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April 18, 2004 (Second Sunday of Easter)—“Being Sent by Jesus”

Pastor David Barber

John 20:19-31

Sisters and brothers, grace be unto you and peace from God our loving Creator and from our Savior Jesus Christ, Amen.
 

Our Gospel for today has been read on this Second Sunday of Easter for the last 50 years...so its become very familiar to the faithful who do attend on this Sunday--and perhaps too familiar.

I've been ordained for 32 of those 50 years so I've probably preached at least 20 sermons on this text. In many respects it harmonizes with what we find in the other gospels concerning the post-resurrection appearances of Jesus.

All the disciples seemed to have problems with the events of the last three days, and it makes me wonder why Jesus even bothered to return to them. If fact, if you were Jesus, and God had just raised you from the dead, where would you first make an appearance? I wonder if Jesus even entertained such a question.

For instance, it had been a rough couple of days for Pilate in his little corner of the world. Many Jews had descended upon Jerusalem for the Passover observance and celebration, and the religious authorities in particular had been stirred up and irritable because of a renegade by the name of Jesus.

Because Pilate had a bellyful of dealing with all these religious factions, he was hoping that the execution of this man Jesus would put an end to all the turmoil. He was hoping that this next week would be a little quieter and he could get some rest. In fact, maybe he and the Mrs. could head up to the North Country for a little R & R.

As he's sitting there in reflection enjoying a fine cigar imported from Egypt and a jigger of Scotch, a ghost-like figure appears. The figure looks vaguely familiar, and with terror he suddenly realizes that this is the Galiliean that he had tortured and crucified.

It seems like a dream, but it's not a dream as this mysterious presence speaks and says to Pilate, "I bet you thought you were all done with me, but you're not. And it's payback time."

Or why didn't Jesus return to the High Priest Caiaphas and set him straight about the ways and workings of God. If the disciples' world was turned upside down, just think how unsettled Caiaphas or Pilate would have been if Jesus had returned to them.

But he didn't. Instead, he shows up to his disciples, who had already proven beyond a shadow of a doubt what bumbling, inept, and confused cowards they already were. He appears to them as they sat cowering behind locked doors.

You can't get good help these days can you, and yet Jesus returns to them again. Perhaps he saw in them something we can't see or something even they couldn't see in themselves.

I think of our governor, lobbying for higher salaries for those in her cabinet. Her rational is that if you're going to attract quality people you need to pay them a competitive salary otherwise there won't be any enticement to leave their present job for government service.

I think Evan Dobelle used the same rationale for offering lucrative contracts to administrative types just below him on the totem pole, and also to our football coach. In sort of a trickle down rationale, these folks will bring in more money and more students, and this means everyone will get a higher salary...especially professors...so quite your complaining and just be happy.

Jesus must have forgotten this lesson on how you recruit and keep competent and capable employees. Maybe that's why he didn't attract those of the highest caliber because he wasn't offering a very generous salary with lots of benefits--including an incentive clause for the number of converts brought to Jesus.

In the Gospel of John, Easter coincides with Pentecost. Jesus appears before his disciples, and he breathes...sends...and commissions all in one great burst of holy energy. He unsettles and stirs up the disciples...giving them the breath and the new skin of the Holy Spirit. As a result, the disciples are never the same again.

Isn't this amazing? Here's this frightened group of disciples who denied and deserted Jesus, and yet Jesus is back to them again not to punish and to chastise them, but to empower and equip them for ministry.

This is not just a lesson from the past. Again and again the risen Christ appears to us with his wounds and offers, "Peace be with you!" And then he also adds these commissioning words as well, "As the Father has sent me, so I send you."

As ill equipped, as over-powered and overwhelmed as you may feel today, you are the sent ones and you are commissioned to be the presence of Jesus...doing and saying and acting toward the world in the same way as Jesus.

We are the disciples of Christ today, and he calls and equips us to ministries of forgiveness for ourselves, our neighbors, our families, our communities, our nation and our world.

This is very difficult work, and it's only by the holy breath of God that we're empowered to venture forth. It's only because Jesus breathes on us and gives us the gift of the Holy Spirit that we can even begin to say yes to this ministry of forgiveness.

