So, last weekend was busy for all of us. I ‘got’ to preach three times—Good Friday, Sunday Sunrise and Easter Worship. Of course, I should have posted THREE sermons last week, and I do have them, but there was no time to get things posted—the church-doin’s, visiting family and all of that...well, just left me plum tuckered out (my Georgia birth comes through....) I’ll include them in the commentary that will be published next year.
This Sunday, I continue with the narrative lectionary, but I’m making these sermons a series that will take us to Pentecost. We are doing an outreach emphasis in/for our parish for the next six weeks, and the theme is, “What’s Missing?” (¿Qué falta?) What is missing from your life? So, I’ll be reading the Scriptures with this question in my mind...looking for answers in the passages we preach.
This week, as the title above indicates, I’m cutting down the passage to include just six verses—19-23 of John 20. (Nope, not doing Thomas this time around.) Let’s get going!
19-20: Jesus appears to the gathered disciples for the first time after the Resurrection. They are frightened—either of the Jewish leaders (“They got Jesus; maybe they’ll come after us next?”) or of the Romans (“They may think we stole Jesus’ body!”). Jesus suddenly appears among them. Whether he slipped in through a window or simply ‘appeared,’ John is not clear nor does he care—what matters is that Jesus is there, in the flesh. Jesus greets the disciples with words of peace. Then, he shows them his wounds...to alleviate any doubt. And the disciples? They are “overjoyed” (NIV) to see Jesus.
v.21-23: As if to drive the point home, Jesus again pours out words of peace on his disciples, but he doesn’t stop there. He reminds them that his earthly journey was part of a divine project, and he now includes the disciples in that project. Oddly (or not), Jesus then imparts the Holy Spirit by breathing on them. Then, he says something about forgiving and not forgiving, forgiven and not forgiven....
This weekend, we have an Annual Islamic Festival in a nearby town. The verdict is not yet in as to whether we’ll go or not—we’ll see how the Wifey feels after a long day of work today. Nevertheless, I have thought about Islam as we’ve considered this time to feast on Middle Eastern foods and see friends. Islam means ‘submission.’ A Muslim is ‘one who submits.’ Of course, all of this is related to Allah (God.) Submitting one’s self to God and to the will of God is a good thing. If Islam is about ‘submission,’ then Christianity is about ‘sent.’ We are a people on the go, with a mission—we are sent. Jesus here says, “As the Father is sending me, I am sending you.”
The word ‘apostle’ means ‘sent;’ to be an apostle is to be one who has been sent. This passage refers to ‘the disciples,’ and many commentators seem to think that more than just the Eleven are gathered here. If that is the case, then this ‘sent’ thing applies to more than just the Eleven; it applies to all disciples...all followers of Jesus...all Christians.
Sent for What?
And, if we’re sent, what are we sent to do? Jesus is sent by the Father—a culmination of centuries of God’s unfolding plan, a plan initiated in Genesis 12:1-4 with the call of Abraham. God begins the great redemption of the world in Abraham. Jesus, the culmination of the Abraham story, comes proclaiming the Kingdom of God—a new way of living, a new understanding of God, and a clear understanding of who we are as humans. That Kingdom-proclamation comes to a climax in the crucifixion—a self-sacrifice, a death on our behalf.
Our friend John talks about/addresses that sacrifice in one of his letters to the churches:
“...Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world” (I John 2:1b-2).
Jesus is the sacrifice for our sins. He is the one who brings forgiveness for our sins...for the whole world. So what is the overarching message of the Cross? What is the purpose of the Cross? Forgiveness. And, what is the gift of God’s Spirit (first gift of the Spirit!?) here in John 20? Forgiveness.
Now, we won’t dive into whether or not we have the power to forgive sins (Scripture seems to be clear on that—God forgives our sins...see I John 1:9) But, we do have the power to forgive those who have sinned against us. What do we pray every Sunday, “...forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” Of course this prayer, the Lord’s Prayer, touches on all kinds of issues and topics; yet, after providing the prayer in Matt. 6:9ff, the only element Jesus comments on is the issue of forgiveness (Matt. 6:14-15)— “...if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.”
Forgiveness is huge. Friendships are mended through forgiveness. Families are healed through forgiveness. Work relationships are fixed through forgiveness. Our relationship with God is mended through God’s forgiveness. We are sent by Jesus to be agents of forgiveness. Our tendency is to sit on our butts and plan revenge. We love to daydream about retribution. We cuddle and coddle our self-righteous anger, praying earnestly and hard for “God’s justice.” Jesus calls and sends us to forgive...to let it go (no, don’t go thinking about Frozen....)
A word about forgiveness: Forgiving in not forgetting, and it’s not excusing. Physiologically, we cannot truly forget unless we sustain brain trauma or develop a neurological disease that impacts our memory; that old sponge up there keeps it all. And, forgiveness does not ask us to excuse bad, wrong, immoral behavior—we should strive to change that behavior if it’s ours, and we should make others aware of such behavior if it’s theirs (we can’t change them).
Forgiveness is a decision not to dwell or think on an offense;
it is a decision to live as if the offense never happened.
We are sent by Jesus to be agents of forgiveness, beginning in our own lives and encouraging others in their lives. After all, if I refuse to forgive, then I haul around the weight of the offence, and it holds me back, keeps me from really living, robs me of joy...and makes Jesus sacrifice of no effect...and I cannot know God’s forgiveness. Jesus died to forgive; he was resurrected to send us out with the message of forgiveness.
This Sunday, I’m going with “what’s missing?” and this passage speaks to something missing in many lives—purpose, direction. Jesus sends us all...and with a very clear mission—we have purpose: We continue his work, God’s work of redeeming the world, and we do that first by being agents of forgiveness.
Wishing you all a great Sunday! God bless....
(Go HERE to read my intro to this series.)