REV SHANNON JORDAN
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 Jewish leaders, 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.’
How did we get from this room of scared disciples to the beauty and majesty of last weekend…and I don’t mean just at FPCA, but around the world? How did we get from a room of scared disciples, men and women who had seen miracles and lived and worked with Jesus who were cowering in fear in a room, to seeing a world changed by followers of Christ?
I heard pastor John Ortberg speak years ago about the impact of Christianity. Orphanages and the end of infanticide. Care for the poor. The creation of hospitals and schools. The full inclusion of women and slaves. The life of Jesus and his teachings are responsible for the lifting up of values such as compassion, humility, and forgiveness as positive and not a sign of weakness. How did that happen?
We hear stories of Mother Teresa or Greg Boyle who worked with gangs in Los Angeles. We know people who are foster parents. Many of us know of people in this very congregation, or family and friends of members of this congregation who have walked away from a safe and comfortable life in the US and gone to make a difference in the Sudan, or Madagascar, or Haiti, or Mexico, or Morocco, or Colombia, or Tajikistan in the name of Jesus—and those are just the ones I know about. How did that happen?
We hear stories, or may be part of stories, of people here who give us financial resources to support God’s mission in the world. People who are selfless and generous and lives are changed.
How did we get there?
To find out how, let’s look where it began that first Easter—both the morning that we talked about last week, and the evening that we will discuss now. These verses include significant themes including the peace of Christ, the great commission to go out and do what Jesus did, Pentecost, where Jesus gave them the Holy Spirit, and forgiveness. These are powerhouse verses, and in them I see the “How” of Christianity.
I love being at FPCA and the wealth of wisdom and knowledge we have here. I love that in preparing for this sermon I had two of our congregation whose writings were foundational for preparing for this sermon. Rev. Dr. Cam Murchison wrote a commentary on this passage, and Patrick wrote a book talking about missional preaching.
Our passage this morning introduces the disciples on Easter night. The disciples are hiding from the Jewish leaders. The word for disciple here is not the one used for the Twelve, or the Eleven in this case for John, but the word that refers to a wider group of followers of Jesus. Likely a group of men and women, including the Marys that were at the tomb that Easter morning, as we discussed last week. These disciples have run the full gamut of emotions that week—from a triumphal entry into the city with everyone chanting Hosanna and singing praises, to denial, betrayal, death, and a hasty burial of Jesus. There had been enough time to let the fear seep into their bones. Would they be next? They had heard that morning that Jesus’s body was not in the tomb. And the way the linen cloths had been left behind was strange for grave robbers. It is in this mix of fear and uncertainty, questions, and wonderings that Jesus appears in the midst of them—behind locked doors. Take a moment to imagine the scene. The shock. The wonderment. The “Am I dreaming—pinch me” feelings.
First Jesus emphasizes his peace. He says “Peace be with you” twice. Once before he showed them his resurrected body and once after. This is an answer to the promise of peace that Jesus made in John 14 at the Last Supper when he said, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not be afraid.”
Second, John goes out of his way to ensure that we know that this is the actual resurrected body of Jesus. It isn’t a ghost, it isn’t another being, it is the body that was physically on the Cross. This was an important point for John. From the disciples in that room to us in this room, we need to know the power of the resurrection to know peace and let go of our fear.
Third, Jesus gives the command, “As the Father sent me, I send you.” The disciples are commissioned, are told, are sent, to do what Jesus did. To teach about the love and forgiveness of God to the world. To make a difference for the hungry and the sick. To make a difference for those who are suffering injustice. To make a difference to those who don’t see the hope and the peace of a divine man who was raised from the dead and is now in heaven, preparing a place for us.
Fourth, Jesus gives them the Holy Spirit. Jesus breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” We know from seeing what the disciples did in Acts that this combination of the peace of Christ, knowing Jesus was alive, and the receiving of the Holy Spirit transformed them into courageous disciples on behalf of God. People, men and women, who were willing to die to spread the hope, peace, and forgiveness of Christ.
Finally, there is this much discussed half a verse that says, “If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven, if you do not forgive them they are not forgiven.” There is a great deal written about this, and I appreciated Gail O’Day (p 847) who reminds us to look at how these words are used in John’s context—that the disciples are encouraged to forgive as a faith community and that people need their forgiveness to become a part of the community.[i] We can imagine the hurts that have caused them to be in this room, and we can imagine how difficult it would be to forgive. But if they exclude people from the community due to unforgiveness—the unforgiven have a hard time learning about and accepting the love and forgiveness of Christ. And we all know even now in some areas that churches not forgiving people for what they consider unforgiveable sins is keeping a generation away from Christianity. The perception that Christians aren’t inclusive keeps many for exploring Christianity because of the judgmentalism and hypocrisy in the exclusion. I am thankful for our denomination and our congregation and our inclusivity.
