The heart of the universe is calling our name

File:Sagrada Familia, interior (21) (31130118082).jpg

This message was given on the Sunday after Easter.  The text was John 20:19-31, telling of Jesus’ appearance to his followers on Sunday evening and, because Thomas was absent and refused to accept the testimony of the others, Jesus’ appearance the subsequent Sunday evening when Thomas was present.  But the message also looks back to the reading from Easter Sunday, John 20:1-18, concerning the discovery of the empty tomb and Jesus’ encounter with Mary.

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Before I begin this morning, it’s important to say that it’s hard to talk about anything in John’s Gospel without talking about everything.  The themes of John’s Gospel weave in and out, forming an amazing tapestry. What happens at the end is connected to the beginning and flows through everything in between.  This is not a collection of stories about Jesus, but a single, large, wondrous canvas seeking to portray for us the face of the infinite.

The open door

The text we have before us this morning from the Gospel of John is the second half of the story we began to read last Sunday on Easter morning, so I want to go back a bit and talk about what has already happened.

In John’s Gospel, Jesus is given a royal burial.  Joseph of Arimathea gets permission from Pilate to take up the body of Jesus, and Nicodemus brings a hundred pounds of a perfumed oil with which to anoint the body. Remember the small jar that Mary, the sister of Martha and Lazarus, used to anoint Jesus’ feet?  It was worth a year’s wages.   Nicodemus has a hundred pounds!  This is a burial fit for a king!

So, Jesus receives a royal burial in a new tomb in a garden. (On Good Friday, we mentioned the significance of John calling this a ‘garden’, because the biblical story begins in a garden.)  This burial happens on Friday before sunset.  Now, at Sunday dawn, while everyone is still “in the dark” about Jesus, Mary comes to the tomb.  John wants us to just focus on Mary.  He has pared away all the other elements of the story.  She has not brought spices, there are no other women, there is just Mary and the open tomb.

There is something here we struggle to put into words.  John is always aware there is a surface meaning to his narrative and a deeper one; how shall we articulate that deeper reality this moment represents?  Mary is standing alone before the mystery at the heart of the universe: here where death reigns, a door stands open.  What does she see?

By stripping away all the other elements, John is placing each of us in that garden facing the majesty and mystery of the cosmos.  We each stand before that open door.  We each stand before the silence.  We each stand before the darkness of the tomb.  And what do we see?

Matthew, Mark and Luke all choose to say that the stone was ‘rolled’ away – and that is the way these tombs are built.  They carve out a cave and provide a small opening wih a large, wheel-shaped stone that rolls into a slot to seal the tomb.  John, however, says the stone was ‘lifted’.  No words are used casually in John, and this word ‘lifted’ is the word John used at the beginning of his Gospel when John the Baptist says of Jesus, Here is the Lamb of God who takes away (literally, ‘lifts away’)the sin of the world!

Something has been lifted off the back of human existence. The shame of all humanity has been lifted. The shroud of death is lifted. Our sins are lifted. The fierce grip of death has been broken.  The tears that define us are wiped away.  The new wine of the wedding feast stands ready.  The lame walk.  The blind see.

At the heart of the universe is Life.  God is the open door, the new creation, the font of grace, the imperishable Life.

Only the ordinary

Something happens as Mary stands there before the tomb.  Something happens as we stand there before the face of the eternal.

But then we are pulled back to the ordinary.  Mary doesn’t “see” what stands before her.  She doesn’t understand.  She runs to Peter and the beloved disciple saying: “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.”  It is, for Mary, as it was for Nicodemus in the night.  When Nicodemus heard Jesus say that he must be born anew, he was stuck in the ordinary.  He could only imagine a physical birth.  He knew there was something deep and profound in Jesus, he was groping towards that truth, but then his mind pulled him back to earth.  “How can anyone be born after having grown old? Can one enter a second time into the mother’s womb and be born?”  In the same way here, Mary falls back into the ordinary; the physical body of Jesus has been removed: “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.”

John doesn’t tell us who she thinks has taken the body.  Presumably she thinks it is the leadership that arranged for Jesus’ death, but that information would lead us away from the mystery into the realm of the ordinary, so John doesn’t distract us with that information.  We just have Mary and the lifted stone and the mystery.

So Mary sees the stone lifted but falls back onto the ordinary.  She goes to Peter and the other disciple and they race to the tomb. The beloved disciple is portrayed as quicker afoot – and quicker to see and believe – but Peter is given his due as the first one into the empty tomb.  They find the linen wrappings, but John tells us they do not yet understand the scripture that Jesus must rise from the dead.

“Why are you weeping?”

After the two men leave, Mary remains.  She is weeping.  The body is missing.  Jesus has been robbed of the possibility of resurrection on that final day when all the dead are raised.  The obligation to bury the dead is supreme in the ancient world because the bones provide the frame God uses for the resurrection.  Your bones retain your identity, your personality, your story. The idea of scattering the bones of your conquered enemy is to destroy them completely, so they cannot rise at the resurrection.  Without the bones there is no future.

Without the bones there is no future.  Mary is stuck in the ordinary.

Then Mary bends to look into the tomb and, through her tears, sees two angels who ask the penetrating question: “Woman, why are you weeping?”

Questions in John’s Gospel are meant to push us towards insight.  And this is a profound question: “Why are you weeping?”   It is not just a question posed to Mary; it is posed to us all.  It is not a question about the natural human emotion of grief.  It is an existential question about our understanding of the world.

