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April 11, 2010
Second Sunday of Easter
Pastor Brad Davick
Psalm 118: John 20:19-31
Boss, Let it Alone!
For those of us who worship regularly on the second Sunday of Easter, today's Gospel scene is a familiar one. Every year on this day the given text is the story of the disciples huddled behind locked doors. John says they are huddled "for fear of the Jews." If they have heard the witness of Mary, then they might be huddled for fear of Jesus, too. After all, if Jesus really is alive, they should be afraid.
Remember who these disciples are. They are the inner circle, the ones whom, in the upper room at the last supper, assured Jesus of their determination to stick with him. Yet, when the going got tough, they got going. If the women were right and Jesus really was alive, what would he say to them?
Today we hear that the first thing Jesus says is "peace." In other words, Jesus appears among the disheartened disciples and says, "Let's talk. I forgive you."
Notice that Jesus pronounces "peace" upon his disciples before any of them ask for it. That's contrary to how we usually think about forgiveness. Usually we think that the offender needs to ask for forgiveness...express contrition...repent. But that night behind the locked doors no one did any such thing. No one said, "I'm sorry," or "oops," or "forgive us for fleeing into the darkness." And yet Jesus said first "peace," just like from the cross he said, "Father, forgive."
"Who is this who forgives sin?'" Jesus' critics asked. Well, if you thought that the preemptive forgiveness was put to an end in Jesus' death on the cross, you were incorrect. Jesus is raised form the dead and what is the first thing Jesus does, He forgives us.
The great scholar of world religions, Huston Smith, once gave a lecture in which he characterized the most notable aspect of each religion-Islam, prayer; Judaism, family; Christianity? Forgiveness. It is unique to the faith of Jesus and to faith in Jesus to forgive enemies.
The goal of forgiveness, human or divine, is to restore relationship. We believe that in the cross and resurrection of Jesus, God in Christ has paid a heavy price to come close to us, to rebuild and to restore the divine-human bond that we could never have repaired ourselves.
Seen from this perspective, forgiveness is not just something that Christians engage in from time to time, if we have the energy and inclination; forgiveness is at the very heart of what it means to be a Christian. The God who found a way to make a way toward us is the God who expects us to find a way to make a way toward others. Forgiveness is therefore not optional equipment for the Christian life, some work of supererogation that we engage in if we really want to be saintly. Forgiveness is the normal habit of the Christian life.
Therefore, when there has been a breach in our relationship with another person, we Christians are duty bound to immediately begin work that moves us toward forgiveness. WE are to pray for the power and the will to forgive, we are to ask God for the creativity and the means to build a bridge to that life. We are not expected to "forgive and forget," to sweep anything under the carpet, to lie that a wrong was not really a wrong. We are expected to forgive.
Of course, timing is important. I don't think God expects us immediately to forgive when the wound caused by the wrong is still sore and bleeding. But we must be clear that wrongs done against us are not to be lovingly nurtured, not to be dwelt upon and enlarged. We are to pray that God will give us the grace to do that which Christ commanded us to do...forgive those who, "trespass against us" as we have been forgiven.
One day Jesus told a really inappropriate story about a farmer who had a fig tree (luke 13:6-9) The farmer came looking for fruit. Fig trees are supposed to bear fruit every year. But for three years, this farmer's fig tree, bore no fruit.
"Cut it down", he says. But his hired hand begs, "boss, let it alone. I'll put manure around it, dig around it, and then let's see what happens." In Greek linguistics, "let it alone" can also be translated, "forgive it."
Cut it down. That would be the just desserts for so bad a tree. However, Boss, Forgive it, is how the story ends. Here in this little parable of Jesus, up to our necks in manure and barren fig trees, a story that ends in forgiveness, as our story with Jesus this Easter evening begins. Because of an infinitely forgiving and forbearing master, there is still time. We are permitted to begin again with God because it appears to be in the nature of God to forgive.
The goal of forgiveness, human or divine, is to restore relationship. (We believe that in the cross and resurrection of Jesus, God in Christ restored the divine-human relationship that we could never have repaired ourselves.)
Easter means this for us: No matter how you have failed in your walk with God, no matter how you have betrayed Jesus, remember to whom he first appeared in his resurrection, the first to whom he restored the divine-human relationship, and remember what he said to them, "Peace. I forgive you. Sisters and brothers, I love you still..."
Christ is risen! He is risen indeed, Alleluia!