A Pentecost sermon - John 20:19-23
Forgiveness of sins is the work of the body of Christ. Jesus lives and works for the purpose of forgiveness, of burden bearing, of lifting up our souls from the muck and the mire. And so when he breathes upon you, as one breathing life into the dead, the very first thing we are given is this power. The power to forgive. The power to have our eyes opened to where it is Christ is needed, in the places of reconciliation, of mercy, of grace. Often the places that we think him too smart to be. The places we carve out as the godless places, there he pops up to speak to the burdened and forgive the sinner.
Pentecost means many things. It means fifty days from Passover. Fifty days marked off from when death passed over the Israelites in Egypt and they were rescued from their bondage. Fifty Days from when one remembers “I am the Lord your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.”
It means the end of the Easter season. The end of these weeks in which we milk the resurrection for all we can get and continue to proclaim that he is risen over and over again.
It marks the feast of Shavuoth which, for the Jew, means the ingathering of the first fruits of wheat, but also the giving of the law to Moses at Sinai, therefore marking the date of the birth of Israel as the covenant people.
It means the coming of the Spirit to the world, the finality of the gifts of God spread to all sorts of people. It means that your being here, gathered as the people of God is the culmination of one of the greatest miracles in the history of the world. Taking people from all over the place and gathering them around this God who came to earth, who gives his Spirit, who draws all people into the fold.
It means the birthday of the church. Before it was a few believers gathering in secret, but with this falling of the spirit, now boldness, urgency, devotion, passion, infused the work and ministry to spread to all those people, all over the known world. Parthians, Medes, Cretans, Rome, Asia, Libya, Egypt.
It means wearing red. A color of desire, of heat, of fire, of emotion and passion. A color the church can use to speak of the work of God in you, but also the work of God for you. A color of the fire of the tongue that kissed your head the day you were baptized. The color of the blood shed for you for the forgiveness of sin.
All of this means the vehicle by which the forgiveness found in Christ flows to the people that need to be forgiven through you. What does this look like? Well…a body. The body of Christ. Broken. Bleeding. Nailed to a cross. Buried. Raised. A body. A body bound together by the wind of the spirit. The pnevma of God. Flowing in and out and around. All for the sake of forgiveness.
Empowered by gifts. A gift of wisdom to be wise in forgiving. Of knowledge to know the difference between forgiveness and manipulation. Faith to trust that this Jesus who says – I forgive you – is true in what he says. Gifts of healing to heal the brokenness brought by sin and division. A gift of miracles that is this miraculous thing, like enemies becoming friends, and forgiveness being the cause comes to fruition. Prophecy, discernment, tongues, interpretation, all empowered by the spirit to be vehicles of Christ to another person. Vehicles of the forgiveness of God to free you from sin and shame. To destroy the categories we create for one another. To recreate us as the body we are, which is Christ. One body, many members.
The miracle of Pentecost, the miracle of forgiveness of sins and why it matters, lies squarely on this notion of the one body, many members. Where sin creeps in is to think that you are special because you are a hand or foot. As though the eye or ear is not needed, or something less.
It creeps in when we take our time to design exactly what we think the body of Christ looks like based on what we look like and what we want. Working to gather as many ears, or eyes, noses or pinky toes we can, because the world says to us that this is what the church or Jesus looks like. And then we become a perfectly sculpted single entity of a big toe, or ear lobes, instead of the surgically planned, work of God that is Frankenstein’s monster as the church. All these various parts crammed together because the spirit says so, and mixes and matches as we go so that each day we are completely surprised by who has joined us in our journey together.
Forgiveness of sins becomes the work of the spirit in the body of Christ, because it is always the way of our minds to divide ourselves by the sin we see in someone else. Wondering if one person could possibly be a part of the body of Christ because they have too many demons. Only seeing all the behaviors and morality we believe to be disqualifying. Where suddenly, forgiveness becomes the reality of Jesus. It becomes the essential reality of the church.
A few weeks ago I tweeted a text on twitter as some other thing arose from the current presidential administration that pissed off someone somewhere. I basically have come to realize that if the President discovered a cure for cancer he would be excoriated for it by someone.
What I said was this – Seems that the most counter-cultural thing to do right now would be to love Donald Trump and Mike Pence in Christ.
I said it because I don’t see love. I don’t see Gospel. I don’t see it in me. What is the place, in this current climate, that the forgiveness of God needs to reign in me? In my body and soul? Even if we think that both men are complete and utter gluteus maximi, even the body of Christ needs a butt.
The grace of God’s mercy and the wideness of God’s forgiveness is one that so goes beyond all we can envision. It so transforms the world each and every day, many times we deny it because we cannot imagine the Holy Spirit inviting this person or that person to the party.
For too many years the church has added qualifiers to the words if you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven. Usually based on the idea that repentance must precede the forgiveness. As though Jesus is waiting there with the cross, about to be nailed to it and says – Wait boys. I need to see if Donald is going to repent before I do this whole death thing. Or, wait just a minute – I need to see if Kathy Griffin is going to make a real apology, and feel really, really bad before I possibly suffer for her sin.
The work has been done. The sins are forgiven. The ball is now in our court to be carried away by the spirit to speak those words. To realize the true composition of the body. God sowing you together. Giving you a place. Giving you gifts that are needed, that you didn’t ask for so that ministry might happen. Love might happen. Forgiveness might happen. Where we might be forgiven of thinking the church should look like us instead of the Jesus we follow who died and rose to set you free. The good news of Jesus, the greatest in fact that makes this work of forgiveness so magnificent, is that somewhere right now, you are someone’s Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton, someone’s enemy who has been forgiven in Jesus. Loved by God. You. Me. Thanks be to God. Amen