Is Mary weeping because she has lost a friend and teacher?  Does she not understand who Jesus is?  Does she not understand that he is the embodiment of the eternal word? Does she does not understand that he is the source and goal of all life?  (He is “the way, the truth and the life.”)  Does she not understand that all things belong to Life?

Do we not understand the power of life that vibrates through all things?  Do we not understand that matter itself is, rather literally, vibrating energy.  All around us the universe pulses with life.  Go, stand outside, and look.  The grass, the ground beneath it, the trees above it, the air around it – it all vibrates with life.)

“All things came into being through him,”says John at the beginning of his Gospel, “and without him nothing was made.”  “In him was life and the life was the light of all people.”  “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth.” “We have beheld his glory, glory as of the only son of the Father.” 

Do we not see?

“What are you looking for?” 

Mary answers the angels in a very mundane way: “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.”  She is stuck, like Nicodemus, on the surface of things.  And so she does not recognize Jesus until he calls her name.

She doesn’t realize the risen Christ is present.  She imagines she is talking to a gardener.  And Jesus asks the same double-edged question, “Woman, why are you weeping?”But then Jesus adds: “Whom are you looking for?”

This question takes us back to the beginning of John’s Gospel and the very first words Jesus speaks: two disciples of John the Baptist hear him say that Jesus is the Lamb of God, (the lamb of God who liftsaway the sin of the world) and they follow him.  Jesus turns and asks them: “what are you looking for?”

This is the fundamental human question.  “What do you seek?”  “What are you looking for?”  “Towards what is your life oriented?”  “What path are you following?”  And here, in the garden, Jesus changes the question to “Whom do you seek?”  It’s not a thing we need; it’s a person, a presence, a life.

But Mary is still stuck in the ordinary, and so she answers,“Sir, if you have carried him away [if you have liftedhim!], tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.”  She is stuck in the literal that cannot imagine a birth from above. She is stuck in the literal that cannot see how water is transformed into wine or tears into joy.  She is stuck in the literal that cannot understand a blind man seeing or a lame man walking. She is stuck in the literal that cannot imagine that there is anything more in the feeding of the five thousand than five thousand full bellies.  She doesn’t see the bread of life and the healing of the world.

Outside the tomb, Mary knows only her grief, her loss, the cruelty of events, the limits of the ordinary, the finality of death.  She does not see the divine presence; she does not see a world radiant with life – until Jesus calls her name.

“Mary”

What is it that we hope happens in worship?   Why do we persist in reading these words and telling these stories and helping them connect with our lives?  Because the heart of the universe is calling our name.  We are here to see the divine presence; the power, the life that vibrates through all existence.  We want the world to see grace, to see mercy cast upon the world like a sower sowing seed. We want all creation to see the extravagance of God, to taste the bounty of God.  We want all existence to see, even in the darkest days, that we are immersed in light.

We come to hear God call our name.

This is not like school where we are shrinking down in our seats hoping not to get called upon. This is not like a parent calling for us to do some chore or account for some wrong.  This is the most gentle of kisses.  It is the calling of our name that brings us back into the arms of love. It is the calling of our name that fills our hearts with light and life.

“Mary,” says Jesus. Jesus speaks her name, and immediately she is drawn into Christ.

Thomas

So now it is evening and Jesus appears and shows himself.  He speaks peace.  He brings peace.  He conveys peace.  And he breathes out his Spirit upon his followers.  They are sent.  They are now in the world as the living presence of Jesus.  They are now light and life in the world.  They are grace and mercy.  They are truth and compassion.  They are fidelity and hope.

They are not an army sent to conquer the world.  They are the voice sent to speak every name.

But Thomas is not there. He did not see the hands.  He did not hear the word of peace.  He did not feel the breath of God.  He is bound in the realm of the ordinary.  And how can he show allegiance to light and life when he cannot see it.  How can he show allegiance to grace and peace when all he sees is the shame and sorrow of the cross? How can he show allegiance to loving one another when he sees only brutality and suffering?  How can he live the life that is eternal when he sees only death?

Thomas was not there. But Jesus does not leave him behind. Jesus comes again the next Sunday. He speaks the word of peace.  And then he turns to Thomas.  He offers his hands and his side.  He summons him to not be faithless, but faithful.  And Thomas hears his name.  He sees.  He yields his life.  He recognizes his risen lord and the face of the divine.

Us

We are here to see the wounded hands in the bread.  We are here to stand before the great mystery of existence.  We are here to bend and look into the empty tomb and answer the questions why we weep and what we seek.  We are here to see that all existence radiates with grace and life. We are here to hear the voice of the divine call our name.

Amen

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https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Sagrada_Familia,_interior_(21)_(31130118082).jpgRichard Mortel from Riyadh, Saudi Arabia [CC BY 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D

Faithless and faithful

File:La Tour-St Thomas.jpg

St. Thomas. Tradition holds that he was martyred by being pierced with spears.

Watching for the Morning of April 28, 2019

Year C

The Second Sunday of Easter

Sunday tells the story of “Doubting Thomas,” but faithless and faithful are better words for understanding the Biblical idea than faith and doubt or belief and unbelief.

What does it mean for the followers of Jesus to stand on this side of Good Friday? What does it mean to have seen the one they revered as good and true be judged wicked and false? What does it mean to have seen the one in whom they hoped be revealed as weak and helpless? Is their allegiance to his vision, his promise, his teaching about a world renewed and a faithfulness towards all now a fool’s errand? Does power rule? Does the world belong to cruelty and violence? Are the terrorists correct that we should fight fire with fire? Or the Pharisees, that God will not come to deliver us until we become a ritually pure people? Can you remain faithful to a man who was such a spectacular failure?

