Sermon for June 8th, 2014
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.” 20After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. 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. 23If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”
Receive the Holy Spirit
In today's scripture passage, the disciples are gathered in the upper room, and the door is shut. The door is locked. They are afraid. And this is where Jesus truly missed his greatest opportunity ever: He's about to make his entrance, but I would have gone for something a little different. Let me tell you what Jesus *should* have done...
Knock knock. Who's there? Theodore. Theodore Who? Theodore is locked, you wanna open it?
Knock knock. Who's there? Usher. Usher who? Usher wish you would let me in, guys!
Knock knock. Who's there? Hal. Hal who? Hal'll you know unless you open the door and find out?
Knock knock. Who's there? Doris. Doris who? Doris locked, that's why I've been knocking!
Knock knock. Who's there? Ben. Ben who? Ben knocking for a long time now...
Knock knock. Who's there? Howie. Howie who? Howie gonna finish this story if you don't let me in?
Knock knock. Who's there? Dolores. Dolores who? Dolores my shepherd, I shall not want. He maketh me to lie down in green pastures, he restoreth my soul.
Oh, hey Jesus, it's you!!
Unfortunately, Jesus didn't go that route. Instead he just came straight through the locked door, stood among them and said "Peace be with you." They were already afraid, and I'm sure that really comforted them. In the King James translation, the next verse is "and then they wetteth their undergarments and screameth like little girls." Humor would have been much better...
Today is Pentecost Sunday, and today we celebrate the coming of the Holy Spirit. In Luke's version of the story (in Acts) this happens 50 days after Jesus leaves the scene, out in the marketplace with tongues of fire (which is why we wear red) descending upon the disciples. But this year we're going with John's version, which is a little more understated, a little more intimate, and the focus is on breath more than on fire. I'm not sure what the liturgical color of breath is, so we can stick with wearing red for now.
In fact, the Greek word for Holy Spirit used in this passage, and anywhere else the Holy Spirit is referred to, is Pneuma (as in Pneumatic tires) which is more literally translated, Holy breath, or holy wind. In the Old Testament, in ancient Hebrew, the word for spirit is ruah, which can also be translated as breath or wind.
This makes sense. To most ancient peoples, breath was life. When you stopped breathing, you were dead. When you breathe in, you take something of the world inside you. When you exhale or breathe out, something leaves you and goes out into the world. Your breath...is your life...is your spirit.
So Jesus, who was dead but now alive again, gives one last gift to his disciples: He breathes on them. He gives them his breath...his life...his spirit.
Just as he had drawn them in at the beginning of his earthly ministry (breathe in) now he sends them out in his name (breathe out). The disciples of Jesus have figuratively become his breath, his life, his spirit. They are exhaled into the world.
And so are we. Today's sermon is going to be a short one (in fact, I'm more than halfway done already) because I am sharing it with three different groups of people:
First, this year's confirmation class. They too, have been on a journey of discipleship for the past year, studying the bible with Drew and learning what it means to be a follower of Jesus. Today they are making a profession of faith in Christ and joining the church as full members.
Second, is Michelle Gutierrez. She is a member of our church, currently attending college in Tuscon, Arizona. Michelle is going to tell us about her recent participation in a mission trip to Costa Rica, which you helped support. Michelle is putting into practice the words of Jesus, "As the Father has sent me, so I send you."
And third is this year's graduating seniors. We have two this year, and they are about to end one journey and begin another. Before Pentecost, Jesus' followers were called "disciples" which means students. After Pentecost they are called "Apostles" which means ones who are "sent out" (apostalein). Likewise, our graduating seniors are making the transition from disciples to apostles. Of course they are being sent out to become students all over again at college, but still, you get the idea.
It is fitting that we do all these things on Pentecost Sunday.
At Pentecost, Jesus gave the disciples his last gift, his breath, his life, his very spirit. I'm not Jesus, but I'd like to give three pieces of wisdom, three pieces of advice to our confirmands, our missionary, and our graduating seniors--all in the various stages of their faith journeys, of learning and living and going. Really its to all of us, as all of us are somewhere along the path of our own faith journeys, too. It is simple advice, gleaned from today's passage and from Jesus' example.
First: Breathe. Breathe in. Take in the world, take in God's word, take in all the education you can get, both in school and in church. And then breathe out. Give of yourself. Give back to your church, to the world and the people around you, to the world and the nations far away from you, too.
Second: Show your scars. Before Jesus gives his breath, his spirit, he shows his disciples the wounds in his hands and in his side. You'll get wounded too. Being sent out into the world is dangerous business, and you'll come away with scars. Emotional ones, physical ones, spiritual ones. Jesus didn't hide his scars--he shared them with others so they would know that his scars did not defeat him. Neither will yours.
Third: Forgive. This is what follows immediately after he breathes on them and tells them to receive his spirit: He gives them the power to forgive others. This is not a magical power--all of our sins are already forgiven by the great sacrifice that Jesus made. But if we are to follow in his footsteps, to live in his spirit, then we are to forgive others. You'll need to forgive others, because if you don't, he says they will be retained. But that doesn't necessarily mean THEY will retain THEIR sins. I think it means that if you can't forgive someone, you're the one retaining something. That's why we use the expression to "carry" a grudge. If you don't forgive, you end up carrying a lot of weight that will slow you down on your journey. So forgive others, whether they deserve it or not. And none of us do.
That's it: Breathe in, Breathe out. Show your scars. Forgive everyone.
May your journeys be long, and may they take you far. May they be filled with the spirit of God's love, and someday lead you home to his heavenly arms.
Knock knock. Who's there? Ward. Ward who? Ward of God for the people of God. Thanks be to God!