Posts Tagged ‘John’

A sermon based on John 20: 19-23

The very first worship service of the Christian Church took place in the evening of the first Easter Sunday. The gospel of John says that the disciples were gathered “in the house”. All the earliest churches were house churches. The followers of Jesus would gather in someone’s home. They would tell the stories of Jesus; they would share the meal as Jesus had given it to them; they would pray together. That was the shape of their worship.

As John tells it, the first worship service wasn’t much of a service at all. There were no announcements about upcoming fundraisers and programmes. Even though it was Easter, there were no special anthems sung by the choir. The worship leader didn’t say, “Christ is risen!” and the people didn’t respond, “He is risen indeed!” There were no joyful shouts of “Alleluia!” In fact, the congregation seemed to be having trouble getting past the Prayer of Confession.

That morning, some of the women had brought news of having found the tomb empty. They told of messengers telling them that Jesus had been raised from the dead. Mary said that she had actually seen Jesus and that he had talked with her. He had told her he was “ascending to the Father”, whatever that might mean. However, when the disciples gathered that evening, they locked the doors behind them.

They were afraid of the Judeans, the religious authorities. They were troubled. They were troubled not just by events in the world around them; they were troubled in their own hearts and minds. You can imagine that they were still reeling from the loss and the grief of Jesus’ death just a few days previous to this. They were confused about the reports from the women at Jesus’ tomb. I may be reading too much into it, but they were probably enveloped with a sense of failure and guilt and shame for having deserted Jesus. William Willimon called this, “the church of the sweaty palms and shaky knees and firmly bolted door. . .  All who were there had gotten an “F” in following Jesus. (You Call This A Church?)

The worship service seemed to have stalled there. They couldn’t get past the Prayer of Confession.

Then, suddenly, unexpectedly, Jesus shows up. He pronounces the “Assurance of Pardon”, the “Assurance of Grace”. He says, “Peace be with you.”  He could have said, “You guys really messed up.” He could have said, “Shame on you. I thought we were friends. Where were you when I needed you?” He didn’t. He said, “Peace be with you.”

He showed them the wounds in his side and hands. Then, he said it again, “Peace be with you.” The disciples were experiencing everything except peace and Jesus offers them this great gift of God’s mercy and grace.

He offers it not just in the first church service on the first Easter. He offers it to us every Sunday. We gather together and we bring with us the trouble that we have been carrying all week long. Most of the time we keep the trouble locked behind the closed doors of our hearts. We keep it hidden, but it is still there.

There’s trouble in the world — in the streets of London, England; in the refugee camps in the Sudan; in the sea between North Korea and Japan; in the Arctic where the ice cap is melting at accelerated rates.

There’s trouble in this neighbourhood where people are grieving the death of someone they love and parents are worried about the drug addictions of their children; and young people search for a reason to live.

There’s trouble in our own hearts and minds: the fears and worries; the regrets and sense of failure; the guilt and shame that haunt our souls.

We bring all that with us into worship. In the Prayer of Confession, we tell the truth about it to God.

Some churches no longer have a prayer of confession in their worship services. “That’s too negative,” they say. “We don’t want to make people feel bad. People come to church to feel good.”

The point of the Prayer of Confession is not to make people feel bad. The point of the Prayer of Confession is to make a space where we can tell the truth about the troubles that makes us afraid. It gives you a place where you can tell the truth about the things that you have done that cannot be made right. It gives you a place to speak the guilt and shame that is crippling your soul.

Together, we tell the truth and we offer all of it to our crucified and risen Lord. Then, we listen. We listen for his offer of forgiveness, he release from the burden, his “Peace be with you.”

The Prayer of Confession proclaims: You don’t have to keep carrying your guilt. You don’t have to keep letting fear drive your life. You don’t have to let shame hold you in its grip. Failure doesn’t need to turn to into a victim. Jesus went to hell and back to free you from all that. With grace more powerful than death, God takes you old life and gives you a new one. You can begin again, in a different place. You can move down a different path. You are no longer a victim. You are no longer “guilty”. You are forgiven and graced and redeemed and made new and set free.

I read once about a prison chaplain who had on his desk a framed photograph of a Christmas pageant. There were angels in white robes, holding candles and bringing “good news of great joy”. There were the shepherds kneeling and looking like they were frightened. Except, the characters in the photograph were not children as we are used to seeing in Christmas pageants. The shepherds and angels in this photo were rough looking men. They were convicts — convicted of murder and violent crimes; criminals serving time in jail. Yet, there they were, men who had been transformed by Christ, acting out the story of the birth of Jesus. When the chaplain was asked why he kept the photograph on his desk, he said, “It reminds me of the awesome power of God to change us, to set us free, to give us new life.” (William WillimonPeople Don’t Change — Do They?”)

We proclaim that truth every Sunday. Sometimes you will believe it. Sometimes, you will be glad and you will worship Jesus and you will find your way into the new life he offers. Sometimes, you will hear the gospel and you will doubt it. You will say with Thomas, “Unless I can touch Jesus’ wounds, I won’t believe that a new beginning is possible.”

