These Doors Cannot Hold Us

Sunday, April 24, 2022
Pastor Jason Bryan-Wegner

John 20:19-31

I once asked on Facebook what holds people back from doing what they believe they are called to do. The overwhelming response was fear. Fear of failure, fear of over-commitment, fear of disappointing people or not living up to others’ expectations. But one response really grabbed my attention. She said, “I think [what holds me back is] my unwillingness to change what I am comfortable with, even if what I am comfortable with is not fulfilling my calling.” Honest, right? And true. There’s often a tension between the comfort of familiarity and a calling that leads us into something new and unfamiliar.  

This tension happens at natural turning points in our lives – going through adolescence, starting college or a first job, getting married, moving to a new city for a career opportunity, or retiring. Each of these events requires us to set something comfortable or familiar aside so that we can respond to what is coming next. Then there are the times when God’s call breaks into our lives when it’s least expected, and perhaps when it’s needed most.  

After Jesus’ crucifixion, his disciples retreated to the house where they had gathered earlier that week – where the Lord had washed their feet and shared his last supper with them. It was a place of security and familiarity, until it wasn’t. The familiarity of the place didn’t offer the same comfort. They were full of fear. Their Lord was dead, there were rumors he was alive, and the future was uncertain.  

They were filled with questions and anxiety, “What happens now?” “We knew what we were supposed to do when he was here, but everything has changed.” So, they locked the doors behind them as if to say, “Our hearts and minds are locked up and we can’t move forward.” 

Isn’t that when fear gets the firmest hold on us? When we look at the future and instead of seeing new opportunities, we only see the unknown dangers that lie ahead. It’s no surprise we cling to comfort and familiarity when things like this happen. But there’s danger in this too. Without breaking the hold of fear, we can’t go beyond the locked doors that keep us from responding to God’s call in our lives.  

Wal Reat came to the US as a refugee from South Sudan about 25 years ago. While working in a factory in Faribault, he started worshiping at a Lutheran church because Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Services helped him get to the US and LSS helped him establish a new life here. Soon more South Sudanese started to worship with him. He began leading a worship service in their native language of Nuer on Sunday afternoons at the church and was mentored by Pastor Steve, from the church.   

After the war with Sudan ended, Wal went back to visit his family. People heard that he was leading a church in the US and urged him to start Lutheran churches in South Sudan. But Wal wasn’t a pastor. He wasn’t planning to stay in South Sudan to lead churches. He didn’t even have a high school diploma. And there was no Lutheran church body anywhere in South Sudan. He couldn’t do that, could he? These obstacles and fears would have been enough for anyone to close themselves off from the call. But he had a love for God and God’s people, and that love unlocked his heart to hear God’s call and respond. When Wal returned the next year, Pastor Steve went with him. Five churches were established, lay leaders were commissioned to lead, and more than 120 people were baptized.  

You see, fear is no obstacle for the Risen Christ. He breaks through the locked doors of the disciples’ house and hearts, stands right there in all their fear and questions, and says, “Peace be with you.” Jesus’ presence in our lives shows that no door can hold us, no fear is too great for God. Jesus’ peace changes fear to hope.  

Jesus says to the disciples a second time, “Peace be with you.” And with this word of peace, he calls them out from locked doors. “As the father has sent me, so I send you.” Up to this point, the disciples have followed Jesus. Now he sends them out as apostles, ones who are sent to bear witness to the power of Jesus’ resurrection to bring new life into a world of fear and brokenness. The doors of fear or comfort cannot hold the disciples any more than they can hold us who call Jesus Lord today. Jesus calls us to walk where he walks – from fear to hope, from death to life, from students to witnesses, and disciples to apostles.  

One of the clearest ways Augustana has responded to God’s call to bear witness to the life of Christ has been through our global partnerships in Tanzania, Guatemala, and recently in the Middle East. Over the last 30+ years, more than 100 people have responded to the call to be sent out to walk “Bega kwa bega”, or as “companeros en evangelio” with our siblings in Christ. In addition, hundreds of you have supported these relationships with your prayers and your financial support. 

I’m sure there have been times when the challenges our partners face have been overwhelming, where it would have been easy for fear to take hold and lock us away from these life-giving relationships. And yet, by faith God has sent us out, giving us Christ’s peace again and again to respond with faith and generosity. Through these partnerships we have been witness to God’s power to bring new life in so many ways.  

Because we have unlocked our hearts and stepped out in love and partnership,  

  • girls are receiving an education rather than being married at 13 or 14 years old.  
  • Churches are proclaiming the gospel, raising up leaders, and transforming their communities with God’s grace and love.  
  • Tanzanian widows without any other means of survival have materials to create beautiful crafts to sell to support themselves.  
  • Young children in Guatemala are getting an education and have a safe place to be, rather than being recruited to join gangs.  
  • And in the Middle East bridges are being built between Jews, Christians, and Muslims that are creating networks of peace and shared humanity, breaking centuries long cycles of violence between these communities. 

This is what happens when the church responds to God’s call to be sent out. It’s what happens when we cast off fear and put our trust in the Risen Christ.   

I want to invite you to join me in the ongoing work of supporting our global partners in Tanzania, Guatemala, and the Middle East this year. We have set a goal of $50,000. My family and I have made a commitment of $750 as our first gift to Global Mission here at Augustana. If you’ve never given before, I invite you to consider giving your first gift with us. If you’ve given before, I invite you to give generously again and consider increasing your gift this year so that our partners can expand their reach and meet the needs of their communities. You can learn more about the specific ways your gifts will bring life and hope to our global partners in the brochure in the pews. We will collect all our gifts in worship next week or you can give your gift online.  

In this season of Easter, this season of new life – may Christ’s peace be with you. And may that peace live in you in such ways that it frees you from the grip of fear and releases you to be sent out by the call of God. God’s call comes in many forms. It may be to serve alongside on behalf of our global ministry partners, it may be to show up for someone hurting in your life, it may mean changing careers or reconsidering life goals to respond in faith to Christ’s peace. Whatever it is that God is calling you to – you can trust that the Spirit of God goes with you beyond the doors that seek to hold you back, and the love of Christ will lead you to life in his name. For that is what resurrection does for us and for the whole world. Amen.  

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