A day of discovery

Good morning, Friends! I hope you’re all doing really well this week!

It’s a week after Easter, and we’re still in our own homes instead of here at the meetinghouse. We want to be together, but right now, meeting this way by video is the best we can do.

So, let’s do it! We’re part of a great fellowship. We’re connected in so many ways. Even though we can’t meet together, our hearts reach out to each other.

In every conversation I’ve had on the phone this week, in every e-mail and every message I’ve read, people say that we’re praying for each other.

We’ve seen some of those prayers answered, and we know that God has never abandoned us. It’s hard. It’s lonely. It’s frustrating. It’s scary. But we are still here, and we thank God for being with us. Amen!

The big question for today is, “OK, Easter happened. What next?”

Last week we read the story of how Mary came to the tomb before dawn on Easter morning, and she found that it was empty. Mary ran back to town and told the others.

Two of them came running out to see. Still empty. They went home.

Mary hung around, crying her eyes out. She bent over to take one last look inside the tomb, and she saw two angels there. “How come you’re crying?” they asked.

Mary said, “They’ve taken my Lord away, and I don’t know where they’ve taken him!” She still didn’t understand. None of them did. They thought it was grave-robbing. An ugly, horrible idea!

Then Mary turned around, and almost bumped into someone standing behind her. Called out, “Mary!” And it was the Lord! He was alive! She didn’t understand, but she knew it was Jesus!

He said, “Don’t hold me back. I’m returning to my Father. Go and tell the others.”

So she ran back to town again and said, “I have seen the Lord!”

That’s Easter morning. That’s where we were last week. But it’s a week later. Where are we now? Well, let’s find out.

On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jewish leaders, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord.

Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone’s sins, their sins are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.”

Now Thomas (also known as the Twin), one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord!”

But Thomas said to them, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.”

A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!”

Then Jesus said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.”
Thomas said to him, “My Lord and my God!”

Then Jesus told him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”

John 20:19-29

All four gospels confirm that people saw Jesus during the days after Easter. They saw him at the cemetery. They saw him on a road outside the city. He came and sat down with them at the supper table. He kept showing up.

John’s gospel tells us some extra stories, that the other three gospels don’t mention.

That very first day, on the evening of Easter, Jesus’ friends were in hiding. They had seen Jesus killed. They had seen his dead body. They knew he was dead, and they figured that they were next.

They’d heard this rumor from Mary, but they didn’t believe it yet. Facts versus rumors – which are you going to believe?

So, they were hiding, with the doors locked, and furniture piled in front of them. And all of a sudden, there Jesus was, among them. And he said, “Shalom! Peace be with you!” And they saw it was him, and they saw his wounds. It really was him. And they rejoiced.

That is probably a biblical understatement. They whooped and hollered. They were swinging on the chandeliers. They were praying. They were singing. The neighbors probably wondered what was going on.

Then Jesus said, “OK! You all quiet down! I’ve got something for you!”

And he breathed on them. A long, slow, power-filled breath that touched them, one by one. And they were filled with the Holy Spirit.

In case you like to read and compare different stories in the Bible, this is John’s version of the story of Pentecost.

In Acts chapter 2, it says they were all gathered together – same scene – and “suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house, and then tongues of fire appeared and rested over each person’s head, and they were filled with the Holy Spirit. . .” (Acts 2:1-3)

Same exact story here, but John places it on the evening of Easter Sunday. And instead of everybody suddenly speaking in tongues, the way it says in Acts, here Jesus says, “Receive the Holy Spirit! If you forgive anyone’s sins, their sins are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.”

This is such an important part of the story. Because John says that the reason we have the gift of the Holy Spirit, isn’t speaking in tongues, but forgiveness.

When we pray to be filled with the Spirit, the main thing, the real thing we should expect, is the power to forgive. The power to heal broken relationships. The power to restore and to be restored to fellowship with each other, and fellowship with Jesus Christ.

See, John puts Easter and Pentecost together. And I don’t think it’s because John was an old man when he wrote this down, and he got his dates mixed up.

For John, Easter is all about reconciliation. God forgives us, of everything. God smashes death to pieces. And Jesus gives us his own Holy Spirit, and that Spirit is here to empower us, in Jesus’ name, to forgive and be forgiven.

Then there’s a very special line in today’s story. Jesus says, “If you forgive anyone’s sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.”

This means two things.

First, it highlights and emphasizes that forgivenss is one of the most important parts of the church’s ministry. We are in the mercy business. We are in the grace business. We are in the forgiveness and reconciliation business.

Any time we forget that, we have forgotten what it’s all about. And Jesus says anyone’s sins. We can go anywhere, anyplace to bring God’s word of forgivenss.

But second, Jesus says, “If you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.” I don’t think that means we have control over anyone. We’re not holding some kind of a sword over their head.

It means that if we fail to forgive, people can spend the rest of their lives in a broken and unforgiven condition. Jesus is laying the responsibility on us, to go everywhere and to everyone and share his message of God’s redeeming love.

Then we get to my favorite character in today’s story: Thomas. Thomas wasn’t there that first evening. He was someplace else that first night Jesus showed back up.

Thomas came, and they told him what happened. He said, “I don’t believe it! I will never believe it, unless I can see Jesus for myself!”

Thomas gets a lot of bad press for this. But really, I don’t blame him a bit. Easter is a really hard thing to believe in. It’s terribly hard. And here we are, asking each other to put everything on the line – our faith, our hope, our time, our resources, our lives.

The real reason that we are Christians is because we believe that Jesus isn’t just an ancient story from long, long ago. We believe in the living Christ. We believe that Jesus is the great I AM, not the great he was.

Thomas has a genuine, honest point. And there is a real place for people in the church who ask for honest proof about things. That’s true in science. It’s true in every area of life. It’s true in religion.

Thomas is the patron saint of people who are willing to believe. They just need evidence.

And Jesus never condemned Thomas, not even for a moment. He said, “Come on. Touch me. Feel me. Reach out your hand. Check me out for yourself. Stop doubting, and believe.”

It doesn’t say whether Thomas did that or not. Maybe the evidence of his own eyes was enough. He said, “My Lord, and my God!”

And Jesus said, “Because you have seen me, you believed; blessed are those who have not seen, and believed.”

You see, Jesus knew there would be generations coming along, who wouldn’t have the chance Thomas had. Thomas was blessed. But we are, too.

Today’s story finishes up with a couple of sentences I didn’t read to you earlier. But in many ways, they summarize the entire gospel of John.

“Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.”

John 20:30-31

We come to worship, and we read these stories, to learn more, to have our questions answered, to enjoy each others’ company, and all those good things.

But the real reason all this was written down, and passed on to us, by faithful witnesses, is so that we can believe.

We believe that Jesus is who he says he is. We believe that he is alive and present. We believe in his mercy and love and forgiveness.

We believe in our mission, which is to know all these things, right down to the bottom of our hearts. Our job is to love and serve, to be humble and bold, to be guided by the Spirit, and to forgive. Always to forgive.

We do all these things, so that we may have life, in Jesus’ name.

Friends, thank you all for watching today’s message. We look forward to being able to worship together again, and to see each other again face-to-face.

We pray for everyone who is sick and suffering in this difficult time.
We pray for everyone who has lost their job or been laid off.
We pray for everyone who cares and offers help.
We pray for everyone who is lonely and isolated.

God be with you, and God bless you, until we meet again.
In Jesus’ name, Amen!

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