What do you do when you are in that space? You keep showing up, Sunday by Sunday. You “practice resurrection”. You practice resurrection until you experience resurrection in your life. You do the slow work of making a space where God can work: you tell “the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth” as best you can. You confess the trouble, the mess, the fears and the doubts. Then, you wait for the risen Christ to show up and say, “Peace be with you.”

That’s why we share the peace of Christ every week. We practise with our voices and with our bodies the peace that Christ gives. We practise living into what Jesus says is God’s own truth about our lives. We practise trusting that the God who raised Jesus from the dead is at work in our lives too, forgiving sin, making all things new. We practise until, one day, Jesus enters the locked doors of our spirits. Then, we know we are forgiven. We know we have received the underserved mercy and grace of God. You know God’s peace is setting is setting you free and you can begin again. Thanks be to God.


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A Good Friday sermon based on John 18: 28 -38

About 80 years after Jesus had been crucified on a Roman cross, a man named Pliny was the governor of the Roman province of Bithinia. Bithinia was on the Black Sea, in what is now northern Turkey. There was in the province of Bithinia a small Christian community. Pliny was not quite sure what he should do about them so he wrote to Rome to get some directions. “There is a little group of religious fanatics,” he wrote, “who sing a hymn on the first day of the week to Christ as to a god.”

The emperor replied, “If these Christians leave it at that, what’s the harm? As long as they don’t cause a commotion, don’t trouble yourself; they are no threat to the empire.”

We know now that the emperor was mistaken. Within a couple hundred years, small communities of Christians had grown so strong and so powerful that they had taken over the Empire. They had done it without firing a single shot or deploying a single battalion, but they were the dominant force in the culture. The Emperor himself was a Christian.

You and I have gathered on this Friday morning to sing our hymns to Christ, whom we call “Lord and Saviour”, “fully human/fully divine”, “the Lamb of God who takes away the sing of the world”. We are relatively small gathering, really, considering that we have brought three congregations together for this service. We are few in number partly because Good Friday is a hard sell in our churches. Good Fridays services are not known for being the most upbeat experiences. The gathering is also small, I suspect, because much of the culture believes that our sining a few hymns and our telling some ancient stories is not accomplishing anything significant or important. “Let them be,” says the culture. “What’s the harm? The certainly pose no real threat to the world.”

Well, we shall see. The end of the story has not been written yet. We do not yet know what our God will make of our attempts to remain faithful in the dying days of Christendom. We do not know what God will do with the worship we offer as we seek to serve God in this time before God’s new thing bursts forth across the land.

We do not know, but we gather as a community of people who have staked our lives on the truth of God that the world thinks is foolishness. We hear Pilate ask, “What is truth?” and the answer we have to give is, simply, “Jesus”. Jesus is truth.

And, truthfully, the truth that Jesus is does often look like foolishness.

Jesus is truth that forgives not just once or twice but seventy times seven times. And we are invited to forgive with such extravagant abundance because that is how our Father in heaven deals with our sinfulness and brokenness.

Jesus is truth that welcomes strangers and shares meals with all the wrong people and turns the other cheek and travels the extra mile and loves even enemies because such wild, crazy love takes us to the mystery at the heart of our God.

Jesus is truth that refuses to abandon us even when we deny him and abandon him and betray him. Jesus comes looking for us when we wander away, even if he has to travel all the way to hell and back to find us, because that is how determined God is to get all God’s children home.

Jesus is truth that is cross-shaped and hurt-shaped and driven by vulnerability because such suffering love is the crucible of God’s life-giving newness.

Jesus is truth that invites us to live as communities of faith that are learning to forgive one another as Christ forgives us and welcome strangers as Christ has welcomed us and to offer all that we suffer up to God, believing that God will take even our suffering and redeem it for God’s good and holy purposes. We believe that God has that power even through those stretches when we cannot see it.

Today we remember that Pilate will always try to crucify such Truth. Such remembering is important because we do not know how long this time of being pushed to the margins of the culture is going to last. We do not how long we shall be mostly ‘small groups singing our subversive hymns to Christ” while the culture thinks we are harmless. We may be just at the beginning of a long stretch. Good Friday may be just beginning. Or, maybe we are near the end — that resurrection, God’s ‘new thing’ is just around the corner. Perhaps we are stuck in Holy Saturday and will be here for a while yet, waiting for God to raise the dead and break open the graves.

Wherever we are, we know that the Church — Christ’s Church — has been before. We hold on, in trust and in hope. We hold on because we are part of a community that believes that even in suffering and in vulnerability; even in those times when the glory of God is hidden from our sight; even when all we have to hold onto is the ache and the longing that God’s absence brings; even when the powers of this world have done their worst — even then, our God, the God of our crucified Saviour, this God can be trusted.

In Jesus, we come face-to-face with God’s truth. And so we stay close to the one who was crucified. He still works in surprising ways with people whom the world has dismissed as harmless and irrelevant and useless. His creative Holy Spirit still hovers over the chaos. In God’s own time, God does a new thing against all expectations. In God’s own time, God gives life to the dead.

Not until Sunday, but surely on Sunday. And so, on Good Friday, we sing our hymns and  say our prayers and trust. We stake our lives on this One who is the Truth. Thanks be to God.

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