The women at the tomb say yes. Those gathered behind locked doors on that first Easter evening are encountered by one who lives, whose word abides, whose work is accomplished, who is revealed as true.

But Thomas wasn’t there. And we weren’t there. We haven’t seen the wounded hands and side. We haven’t shared the vision. We haven’t heard the word of peace or felt the breath of his Spirit.

Or have we?

Have we not seen his presence? Have we not felt his Spirit? In the community gathered, in the acts of kindness, in the work of healing, in the grace of the table? Have we not heard his word and seen his wounds in the sorrows of the world? Have we not recognized him in acts of courage and lives of faithfulness?

We have not seen what those first disciples saw; but we have seen. And we continue to see. And like Thomas we are drawn into faithfulness.

So Sunday we will hear the followers of Jesus, threatened by the ruling powers who murdered Jesus, declaring boldly “We must obey God rather than any human authority.” We will sing with the psalmist about the rock the builders rejecting becoming the chief cornerstone. And we will hear the prophet John begin his letter with its collection of visions, greeting us “from Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead.” The crucified one is the living one. He is the faithful witness to the heart of God and he comes to breathe upon us his Spirit and call us ever into faithfulness.

The Prayer for April 28, 2019

Gracious Lord Jesus,
in your mercy you did not leave Thomas in his unbelief,
but came to him, revealing your hands and your side,
and calling him into faith.
So come to us wherever we are in our doubt and uncertainty
and by your word reveal yourself to us anew as our living Lord,
who with the Father and Holy Spirit lives and reigns,
one God, now and forever.

The Texts for April 28, 2019

First Reading: Acts 5:21b-32 (appointed: 5:27-32)
“We must obey God rather than any human authority. The God of our ancestors raised up Jesus, whom you had killed by hanging him on a tree.” – Having been arrested for saying that God had raised Jesus (and thus condemning the rulers for condemning him), the apostles are released from prison by an angel and told to return to the temple to preach. There they are arrested again and brought before the ruling council.

Psalmody: Psalm 118:14-16, 22-23, 26-27, 29 (appointed: Psalm 118:14-29)
“The stone that the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone.” – We continue in this foundational psalm that was so influential for the early Christian community in interpreting what happened to Jesus. The psalm celebrates the king, returning in triumph from an unexpected victory.

Second Reading: Revelation 1:4-8
“Grace to you and peace from him who is and who was and who is to come… and from Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth.”
– The opening salutation of the Book of Revelation (written in the form of a letter).

Gospel: 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.” – Jesus appears to his followers on Easter Evening and commissions them with the gift of the Holy Spirit, then appears again, the following Sunday, to summon Thomas into faithfulness.

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My apologies to those who follow this site and have missed the last several weeks. During the season of Lent I was writing and posting reflections for the Lenten Season at Holy Seasons.

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Image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:La_Tour-St_Thomas.jpg Georges de La Tour [Public domain]

Do not be faithless

File:The confession of Saint Thomas (icon).jpgWatching for the Morning of April 8, 2018

Year B

The Second Sunday of Easter

Thomas dominates the readings on Sunday – not a story of intellectual doubt, but a story of allegiance and fidelity. None of us understands what happened to Jesus, but will we be faithful to him?

So the first reading tells us of that early faithful community that held all things in common. They “loved one another”; they showed fidelity to one another as members of a common household. We don’t divide up the refrigerator in our homes to say this food belongs to Dad and this to Mom, and the kids can eat what’s on the bottom shelf, as if we were strangers rooming together in college. Neither did those first followers of Jesus. They lived the new creation. They lived the Spirit. They lived and heralded the reign of God that Jesus brought.

The psalm will sing of the goodness “when kindred live together in unity.” It is the shape of the world before Cain rose up against Abel or Jacob stole Esau’s blessing. It is the world of the Good Samaritan and the Good Shepherd who lays down his life for the sheep. It is the world of those to whom it will be said, “As you did it to the last of these you did it to me.”

The author of 1 John will speak of “what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands” and the ‘fellowship’ it creates. ‘Fellowship’ is that wonderful word, ‘koinonia’, that gets used in the New Testament to speak of ‘fellowship’ with God, ‘partnership’ (NIV) in the gospel, and the ‘contribution’ Paul gathers for the saints suffering from famine in Judea. It is the ‘communion’ in Paul’s benediction: The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with all of you,” and the ‘sharing’ or ‘participation’ in the body and blood of Christ that happens in the cup and bread. Such fellowship isn’t coffee and donuts after church, but the mutual care and support of lives bound together in and with Christ.

And so we come to Thomas. What happens to those who have not shared in the apostolic vision of the risen Christ? Will they show faithfulness? Will the testimony of others be enough to bind them to Christ and the community? “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet are faithful.”

The translation of Jesus’ word to Thomas, “Do not doubt but believe,” is misleading to modern ears where doubt and belief concern cognitive assent. The Greek is better translated as “Do not be faithless but faithful.”

The Prayer for April 8, 2018

Gracious Lord Jesus,
in your mercy you did not leave Thomas in his unbelief,
but came to him, revealing your hands and your side,
and calling him into faith.
So come to us wherever we are in doubt and uncertainty
and by your word reveal yourself to us anew as our living Lord,
who with the Father and Holy Spirit lives and reigns,
one God, now and forever.

The Texts for April 8, 2018

First Reading: Acts 4:32-35
“Now the whole group of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one claimed private ownership of any possessions, but everything they owned was held in common.” – The author of Luke-Acts, commonly called Luke, summarizes the life of the first Christian community as a household, sharing goods and providing for one another. It represents a foretaste of the messianic age when all things are made new.

