The Quiet in the Land

John 20:19-31 (New International Version)

Jesus Appears to His Disciples

 19On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” 20After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord.

 21Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” 22And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.”

Jesus Appears to Thomas

 24Now Thomas (called Didymus), one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came. 25So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord!”
      But he said to them, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe it.”

 26A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” 27Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.”

 28Thomas said to him, “My Lord and my God!”

 29Then Jesus told him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”

 30Jesus did many other miraculous signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. 31But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.

 

            A guy joins a monastery and takes a vow of silence.  He is only allowed to speak two words every five years that he is there.  After his first five years the head of the monastery comes to him and says, “Brother John, you’ve been here for five years, so you may speak two words now if you so wish.”

            “Food cold,” said John.  The head of the monastery said they would be happy to fix the problem.

            Five more years went by and the head of the monastery came to Brother John and said again, “Brother John, you’ve been here for ten years, so you may speak two words now if you wish to do so.”

            John thought for a minute and he said, “Bed hard.”  The head of the monastery said he would get John a softer bed.

            Five more years go by and the head of the monastery approaches Brother John and tells him “John, you’ve been here for 15 years and you may now speak two more words.”

            John didn’t hesitate, and replied, “I quit.”

            “It doesn’t surprise me,” said the head of the monastery.  “You’ve done nothing but complain since you got here.”

            They say that silence is golden, and I do believe that silence is important.  Silence gives us a chance to think, to reflect on life, and to pray.  But just as there are times when silence is appropriate, there are times when silence simply will not do.

            Today we are going to look at the scripture above to see how too much silence is a bad thing.  I hope to look at some of the reasons for our silence and hopefully challenge us all to be a little more vocal.

            Our scripture for this morning begins on the evening of the first Easter.  Earlier that day Mary Magdalene had found the empty tomb, led Peter and John there to see it, and then Jesus revealed himself to Mary.  Now we find the disciples, minus Thomas and Judas, gathered in a room with the doors locked.  Some believe that they were still gathering in the rented Upper Room where they had met for the Last Supper.  But why did they have the doors locked?  John tells us, “Out of fear of the Jews.”

            The disciples had witnessed the torture and crucifixion of Jesus.  I’ve never seen that sort of thing, but I know that I don’t want that to happen to me, or to anyone, really.  So I don’t blame them for meeting together and locking the door because there surely would have been a fear among them that if the Jewish authorities had this done to Jesus, maybe they would do the same to them out of fear that Jesus’ message might be continued through his followers.

            I understand the fear that the disciples had because I think that is what our spiritual ancestors, the Anabaptists, had to endure.  The Mennonites trace their lineage bake to the 16th century movement of the Reformation where a group decided that they wanted to be baptized as adults, voluntarily, by choice.  The word Anabaptist literally means to baptize again. 

The Anabaptists were tortured and killed because of their radical beliefs.  This will sound a little gruesome, but it is true.  The early Anabaptists had their eyes gouged out and fingers pulled off, they were hung from the rafters by their arms and legs until they either died or would say that they would no longer adhere to the teachings of the Anabaptists (recant).  Preachers and evangelists would have their tongues removed or screwed to the roof of their mouths to teach them to stop preaching the message that they had been preaching.  In the almost fifty year period of persecution from 1525 to 1574 between 1,500 and 2,500 Anabaptists were martyred, killed for their beliefs.

            Thankfully the persecutions of the Anabaptists slowed down.  But a strange thing happened as the persecutions lessened.  When it became safer to be an Anabaptist, the Anabaptists got comfortable.  They developed small communities where they could buy their goods from Anabaptist stores and sell their livestock at Anabaptist stockyards.  They gathered together in rural areas and lived out their lives among their own people with little influence from the outside world.  The idea was If we don’t have to interact with the rest of the world, they can’t hurt us or pervert our religious beliefs.  And thus the Anabaptists became Die stille im Lande, the quiet in the land.

            So I don’t blame Jesus’ disciples for hiding in a locked room and I don’t blame the 16th century Anabaptists for hiding and worshipping in the caves and forests where they would be safe.  But there comes a time when you need to step out of your safe zone.

            As we pick back up in our scripture we find in verse 21, “Again Jesus said, ‘Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.’ And with that he breathed on them and said, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit.’”

            The disciples knew that they were in danger of persecution, torture, and even death.  That is why they have locked themselves in the room.  But now here is Jesus saying, “As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” 

            Jesus doesn’t say, “Stay here where it is safe.  Those people will tear you to shreds.”  He tells the disciples to get out in the world and live!  Keep doing the things we have been doing, living as a part of this new kingdom of God.  Even it if costs you your lives.

            When I read Jesus saying “As the Father has sent me, I am sending you” I get chills up my spine.  The scriptures tell us over and over that God knew that Jesus would be tortured and killed, that this wasn’t all going to be rosy for him.  But God sent Jesus into the world because that was what needed to happen for the world to be transformed.  God needed to send Jesus into this world to bring good news.  And now Jesus is saying just as my father sent me into this world, now I’m sending you.  I’m sending you into the world so that the world might be transformed through the good news.  I know it might hurt, I know you might get killed, but you need to be out there spreading the good news of the kingdom and living as a citizen of this kingdom.

            And the disciples did it.  They went out and preached the Good News.  They healed the sick, gave to those in need, and preached a kingdom of love where Jesus is Lord.  And many were killed and tortured.  Peter is said to have been crucified upside-down.  Matthew is said to have been killed by a sword or a spear.  Others were killed by beheading.  The very thing that they had feared so much on that first Easter Sunday that they had locked themselves up in a room to keep the others away had indeed happened to them.  Tradition tells us that each of the disciples, with the exception of Judas, was martyred. 

