The holy gospel according to John.
Glory to you, O Lord.
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.” After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “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.” A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.” Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.” Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.
The gospel of the Lord.
Praise to you, O Christ.
Grace to you and peace from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
When my kids were young they liked to watch the Christian video series, “VeggieTales”. They were named VeggieTales because all of the characters were either vegetables or fruit. The main characters were Bob and Larry, a tomato and cucumber, respectively. There were a host of other characters as well, such as Junior Asparagus, the French Peas, and Mr. Lunt, a gourd.
The episodes, being Christian based, always had a good moral or were based on a Bible story. One of the episodes told the story of Madame Blueberry. Madame Blueberry was quite vain and blue. She was so blue sh didn’t know to do. Her life seemed empty. So, like many of us, she tried to fill the emptiness in her life with stuff from “StuffMart”. On her way to buy more stuff she passed a poor family who were happily giving thanks before they ate a very meager meal. She couldn’t understand how they could be happy when they had so little. Eventually, she bought so much stuff that it destroyed her tree house home. Now having nothing, she was welcomed by the poor family, who along with sharing their meager food, shared the source of their joy with her. In the end, she finds peace in the midst of her loss.
In today’s Gospel, the disciples are feeling the loss of Jesus. Yes, Peter and the “other” disciple had seen the empty tomb and Mary Magdalene had told them that Jesus had appeared to her, but none of it made any sense. So, being afraid of what might come next, they huddled together in a room, making sure to have locked the door. Suddenly, Jesus himself is there among them and said, “Peace be with you!” I imagine that gave them all quite a fright, so he shows them his hands and side and then repeats himself, “Peace be with you!”
A week later they are again huddled together in a room, the doors still locked. They are still afraid. Again Jesus says to them, “Peace be with you!”
The the peace with which Jesus blessed them didn’t take hold immediately. But come the day of Pentecost in a few weeks, they were filled with the Spirit of God, which brought them not only peace, but also courage. They went on to perform miracles and share the good news with thousands of people all over the known world. All but one of them would eventually die for their faith, but they did so with their hearts and minds filled with the peace that passes understanding.
What, exactly, was this peace that Jesus with which Jesus blessed them? We hear talk of peace a lot. When I was a kid we would give each other the peace sign. Then peace meant getting out of Vietnam. We often pray for world peace. We honor people with the Nobel Peace Prize. Our most common definition of peace is the absence of conflict or war. But is this what Jesus meant when he said “Peace be with you!” to the disciples? If so, it didn’t seem to work out because they had lots of conflicts happen to them.
The Hebrew word Jesus used for peace was shalom. True biblical shalom means an inward sense of completeness or wholeness. Although it can describe the absence of war, a majority of biblical references refer to an inner completeness and tranquility.
The Jews of Jesus day would use shalom as a greeting but it was a greeting mixed with a blessing. How are you? I hope you are filled with completeness. May health and prosperity be yours.
In the Old Testament especially, Israel was to rarely experience times of outward peace, but even in the midst of battle, they were to have an inward rest brought on by the presence of the Lord, regardless of the outward circumstances — so it should be for us as well.
It is God who was giving shalom to Israel. It was gift then as it for us today. Which will we choose? Will we focus on the conflict and stress around us or will be choose to live and walk in the shalom that is offered to us?
We are able to be at full peace in our hearts, even while dealing with the seemingly messy chaos of life events surrounding us.
Besides Madame Blueberry, I’d like to briefly tell the stories of some real people who found peace with God. They know their completeness is in Jesus, who gave his life so that they might be able to accept the gift. They have the peace that passes understanding.
The disciples, who were not feeling peaceful at all immediately following Jesus’ death quickly discovered true peace put it to good use in their lives. They traveled and preached. They were arrested and beaten and had shipwrecks and eventually were martyred and through it all they retained the peace that Jesus blessed them with.
Martin Luther went through some incredible situations. In his early life, he had no peace in his life. He joined the monastic life out of fear of death. Then he practically drove his confessor crazy trying to confess every sin in his life, no matter how minute, out of fear of what he considered a vengeful God. Then God opened his eyes to scripture and he discovered God’s grace and his life was changed.
The man who had been so fearful was now able to stand up to both Pope and Emperor and declare, “Here I stand, I can do no other.” when told to recant of his writings. He went on to be a main lynchpin in the protestant movement.
St. Maximilian Kolbe
Saint Maximilian Kolbe was a Franciscan Friar. He started two monasteries, one in Japan, which is still in use, and one in India, which has since closed. Near the beginning of WWII he returned to a monastery in his homeland of Poland where he helped shelter refugees, including over 2,000 Jews. Eventually the monastery was shut down by the Germans and he was arrested by the Gestapo. He ended up in Auschwitz where he was often beaten and harassed. At meal times he would often wait til the end of the line to ensure others got enough of the limited food available.
