06/08/14 Sermon (June 8, 2014) Pentecost

posted Jun 18, 2014, 11:42 AM by David Hawkins

"Another Great Commission"

Scripture Reading: John 20:19-23

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.”

Sermon: "Another Great Commission"       Rev. David Hawkins

We all know about the Great Commission, don’t we? That ending of the Book of Matthew that talks about going out and teaching everything that Jesus taught the disciples, and baptizing everybody? We all know about that right?

And we all know about Pentecost, as well, don’t we?. The birthday of the church. The coming of the Holy Spirit. Sometimes we celebrate this day with balloons and cake, sometimes with multiple language scripture readings. There are many ways to remember that we have all been given the gift of the Holy Spirit in order that we might know that are not alone in our discipleship journey.

We normally think of Pentecost as that day in the market square, 2000 thousand years ago, when Peter and the other disciples are suddenly and spectacularly overcome with tongues of flame, and are able to speak the good news to everybody from every part of the world in their own languages. It’s an amazing thing to think about.

And because this event is so spectacular, we tend to think that that event is the first, and maybe the most important encounter the disciples have with the Holy Spirit. That the power of the Holy Spirit is most visibly and powerfully manifested in the ability to speak in tongues, or in the display of other supernatural charismatic gifts

But our scripture today invites us to take another look at the gift of the Holy Spirit, and what it equips us to do. Today we look at another, less well-known Pentecost event, as well as another, less well-known Great Commission.

We find ourselves with the disciples, huddled in fear. It is the evening of that first day when Mary visited the tomb and found it empty. And then she saw and spoke to Jesus, risen from the dead. Peter also saw the tomb, but he did not see the resurrected Jesus, and so what he reported back to the disciples was a little bit different than what Mary said. In any case, something big is going down. Nobody knows what is going to happen next.

It’s not so surprising that we find the disciples locked up in the house. They’ve got lots of things to hide from. Rome is still on edge from the whole Passover week revolutionary fervor. The Jewish leadership knows that the followers of this heretic Jesus are still out there somewhere. Lots of people are on the lookout for the disciples. They are in considerable danger.

And it’s not just their enemies the disciples need to be afraid of, is it? What if what Mary says is true? What if Jesus really is risen from the dead? What if he is everything that he claimed he was? What if he really is the Messiah, the Son of God, the Lord of All? What if it was all true, what he said about being given the authority to judge the world, to being the one who calls some to a resurrection of life, and others to a resurrection of condemnation? What side do the disciples fall on? Are they in or out? Its a fair question.

What if Jesus really has come back from the dead, and is looking for them? Looking for his disciples, who fled from him at the first hint of trouble, his disciples who deserted him when he needed them the most, his disciples who denied him in order to save their own skins?

I don’t know about you, but if I had been one of those disciples holed up in that house, I’m not entirely sure I would have been looking forward to the return of Jesus Christ right at that moment. I think that they might have feared more than just the Roman and Jewish authorities. At the most important moment in Jesus’ life, they failed him. Even worse, they abandoned him. I think the disciples had every reason to fear, not just for their lives, but for the judgment of their own souls.

And so they hid. They locked themselves in a room, they barred the doors, they huddled, back to back, trembling with fear, both real and imagined, and they waited.

And then, without warning, Jesus was among them. The moment of truth had come. He was there to pronounce judgment, to pass sentence on their cowardice. He was there, terrifyingly alive, risen from the grave, the resurrected Son of God. Can you imagine what the disciples must have felt? It was the ultimate come to Jesus moment.

And what punishment does Jesus speak? What judgment does he make regarding these so-called friends of his who have demonstrated their weakness, their faithlessness? What word of condemnation does the King of all creation speak to these deserters as they cower in fear before him?

“Peace,” he says. “Shalom. Be whole, be well. Everything is OK, in fact, it is more than OK. It is reconciled, it is finished, it is complete. Your sins are forgiven. I love you, and I am here, not to judge you, but to send you.  

“I am here to send you, as I have been sent. To bind up the wounded. To make the broken whole. To forgive, as I forgive you. To reconcile the world, as you have been reconciled. To give yourselves completely, to pour yourselves out, to empty yourselves on behalf of those who would hate you, detest you, torture you, even kill you.