Psalmody: Psalm 133
“How very good and pleasant it is when kindred live together in unity!” – A psalm of ascents sung as the community went up to Jerusalem for one of the annual pilgrimage festivals. A faithful people of God as a blessing upon the world.

Second Reading: 1 John 1:1-2:2
“We declare to you what was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the word of life.”
– The author testifies to what they have seen and heard in Jesus – and to the fellowship they have with the Father, the Son, and one another.

Gospel: 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.” – Jesus appears to his followers on Easter Evening and commissions them with the gift of the Holy Spirit, then appears again, the following Sunday, to summon Thomas into faithfulness.

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Image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AThe_confession_of_Saint_Thomas_(icon).jpg  Dionisius [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

The Spirit of God

File:Zugliget templom tetőablak.JPG

Last Sunday, the festival of Pentecost, we talked about the Holy Spirit. Our series that reflects on how the Biblical narrative points ultimately to the sacrificial love of God manifest in the cross and resurrection stepped away from Genesis to talk about the work of the Spirit.

So far we have talked about the Biblical vision of a God who, by his word, called forth a good and beautiful world (week 1: Creation), and breathed into the first humans his breath/spirit (week 2: Garden), endured their broken relationship yet continued to protect and care for them (week 3: Fall) and continued toIS call to his creation in the narrative of Cain (week 4: Violence).

Cain chose revenge over reconciliation, and violence continued to spread over the world. In contrast to the spirit of power and revenge manifest so profoundly in Lamech’s boast, is the Spirit of God that brings beauty and life to the world.

Below are the pictures and text from the booklet we handed out following worship last Sunday. This coming Sunday, takes us back to Genesis and the narrative accounts of the flood.

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AZugliget_templom_tet%C5%91ablak.JPG By Solymári (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

 

Acts 2:1-21


The Biblical story begins
with the wind/spirit/breath of God


File:Breaking waves (13286850323).jpg

In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters. (Genesis 1:1-2)

The ancient idea of the Spirit connects to the power in the moving of air. It is the breath of life, the breath of speech, the breath of God in the wind, the breath of God that moves prophets and inspires warriors. With Pentecost it is the breath of God that empowers the love, faithfulness and witness of the followers of Jesus. It is the sign of the reigning presence of God and foretaste of a world made new.

Photo: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Breaking_waves_(13286850323).jpg By Archangel12 (Breaking waves) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons


The wind/spirit/breath of God is the breath of life in us


File:Gott Vater haucht Adam den Odem ein Hann Münden.jpg

Then the Lord God formed man from the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and the man became a living being. (Genesis 2:7)

In the ancient story of Genesis 2 God forms the first human (the ‘adam’) from the earth (the ‘adamah’) and breathes into him the breath of life. Our life breath is from God. It is the breath of God that makes us living beings. It is the Spirit that gives life.

Photo: God breathes into Adam the breath of life
https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AGott_Vater_haucht_Adam_den_Odem_ein_Hann_M%C3%BCnden.jpg By Clemensfranz (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons


The wind/spirit/breath of God is the breath of life in all things


File:Whales - Banderas Bay, Mexico - panoramio.jpg

24How many are your works, O Lord! In wisdom you made them all;
the earth is full of your creatures.
There is the sea, vast and spacious, teeming with creatures beyond number –
living things both large and small.
26There the ships go to and fro,
and the leviathan, which you formed to frolic there.
27These all look to you
to give them their food at the proper time.
28When you give it to them,
they gather it up;
when you open your hand,
they are satisfied with good things
29When you hide your face,
they are terrified;
when you take away their breath,
they die and return to the dust.
30When you send your Spirit, they are created,
and you renew the face of the earth. (Psalm 104:24-30)

The life breath of all things is the breath/spirit of God. The Spirit of God is creative, empowering, life-giving, life-renewing presence of God. It lifts the fallen, heals the wounded, restores the separated. It raises from death to life.

Whales – Banderas Bay, Mexico
https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Whales_-_Banderas_Bay,_Mexico_-_panoramio.jpg  Steve Hedin [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons


The words that are used to describe the Spirit
are like those used for water


File:Fulmer Falls Top 1 3264px.jpg

The Spirit is “poured out” upon people. It “fills” them.

On the last day of the festival, the great day, while Jesus was standing in the temple, he cried out, “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me, 38and let the one who believes in me drink. As the scripture has said, ‘Out of the believer’s heart shall flow rivers of living water.’” 39Now he said this about the Spirit, which believers in him were to receive.” (John 7:37-39)

Fulmer Falls, Childs Recreation Area in the Pocono Mountains
https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Fulmer_Falls_Top_1_3264px.jpg Photo by and (c)2006 Derek Ramsey (Ram-Man) (Self-photographed) [GFDL 1.2 (http://www.gnu.org/licenses/old-licenses/fdl-1.2.html)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons


Like wind and water,
the Spirit is a power to accomplish things



The Spirit of God gives insight and understanding


File:Pharaoh's dream.JPG

The Spirit of God grants Joseph wisdom to interpret the dreams of Pharaoh.

