling them that God’s love and salvation extended to them as well as the Jewish people were scared. On the one hand, they were scared of the Jews – who weren’t sure about including them ~ their doors were locked; on the other hand, they were scared of the Romans – who had made followers of Jesus enemies of the state ~ their doors were locked. The Gentiles were scared! So what did they do? They hid away, closed the windows, locked the doors, and set the alarm. Locked doors on an upper room, where else could the go? But behind a locked door. And the door was locked…
As we take a quick scan upon the gospel’s take on locked doors, we quickly find that locked doors are NOT a part of Jesus’ Way. The text doesn’t give much explanation as to how this occurs. Somehow Jesus breaks through this impenetrable fortress – and simply stands among them. To Jesus, it seems like the locked door is no barrier at all. He just walks right through it. And as he enters, he senses their fear, their separation, their need for peace. Jesus knew that the greatest need of anyone behind a locked door was peace as he says: “shalom/ peace be with you”. It was so precious to their ears that he offers it again “shalom/ peace be with you”. He offers peace/ shalom because that is the greatest deficit of people living in worlds with locked doors.
I chose to say the Hebrew word for peace “Shalom” along with the English because this Hebrew word is an important one for us to explore as we begin the season of Pentecost. A frantic parent might shout “I need peace” – but that is not what Jesus is speaking of here. A harried commuter might shout “I need some peace” – but that is not what Jesus is offering. Shalom is one of the richest words in the Hebrew vocabulary. It is a blessing that is offered to people at the time of meeting as well as at a time of farewell. And this unique blessing encompasses three sentiments: 1. May our friendship be blessed with peace, unity and wholeness; 2. may our cultures/ our world be blessed with peace, unity and wholeness; 3. may the peace and wholeness, unity, be with each of us. “Shalom/ peace be with you” were Jesus’ words when the door was locked…
Jesus blessed them with, and literally called them, to Shalom for he knew that it would never arrive until those doors to the upper room were thrown opened and their hearts were freed and liberated. As long as the Gentiles live behind locked doors, Jesus knew that Shalom would not arrive. Shalom will not arrive when Jews and Gentiles are separated. Shalom will not arrive when God’s children are separated. Shalom arrives when Jesus shows that locked doors between brothers and sisters were not the way of God’s Kingdom.
There is a second part to this consideration. And I must warn you that this is the difficult part. Open doors are only good if people will walk through them. People on the outside walking in and people on the inside walking out. Having told them to open the doors, Jesus tells them to walk out the doors and follow his Way. He said: “as God sent me, so I send you”. This is John’s account of the commissioning of Jesus’ disciples. This is the commissioning of all who follow in Jesus’ Way of Shalom. Jesus called them firstly, to open their doors. And the second part is to walk through those doors and follow in His way. What a tough assignment! Opening the locked doors seems risky enough for the Gentiles ~ that makes them vulnerable. But to go out those open doors and go forth living the Way of Jesus ~ that makes them targets! They had all seen how it worked out for Jesus on Good Friday! To go out and live Jesus’ Way amidst Roman Imperialism! To go out and live Jesus’ Way amidst anger from the Jewish community! To those fears, pointing to those open doors, Jesus said: “As God has sent me, so I send you! This would have been profoundly scary, yet somehow it was made possible as they learned that they would not go alone! That is certainly the hope we find when we recite the opening and closing statements of our United Church Creed: “We are not alone”. As scary as it was for those first followers to leave that locked upper room, they knew that would not go alone: “We are not alone”. They would not go alone for Jesus would send his Holy Spirit to be with them. And that is what is so truly wonderful about our worship service today! The text records that to their fear, Jesus breathes upon them saying “receive the Holy Spirit”. Something very powerful happened at that moment. In Hebrew, the English words that we interpret as breath, or wind, or as Spirit are all the same – “ruah”. They go forth, not alone; they go forth following Jesus Way, filled by Jesus’ ruah – Jesus’ Spirit/ Jesus’ Wind/ Jesus’ Breath – they go forth ~ not alone. They go forth having received the Spirit of Christ.
I think that this same fear is what lay at the heart of the people who are found in the Acts reading. I must thank Gwen for bravely agreeing to take this reading, for it is among the most challenging of the readings throughout the entire year. But the point of them being so unpronounceable is to highlight how truly separate these cultures were from one another - Parthians, Medes, Elamites, Mesopotamians. These people could barely pronounce one another’s country name - Judeans, Cappadocians, Phrygians, Pamphylians - They could not speak one another’s languages. And they had locked the doors on one another. These brothers and sisters in the Way of Jesus were foreigners to one another; they didn’t realize what they shared in common, and so they were afraid of one another. The doors were locked and as long as they remained locked there was no possibility for a future. And as these locked doors were thrown open by the Spirit-wind of Pentecost, the same thing happened as it had to the disciples in the upper room. They received the uniting spirit-breath of God and they began to feel one another’s common pain, to hear one another’s common love, to be fed by the God that is bigger than any language or culture or understanding. They were united and they became this odd thing we call ‘church’ ~ a spiritual family.
We are…the church today. These people we read about are our brothers and sisters, our grandmothers and grandfathers, our ancestors in faith. Their doors were locked for legitimate fear and they were liberated. I wonder what fears cause us to lock our doors and hide in the upper room? Have we locked the doors and hidden inside our upper room? It feels like today, there is so much fear among churches. How will we survive? How will we maintain our buildings? How will we keep on going? These are legitimate fears, yet the Spirit of God calls us to open the doors, to live our faith forever knowing that we are blessed with one another to share the journey. It was interesting for me to meet with a few of the other ministers as we hosted our MP, Ken Hardie for a dialogue morning on how the Federal Government and the churches can better work together. Very diverse on some of our social views many of us, yet as I listened carefully the concerns had many similar threads. I truly wonder if we are increasingly entering a time of post-denominationalism and moving into an era where the Spirit is uniting us more than ever before!
I think this message has some deep personal implications as well. Have you ever found yourself keeping your faith a secret? When life hits with the hardest blows; when the world seems to be falling apart; when you aren’t sure how you will keep on keepin’ on – have you ever found yourself closing the doors on God. Where are you God – slam! You close the door. Why can’t you do something God – slam! You close the door. I can’t take this anymore God – slam! You close the door. Fear can be one of the biggest motivators for us to close up on our relationships with the God who yearns to guide you, heal you and bless you.
Pentecost is that great hope in a seemingly meaningless world – a hope that proclaims: You are not alone. Pentecost is that invitation to receive the breath of God when need spiritual CPR, Pentecost is that wind of God – when it seems our boat is set to run aground, the spirit of God – when our spirits are at their lowest that God’s Wind will blow us to safety. For every door that has been locked has been opened by the powerful wind of God.
May it be so. Happy Pentecost everyone. Happy Pentecost-ing.