Retaining & Releasing
Sermon by Rev. Steven McClelland on John 20: 19 – 23. Focus on why Jesus leaves the choice up to us as to whether we will forgive or judge. Check out Kelly Crandell & The Choir.
Two very different but very influential voices in 20th century Christianity, Karl Barth and Billy Graham, both said that the 20th century should be the century during which the Holy Spirit was brought to prominence. It was during the 20th century that the American Pentecostal movement began emphasizing a baptism by the Holy Spirit and speaking in tongues. Despite the fact that this movement experienced incredible growth – the Holy Spirit – the third person of the Trinity – continued to be neglected in terms of the church’s understanding of what it is and what it does.
Today we celebrate the birth of the church, but we also remember at what price it came to be. If ever there was a sure thing, Jesus should have been it. I mean, this was the Messiah; the one Israel had spent generations waiting for. He walked for miles, and spent his precious time healing the sick, casting out demons, verbally challenging the religious institutions, not to mention raising the dead.
He was incredible and should have been king. Yet, here the disciples were. Their leader had been crucified – dying a shameful death reserved for the lowest of criminals. If Rome had their say, they were going to prove this Jesus of Galilee was no king.
The followers of the king now spent their fear drenched moments huddled together in a room filled with fear concerning the eventual onslaught of those who hunted them; the ones who sought to end this movement of the man from Galilee. Think Paul and the years he spent hunting down Christians following Jesus’ crucifixion.
Fear was thick and tangible. Surrounding everyone and filling each word and look. So how can people who witnessed total defeat and who were living in fear up until this day 2000 years ago suddenly find their faith?
We know this fear.
Every single day we’re told to be afraid. From crime rates, to terrorism to isolation, we are a people living in fear today. We’re told to fear Isis, the Russians, the Europeans the rest of the world in fact. We’re told to be afraid of immigrants. We’re afraid of sickness, of loss, of the wealthy and the poor. We’re afraid of what we lack or think we will lack. We’re afraid of our failures. We’re afraid of our past. We’re in short, we are afraid of each other!
We’re a people who are afraid, and that fear has trapped us. Like the disciples huddling together in that upper room, we’ve locked ourselves in and are waiting for the other shoe to drop.
Aung San Suu Kyi, political activist, prisoner and winner of the Nobel Peace Prize put it bluntly when she said: “The only real prison is fear, and the only real freedom is freedom from fear.” Or as F.D.R. put so succinctly: “We have nothing to fear but fear itself.”
Like the disciples, we are well aware of fear and the prisons we lock ourselves in. We start criticizing each other. We stop talking to one another. We retreat into our individual silos. And all of this is destroying the church not to mention our country.
However, in John’s passage, we read something that is beautiful.
“On the evening of the first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jewish leaders, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you!’ And after he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord. Again Jesus said, ‘Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.’” (vs. 19 – 20)
Locked in a prison of their own making, the disciples have completely lost themselves and forgotten their mission. This is what fear does: It turns us inward as Christ moves outward. It’s no longer about self-sacrifice and love of others, instead it becomes about self-preservation. And it’s into this self-imposed prison that Jesus comes to us, into the darkness, into the fear and it’s here that he proclaims his peace.
Peace. The Greed word is Eirene. It’s the Greek equivalent of the Hebrew word – Shalom – meaning peace, wholeness, well-being, fullness, and harmony. Wholeness, fullness, living in the way and living out of the life and identity we were created for by God in the beginning when everything was very good.
God created the world as a fabric, for everything is woven together and interdependent. What God is getting at is God’s desire to restore justice, harmony and peace in our world. He desires to bring about Shalom and he doesn’t intend to do it alone. He has invited us to do it in partnership with him.
We were created to be together. It is not good that we should be alone. We were created to live and love in a community, with one another, sharing life together, sharing the sorrows and the joys, forgiving and working on our own egos – our tendency to ease God out of our lives.
And I love what Jesus does next in our text. He breathes on the disciples, and image reminding us that God first blew the breath of life into clay that God fashioned into the human and he tells them, “If you forgive anyone’s sins, their sins are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.”
He’s saying, “Yes, I understand you’re afraid, but be at peace. For you aren’t helpless. You aren’t hopeless. You aren’t alone. Go; live in the power of the Holy Spirit. Live in faith, hope and love and not fear. Or not! Your choice.
You can forgive and be forgiven or you can hold onto all your grudges, grievances, hurts, past slights, loss of your vision for what God wants you to be. Or you can hang onto fear and judgment. It’s nothing new we’ve been doing ever since we stepped out of the garden. Jesus is simply telling us once again we get to choice whether to listen to God’s voice or not. God has shown us what God requires, to do justice, to love mercy and to walk humbly with our God. For either Jesus is the way, the truth and the very essence of life or he isn’t. Our choice! Amen.