38Pharaoh said to his servants, “Can we find anyone else like this—one in whom is the spirit of God?” 39So Pharaoh said to Joseph, “Since God has shown you all this, there is no one so discerning and wise as you. 40You shall be over my house, and all my people shall order themselves as you command; only with regard to the throne will I be greater than you.” (Genesis 41:38-40)

Illustration by Owen Jones from “The History of Joseph and His Brethren” (Day & Son, 1869)
https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Pharaoh%27s_dream.JPG Owen Jones [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons


The Spirit of the Lord grants skill to work beauty in the world


File:Flower of heaven.jpg

Then the Lord said to Moses, 2 “See, I have chosen Bezalel son of Uri, the son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah, 3 and I have filled him with the Spirit of God, with skill, ability and knowledge in all kinds of crafts– 4 to make artistic designs for work in gold, silver and bronze, 5 to cut and set stones, to work in wood, and to engage in all kinds of craftsmanship. (Exodus 31:1-5 NIV)

The ceiling of a vault at the Shah Cheragh shrine at Shiraz, Fars province, Iran
https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Flower_of_heaven.jpg By http://www.flickr.com/people/ dynamosquito/ [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons


The Spirit of the Lord grants courage and strength


File:Samson Fighting the Lion (18th c., Kargopol style).jpg

Samson went down to Timnah together with his father and mother. As they approached the vineyards of Timnah, suddenly a young lion came roaring toward him. The Spirit of the Lord came powerfully upon him so that he tore the lion apart with his bare hands as he might have torn a young goat. (Judges 14:5-6NIV)

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Samson_Fighting_the_Lion_(18th_c.,_Kargopol_style).jpg By Anonymous Russian icon painter (before 1917) Public domain image (according to PD-RusEmpire) [Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons


and empowers people to lead


File:Dura Synagogue WC3 David anointed by Samuel.jpg

The Spirit of God raises David from tending sheep to guiding the nation.

13Then Samuel took the horn of oil, and anointed him in the presence of his brothers; and the spirit of the Lord came mightily upon David from that day forward. (1 Samuel 16:13)

Dura Europos Synagogue, panel WC3 : David anointed king by Samuel
https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Dura_Synagogue_WC3_David_anointed_by_Samuel.jpg By reworked by Marsyas [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons


The Spirit of the Lord inspires people to declare God’s message


File:Russian - Great Deesis with Prophets - Walters 37625.jpg

The spirit of the Lord God is upon me,
because the Lord has anointed me;
he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed,
to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim liberty to the captives,
and release to the prisoners;
2 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor,
and the day of vengeance of our God;
to comfort all who mourn;
3 to provide for those who mourn in Zion–
to give them a garland instead of ashes,
the oil of gladness instead of mourning,
the mantle of praise instead of a faint spirit.
They will be called oaks of righteousness,
the planting of the Lord, to display his glory. (Isaiah 61:1-3)

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Russian_-_Great_Deesis_with_Prophets_-_Walters_37625.jpg By Anonymous (Russia) (Walters Art Museum: Home page Info about artwork) [Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons


The prophets promise a day when all things are made new
and the Spirit of God is poured out on all people


File:Grib skov.jpg

But now hear, O Jacob my servant,
Israel whom I have chosen!
2 Thus says the Lord who made you,
who formed you in the womb and will help you:
Do not fear, O Jacob my servant,
Jeshurun whom I have chosen.
3 For I will pour water on the thirsty land,
and streams on the dry ground;
I will pour my spirit upon your descendants,
and my blessing on your offspring. (Isaiah 44:1-3)

26 A new heart I will give you,
and a new spirit I will put within you;
and I will remove from your body the heart of stone
and give you a heart of flesh.
27 I will put my spirit within you,
and make you follow my statutes
and be careful to observe my ordinances. (Ezekiel 36:26-27)

New beech leaves, Grib Forest in the northern part of Sealand, Denmark
https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Grib_skov.jpg By Malene Thyssen (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html), CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/) or CC BY-SA 2.5 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons


Jesus brings the dawn of that new age (God’s kingdom)


Now after John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand.” (Mark 1:14-15RSV)


John declared Jesus would drench the world with the Spirit


File:Gullfoss rainbow.JPG

“The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals. I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.” (Mark 1:6-8)

Gullfoss waterfall (Iceland)
https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AGullfoss_rainbow.JPG By Laurent Deschodt (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html), CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/) or CC BY 2.5 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.5)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons


The outpouring of the Spirit on Pentecost
represents the dawning fulfillment of the promised Spirit


File:El Greco 006.jpg

17“In the last days it will be,” God declares,
“that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh,
and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
and your young men shall see visions,
and your old men shall dream dreams.
18Even upon my slaves, both men and women,
in those days I will pour out my Spirit;
and they shall prophesy.”
(Acts 2:17-18 where Peter quotes Joel 2:28-29 to explain the wonder of Pentecost Day)

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:El_Greco_006.jpg El Greco [Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons


The Spirit is the gift of the risen Lord


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19 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.” 20 After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. 21 Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” 22 When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” (John 20:19-23)

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Duccio_Maesta_detail2.jpg Duccio di Buoninsegna [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons


The Spirit is a gift God is eager to give


11“Is there anyone among you who, if your child asks for a fish, will give a snake instead of a fish? 12 Or if the child asks for an egg, will give a scorpion? 13 If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” (Luke 11:11-13)


The Spirit is the gift of being joined with Christ in Baptism


File:Greven Gimbte - Alter Fährweg - St. Johannes Baptist in 23 ies.jpg

36“Therefore let the entire house of Israel know with certainty that God has made him both Lord and Messiah, this Jesus whom you crucified.” 37 Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and to the other apostles, “Brothers, what should we do?” 38 Peter said to them, “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39 For the promise is for you, for your children, and for all who are far away, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to him.” (Acts 2:36-39)

The word ‘repent’ means to change sides, to participate in and show allegiance to the new creation dawning in Christ.

