Archive for the ‘absolution’ Category

Moving From Cowering to Courage!

Thursday, April 3rd, 2008

First Sunday in Easter, March 30, 2008–Pastor Brian Henderson-Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
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Christ is risen! He is risen, indeed! Because the Savior has risen from the dead, frightened and fearful humanity has Divinely-given hope. We no longer need to cower behind closed doors afraid of the unknown because we are no longer held captive in sin, or enslaved by the devil. Jesus Christ has conquered all of these things, and with His wonderful victory on Easter Sunday, He has assured us that we can believe without a doubt that no one can snatch believers from His loving hands. 
At the top of the one thousand foot mountainous peaks of Meteora, Greece, monasteries have been built.  Their inaccessible location gave the monks an opportunity to remove themselves from the cares and concerns of the world. These monasteries became places of solitude, safety and security. Up until the last century, goods and visitors had to be winched up to the monasteries in a basket that was hand-powered by the monks. Those who made the ascent found the ride a terrifying experience because of the basket’s swaying and swinging. One tourist recorded his adventure and admitted to getting very nervous about halfway up the cliff. That’s when he noticed the rope seemed to be very old and frayed. Thinking that he might relieve his fear, at least somewhat, he asked one of the monks who was riding with him, “How often do you people change the rope?” Without a moment’s hesitation, the reply came back, “Whenever it breaks!” That kind of response doesn’t give a person a feeling of absolute security, does it? In our Gospel reading this morning, we find Christ’s disciples fearfully cowering behind locked doors.  They were afraid because the word was out that if any of the ruling Jews of Jerusalem found any of Christ’s disciples their intention was to beat them, drive them forever out of temple worship, and quite possibly put them to death. Now you and I will probably never travel to Greece and visit the monasteries high upon the mountain peeks, and we will probably never be beaten and ordered by our government to stop speaking the name of Jesus, but we all have things that make us afraid; things that cause us to worry.  It’s these things that can make us do the unthinkable; forsake our Savior who has set us free from sin. 
Think about it this way, this morning we can say Christ has risen, He has risen indeed, and then when we go back to our homes, neighborhoods, schools and places of employment and we can very easily become silent and live a life that doesn’t demonstrate the truth that Christ has risen for us, indeed!  That is the reality that we find the disciples in our Gospel reading [John 20:19-31].I. [John 20:19-20] It is Sunday, Easter Evening.  The Lord has risen.  The women saw Him and reported this fact to the disciples.  Peter and John were told this very thing by an angel.  This is great news!  And yet we find the disciples cowering behind two sets of locked doors.  It is precisely in this condition that Jesus miraculously appears to them.  And to this sorry bunch of losers, this sordid bunch of sinners, Jesus begins to give them the scolding of their lives, right?  Wrong…rather Jesus says, “Peace be with you.”Jesus did not scold this fearful group of sinners; instead He forgave and encouraged them with His Word of peace, “shalom”.  This was the same shalom, which he had promised them on numerous occasions was and would be theirs because they believed in Him. And now, there He stands, truly giving that peace to them.  He gives them His peace through His forgiveness of their many sins.  “What sins” we may ask?  Well think about it, when He was being tried and crucified, all of them abandoned Him.  Peter denied Him three times; he even cursed with His last denial.  And now here they all are, except Thomas, knowing that Jesus had risen from the dead just as He promised, yet their fear prevents them from rejoicing, instead they’re hiding away behind locked doors.  But Jesus, their loving Savior calmed their fear and feelings of despair with this absolution, “Peace be with you.  Shalom”We’re not so different from them are we?  We too are often afraid of what can’t see or understand, and when we’re afraid, our fear leads to doubt, which breeds even more-fear. Because our minds are so puny we find it impossible to take in the infinitely great things of God, so like the disciples, we too may resort to a denial of what faith demands; we must believe what lies just beyond reason’s grasp,  and that is hope and a peace with God!  To these doubts and fears, Jesus also says to us, “Peace to you!!” “My peace that I give is like no one else can give.”  There is a saying that has been around for awhile, and it goes like this: “As the person so his word.” In this day and age when a man or woman’s word means very little, Jesus Word is more cherished than solid gold.  Friends, what the disciples found out that Easter evening is what we must discover as well, when Jesus says peace he actually gives what the word says.
 I remember one day after church, an incident occurred that involved the decorative and empty Christmas presents that were placed under the church Advent tree.  One day after advent dinner and before the service began, the parents of a small boy lost track of where their son was, so they set out to find him.  Very soon they found him inside the sanctuary under the tree opening all of the decorative presents.  The parents screamed his name in shocked horror and told him to stop at once.  The boy looked up with a irritated look on his face and replied, “Oh, it doesn’t matter anyhow, whatever kid’s going to get these presents sure has cheap parents…THERE’S NOTHING IN THEM!”  Friends, Jesus word of peace is not an empty package, but one that is filled with a heavenly reality far more beautiful  and active than any thoughts we can  conjure up to understand it.  It is only after we begin to experience the gift that we will truly understand the beauty and grandeur of true Shalom-Forgiveness of all our sins! 
With such a wonderful gift comes an awesome responsibility.  “Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you.  As the  Father  has sent  me, even  so I am  sending  you.””[vs. 21]  With these words, the disciples are now given two gifts in one: The peace of God and the invitation to be God’s messengers.  With this gift, they were told to quit cowering behind locked doors and go back out into their communities with the power of God and the message of God: “And  when he  had said  this, he breathed on them and said to them,   “Receive  the Holy  Spirit. If you  forgive  the sins of  anyone,  they are  forgiven;  if you  withhold  forgiveness from  anyone, it  is  withheld.”[vs. 22-23]Dear friends, this mission was not just the mission of the apostles but it is the mission of all of the disciples of Jesus.  This mission is still our mission, because there is still so much sin and suffering in this world.  This mission is not just the mission of pastors, but it is the mission of the entire church.  It is your mission. As Jesus told the disciples then, He also tells us today that just as the Father sent Him to seek and save the lost sinners of the world, He too is sending us on this very same mission; our mission is to proclaim the forgiveness of sins; we are to be God’s ambassadors and proclaim to all who will hear, “God loves you and wants you to come back to Him.  God forgives you through Jesus Chirst.”

