John 20:19-23 • June 8, 2014 • “Forgiveness. Fire. Fear.”
Brothers and sisters in Christ grace and peace to you from God our Father and Lord and Savior Jesus. Amen.
There are many times when I think that some of the best theologians of our time are writers of cartoons and comic strips –Charles Schultz, the creator of the legendary comic strip Peanuts is a great example of this.
In one strip Charlie Brown stops by Lucy’s psychiatrist help stand and confesses, “My trouble is I never know if I’m doing the right thing. I need to have someone around who can tell me when I’m doing the right thing.” Lucy says, “OK. You’re doing the right thing. That’ll be five cents, please!” Charlie Brown walks away with a smile on his face.
In a few minutes, he returns with a frown. “Back already?” asks Lucy, “What happened?” Charlie Brown says, “I was wrong. It didn’t help. You need more in life than just having someone around to tell you when you’re doing the right thing.” To which Lucy says, “Now you’ve really learned something! That’s be another five cents, please.”
In our gospel reading from Saint John today, the disciples are locked in a room in fear, Jesus comes to them and says “Peace be with you” – not once, but twice. He also says, “As the father has sent me, so I send you.” And if that wasn’t enough, Jesus challenges his followers with a seemingly impossible task by saying, “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” Did you hear that? If living in peace, being ok with the fact that you and I are sent by God into a broken world, and forgiveness are what it means to follow the risen Jesus, I think I’m with Charlie Brown in thinking, “You need more in life than just having someone around to tell you when you’re doing the right thing.”
Because what you and I experience in life often has a whole lot more to do with division and hatred, not peace; judgment and blame, not forgiveness; and fear of everyone and everything, not great explosions of the fire of the Holy Spirit sending us out to let everyone know they are loved unconditionally by God.
On this Day of Pentecost, the Christian church celebrates the coming of the Holy Spirit. Notice that the disciples don’t ask Jesus to give them the spirit. They don’t go out and prove themselves worthy before Jesus. And they sure don’t seem to have let go of their fear before Jesus breathes on them and sends them into the world.
In his newest book, We Make the Road by Walking, Brian McLaren argues that the disciples on that Day of Pentecost didn’t try to explain what was happening or think it through before letting it happen or do something to stop it from happening or become perfect in order for it to happen at all. McLaren believes that the disciples simply let the Spirit of God come. And as the spirit of God came to them, their lives, and really the lives of every human being to ever live changed.
Good Shepherd’s Transformational Ministry Leadership Team has been reading a book by Pastors Kent Carlson and Mike Lueken called Renovation of the Church: What Happens When a Seeker Church Discovers Spiritual Formation. In this book, the good pastors offer a great reflection that I think relates well to our celebration of Pentecost.
They write, “We’d be better off if we just admitted it. It is sufficient for us that Jesus has forgiven our sins and secured our eternity, leaving our daily lives relatively unaffected.” The pastors continue their insight by stating that, “We are still the self-absorbed spouses we’ve always been. We continue to have a miser’s heart. We use anger to overwhelm our opponents. We are trapped in lust. We manipulate and control to get what we want. We trust our political party more than Jesus. We ignore the poor. We have personal policies that are categorically opposed to the teaching of Christ. But we aren’t bothered enough by these disconnects to put forth the effort to cooperate with the Holy Spirit because, in spite of what we claim, we really don’t believe transformation is that important.”
Pastor Carlson and Lueken conclude by saying, “Its good [transformation] when it happens, and perhaps we should be more diligent at pursuing it, but it is not a natural or necessary consequence of salvation.”
What I hear them saying is that just because you believe the spirit of God is in you, doesn’t show others that you are a follower of Jesus any more than standing in your garage will show others that you are a car. Jesus sends us out with the spirit of God – you and I should behave and look and be different in the eyes of the world because of that.
So the question that each of us should probably be asking on this Day of Pentecost is, “How has or better yet, ‘how does’ the spirit of God coming make any difference at all?”
How does the spirit of God coming to you change how you look at a sunset or hold a newborn baby?
How does the spirit of God coming to you change how you ask someone for forgiveness or receive forgiveness from someone after years of hurt and pain?
How does the spirit of God coming to you change how you celebrate the noise of dozens of children running through the hallways of Good Shepherd during Day Camp this past week?
How does the spirit of God coming to you light you on fire in ways that destroy every fear you have ever had?
How does the spirit of God coming to you send you from this time of worship to share God’s love that is a gift for all of God’s children?
How does the spirit of God coming to you change you, change me, change the world?
Brothers and sisters in Christ, the spirit of God is upon you – which is way more significant than someone who tells you when you’re doing the right thing. May you be blessed as the spirit of God comes to you, and may you bless someone else, as you share the spirit of God with one another in this walk along the road of faith. Amen.