St. Johannes Baptist, Alter Fährweg in Gimbte, Greven
https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AGreven_Gimbte_-_Alter_F%C3%A4hrweg_-_St._Johannes_Baptist_in_23_ies.jpg By Frank Vincentz (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons


The Spirit anoints us with the gifts of the age to come


7 To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. 8 To one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, 9 to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, 10 to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the discernment of spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. 11 All these are activated by one and the same Spirit, who allots to each one individually just as the Spirit chooses. (1 Corinthians 12:7-11)


The Spirit of the Lord bears the fruit of God’s reign in our lives


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The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. (Galatians 5:22-23)

Detail of a statue at St Bartholomew’s Church in Orford
https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:2004_orford_03.JPG By Ziko-C (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Biblical text: New Revised Standard Version
© Text by David K. Bonde, Los Altos Lutheran Church, 2017

Holy Spirit

Watching for the Morning of June 4, 2017

Year A

The Festival of Pentecost

Into a world filled with many destructive and deceitful spirits, God lavishes his life-giving, creative and transforming Spirit on the world. It is a holy spirit, unlike the spirits of anger, intolerance, revenge, desire, greed and hate that divide the world and fill it with violence and invective. It gathers a community of all nations. It speaks to the core of our hearts in our native tongue. It summons us to step onto the shores of the new creation, to be washed in the Spirit, to be participants in the life of the age to come. It is a spirit that bears the fruit of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.”

It is a spirit that inspires and empowers fidelity to God and neighbor. It is a spirit that teaches manifold forgiveness and love of enemies. It is a spirit that leads us to lives of service and sacrifice. It is a spirit that binds and heals, a spirit that sings and rejoices, a spirit that prays and praises, a spirit that speaks grace to the world.

We have seen it in Moses and the prophets. We have seen it in the skill of Bezalel. We have seen it in the courage of Gideon, the poetry of David, the song of Mary. We have seen it in the fidelity of Simeon and witness of Anna. We have seen it the forgiveness of Stephen and the generosity of Barnabas. We have seen it in the boldness of Philip and the obedience of Peter. We have seen it in the lives of those recognize as saints and martyrs. We have seen it in the kindness and generosity and faithfulness of any number of people who have touched our lives with grace and truth.

We have seen it wherever love prevails.

It is a holy spirit. The holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit that shall govern every heart in that day when swords are beaten into plowshares and the river of the water of life washes over the world.

It is the Spirit given to us in Christ now.

It is the Spirit by which we are called to live.

(For those who follow this blog regularly, I apologize for the paucity of recent posts. Writing time has been taken up by the special preaching series underway in our parish.)

The Prayer for June 4, 2017

O God of every nation,
who by the breath of your Spirit gave life to the world
and anointed Jesus to bring new birth to all:
breathe anew upon us and upon all who gather in your name,
that in every place and to all people
we may proclaim your wondrous work;
through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and forever.

The Texts for June 4, 2017

Pentecost Reading: Acts 2:1-21
“When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting.” – With the sound of wind and the image of fire, evoking God’s appearance at Sinai and fulfilling the promise of Joel, God pours out the Holy Spirit upon the first believers.

First Reading: Numbers 11:24-30
“The Lord came down in the cloud and spoke to [Moses], and took some of the spirit that was on him and put it on the seventy elders.” – When the burden of hearing every complaint of the people in the wilderness becomes too great for Moses, God has him appoint seventy elders to receive a share of the spirit. The text contains the prophetic remark of Moses Would that all the Lord’s people were prophets, and that the Lord would put his spirit on them!”

Psalmody: Psalm 104:24-31 (assigned: 104:24-34, 35b)
“When you send your Spirit, they are created, and you renew the face of the earth.”
– In a psalm celebrating the wonders of creation, the poet marvels at the manifold creatures of the world, and the breath/spirit of God that gives them life.

Second Reading: 1 Corinthians 12:1-13 (assigned: 12:3b-13)
“To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.” –
Paul teaches the troubled Corinthian congregation about the gifts of the Spirit, emphasizing that they are given for God’s purpose to the benefit of others.

Gospel: John 7:37-39
“‘Out of the believer’s heart shall flow rivers of living water.’ Now he said this about the Spirit, which believers in him were to receive – During the celebration that prays for the autumn rains and remembers Ezekiel’s promise of a life-giving river flowing from the temple, Jesus calls those who are thirsty to come to him.

(Our parish uses the alternate Gospel reading for Pentecost because the text from John 20 was used on the second Sunday of Easter.)

John 20:19-23
“‘As the Father has sent me, so I send you.’ When he had said this he breathed on them and said ‘Receive the Holy Spirit.’” – On the evening of that first day of the week, the risen Christ commissions his followers and anoints them with the Spirit.

Image: Unidentified, may have been made by Hardman and Co.. Spirit with Sevenfold Gifts, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN. http://diglib.library.vanderbilt.edu/act-imagelink.pl?RC=55828 [retrieved June 1, 2017]. Original source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/paullew/5827717752/.

We push on

File:Pushing van together.jpg

Saturday

John 20:19-31

21Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” 22When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit.

Easter drives towards Pentecost.

Christmas drives towards Easter. The wonder of the incarnation pushes towards its destiny in Jerusalem. Every step along the way, the baptism of Jesus, the temptation, the opening of blind eyes, the rejection at Nazareth, the conflict with the Pharisees, the healing of the sick, the lifting of sins, it pushes towards the cross and resurrection.

