Out of Fear: Peace

a sermon from  May 1, 2011  (YearA, Easter2)

jesus appears

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John 20.19-31

All the gospels tell us that when news of the resurrection first began to spread, the main response was joyful surprise, but as Matthew put it “some doubted.” We are not shocked. Whatever hints Jesus gave before that his resurrection was possible, the disciples had not understood or retained through that terrible week. Indeed they had not fully got his predictions of the cross. The night of the last supper a dispute broke out among them– again– about who among them was the most important. In the afterglow of the reception on Palm Sunday they may have assumed this was the beginning of that revolt a Messiah was suppose to carry off. They were dividing up offices of authority in advance.

They had not expected the ambush in Gethsemane or Jesus would not have found them napping, repeatedly. They would have set guard. Caught by surprise and stopped by Jesus from armed resistance, they ran like rabbits.

Only Peter and the beloved disciples seem to have followed to the high priest. When Peter was fingered as a follower, he vehemently denied it and left, his heart breaking with the denial. And for all we hear of them, the twelve stayed in that upper room of their secret rendevous until word came he was dead. And then they stayed on trapped by fear.

The cross caught them by surprise, except maybe Thomas. Jesus had insisted on traveling to the Jerusalem suburb after the funeral of his friend Lazarus despite the knowledge that authorities were out to get him. Thomas reluctantly said, “well, let’s go die with him.”

Well “die with him” was exactly what they expected to be the aftermath of Jesus’ execution. “Locked in the room for fear of the Jews.” On Easter Sunday evening.

Of course they knew by now the tomb was empty. And Mary had reported she had met Jesus in the garden. But the sun is setting and they are back in hiding. Maybe they did not disbelieve Mary exactly, but her story did not make any difference. They were still afraid of death as much as before her story.

When Peter and the beloved disciple had raced to the tomb, we read that they believed–maybe simply they believed it was empty. But that they did not remember or understand yet the scriptures that talked about resurrection.

The world had changed but they had not.

So John tells it that it was hours after Christ rose that the disciples finally met him. When he walked through the locked doors, their first thought was that he was a ghost of some kind. Till he invited them to see and touch his body’s wounds. These two things: physical barriers were penetrable and he had a touchable body that bore the marks of earthly life say that resurrected bodies are not holograms yet transcend material limits. Jesus is alive and unhampered by locked doors or stones rolled over tombs.

Jesus said “Peace.” Twice he said it. The risen Lord takes away fear and gives peace. “Not as the world giveth, give I unto you.”

Why should we fear? Death has been breached. The grave is not invincible. “I shall not die, but live.”

Why should we fear. Christ has come back to the friends who had all abandoned him. He comes to the failed friends and says, “Peace.” Despite our failures there is this second chapter. The gracious Lord who forgave sinners, ate with tax collectors, pardoned the woman caught in adultery, touched lepers, included women and children. This Lord who reached beyond respectability to include the “least, the last, the lost” (Capon) had forgiven them. “Peace.”

The peace of Christ which we pass, is it not the echo of this Easter greeting? You are forgiven. Christ is present in our midst. He pushes to one side our past and offers us present peace. You may stop persecuting yourself and receive grace.

Jesus says “Peace” twice. And peace has two meanings- the peace in our hearts when we no longer fear where we stand with God. And the peace which is to be the manner of our dealings with the world. Grace received becomes grace we give.

20:21 Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.”

20:22 When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit.

20:23 If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them;if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”

He gives them/us the mission that had defined his life.

Every encounter with the risen Lord is a commissioning. “go tell the disciples” “go wait in Jerusalem for power” “go tell Peter”

Nowhere is it more eloquent than in Matthew

All power is given unto me in heaven and earth. Therefore go on into the world and tell the good news, making disciples, baptizing in the name of the Tiune God, teaching people to live by all that you have heard me preach. And lo I am with you always till the end of the age.”

Power is given unto Jesus. A mission is given to us. And the promise of his abiding presence always

Jesus breathed his Spirit into them. He put his life in them, as the Lord had breathed animation into Adam.

Jesus gives his life to us so that we can carry on his life. “As the Father sent me.” Jesus said, “John 14:12:Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father.

Each disciples becomes a little Jesus. Each of us given a share of resurrected life, undefeated life, to carry on healing, feeding, and above all forgiving–The most radical and challenging act of Christian life.

If peace is fundamental thing we receive from Christ. Forgiving is the prime act of our mission. We do it by the power of the holy Spirit, the abiding presence of the living Jesus that animates our soul.

Not up to us to set bounds, but rather the Holy Spirit.

When Jesus says what sins we do not forgive are not forgiven it is not to say that we decide on our own when it is too soon to let go of holding someone responsible. It is through guidance of Holy Spirit.

