Friday, April 28, 2006

Sermon: The Risen Jesus Gives Peace, Power and Mission

A Sermon for the 2nd Sunday of Easter
April 23, 2006
John 20-19-31

Wayne Sherrer
Trinity Episcopal Church, Easton, PA

It's not the way we supposed it would be. Mother Donna is gone. For nearly two years she was our priest and our teacher, our friend and companion on the way. And now she is gone. This has stirred up different emotions—sadness, anger, confusion, anxiety and even fear. Perhaps most common of all is the sense that this isn’t the way it is supposed to be.

When she joined us, we had dreams of how our time together would progress. For some the dream was for a revival of Trinity's past glory—pews filled to bursting and lots of successful new programs. Other dreams were more modest but were still filled with hope. With the help of her ministry God would lead us into the promised land we call the future. But now she is gone. And a few seeds of doubt have begun to sprout. Is God giving up on us?

Our experience can open a window on today's Gospel story of the disciples. For two years Jesus had been their teacher, their guide and their friend. He had revealed the depth of God’s love by his words and actions. He had spoken with authority, he had healed with power, he had risked his reputation to love the unloved and despised. They had recently traveled from Galilee to Jerusalem with a throng of their countrymen to celebrate the Passover in the holy city. They had entered the city with high hopes for Jesus and for their country. Some fully expected the Romans would be expelled and Jesus would restore the throne of David and be their king. Instead, Jesus was arrested, convicted and executed within 24 hours. It wasn’t supposed to happen like that. The events of the last few days called into question everything they had done with Jesus. Had God abandoned them, as he had abandoned Jesus? Did the God that Jesus had trusted really exist? Their grief and fear were mixed with confusion and doubt.

Besides that, their own lives were in jeopardy as the authorities searched for more of those rabble-rousing Galileans. If strength and safety were measured by numbers, then the disciples fell short in every respect. Their inner core of 13 men had been reduced to ten by the deaths of Jesus and Judas and by the absence of Thomas. Bolt the doors—self-preservation was the first priority.

Then, in the midst of their grief, fear, confusion, anger and doubt, Jesus appeared to the disciples. He showed them not the dazzling brilliance of the transfiguration, but rather the wounds in his hands and side. His presence immediately changed their sadness to joy. They were not alone—God had NOT forsaken them. His presence was living proof that God did exist and had not abandoned Jesus or the disciples. His presence was God's stamp of approval on all that Jesus had taught them. His presence was reassurance that even death could not separate them from God's love. It is no coincidence that Jesus appeared as they assembled together that first Sunday after the crucifixion or that he reappeared when they gathered a week later. He continues to be present each time believers meet in his name, each time God's word is read to the community, each time the Good News is preached, each time we come to the altar to share his Body and Blood.

Jesus gave the disciples and us far more than his presence that day. His first words were a gift of peace. The Romans were masters of peace and order. Imposed by Roman soldiers and enforced by steel and intimidation, the peace of Rome was brutal, but effective. Jesus' scourging and death were a prime example of their technique. Far different was the peace given by Jesus. Jesus' peace was the shalom of the Old Testament. It referred to the total wellbeing of the individual and the group. Shalom-peace means wholeness or completeness, including the relationships between people and those between people and God. Peace to restore God’s image in us; peace to make us the full and complete human beings we were intended to be.

Jesus also gave the disciples the power of forgiveness. Many people who would hear the good news had difficulty believing that it was meant for them. Their guilt was too great; their habits of sin were too strong to break. God couldn't love them. Yet the same forgiveness which Jesus had extended to sinners during his earthly ministry was entrusted to his followers. It is a transforming power that allows people to believe they are not defined by their sin. Forgiveness lets them believe in God's power to change their lives.

Jesus reminded the disciples of the mission they had begun—a mission yet unfinished. He sent them just as he had been sent by the Father. I’m sure they didn’t feel ready to take Jesus’ place. They had too many recent examples of sin and failure in their individual lives to believe they were up to that challenge. To equip them for that mission he gave them the Holy Spirit. The Spirit helped them remember and understand what Jesus had taught. The Spirit gave them strength and courage to act despite their fear. They were empowered to break the shackles of past mistakes and to overcome their doubt that the task was possible.

We share that same mission with the disciples. We too are being sent once again to bear witness to God’s love and forgiveness to a world that is desperate for good news. The spirit of the Lord is upon US to preach good news to the poor, to proclaim release to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim that this is the acceptable year of the Lord.

Finally, Jesus assured the disciples that their future efforts would not be in vain when he said, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.” Since the only believers at that time were people who had seen the resurrected Jesus in the flesh, Jesus’ blessing must refer to all who would hear about Jesus from the testimonies of those eyewitnesses. Could any of those ten men in our gospel could have imagined that within 300 years even the emperor would be a Christian? Of course not. It would be easier for us to believe Osama Bin Laden's granddaughter will one day be Archbishop of Canterbury. But, having seen the risen Christ, they unlocked the doors and went out into the city. They first told Thomas whom they had seen.

Acts tells us that Peter then boldly went to the Temple and preached there to the crowds. Imprisonment and martyrdom couldn’t stop the spread of the good news and so two thousand years later we at Trinity have come to believe and have been blessed.

We are meeting here today with unlocked doors and Jesus has come in. Our God is lord of life, of growth and of change. We do not know where he intends to lead us in the months ahead, but we have an advantage over the disciples. We have two thousand years of history in which God has led the Church. We can have confidence he will not stop.

God knows the way it is supposed to be. In God's time that's the way everything will be. In 30 or 40 minutes we will be sent out in shalom—sent forth in peace to love and serve the Lord. And as we love and as we serve the Lord, as we minister to the poor, the ignored, the forgotten, they too shall be blessed. They too shall come to believe. They too will join us and say, “Thanks be to God. Alleluia”

Wayne Sherrer is licensed by Bishop Paul for the ministry of preaching. He is a member of Trinity, Easton.

No comments: