Sermon:April 8, 2018
IT WAS EVENING WHEN HE CAME
SERMON INTRODUCTION COMMENTARY - A retelling of what happened just before Jesus appears to his followers in the locked room . . .
So it’s Sunday night. Mary has already seen and spoken to Jesus at the tomb and she told the guys all about it. And what did they do? Nothing. Absolutely nothing. They didn’t think they were doing nothing – they had, after all, gotten back together in the house and they had locked all the doors – can’t you just see them – the windows too! Make sure you get the windows! We’re next, you know! They killed Jesus! Surely they’ll kill us too!
And when Mary came back to tell them, she had to knock - probably a secret code knock. And, well, they did unlock the door for Mary – hurry up! Get inside before someone sees you! They practically dragged her inside.
And then she told them – I’ve seen him!
Jesus! I’ve seen him! He isn’t dead – he’s alive!
I don’t know how - but he is alive – I’m telling you - I’ve seen him with my own eyes!
That’s not funny, Mary! I know – that’s what I’m trying to tell you! I have seen him with my own eyes, heard him with my own ears, touched him with my own hands! He told me not to hold onto him - that he is ascending to the Father! That’s what he said!
But what does it mean?
I don’t know - all I know is what he told me.
She’s just a woman - don’t listen to her! She’s crazy - always was. Jesus wouldn’t come to you - he just wouldn’t! I told you she’s crazy!
What are you doing? Do not unlock that door!
After Jesus comes to them, the next thing the guys did was go fishing. Jesus tells them to get out into the world and get busy forgiving people and they go fishing! What’s up with these guys? Don’t they know what a big deal this is? What a big job Jesus has given them? How can they just go fishing? That’s a story for another day . . . for today, maybe all we need to know is that . . . even as we are sitting trembling in fear, Jesus is alive! Even as we are busy locking all our doors, Jesus is busy unlocking all our hearts.
SCRIPTURE READING from John 20.19-31 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.
It was evening when he came . . . and they, well, they were afraid – hiding behind locked doors – dreading every sound, hearing every creak upon the stairs as the threat to their existence that it was . . . they were next – simple as that . . .
And what do condemned men do? Mostly, they wait. And they tremble. So it is that his disciples, his followers – his faithful and faithless – sat . . . and waited . . . and trembled . . .
It was there . . . behind the locks and the doors . . . in the foggy dimness of twilight . . . in a room filled with the stench of fear . . . that Jesus stood, as if he had been there all along . . . and calmly pronounced the accompanying reality of God’s own peace to a group of people who could barely imagine such peace let alone feel its accompanying presence . . .
And then the risen Jesus does this extraordinary thing . . . as part of his divine sending, he breathes the Holy Spirit into them . . . God has come to float, to live, to become their very breath . . .
Sit with that for just a moment . . . God is our very breath . . . What happens in that room is the very Genesis act of creating and recreating . . . God breathes – we live.
As one translation of God’s creation of humanity in Genesis has it, "And Yahweh God fashioned the humanity of the dust of the ground, and breathed into its nostrils the breathing of life, so the humanity became a living breath" – because God breathed, we became . . . God’s . . . living breath . . .
Breathing is not merely something we do . . . it is who and what we are . . . we are the living breath of God . . . This breath of God, this breath for life is something our bodies already know but something which our minds must learn . . . and relearn again and again and again . . .
Medieval scientist, nun, theologian, poetess, chastizer of popes and bishops, and songwriter, Hildegard of Bingen, once wrote, "My new song must float like a feather on the breath of God."
Every breath we take is infused with God . . . every song, every word, every shout, every cry . . . floats on the breath of God . . .
God’s breath is like an ocean surrounding us and infusing us . . . how very silly we must seem to God as we spend so much time unaware that we are filled with, that we are in the midst of, God’s life-giving, life-saving ocean of breath. . . an ocean of love lifting and holding us up . . . safely floating us to our destination while we, unaware, dream we must keep swimming . . . or worse, nightmare we are drowning . . . when God’s life-sustaining breath is there all along . . .
Jesus is, we are, God’s breath . . . inhaling . . . taking into God’s very self all that is wrong and broken and bad in our world . . . and in us . . .
and exhaling . . . breathing into us and through us, into the world, as God’s gifting all that is of God . . . God’s goodness . . . God’s wholeness . . . God’s health . . . God’s peace . . .
As the father has sent me, so send I you . . .
And what is that thing for which Jesus was sent? It is that simple and oh-so-hard-in-the-doing thing we call forgiveness . . . the better translation of the Greek is release, as in set free from bondage . . .
As Jesus says, it’s quite simple, really: If you forgive others, they are forgiven . . . this is the work I am sending you out to do . . . everywhere . . . with everyone . . . for if you do not do this, then . . . what?
Jesus is not setting forth a menu of choice for his followers; rather, Jesus is reminding them that forgiveness, setting free, is the very center, the heart, of what he came to do and teach us to do . . . the Greek makes it a bit more clear by saying essentially if you do not let them go, then they are held . . . The Message translates it thusly: "If you forgive someone’s sins, they’re gone for good. If you don’t forgive sins, what are you going to do with them?"
Forgiveness . . . the real-time demonstration of freedom from bondage to the past . . . is Jesus’ central gospel theme . . . and thus it must be ours . . .
When he sent the disciples, investing them with the priestly power to proclaim forgiveness, this, then, is what he came for . . .
He did not proclaim his followers forgiven . . . what he did was actually even more extraordinary – he gave unto the ones in desperate need of forgiving the very power to proclaim forgiveness themselves . . . after all, who better?
This, then, is the gospel question asked of us each and every day: are we going to live out his gospel or our own? His forgiveness or our refusal? His release from bondage or our insistence on enslavement? His joy or our bitter condemnation? His grace or our justice?
Thus every day do we choose . . . locked doors . . . fear. . . guilt . . . shame . . . or freedom . . . joy . . . grace . . .
Forgiveness is what peace looks like . . . for only through forgiveness can we truly be at peace with self, with others, with the world, with God . . .
Here then is the Good News in a nutshell: breathe in God’s spirit
and the only thing you can breathe out is peace . . . God’s own delivering, releasing, freeing . . . peace . . .
God’s peace I bring to you. Peace be with you