At one point a prisoner escaped from the camp and as a way to deter further escape attempts, the commandant sentenced 10 men to be starved to death. One of the men cried out about his family so Fr. Kolbe volunteered to take his place. After two weeks with no food or water, only four men were left, including Fr. Kolbe. They gave the men lethal injections to end their lives and it is reported that he calmly held out his arm to receive it.
Even in the midst of his own suffering, this man never stopped looking for ways to serve others, even to giving his own life. That is not something one can do without being at peace with yourself and God.
Corrie ten Boom
You’ve probably heard of Corrie ten Boom. If you haven’t, she was a young Dutch woman at the onset of WWII. She worked for the Dutch resistance and she and her family hid Jews from the Nazis in a secret room in her parents home. They were eventually discovered and sent to a concentration camp. Her father died shortly after their arrest and her sister died in the camp. Twelve days after her sister’s death, Corrie was released due a clerical error. Ten days after that, all the woman in her age group were sent to the gas chamber. She then returned to her home where she continued to shelter people with disabilities who were in fear of execution.
Just a couple years after the end of the war she was giving a talk about her experiences and forgiveness in a church in Germany. At the end of the talk when most people were leaving in silence, one man walked against the crowd and came up to Corrie. Here is what happened in her words.
“Now he was in front of me, hand thrust out: “A fine message, fräulein! How good it is to know that, as you say, all our sins are at the bottom of the sea!”
And I, who had spoken so glibly of forgiveness, fumbled in my pocketbook rather than take that hand. He would not remember me, of course–how could he remember one prisoner among those thousands of women?
But I remembered him and the leather crop swinging from his belt. It was the first time since my release that I had been face to face with one of my captors and my blood seemed to freeze.
“You mentioned Ravensbrück in your talk,” he was saying. “I was a guard in there.” No, he did not remember me.
“But since that time,” he went on, “I have become a Christian. I know that God has forgiven me for the cruel things I did there, but I would like to hear it from your lips as well. Fräulein”–again the hand came out–“will you forgive me?”
And I stood there–I whose sins had every day to be forgiven–and could not. Betsie had died in that place–could he erase her slow terrible death simply for the asking?
It could not have been many seconds that he stood there, hand held out, but to me it seemed hours as I wrestled with the most difficult thing I had ever had to do.
For I had to do it–I knew that. The message that God forgives has a prior condition: that we forgive those who have injured us. “If you do not forgive men their trespasses,” Jesus says, “neither will your Father in heaven forgive your trespasses.”
I knew it not only as a commandment of God, but as a daily experience. Since the end of the war I had had a home in Holland for victims of Nazi brutality.
Those who were able to forgive their former enemies were able also to return to the outside world and rebuild their lives, no matter what the physical scars. Those who nursed their bitterness remained invalids. It was as simple and as horrible as that.
And still I stood there with the coldness clutching my heart. But forgiveness is not an emotion–I knew that too. Forgiveness is an act of the will, and the will can function regardless of the temperature of the heart.
“Jesus, help me!” I prayed silently. “I can lift my hand. I can do that much. You supply the feeling.”
And so woodenly, mechanically, I thrust my hand into the one stretched out to me. And as I did, an incredible thing took place. The current started in my shoulder, raced down my arm, sprang into our joined hands. And then this healing warmth seemed to flood my whole being, bringing tears to my eyes.
“I forgive you, brother!” I cried. “With all my heart!”
For a long moment we grasped each other’s hands, the former guard and the former prisoner. I had never known God’s love so intensely as I did then.”
Without the peace of God in being, Corrie would never have been able to forgive this former guard. When she did forgive him, God renewed that peace in a powerful way, filling her cup till it overflowed, as the Psalmist says.
Fr. Del McCune
Enough with people from the past. I have a longtime friend, Del McCune. We went to early elementary school together and I attended his birthday party in the second grade. We lost contact after high school but reconnected thanks to Facebook.
Del retired from the army in 2002 after having put in 20 years of active service. After that, he put in another 20 years as a civil servant in the Army. Along the way, he went to seminary and became a Catholic Priest in the Anglican rite and took his vows in 2013. He was forced to retire from civil service after having contracted cancer and undergoing multiple rounds of chemotherapy. He is now a part-time chaplain in Sierra Vista, Arizona.
Along with an ongoing battle with cancer, Fr. Del is in need of surgery on two separate areas of his spine, both of which are risky, as you can imagine. In spite of the hardships his health is laying on him, Fr. Del is always looking for ways to ease the burdens on other’s shoulders.
He works as a chaplain when he easily live off of his retirement. He posts regularly on Facebook, all of his posts being uplifting stories, jokes, or puns guaranteed to bring at least a smile. The only times he posts otherwise is when he is asking for prayer for a medical need he has. Even then, the request is bookended by how blessed or how thankful he is for his friends, family, or place in life.
In spite of his health issues, Fr. Del is at peace. Even friends who are not Christian or even atheists seem to recognize that. What a witness that is to those non-believing friends!