OK, so what do we do with this knowledge? This is where Patrick’s book was so helpful to me. While Patrick may say this differently than I am, his book is written to preachers to help them preach in a way that makes a difference in our lives and then the wider world. For us to fully live lives that are supercharged the way that these disciples were, we need to do three things.
Learn about Jesus.
Live like Jesus as disciples.
Let the Holy Spirt lead.
Jesus tells his disciples, “As the Father sent me, I send you.” As the Father sent me. What did the Father send Jesus to do? What did he do on earth? When we read the gospels, we see Jesus teaching, preaching, healing, feeding. We read about his freeing not only those possessed by demons, or maybe by mental health issues, but we read his teachings that free people captive by their anxiety, greed, judgmental tendencies, and more. We read him freeing people from the belief of the day that bad things happen to bad people—who caused this man’s blindness?
We need to learn what Jesus did so that we can live like Jesus did.
To stop living lives behind closed doors—underperforming from what God plans for us, we need to live like Jesus did. We need to be disciples. We need to live out loving our enemies, through the power of the Spirit, not just learn about it. We need to examine our lives to see how close we are coming to the mark—which is actually what the Greek word for sin means. The Greek word hamartia is translated in English as “sin” and is an archery term for missing the mark. So we need to examine our lives to see where we are missing the mark.
There are many people in koinonia groups in the church right now that are working on their Enneagram type. Because many of you who were not in a group asked to learn about it I will be leading a Faith Formation Class beginning on April 30 for three weeks on the Enneagram. The enneagram is great for helping us to see where we are missing the mark and why we are missing the mark. Read in this week’s Thursday email for more information.
Finally, we need to live lives led by the Holy Spirit. When we live like Jesus we are more prepared and more aware of the doors that the Holy Spirit unlocks for us. The doors that show us how God will use our gifts and our interests for God’s glory. Let’s be clear, the disciples did not want the door to be unlocked, but when Jesus came in, and they received the Holy Spirit, and were sent in Jesus’s name, the doors were opened. Tradition has the disciples going in different directions and doing different things, all in the name of Jesus. They, as the church, continued Jesus’s work here on earth. And we are called to do the same.
Learn about Jesus.
Live like Jesus as disciples.
Let the Holy Spirt lead.
Where do you think the Holy Spirit is leading you? You may be afraid to ask, but I have never known the Holy Spirit to send someone to do something they don’t care deeply about. God has given each of us different passions.
I have heard so many of you mention how concerned you are about the state of the church and the next generation. Could the Holy Spirit be leading you with your concern to support ministry to the next generation? Our children and our youth? I know we talk often about what we do for people outside of our walls. But I want this morning to lift up our children and our youth. We are called to make disciples. It is one of our church’s strategic goals to do that with our children and youth. They need you to share the love of God with them. Learn their names. Learn the names of their parents. Pray for them.
Can you cook a meal? Our children’s choirs and our youth need people to help with meals weekly. Can you sit and have a conversation? We are putting together a team of people who do not have young children at home to help a couple of times a year playing with children so that our parents of young children can have a parent night out or attend a parenting class on Sunday nights. Can you support the next generation for 2-4 hours a year? Or a quarter? Or a month?
When I think about the impact Christians make in our world…I wonder what impact our children and youth will have. Will they come to church and learn about Jesus. Learn to live like Jesus? Will they learn to follow the Holy Spirit so that they can go out and change the world in the name of Jesus?
I encourage you this week to think about where the Holy Spirit may be leading you. If you have no idea, reach out to me—I love helping people find their place of serving that matches their interests and abilities with ministry areas.
God has gifted each of us with passions and interests. God has gifted each of us with skills and talents. The Holy Spirit is leading each of us in different directions to fulfill Jesus’s commission for us to go and do what Jesus did. My hope and prayer is that each of us will spend some time considering where that might be.
As we end this sermon, I am going to give you a few moments to prayerfully ask God where that might be. Take a minute to actually write it down and follow through. Amen.
[i] The New Interpreters Bible: A Commentary in Twelve Volumes. Volume IX. The Gospel of John. Gail O’Day, p.847.
The Mission of Preaching: Equipping the Community for Faithful Witness. Patrick W.T Johnson. IVP Academic. 2015.
Feasting on the Word: Year A, Volume 2. David L Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor, General Editors. Westminster John Know Press, 2010. Theological Perspective, John 20:19-31, D. Cameron Murchison.