TRADITIONAL SERMON — EASTER 2
Words have power. Even in a world like ours where words are vomited across every single communication platform that exists in far greater volume than ever before. Amazingly, our regular misuse of our words has not diminished their inherent potency. If I say something like “TOM!” … I immediately have Tom’s attention. (I simply wanted to say “thanks, Tom” for being an unwilling participant in the sermon today.) If someone were to invoke the traditional example of this claim – namely screaming “FIRE” in a crowded theater – they would have people’s attention … at least for a few seconds while they assessed the situation. When young lovers look into each other’s eyes and say “I love you” the rest of the world fades away and they exist in a time warp that is solely and exclusively their own. Words have power.
Today’s Gospel Lesson … yes, the one we read every single year on the Sunday after Easter … no matter the lectionary year … today’s Gospel Lesson describing Jesus’ appearance to the disciples in Jerusalem, is one that proclaims to us the power of words. Tragically, it is mostly remembered … and simplistically characterized … as the Doubting Thomas story. But it is about so much more than that. It is about the power of God’s Word.
Listen again to the first verse of this lesson from John’s Gospel … follow along if you like …
“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 Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.”
It is a word of power whose gift of peace conveys to the disciples that they are in safe company … someone with whom they are in relationship. Jesus’ resurrected body is clearly different in some ways than his earthly body, because it is only after Jesus shows them his hands and his side … remember? … the places where the nails of the cross and the soldier’s spear left their marks on his body … only after seeing these reminders that the disciples then rejoiced. But it is the power word of “Peace” that invites the disciples to dare to consider the possibility Jesus is alive again. Having assured them that it is in fact their former rabbi who miraculously stands with Jesus, Jesus speaks another word of power … the same word of “peace” he uttered before. But this time that word of peace serves as a commission. Remember, that in Hebrew, the word “shalom” can mean both hello and goodbye. When Jesus first uses shalom in this story, it is as a greeting … he is reconnecting with his old companions. This second time, it is more of a goodbye. He reminds the disciples that this reunion is only temporary … he will be sending them out into the world to continue the ministry that he began with them in their three years traveling together. With this sending, Jesus reminds them that they are no longer “disciples” sitting at the feet of Jesus listening to his words, but that they are now apostles who are sent out into the world to speak Jesus’ words to all who will listen. nd with that commissioning, he offers yet one more word of power that fuels that call to be an apostle … the “power of the keys” as the church calls it … the privilege of forgiving sin in Jesus’ name. In Matthew’s Gospel, this power is said to be given exclusively to Peter, the leader of the apostles. But here, in John’ Gospel, Jesus equips all the disciples who are gathered to speak these words with power … to be apostles … so that others will hear and believe and respond to Jesus in faith. Make note … that in John’s Gospel, this “power of the keys’ has a unique and specific definition. For John the Evangelist, sin is not primarily moral failure … it is not behavioral lapses in judgment. Sin … in John’s Gospel … is to be blind to words of Jesus and the invitation to be a follower.
Sin is when you do not recognize the light of Christ which has entered the world and changed both you and the world for the better. So while the apostles are given the authority to hold accountable those who ignore the light of Christ in their lives … the apostles are also to be the very persons who point people to the light of Christ. It is that dialectic tension between opposing realities that Lutheran’s love so much.
The late Robert Capon an Episcopalian priest and prolific author had this to say about this topic of sin and forgiveness, in his book Hunting the Divine Fox: An Introduction to the Language of Theology.
The church is not in the morals business. The world is in the morals business, quite rightfully. The history of the world’s morals codes is a monument in the labors of many ilosophers, and it is a monument of striking unity and beauty. As C.S. Lewis said, “anyone who thinks the moral codes of mankind are all different should be locked up in a library and be made to read three days worth of them. He would be bored silly by their sheer sameness.” (End quote, Capon again) What the world cannot get right, however, is the forgiveness business – and that, of course, is the church’s real job. She is in the world to deal with the sin which the world can’t turn off or escape from. She is not in the business of telling the world what’s right and wrong so that it can do good and avoid evil. She is in the business of offering, to a world which knows all about that tiresome subject, forgiveness for its chronic unwillingness to take its own advice. But the minute she even hints that morals, and not forgiveness, is the name of her game, then the Church instantly corrupts the Gospel and runs headlong into blatant nonsense.~~ Robert Capon
Seen in the light of Capon’s understanding of the Church, the failing of Thomas, is not his desire to see the wounds of Jesus, but his unwillingness to listen to the Word of God which the disciples had spoken to him. Thomas could not believe God’s proclamation, made through them, “We have seen the Lord.” Questioning and the search for certainty are never wrong in and of themselves … unless those actions stand in the way of one’s faith pilgrimage. This is the reason Jesus pronounces a blessing upon those who will believe solely through the words and the witness of Jesus’ followers. Because that is world that every follower of Jesus lives in since the day he ascended to heaven. We have only each other, and the Spirit of Christ which we bear within us, to keep this word of promise and hope alive.
What does this mean for us, then. It probably means that we should work harder at forgiving those who wrong us … we should probably be more diligent in telling the story of Jesus to those who do not know it … and we should probably worry less about whether our world is a modern day Corinth, or Sodom, or Nineveh. All those letters to the editor, blasting people for everything they do wrong? … probably a waste of time and effort. All the moaning and groaning about the loose morals of the world? … we may be just spinning our wheels. All that complaining about the loss of the “Good ol’ days”? … so much hot air. The Church would be better served if we would let go of some of our grudges and forgive each other a little more easily and a little more readily.
We have a word of power that helps us in this calling that the Second Sunday of Easter presents to us. “Take and eat … take and drink.” In the Lord’s Supper, the word of power God speaks to us is a word of forgiveness and a word that invites us to experience joy in that forgiveness … for ourselves and for others. It gathers us as the children of God in this place, and then sends us out to the children of God everywhere else, ready to speak to others this word of promise and love that feeds our souls. Take and eat … take and drink … it is the clearest picture of grace you will ever view. It is the most potent offering of forgiveness that you will ever experience. It is our Upper Room on Easter evening, when the Son of God comes to us, and invites us to believe the unbelievable. Amen.