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Sent - Sermon Podcast

Last week, we had a rollercoaster of emotion:
  • We had Jesus' satirical entry into Jerusalem on a donkey, mocking the entrance of Pilate.

  • We had the last supper, a feast is the institution of communion, which we will celebrate today.


Then we crested that first hill, and the rollercoaster started falling... fast.

  • Disciples argue over who will be the greatest.

  • Jesus predicts that one of the twelve will betray him, and that Peter will deny him.

  • While Jesus prays in the garden, asking for the possibility that he won't have to go through this ordeal, his disciples - his friends - fall asleep.
    Twice.

  • Judas betrays him.

  • Peter gets violent, and cuts off someone's ear,
    and later denies Jesus... three times.

  • Jesus is beaten
    and crucified
    and buried.



Last Sunday, we heard part of the Easter message: that the tomb was empty, and that Mary of Magdala saw Jesus. But for the disciples, who haven't seen Jesus and can't believe what the women are telling them, the world looks pretty bleak:


  • Their leader is dead, and his body is missing.

  • Those who killed their leader may be looking for them next.


Then, in a locked room, Jesus appears to them. The disciples, understandably, are overjoyed. What did the disciples think would happen next?


Would things go back to the way they were before the crucifixion? That seems rather unlikely.


Would the Jesus who was unjustly accused, condemned, and executed exact revenge? That seems a bit against his teachings.


Would the Jesus who conquered even death now lead them against the occupying forces of Rome?


I think they were surprised by what happened next. In verse 21, we read:


Jesus said to them again, "Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you."


Wait.


What?


"Jesus," I can imagine one of the twelve saying, "we just saw what happened to you. Those people are probably looking for us now. You cannot be seriously suggesting we do what you just did."


What does it mean when Jesus sends us the way God sent Jesus? This is the Jesus who said "unless you pick up your own cross and follow me, you cannot be my disciple."


Lest we think this is a call to die a martyr's death, it's helpful to remember that crucifixion to resurrection spanned three days, and Jesus' ministry was three years. There's a lot more sacrificial living than sacrificial dying in Jesus.


Now Jesus meant the disciples, right? That being sent stuff doesn't apply today.


Well, maybe that includes clergy today. But it certainly doesn't include lay people, right? Remember that I'm not clergy.


I think it does include lay people. The United Church of Christ, like many protestant denominations, explicitly claims the priesthood of all believers. Here's what it says in "What Is the United Church of Christ" on the UCC website:

The Priesthood of All Believers. All members of the United Church of Christ are called to minister to others and to participate as equals in the common worship of God, each with direct access to the mercies of God through personal prayer and devotion.


I think this means we're all included in being sent.


So we're sent by Jesus as Jesus was sent by God. Maybe if we had a little help...


In verse 22 we read:

When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, "Receive the Holy Spirit.


When I was growing up, I didn't give the Holy Spirit much room. God was a given, and there were paintings and drawings of Jesus, but the Holy Spirit was a little harder to understand.


The truth is, even after all this time in the church and at seminary, the Holy Spirit is difficult for me to comprehend.


You know how, in particle physics, they say light is a particle and a wave at the same time, but sometimes not? (Yes, I'm oversimplifying.) I think the Holy Spirit is like that for me. Sometimes the Holy Spirit is like a person I can pray to. Sometimes the Holy Spirit is something that moves through me like a wave.


But because the Holy Spirit is with us, however we understand it, we are able to do things we might not ordinarily be able to do. We may find ourselves more giving, more loving, better teachers, better listeners, more willing to go and more willing to welcome in. In short, the Holy Spirit helps us to be more like Jesus.


So we're sent by Jesus as Jesus was sent by God, and we have the help of the Holy Spirit. Is there anything else we should know?




In verse 23, we read:

If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.


Now there's a very traditional interpretation of this verse that gives priests, through apostolic succession - that is, the laying on of hands from one ordained person to another - the power to forgive or retain sins. That's a pretty reasonable interpretation, but I want to challenge us to think of this verse another way:


Jesus is warning the disciples that forgiving - or not forgiving - has very real consequences.


Think about the times that Jesus didn't forgive:

  • Well, there was that one time when he threw out the money changers...

  • And he did call the Pharisees hypocrites...

  • And there was that one time he cursed a fig tree...


But, by and large, Jesus forgave. He forgave the woman at the well, and said the man was not born blind because of his sin or his parents'. Jesus forgave the woman who touched his garment, and the paralyzed man, and the woman accused of adultery.


And, as he died on the cross, when he couldn't do the forgiving himself, he asked his father to forgive those who crucified him.


Jesus wasn't just doing feel-good moments. When someone says "I forgive you," and means it, it changes our relationship with them, doesn't it? When someone forgives us, we experience forgiveness.


But when people don't forgive, we experience not being forgiven. What people say and do matters to us.


And as Christians, what we do matters. Remember that we are priests of the Church of Jesus Christ - I Peter 2:9 calls us "a royal priesthood" - and the forgiveness and unforgiveness we do has real consequences for people.


And, lest we let ourselves believe that we're in a position to decide who should remain unforgiven, let us remember that we are sent by Jesus. To many, we are the face of Jesus. When we forgive, people experience a forgiving Jesus, and when we judge, people experience a judgmental Jesus.


Imagine a Jesus who did not forgive the paralyzed man, or said the man was born blind because of his parents' sin. Imagine a Jesus who says "let he who is without sin cast the first stone," and then heaves the first rock himself.


That's not our Jesus.


If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.


We ought to seriously consider what sins we forgive and what sins we retain, because what we do not only affects the people around us, but reflects on the image of Jesus.


We are sent by Jesus as Jesus was sent by God.

We have the help of the Holy Spirit.

And what we say and do matters.


I have a little project for all of us this week:


Until next Sunday morning when we meet here again, I challenge us to think of ourselves as priests of the Church of Jesus Christ.


I challenge us to be aware that people who know we are Christians will see us as followers of Jesus.


I challenge us to be aware that what we bless and what we condemn have real consequences for people and for the Church as well.


I challenge us to not think lightly of ourselves as Christians. We are a royal priesthood. And what we say and do matters.


Peace be with you.


As God sent Jesus, so Jesus sent us.


Amen.

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