I Corinthians Paul speaks of people who refuse to change being handed over to Satan for a time. If someone refuses to change he suggests our only option may to give them up to the natural outcome of their persistent wrong doing.

We read about the unpardonable sin and the thought there is much the same. The only sin that cannot be pardoned is the one that will not let itself be pardoned, because it refuses all suggestion that it is sin or refuses to accept that grace could cover it.

If you will not renounce your wrong, if you stubbornly refuse the gift of pardon, then the sin “will have been retained.”

To receive grace is to accept that I have sinned, and to seek release from that burden, and to open myself to restored and right relationship with God and with God’s creatures.

If we forgive, Jesus says the sin will have been forgiven. We you finally accept grace you find that grace was there long before you opened to accept it. It shall have been already given. You were already forgiven but you had been blocking that from connecting with your soul.

The church has an awesome responsibility of calling sin, sin. Of calling sinners to live a new life, and announcing that forgiveness already exists for those who accept it – forgiveness in the heart of God and in the body of believers.”Those who once were far off have been brought nigh.”

It was a lot to happen that Easter evening. Thomas missed it. We weren’t there either.

It makes all the difference that Jesus really rose from the dead. The love of God is made real, tangible, in the world by that great climactic act. God changes the world and changes our hearts. And this is the beginning of changes that will not stop till all things are made new.

Thomas did not have to touch Jesus. Jesus spoke to him. Jesus acknowledged his questions. Jesus even knew what Thomas had said it would take to make a believer out of him. When Jesus spoke it was enough, and the one who spoke the most doubt, makes the most exalted confession of faith when he falls down and declares that Jesus is God.

This is the deepest mystery. That the identity of Jesus is none other than the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. That all this time they have been encountering the human face of the God, who loves the world this way that he gives his only beloved that we might come to faith and live.

God comes to us. Jesus comes to us. We don’t have to travel back in time to that brief span of years. The Spirit who is God declares Jesus who is God who reveals the Father who is God and, we are invited to fold our life into his. Abide in him and he in us. And he breaths life into us and commands us to carry on his mission, to forgive, to confront, to live the peace he gives us. AMEN

Peace

A story in the some Augsburg sermon book says this about peace,” A little boy had a terminal illness. He knew he was dying even though his parents hadn’t told him, so one day he asked his mother,”Mom what’s it like to die? Will it hurt?

The mother thought for a moment as she searched for an answer to the question then said, “Charlie”, do you remember when you used to play with your friends all day? You’d be so tired that when we’d sit around and watch TV afterwards, you’d fall asleep in the chair with your clothes on. Well, that wasn’t where you belonged, but in the morning, you always woke up where you did belong–in your own bed. Your Dad carried you up the stairs, into your room, and tucked you into your own bed where you belonged.”

“Charlie,” she continued, “I think that’s what death is like. It’s like waking up some morning and finding ourselves in another room, in the place where we belong. safe in the strong loving arms of Jesus.”

Easter makes a difference because of this sense of peace, this sense of well-being, this sense of shalom, the sense of God’s blessing in our lives. It is this peace, this well being which enables a widow to go on living, which enables a person racked with pain and illness to still see joy in life, a young person searching for meaning and purpose to finally find, his/her place in life. A peace which enables a mother and father, husband and wife to overcome the difficulties of family and marriage in the peace, the forgiving power of Jesus Christ. Do you understand? The Easter experience, the Easter resurrection brings to life even in the worse circumstances, a sense that God is in control, that I, we, belong to him, that somehow life can and does go on in and through him.

The power that transformed the first disciples from fearful people into men and women who were

  • unafraid to speak to crowds of thousands, 
  • – unafraid to testify before the very authorities who crucified their Lord
  • ,– willing to travel vast distances and endure stoning, imprisonment, and poverty
  • – and able to convince men, women and children that something important hinged on their acceptance of their message concerning the person of Jesus Christ,

Such power was not the power that is unleashed

  • by their being reflective
  • – by their writing down their dreams in a journal
  • – or even by their praying a lot,

it was the power granted them by the one in whom we believe –the power that he gave to them in their locked room when he breathed the Holy Spirit upon them – and then again poured out that Spirit upon all believers on the day of Pentecost.

As Gene Robinson wrote;

That is the power of the resurrection. NOT in what happens AFTER death [ though we could agree that is true hope], but what the knowledge of our resurrection does for our lives and ministries BEFORE death. I am not worried nearly as much about life after death as about whether or not there is life before death! We are no longer prisoners to the power of the fear of death. We don’t have to be worried about how all of this is going to turn out. We know the end of the story. God reigns. Death is vanquished. We are given life eternal in the company of a merciful and loving God and all the saints. Believing that, knowing that, can and does empower us for ministry in God’s name.

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