The Lord of heaven and earth has come to dwell with us. But we are not ready. We are not ready for the world to be healed. We are not ready for the reign of the Spirit. We are not ready for the triumph of mercy. We are not ready to see all people as members of our own household. We are not ready for the love that kneels to wash feet. And so the incarnation ends where it had to end: in rejection, in violence, in the cross.

But that’s not where it ends for God. The incarnation pushes towards Easter. It drives towards the empty tomb, towards the risen Christ, towards the kneeling of Thomas, towards the breaking of bread at Emmaus.

But this is not the end of the matter. The reason God came to dwell among us was to dwell among us. Our rejection of the incarnation and God’s vindication of Jesus hasn’t yet resolved the matter of God dwelling with us. And so we push on towards Pentecost. We push on towards the outpouring of the Spirit. We push on to the mission of this community who have heard the words and seen the work of God in Christ, who have seen the witness to the reign of God, who have seen the cross and the risen Lord, who have seen Christ ascend and promise to come again to dwell among us. Indeed who dwells among us now, already, by the Spirit and in the community gathered.

We push on toward Pentecost. To the breath of God roaring like a mighty wind that gives witness in every language to all the earth. To the breath of God breathed upon the student/followers that makes them bold in witness and full of grace. Stephen dies at the hands of a mob, praying for God to forgive those throwing stones. And Paul, who holds the cloaks that day while the mob works its rage, will himself be counted dead by stoning yet rise again to continue his witness that God has reconciled all things.

It is Easter, but we push on toward Pentecost. We push on towards that day when the Spirit reigns in every heart and all are gathered at God’s table. We push on toward that day when the bridegroom comes and heaven and earth are wed – when at last we are ready for God to dwell among us and the holy city stands with gates wide open, filled with never-ending light.

We push on. And Sunday, on this 8th day since the empty tomb was discovered, we hear already of Pentecost, of the breathing out of God’s breath upon us, and the sending of God’s little community to bear witness to the new creation, the forgiving of every debt and healing of every heart.

Image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3APushing_van_together.jpg By Clear Path International (Flickr) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Drinking deeply

File:Silos-Duda.jpg

Watching for the morning of April 23

Year A

The Second Sunday of Easter

Thomas takes center stage every year on the Sunday after Easter. But before he appears, there is the risen Jesus speaking peace to his shaken community, and breathing on them his Holy Spirit.

Years and years of hearing the story of the resurrection makes it hard to remember how fearful those days were for the followers of Jesus. All hope had been shattered. And if the Romans crucified Jesus, they were certain to aim also at his inner circle. We think it was an easy transition from fear to joy, but it was not. It required the deep breath of the Spirit.

The Thomas narrative begins with Jesus bringing peace and filling his followers with his Spirit. Having missed that moment, who can blame Thomas? How could we expect otherwise, being the hard-headed realist he was. When Jesus decided to go to back to Judea at the death of Lazarus, it was Thomas who shrugged his shoulders and said, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.”

How can we expect anything other than disbelief for one who was not there to drink deeply of the Spirit? It is why Jesus declares as honorable those who show allegiance without seeing.

Sunday we hear Peter’s Pentecost message bearing witness to the resurrection. We hear the psalmist sing the prayer that echoes profoundly of Jesus: “you do not give me up to Sheol” and join in saying, “You show me the path of life.” And we savor the words at the opening of that wonderful exploration of baptism in 1 Peter where the author writes: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! By his great mercy he has given us a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading.”

With all these words, we hear the word of peace and breathe in this breath of God. And so we are made ready to see the risen Christ among us and show faithfulness to his task: “As the Father has sent me, so I send you.”

The Prayer for April 23, 2017

Gracious God,
in the night of his resurrection,
Jesus breathed your Holy Spirit upon his followers
and sent them into the world.
Renew in us your Holy Spirit
that, in the joy and freedom of Christ risen from the dead,
we may bear faithful witness to your truth and life;
through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and forever.

The Texts for April 23, 2017

First Reading: Acts 2:14a, 22-32
“This man… you crucified … But God raised him up, having freed him from death, because it was impossible for him to be held in its power.” – Peter bears witness to the crowds at Pentecost who have been drawn by the sound of a mighty rushing wind.

Psalmody: Psalm 16
“You do not give me up to Sheol, or let your faithful one see the Pit.” – a hymn of praise and trust in which the first witnesses of the resurrection found a prophetic word pointing to Jesus’ resurrection.

Second Reading: 1 Peter 1:3-9
“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! By his great mercy he has given us a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.” –
a rich, beautiful homily on baptism offering a word of encouragement to the Christian community.

Gospel: John 20:19-31
“Then [Jesus] 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.” – Jesus appears to his followers on Easter Evening and commissions them with the gift of the Holy Spirit, then appears again, the following Sunday, to summon Thomas into faith.

Image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Silos-Duda.jpg

Faithful

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Sunday Evening

John 20:19-31

26A 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.” 27Then 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.”

I wish it had not been translated “Do not doubt.” The Greek word uses the negative prefix ‘a’ (as we see in the word ‘apathetic’, ‘a-’, ‘without’, ‘pathos’, ‘compassion’) with the word for faith. “Do not be without faith but with faith.” Or, better, considering the relational content of the word ‘faith’: “Do not be faithless but faithful.”

The issue here is not the modern, rational concern for what is possible within the laws of physics and human experience. The issue is Thomas’ allegiance to Jesus as the face of God, to Jesus as the bread of life, the living water, the new wine, the light of the world. Crucifixion seems to belie all that.

It is no small thing to show allegiance to someone who was crucified, condemned as the ancient equivalent of a terrorist. Would you show allegiance to Dzhokhar Tsarnaev? Remember what happened to his friends?

