19 When 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.”
20 After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord.
21 Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.”
22 When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit.”
Fear is a powerful weapon. Not all fear is bad or detrimental to the human existence. Appropriate and managed fear is necessary for survival. In his sermon “Antidotes for Fear,” Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. asserts, “If man were to lose his capacity to fear, he would be deprived of his capacity to grow, invent, and create. So in a sense fear is normal, necessary, and creative.” However, unchecked fear can cause noble and valiant women and men to shrink to the smallest form of themselves, away from their innate greatness towards a more acceptable, more palatable, self. Fear can stifle the voices of the oppressed and erode the zeal of the most zealous women and men. Fear, if left unchecked, can cause a people to settle for the crumbs that fall from the masters table, instead of dismantling the table and demanding equality, freedom, and liberation. Fear is a power weapon.
Crucifixion was just this – an instrument of fear. The Romans would crucify criminals along busy roads, near busy cities, always in the view of the populace in order to insure their loyalty, or at least their obedience and compliance. The crucifixion of Jesus was no different. It was a signal to any other would-be revolutionaries – Caesar is in charge. It’s amazing that as much as things change, they stay the same because it was with this same motivation that White Americans undertook the diabolical task of lynching Black men and women. The very word lynch or the presumption that a lynch mob was coming was enough to keep the population of newly emancipated Blacks subservient and oppressed. Fear is a powerful weapon.
It is here that we meet the disciples. Even after Simon Peter and the other disciple had come back and reported that Jesus’ had risen, they were still locked in the room, the Bible says, for “fear of the Jews.” Even after Mary of Magdala had come back to the place where the disciples were and reported on the miraculous sight that she had seen, the disciples still remained locked in the room, the Bible says, for “fear of the Jews.” Surely the image of a lynched Jesus was still seared on the retina’s of their collective and individual consciousness. Even after experiencing Easter, the disciples were still stuck on the horror of Good Friday and the silence of Holy Saturday. Even after experiencing Jesus changed, that is resurrected, the disciples still refused to spread the Gospel for “fear of the Jews.”
Three years ago, many of us began this seminary journey holding on a miniscule theology, a myopic cosmology, and a crippling Christology. The process of seminary systematically, and sometimes not so systematically, stripped many of us of these toxic theologies and gave us the tools to begin building a sustaining faith, a more unified community, and a more whole self. I have spoken with many members of the senior class who can testify that Jesus has been transformed for them. Personally, I have been invited into a deeper, more authentic relationship with the Son of God who invites all of me into a relationship with God. We have experienced the liberative and transformative Gospel of God at work in our lives and the lives around us. Why then are we locked in the room? Why are we not out sharing this liberating Gospel? Why are we only reifying the current cycles of oppression within our churches?
The Disciples had witnessed Jesus’ actions for three long years. As they sojourned throughout the Judean countryside healing the sick, raising the dead, challenging popular religio-cultural ideologies of the day, feeding multitudes, and proclaiming the coming of the Reign of God. Yes, they had seen Jesus in action. They had seen his great deeds. They had seen his miracles. Yet, with all that they had experienced, their fear of “the Jews” kept them locked in a room, paralyzed by fear, silent and powerless.
Let’s be clear: The Resurrection of Jesus Christ was a radical divine response to the evils of Jesus’ day. The Resurrection of Jesus Christ was God’s response to Temple system. In his “getting up,” Jesus signified where the real temple was and destroyed the myopic theologies of the Sadducees. The Resurrection of Jesus Christ was God’s response to Empire. His resurrection ultimately sent a message to the ruling authorities that the Reign of God supersedes any earthy dominion any day of the week. The Resurrection of Jesus Christ was also God’s response to society. In his glorious resurrection, Jesus Christ showed that the “arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.” The lynch mob was not going to have the final say. This collective Gospel of Christ’s life and ministry, death and resurrection, is the Gospel. This Gospel challenged every eschalon of society on a whole new level, scattering the pride in their conceit, casting down the mighty from their thrones, lifting up the lowly, filling the poor with good things, and sending the rich away empty. This is the Gospel the Disciples were to go out and tell, but they stayed, shut up in their room “for fear of the Jews.”
Through this journey, many of us have experienced the challenges of this Gospel. We have experienced a Gospel that nullifies the oppressive ideology that says, “suffer not a woman to preach.” We have experienced a Gospel that abolishes the notion that our Lesbian/Gay/Bi-Sexual/Transgendered brothers and sisters are not fit to proclaim the Gospel in our churches. We have experienced a Gospel that affirms our African identity, that decries the notion that Blackness is a blighted condition and insists that we are Children of God. We have experienced a Gospel that refutes the Prosperity Gospel that does not collude with American capitalism and materialism but declares, “Μαχαριοι οι πτωχοι τω πνευματι, Highly honored or highly esteemed are those who are poor in spirit!” We have experienced a Gospel that calls us out of darkness into light, out of bondage into freedom, out of self into community. We have experienced a Gospel that destroys our little shelters, lowers our little walls; destroys our little altars, and crucifies our little gods and calls into a more inclusive, liberative, and transformative way of being in the world.