“As the father has sent me, so I send you. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven. And if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”

If you retain the sins of any, they are retained. These are big words. With big meanings. And they have caused all manner of big problems.

These words have been used by some folks in the Church to justify a priestly understanding of administering grace. Now, of course, I don’t mean this particular congregation. I mean the big ‘C’ Church, the historic worldwide Church.  

These words have been used by the Church in such a way as to mean that we, the Christians, the disciples of Jesus are somehow in charge of who gets to be forgiven, and who does not. This passage, along with the passage in Matthew that talks about the Church holding the keys to the kingdom has been used and abused to withhold grace from those the Church deemed insufficiently worthy of it.

And it sure sounds like that’s what Jesus means, doesn’t it? That Jesus gives us the keys to the kingdom, sort like us giving our kids the keys to the family truck, and says, OK, now, she’s all yours. Do with it what you would like. Start it or don’t start it. Drive it, or don’t drive it. Wreck it, or don’t wreck it, it’s up to you.

These words have given license to the Church to decide who was in or out of forgiveness. As though it was up to us to decide who gets forgiven, and who doesn’t.

The problem is, when we hear these words as permission to grant forgiveness according to whether or not we feel like it, then we have only heard part of what Jesus actually said. The commission is not to go and do our own thing. The commission is not to evaluate the person, and grant forgiveness on the basis of their worthiness.

The Commission is to go as Jesus has been sent; to forgive as Jesus forgave. Not to retain the sins. But to forgive them.

And that changes things. I’m scratching my head, trying to think of the folks in the Bible that Jesus did not forgive. Maybe some of you better scholars can remind me, but is seems like Jesus did a lot of forgiving. I simply don’t remember when Jesus was faced with a situation when forgiveness was withheld from someone who needed it.

And it’s not as though he didn’t have plenty of opportunities to deny forgiveness. He forgave the paralytic, he forgave the adulterous women. He forgave the Roman soldiers who tortured him, he forgave the thief on the cross. He even forgave those who deserted him, who left him to die, who denied they even knew him.

Jesus talked about forgiveness all the time. All the time. Seventy times seven, he talked about it. Forgiveness was why he was sent. Forgiveness is the defining aspect of who Jesus was, and what he was all about.

Jesus taught his disciples to forgive as we have been forgiven, And when we forget that, when we forget that our ministry is one of forgiveness, we run the risk of preaching a different gospel.

And you know what, I wonder if that somehow, that is all too true for some of us. I wonder if somehow, some have heard the Gospel as the bad news of condemnation rather than the good news of forgiveness. I wonder if that somehow some of us hear Jesus preaching a message of rejection, rather than welcome; fear and death, rather than hope and life. And if that’s the message we hear and believe, how can we help but to preach that same message to the world.

But I don’t believe that. I believe that Jesus Christ came to save, not to judge. Jesus came to reclaim the lost, to heal the fractured relationship between us and God. He came to reconcile our sin, to bring us home, to make us whole.

And then, Jesus sends us as he was sent. Yes, we are holders of the keys to the kingdom. But they are not our keys, and it’s not our kingdom. We do have within us the power to condemn. But I’m just not sure that we are encouraged to do so.

And you know, it’s not easy to be sent, the way that Jesus was sent. It’s not all that easy to forgive, especially those who hurt us. It’s not easy to forgive those who we do not feel are worthy of forgiveness, those who have earned our condemnation.

And this is the gift of the gift of the Holy Spirit. This is the gift of Pentecost. Jesus gives us his Spirit to take us past our human reluctance to be gracious; to take us further than our human ability to be merciful can take us. Jesus knows that we are not able to forgive as he forgave, not under our own steam, anyway. And so he sends us out on this Great Commission as new creations, and to give us every chance to succeed, he breathes his Spirit into us as we go.

The meal that we are about to eat is the sign and the seal of this gift. In communion, we are made one with the life and strength of the one who gave us everything we need to live into his commission to go into the world, and love it in the way that he did.

Come to the table and taste eternity. Come to the table and drink salvation. Come to the table, and be at peace.

Thanks be to God. Amen.