Now with a mission so great and a message so wonderful, the disciples immediately rose to their feet and left that place of security and began to proclaim the good news, right?!  Well…no.  Verse 26 says, “Eight  days later,  his  disciples  were  inside  again, and  Thomas  was with  them.  Although  the doors  were  locked,  Jesus  came and  stood  among  them and  said,  “Peace be  with  you””.  There they go again, cowering behind those same locked doors for fear of the Jews.  And there Jesus is once again offering forgiveness and peace, and they need it too!  They are still captured by their own fears and concerns.  I can hear them now, “We tried to go out Lord, we really did.  We even tried to convince Thomas, you know the one who was missing the first time you popped in for a visit?  He wouldn’t believe.  Said he couldn’t believe unless he could touch you.”   Here we go again as well.  I can hear our excuses even now: “Lord, you don’t want to use me to invite people to church, why I can’t even get my own children and grandchildren to attend with me.”  To the disciples then and to us now, Jesus continues to say, “Peace be with you.”  You are forgiven.  Once again, Jesus announces the very essence of our mission.  Isn’t it wonderful that our God isn’t an angry task master, demanding that we produce results.  No, instead, we have a loving God who is willing to repeatedly demonstrate His principle of forgiveness within us, around us and through us. 
So there stand Jesus, smiling at all of His disciples.  I imagine that he may have said still smiling, “Now where is that doubter?  Thomas, front and center; you have been avoiding me far too long.”  God’s law now begins to confront Thomas and it calls him to task.  Now, Jesus looks directly into Thomas’s eyes, He speaks directly to His heart and says, “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side.  Do not disbelieve, but believe.” [vs. 27-28] These aren’t angry words, but words of love.  This dear friends is the sweet word of peace.  It is the Gospel.  Jesus came back for Thomas just as the shepherd in His parable left the 99 secure sheep to find the one lost sheep.  Friends, Jesus is teaching us that He is willing to go to any lengths to save a sinner; even a doubting and self absorbed sinner like Thomas–even a sinner like you.  He will not quit until he has found you or your lost loved one.  Will you help him?  Will you confess your own sinfulness to Him and then joyfully receive His peace that comes with your forgiveness?  Will you help Him find the other lost sheep that are in your community?  He doesn’t need your help, He wants it.  He hasn’t demanded that you help Him, He’s asking.  Will you help?
 Some of you may say, “Oh if only I could have an experience like Thomas, then I would really be on fire for the Lord.  What a blessing Thomas received.”  And to this, Jesus says, “(No, rather) Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”  But how can we believe without seeing some may ask?  And to this question, our gospel reading answers, “(Well) Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not (even) written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe (so that you might have faith in the fact) that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.” [vs. 30-31]  St. Peter also tells us in our Epistle lesson that “God, according to his great mercy, has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the power of the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.  And that by God’s power, He is keeping an inheritance for us that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading.  This work of God’s power is your gift of faith which comes through the hearing, reading and proclaiming of God’s Word, and your inheritance is your eternal life with Jesus! [1 Peter 1:3-5]  If by faith you are willing to live out your life in this peace that Jesus gives, it will change you completely.  Allow me to close with a story that illustrates this point nicely.
There once was a lady who had a small house on the seashore of Ireland at the turn of the century.  She was quite wealthy but also quite frugal.  The people were surprised, then, when she decided to be among the first to have electricity in her home.            Several weeks after the installation, a meter reader appeared at her door.  He asked if her electricity was working, and she assured him it was.  “I’m wondering if you can explain something to me,” he said.  “Your meter shows scarcely any usage.  Are you using your power?” “Certainly,” she answered.  “Each evening when the sun sets, I turn on my lights just long enough to light my candles; then I turn them off.”
Friends, perhaps we are like that old lady.  Maybe we too have tapped into the power but we aren’t using it.  Maybe like the old lady’s electricity, our souls are saved but our hearts are unchanged.  Maybe we are trusting Christ for our salvation but resisting His transformation.  Oh, each Sunday we flip the switch, but when we go home, perhaps we’ve settle for shadows. What would happen if we left God’s light on?  What would happen if we not only flipped the switch but lived in the light?  That is precisely what Jesus is asking each of us to do this morning.  He wants us to trust in His presence and power and to walk with Him. 
Dear friends, since we truly believe that Christ died and rose for us, so that our many sins might be forgiven, then we as Thomas have only one response to this truth: “My Lord and my God.”  Lead on and we will follow.   Since we agree with St. Peter, that “though we have not seen him, we love him (and) though we do not now see him, we believe in him and rejoice with joy, then we are truly filled with God’s power.  And it is that power, which will prevent us from cowering along with our faith behind closed doors and lead us out from this place to walk with and serve Jesus with courage.   May God continue to do this good work within us so that we may always joyfully proclaim, “Christ is risen! He is risen, indeed!”  In Jesus name…AMEN!