How many of us have sung the words of the great Gospel anthem, “We are not ashamed of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, for it is God’s power of salvation, to everyone that believes it, to everyone that receives it, he/she shall have everlasting life.” We sing it, but if we really believed in the power of this Gospel, fear would not keep us shut up in a room even after experiencing our radical transformations as a result of our contact with this Gospel.
Fear of what? We don’t preach this Gospel for fear of Bishops and ordination committees. Fear of what? We don’t preach this Gospel for fear of moderators and overseers. Fear of what? We don’t preach this Gospel for fear of not receiving an appointment or a call. Fear of what? We don’t preach this Gospel for fear of being stuck out on a limb by ourselves. Fear of what? We don’t preach this Gospel for fear of being called “too extreme” when at its core the Gospel is an extreme reorganization of the status quo. Fear is a powerful weapon!
Aware of the trepidation of his disciples, the newly resurrected Jesus visits them on Easter Evening and says, “ειρηνη υμιν – peace be with you.” Can you imagine the scene? The disciples are huddled in a small room. The windows are shut and the door is locked. There is little, if any light in the room and grief, fear, and panic cast an overwhelmingly depressing tone throughout the space. Suddenly, the risen Lord appears in this space and speaks “peace.” Isn’t this just like the savior to come into our lives when we least expect him and speak a word of encouragement? Isn’t this just like the Master to break into our gloomy places and bring light? Isn’t this just like the Lord to enter into through our fear and speak peace? If you walk this pilgrim’s path long enough you will find that even the most secure among us needs the Savior to come in and encourage us. If you walk this lonesome valley long enough you will find that every now and then faith begins to falter and courage runs in short supply. Knowing this, Jesus breaks into the room and says, “ειρηνη υμιν – peace be with you!”
After the disciples rejoiced in seeing the Lord, Jesus again repeats, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” Now before we rejoiced prematurely, let us realize what Jesus is saying to them and ultimately to us. This Jesus was sent by God into a world that reviled him, rebuked him, refused him, and ultimately crucified him. The ministry that Jesus was called to do would make him a political revolutionary, a religious heretic, and a cultural derision. It is with this in mind that Jesus says, “As my Father has sent me, so I send you.”
This same commission is what Jesus gives us today. Dr. Lisa Allen says it like this, “The road of ministry ultimately and intentionally leads us to Calvary.” The hymn writer declares,
King of my life I crown thee now,
Thine shall the glory be;
Lest I forget thy thorn crowned brow
Lead me to Calvary.
Lest I forget Gethsemane,
Lest I forget thine agony,
Lest I forget thy love for me,
Lead me to Calvary.
When we refuse to suffer for righteousness and choose to follow the path of comfort rather than conviction, we hear Jesus say, “Μαχαριοι – Highly honored/Highly esteemed are they which are persecuted for Righteousness sake: for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.” This is the journey to which we have been called. Not the cars, cash, and commodities of this world. Not our fancy churches or big budgets. But to real, transformative, liberative ministry! Ministry that brings good news to the poor, proclaims release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, and lets the oppressed go free! Ministry that proclaims the year of the Lord’s favor! Ministry that tells our sisters and brothers living with HIV/AIDS that we love them unconditionally and that we will work together to find a cure. Ministry that welcomes persons who may be homeless into our churches as full members. Ministry that uncovers the Imago Dei, the image of God, in each and every person. Ministry that challenges our government to respect the dignity of every human being regardless of race, class, gender, sexual orientation, nationality, or creed. King says,
Christianity has always insisted that the cross we bear precedes the crown that we wear. To be Christian, one must take up his cross, with all of its difficulties and agonizing and tragedy-packed content, and carry it until that very cross leaves its marks upon us and redeems us to that more excellent way that comes only through suffering.
So what’s the Good News? The Good News is two-fold. First, the same God who was there on Good Friday, also raised Jesus up on Easter. Death is not the end; therefore the threat of death is not an excuse. Second, the Good News is that we are not alone. After Jesus commissioned the disciples, the Gospel writer declares that he “breached on them and said them, ‘receive the Holy Spirit.’” This was not simply an emotional, religious event – this was empowerment. Jesus empowered the disciples to do this magnanimous work. So, too, are we empowered. Through our encounter with God in this place, we are being empowered to go out and do the work that we have been called to do.
So preacher, preach the word! Pastor, embody the word! Christian Educator, teach the word! Sister, share the word! Brother, speak the word! Go! Tell it until our communities are restored and our people are revived! Go! Tell it until every valley is lifted and every mountain is made low! Go! Tell it until the lion lies down with the lamb! Go! Tell it until we beat our swords and plowshares and study war no more! Go! Tell it until we realize that the violent death of even ONE child of God, whether it be our brother or sister being shot down on the corner or Osama bin Laden himself, is one too many! Go! Tell it until the cross ceases to be an ensign of war and becomes a symbol for peace! Go! Tell it until “Justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.” Go! Tell it knowing that because God is greatest power, we cannot be defeated!
Tuesday, May 3, 2011
Senior Chapel – ITC
 Martin Luther King, Jr. Strength the Love (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1963), 121.
 King. Strength to Love, 19.