Sermon For April 12, 2015 ~ Baptism Sunday
John 20:19-23 ( http://bible.oremus.org/?ql=295839885 )
“Signs Of The Resurrection: Peace & Forgiveness”
Franklin Circle Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)
Cleveland, Ohio ~ www.FranklinCircleChristianChurch.org
Rev. Allen V. Harris, Pastor & Preacher ~ E-Mail: PastorAllen@FranklinCircleChurch.org
Twitter: @FranklinCircle ~ Pastor’s Blog: https://nearwestclevepastor.wordpress.com
Over the next few weeks we will be exploring the period of scripture which describes the time after Jesus’ resurrection and prior to the birth of the new church on the day of Pentecost. It is also the time between the transformation of Jesus with new life and the ascension of Jesus, thus effectively taking him, at least in bodily form, from their midst. I want to spend time delving into the way in which Jesus worked with his disciples to prepare them both for his leave-taking but also, and much more importantly, for the birth of the new church that was to come.
Let’s not be coy about this. Clearly there are parallels between what is happening in scripture and what is happening here at Franklin Circle Christian Church. I have just received news which has – quite frankly – given me new life. But it means that I will be leaving you for another position in ministry, this time as a Regional Minister. I do think that there is much to be learned from how Jesus and the disciples handled their situation that will offer us great wisdom and guidance in the coming days so that we might live into and through this transition with faithfulness and hope.
But that is where the parallels end. Let me be perfectly clear: I ain’t no Jesus, nor do I have any pretensions with this new position that I am any more holier than I was before. I am 100% human, and I am reminded of that every day of my life. I sin, I miss the mark, I fall short of the glory of God, and I need all that God has to offer to get through each moment of my life. If, by the grace of God, you all have seen Jesus working through me – in spite of me – or even with me, then “Praise be to God!” But let us be very, very clear. You know Jesus, and I am no Jesus.
And let me also say that while I will be viewing these texts in the coming weeks through the lens of a congregation, all of these sermons will be just as much about who we are as individuals before God. How we live in community is connected to how we live as individuals, and vice versa.
So with that caveat, let’s get to today’s text. Today’s text is almost always read the first or second Sunday after Easter. It is the famous (or infamous) text depending upon how you look at it, of Jesus greeting the disciples in the closed room and Thomas, who was not with them in the beginning, questioning the other disciples as to the validity of their claim that they had seen the resurrected Christ. Christ reappears and asks Thomas to touch his wounds and discover for himself that he is alive again. There is no doubt why this moment has become the focus of these verses, for it is one of the most dramatic and tangible scriptures in all of the New Testament. But this is not what I want to focus upon and why I did not have Larisa read it to you.
No, what I want to focus on are those few verses that describe what Jesus says to the disciples in between their awe and amazement at seeing him alive again and the moment Thomas arrives. What does Jesus do first? He grants them his peace. Not once, but twice. Previously Jesus had told the disciples in John 14 that he would leave for them a peace that was unlike the kind that the world had to give. This is critical to hear and remember.
I think the first blessing of peace was to calm their troubled hearts, both from the sorrow of him leaving and the shock of him still being alive. But the second benediction of peace was more of a mandate to be at peace, for tied with it was the charge to go out and be as Jesus had been with them. Matthew will make this “great commission” big and bold, on a mountaintop with lots of fanfare about baptizing and teaching. John simply records a second “Peace be with you” and then tells them that just as he was sent by God, so they are sent by him. Peace is inextricably tied to our calling to go and be in the world. We must be agents of peace in a world that cannot imagine peace, much less live it out.
And the next thing that Jesus tells them is to forgive. After calming the disciples down, giving them the mandate to go and offer the peace he gives to the world, he tells us to forgive. One of the hardest actions for human beings to do, Jesus makes his second request to his followers after he comes back from the dead.
And he uses this wonderful phrase, which I like better from older translations and from the Matthew text: “Verily I say unto you, Whatsoever ye shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever ye shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” Whatever sins you bind will be bound in heaven! Whatever sins you loose, shall be loose in heaven. WHAT POWER WE DISCIPLES HAVE!!! And this is the power that will either save this church in the future or destroy it. You, each of you, has the power to forgive or not forgive: how you use this power will determine your future and the future of this church.
That would be a cause for weeping and wailing if it were not for one thing. In between the call to be at peace and be peacemakers, and the command to bind or forgive sins, is the giving of the Holy Spirit. For Luke/Acts, this comes later, at the time of Pentecost. But for John, it is in the quiet, dark, intimate, doubt and anxiety-ridden room with just Jesus and the disciples.
Jesus breathed on him, the ruach that formed creation and made the earth creature a human, the pneuma that came down from heaven at Jesus’ baptism, would be the very same breath that Jesus breaths onto the disciples immediately after Easter. It is this breath that was breathed into each and every one of us upon our birth, at our baptism, and when we were called to participate in this church. It is the very same breath that is given to every single leader in the church, from the child that lights the candles on Sunday morning as an acolyte, to the volunteer who sorts clothes for the clothing closet.
This Holy Spirit will be the very same Holy Spirit that will be breathed again into this church upon my departure that will allow you, A Chosen People, A Royal Priesthood, A Holy Nation, God’s Own Special People that will empower you to be both at peace and be the peacemakers God calls you to be, and to learn the art of forgiveness so that the work of God can and will continue through this congregation well into the future.
May it be so.