Forgiveness...it's difficult and demanding work and it requires perseverance and courage and creativity...and certainly receptivity to the holy breath of God.

For instance, Charlie Brown is trying to help Snoopy sort out a situation with Woodstock. Snoopy has retreated to lying on top of his doghouse, trying to avoid the whole situation.

Charlie says to him, "I have a suggestion." And Snoopy responds, "Doesn't everyone?"

Charlie suggests, "why don't you try to find out what it was that you broke at Woodstock's party? Maybe that would be the first step toward your reconciliation." Snoopy thinks for a moment, and then responds, "I always trip on that first step."

Snoopy isn't alone. I struggle with forgiveness in my own life, and I imagine that there are others here this morning who also have some difficulties with forgiving others and even themselves. When a person has been betrayed or hurt, or abused, the wounds can be deep and penetrating, and these wounds can take a long time to heal.

Children are abused by parents...the very people that children turn to and trust. Husbands and wives and partners inflict pain with their words, and sometimes physically damage one another.

We hurl racist remarks at those who are different from us, violence erupts in our cities, and we send our young men and women to die and to wage war because we're afraid. And that's sinful and very, very wrong. And the list goes on and on.

And the cliques don't help much either. In fact they're destructive, of which "time heals all wounds" or "forgive and forget" rank at the top. If you can simply forget something or if it's just a matter of time, then why would you need to forgive anyone?

Forgiveness can be a long and painful process, and even though we do forgive, the shrapnel fragments of hurt and anger can be lodged within us for months and years.

David Augburger in a book entitled Helping People Forgive includes this story of one woman's journey of forgiveness. In the early eighties, Goldie Mae Bristol's daughter was brutally raped and murdered. Although the murderer was convicted and sentenced to life in prison, she was outraged, depressed, and sleepless.

Unable to shake her anger and the feeling of impotence to change a tragic situation, she quit her job and moved to a new community to start again. She moved once more, and then still again. Nothing changed except the deepening of the bitterness.

One day a new acquaintance persuaded Goldie to attend her church. Goldie's response was indifferent, but the friend persisted and gradually something started her journey of change and the beginning of healing.

The warmth of the church community, the support of a prayer group, and then the beginnings of personal Bible study slowly, over three or four years, reframed her memories of her daughter and her ruminations about the murder.

She made several surprising discoveries. The recollections of her happy days with her daughter began to offer peace rather than remorse. The forgotten memories returned to awaken gratitude and renewed delight in her daughter's life. Even the feelings toward the murderer began to soften and the monster began to take on human dimensions.

She heard herself use words about forgiving what had been eternally unforgivable, and she began to talk about this with friends, in small groups, and in church services.

She even told her story to groups of prisoners. This story of years of torment, of slow and unexplainable recovery, and the gift of a forgiving heart came out with deep emotion.

"I am here," she said one day to some prisoners, "to tell you that one person on the outside has forgiven the man who crushed the life out of her cherished daughter...I forgive you and in the name of Christ want you to feel loved and prized as a human being."

Her transparency was shattering. In the silence that followed her address, a man stood and said, "Mrs. Bristol, my name is Michael Dennis Keyes, and I am the man you have forgiven."

She gasped, totally unprepared for this surprise. Tears filled her eyes and slowly she opened her arms. Michael Dennis Keyes came to the platform, choking with emotion, and they embraced.

Her journey of offering forgiveness had come to an end, but his journey of finding forgiveness was just begun.¹

This is not a prescription or a formula that everyone must follow...nor is it something that everyone can do as they struggle with what it means to forgive in their own situations. It's only descriptive of one person's journey and the long and difficult road she traveled to receive peace.

And yet, God does continue to breathe upon us the gift of the Holy Spirit, filling us with new life, and empowering us with the ministry of peace and forgiveness. How we work at this and live this out is a continuing and life-long process.

Amen.

¹ David W. Augsburger, Helping People Forgive (Louisville, KY, Westminster John Knox Press, 1996), pp. 121-122.


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