The last person I’m going to talk about today is one whom some of you may have met and many of you have prayed for, my mother-in-law, Mary Cilley. Mary is an only child and showed a real gift for music. Her instrument was the bassoon and she started college at the University of Wisconsin as a music major. She was good enough that she was offered a position with the Madison Wisconsin Symphony Orchestra. they didn’t ask her to try out, they offered the position to her. Out of a desire to help people, she turned down the offer and switched her major to nursing, becoming an RN.
While there, she met my father-in-law, Bill, and they soon got married. They tried having kids but were not successful and she suffered a miscarriage after having lots of issues while pregnant. This being in the days before we had all the options available to us now they decided to adopt children. They first adopted a boy and then started the process of adopting a girl. While that was in process she became pregnant again and was again having issues with the pregnancy. No one believed the pregnancy would go through so the adoption of the girl went through. Seven months after the adoption happened with a new born girl, my wife, Paula, was born. It’s fun to see peoples eyebrows raise when they’re told that Paula is only seven months younger than her sister!
Following Paula, another son was was born. So, with four kids in the house, Mary’s heart wasn’t satisfied. She talked Bill into becoming a foster family and over the years they fostered seven children, one of whom they actually fostered twice and eventually adopted for total of five children in the family. Even with all this going on and having a full-time job as a nurse, she found time to volunteer at her church and other places up until she was physically unable to do so.
Not long after Paula and I met, Mary was diagnosed with breast cancer for which she underwent surgery and chemotherapy. She survived that only to be diagnosed rheumatoid arthritis, and lupus. Both of which caused her a lot of pain. Eventually osteoporosis kicked in and with her back being unable to support her weight, even though she was always thin, she developed scoliosis, curvature of the spine. This also caused her significant pain.
Several years ago she fell and instead of breaking a hip, she broke her neck and went several days before getting it diagnosed! She ended up getting seven vertebrae in her neck fused together and is no longer able to lift or turn her head. Neither she or her surgeon expected her to survive the surgery. Since then she has suffered kidney failure and is now mostly blind and mostly deaf. She is now under hospice care along with her husband, Bill.
Despite all that she has suffered and the pain she has endured, I could count on one hand the times I’ve heard her actually complain about her condition or anything else for that matter. Being under hospice care she is sometimes afraid of what is happening, but even then it’s mostly fear for Bill and not herself. Through all that she has suffered in her life, her heart has remained peaceful. She is a real inspiration to me.
These people I’ve mentioned are just regular people except for one thing, they all have or had the experience of peace, of shalom in their lives and they couldn’t keep it to themselves. They are also thankful in almost all circumstances. I hope these brief biographies may serve as an inspiration to you.
All of us, even those whom I just mentioned, are lacking in peace in some ways at some times. We are all sinners and fall short of the glory of God, All of our efforts to gain this peace on our own are to naught. So, assuming we want that peace, and I don’t think everyone does, how can we go about getting it in our lives?
One way, I think, is to be thankful for what we have and for where God is leading us. This is by no means always easy although it will gets easier the more we practice it. The disciples, who were regularly put in prison and/or beaten were often said to be giving thanks and singing hymns of praise to God in the midst of their troubles.
I think Jesus himself gives us another clue in Matthew 5:9, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.”
Jesus was a man of peace and he spent his life, gave it even, striving to bring peace to others. He shared the good news with them. He spent time with them. He healed those who were suffering and forgave the sins of those who were being crushed by those sins.
I don’t think we can’t find true peace for ourselves until we try to make peace for others. When we spend our time and resources trying to help others achieve wholeness in body and spirit, God calls us sons and daughters of God and blesses us with that same peace we are working to give to others.
If you are not at peace today, stop and ask yourself why. Is it because you are not thankful for what you have or where you are in life? If so, try to start saying the words, “thank you,” to God in as many circumstances as you can. Look for God’s presence in all things and give thanks for that, if for nothing else. Giving thanks is like fertilizer for peace.
If you are not at peace today, is it because you are looking for it in the wrong places or in the wrong things? If it is, repent from those places or things and turn toward Jesus. Ask God to bless you with his peace and then following in the footsteps of Jesus, start looking for ways that you might be a peacemaker in the world. I think you will find that when you do, you will also start to find the peace of God growing in yourself as well.
Jesus said these peacemakers will be called sons of God. Jesus was called the Son of God. By sharing God’s uncontainable peace with others, we become just like Jesus.
If you are not at peace today, stop and ask if you are spending enough time reading the scriptures and praying. Would you have a healthy relationship with anyone if you rarely or never talk to each other? Try going one of our Bible studies or setting aside some time each day to read and pray. It can do wonders.
Lastly, if you are not at peace today, simply ask Jesus to grant it to you. If he gave it to the disciples, who were cowering in fear, how much more will he, out of his great love, give it to you who are seeking it.
And now, may the shalom of God, which surpasses all understanding, guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
Amen, come Lord Jesus.