This is why the disciples are in hiding. It is why the women went to the tomb. For the men to go would have been an act of public allegiance to a condemned insurrectionist. But women could pass freely. It was risky for Peter to go to the tomb on Mary’s witness; the safe thing was to stay in hiding.

So Thomas needs something more than the disciples’ word about a shared vision if he is going to risk his life in a show of allegiance to this crucified Jesus. He needs his own encounter with the living Lord.

Thomas is not alone. We, too, need more than the apostolic witness. We need to see something of the risen Lord. We need to see something of his mercy. We need to see something of his love. We need to hear his voice. We need to experience his life.

The Biblical witness, the report of the first believers, is able to do this – but it is not done by the dry words on a page: it happens when the words of Jesus are lived and spoken to us.

The followers of Jesus are sent with a news that does goodness, that releases captives, opens eyes, heals lives, forgives sins. “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.”

There are not sent with just words – they are sent with the Spirit and the authority to forgive. They are sent to do the message. They are sent to be the word of grace and mercy. They are sent to shine forth the light that darkness cannot overcome.

 

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3ALight_in_darkness_foto_di_L._Galletti.JPG  By Galletti Luigi (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Peace

File:Brooklyn Museum - The Appearance of Christ at the Cenacle (Apparition du Christ au cénacle) - James Tissot.jpg

Saturday

John 20:19-31

19When 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.”

The sanctuary was rich with the aroma of lilies this morning as the family gathered for a small private funeral. It was not the Easter of the crowded sanctuary and eager children. It was not the Easter of the organ and trumpet, bells and choir. It was the Easter of a family traveling the road towards Emmaus, from pain and confusion towards the presence of the risen Christ.

The first word out of Jesus’ mouth when he appears to his followers in John’s Gospel is the word of peace. It is also the second word he speaks. We don’t have the normal “Stop being afraid” that we get with a heavenly encounter; we have the dominical word that does not simply offer peace but brings it. “Peace to you.” It’s not a wish or a hope, but the gift of the risen Lord.

Peace eludes us. Not just in the face of death, but in all the stress and challenge of ordinary life. We are concerned for our children, concerned for our parents, concerned about work, concerned about finances, concerned about the care of the house, concerned for our health, our sleep, our future, our past.

And whether we recognize it or not, we are concerned about matters of the spirit. We often think we are seeking happiness, but we are seeking peace. Wholeness. Connection. Meaning. A sense of harmony within ourselves and with the world around us. We are seeking peace. Shalom.

Peace eludes us. But where we do not expect it, peace comes. In the breaking of bread. In the recognition of wounded hands. In the presence of the risen Christ. In the breath of the Holy Spirit.

Where we do not expect it, peace comes. In a quiet sanctuary and the scent of lilies and the paschal candle burning: Christ the risen one, Christ the light of the world, Christ the light in my darkness, Christ the wounded one, Christ the living one, Christ who gathers us into his peace.

 

Image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3ABrooklyn_Museum_-_The_Appearance_of_Christ_at_the_Cenacle_(Apparition_du_Christ_au_c%C3%A9nacle)_-_James_Tissot.jpg  James Tissot [No restrictions or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

If you forgive

Looking back to Sunday

John 20:19-31

IMG_286923If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them.”

Sometimes I start writing and the words take me in a different direction than I first expected. What started as a comment on this verse is now posted as “The sound of a hundred snakes” at my blog Jacob_Limping (Jacob, wounded by his wrestling with God and limping towards the promised land.)

There is a paragraph in that post that says:

Jesus has entrusted to us the authority – and the task – of declaring to the whole world that our debt to God has been erased. Forgiven. Blotted out. Washed away. Though your sins are as scarlet they shall be white as snow.” If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them.” “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”

This is where I wanted to linger.

Jesus has entrusted to us the authority to speak forgiveness on his behalf. He binds himself to our words: If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them.” And in another place: Truly I tell you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.”

There is a shadow side to this authority. If we don’t speak it, who will? A therapist can help us accept and live with our past, but they cannot forgive it. A judge can assign a penalty, but when that penalty is paid it does not relieve us of guilt. Time and forgetfulness can sometimes help, but they bury wounds they don’t heal them.

Christians are a unique people on earth, authorized to speak on God’s behalf. Of course, we have this terrible habit of claiming to speak on God’s behalf on a wide range of topics from gun control to parenting to international politics that God has not authorized. It would be helpful if we would stick to the message we were given. But this is the point: we have been given a very specific task: to release people from the burden of their sins. No one else in life can do this. Family and friends can love us. They, themselves, can forgive us. But they cannot speak for God.

We can.

On this matter we can.

On this matter, we must.

Such an awesome authority and responsibility.

Such an amazing privilege.

And such a difficult task – for forgiveness isn’t cheap. Forgiveness is not permission. Forgiveness doesn’t mean that our words and actions haven’t harmed. Forgiveness doesn’t mean there aren’t wrongs to be righted. Such a message would be simple, but without power. The message with which we have been entrusted is that our debt towards God is lifted. The barrier between God and ourselves is torn down. New life stands before us if we will enter. The accusing voice of the law is silenced. Eyes shuttered against others by fear, greed and guilt are released. Closed ears are opened. Those crippled by shame or guilt are summoned to rise, take up their pallet and go home.

This is the ministry we are given. This is the life towards which we point.

So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!  All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us. So we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us. (2 Corinthians 5:17-20)

Such a mission is not simple. But the risen Christ has breathed his spirit upon us. And given us a wondrous promise: “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them.”