So what happened that made them go ahead and take that first step out the door into a world that they knew would hate and despise them?  They realized that they had a message that was worth dieing for.  And so did the early Anabaptists.  We are not called to be the quiet in the land.  We are called to be Christ’s ambassadors to the world.

            Now up to this point I have been speaking about the Anabaptists and more specifically the Mennonites being the quiet in the land.  But I only use this faith tradition because that is what I am the most familiar with.  I am sure that the same thing can be said about many of the other Christian denominations today.  And I believe that is because we are afraid of what is outside of the church and who is outside of the church.  And I believe that the fear that we have today isn’t that we will become martyred or persecuted for our religion, but often that those outside of the church are simply “bad people”.

            This past Monday I was walking through downtown Staunton heading to my car after grabbing an early morning cup of joe.  And I saw a friend of mine who owns and operates a shop downtown walking on a street, coming toward me, about 30 yards away from me.  He was heading away from the shop, so I yelled out to him, “Hey, you missed your store.”

            He yelled back to me, “I know, I’m going to the bank to make the weekend’s deposit.”

            Remember, we are walking downtown.  There are other people around us, and we are yelling back and forth about 30 yards apart from one another.  So I yell back to him, “I don’t think everybody heard you.  Can you say that a little louder?”  Just a tip, if you are carrying your weekend earnings from a store to a bank in a bag through downtown anywhere, don’t yell it out so that everyone can hear you.

            He yelled back to me, “I guess I’m not too smart.”

            I replied to him, “No, I think you just see the good in people.”

            In the 16th Century, there was a great theologian named John Calvin.  Calvin wrote a lot and he is the one that many denominations today trace their beginnings back to.  I respect Calvin a lot and I think he did a lot of good for Christianity.  But there is at least one doctrine that I don’t fully agree with and that is what Calvin called the “Total Depravity of Man” (I would align theologically with some of the nuances, though not fully).  Calvin wrote, “For our nature is not only utterly devoid of goodness, but so prolific in all kinds of evil, that it can never be idle. Those who term it concupiscence (lust) use a word not very inappropriate, provided it were added, (this, however, many will by no means concede,) that everything which is in man, from the intellect to the will, from the soul even to the flesh, is defiled and pervaded with this concupiscence; or, to express it more briefly, that the whole man is in himself nothing else than concupiscence.”  (Institutes of Christian Religion, Book 2, Chapter 1, Section 8)

            I agree that there is a lot wrong with humanity today.  There isn’t a single one of us without sin and there isn’t a single one of us who doesn’t need a savior.  But to say that there isn’t an ounce of goodness in us, that we are “utterly devoid of goodness” seems a bit strong to me.  As I have said before, we were made in the image of God.  We are icons of God, though we are cracked, marred by sin.  And we still bear some of that image.

            My friend walking down the street, yelling out that he was going to make a deposit doesn’t seem to think that all of humanity is totally deprived of any good.  And I don’t doubt that he would agree that sin has broken us.

            I believe that how we see the rest of the world influences how we interact with those outside of the Christian faith.  Do we look at people as utterly devoid of goodness, or as people created beautifully in the image of God, yet marred by sin in need of healing?  I believe that some of this Calvinism crept into the Mennonite mentality of being the quiet in the land.  Shut the rest of the world out of our small communities and maintain a pure bloodline within the church.  There has been this fear that those outside of the church will corrupt the church, tempt our children, and pollute the people.  And there is some truth to that.  But by shutting out all of what we have deemed “bad” have we closed the door on seeing the good in other people?  And have we closed the door on inviting other people to become followers of Jesus Christ?

            We have something special to offer the world.  I greatly appreciate my three years of study at Eastern Mennonite University.  I gained knowledge, experiences, and developed friendships that I will cherish for a lifetime.  EMU seems to have a goal of providing an educational experience from an Anabaptist perspective that will help keep Mennonite students engaged in the Mennonite Church.  I recently heard a very encouraging number from EMU.  It was something like 90% of Mennonite students graduating from EMU remain a part of the Mennonite Church after graduation.

            I appreciate that.  But compare that to the approach of Bluffton University, a Mennonite college in Ohio.  Rather than trying to keep their Mennonite students in the Mennonite church, Bluffton is more focused on spreading the Christian faith, especially Anabaptist distinctives, to non-churched people.  I like EMU’s approach, but I really like Bluffton’s.

            I like that because I think that we have something to offer the world.  We have a message of peace in times of war.  We have a message of simplicity in an age of consumerism.  We have a message of forgiveness in an era of retribution.  We have a message of love in an era of hate.  So why be the quiet in the land when we have a message that should be shout from a rooftop?

            The quiet in the land mentality came about because the Anabaptists were being persecuted and killed for their beliefs.  There was a transition from a mentality that said “I’m going to follow, serve, and share Jesus, even if it costs me my life” to “I’m going to follow and serve Jesus in a quiet and peaceful way so that other people won’t mess with me.”

            Yes, we are called to be in the world, but not of it.  Mennonites and many other denominations have done a really good job of not being “of the world.”  But have we done so at the expense of not being “in the world”? 

            In conclusion this morning, I would like to read from Acts 4:18-20, “18So they called them and ordered them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus. 19But Peter and John answered them, ‘Whether it is right in God’s sight to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge; 20for we cannot keep from speaking about what we have seen and heard.’”  My prayer for us all today is that we will no longer be the quiet in the land, but may we continue speaking about what we have seen and heard while living as the alternative community known as the church.

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About Kevin Gasser

I envision this site to be a place where I can post my weekly sermon text and invite feedback from anyone who is interested in the church, theology, or life in general. Please note that these sermons are rough drafts of what I plan to say from the pulpit, so typos are common.
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