Thursday, May 19, 2011

Sermon from May 1, 2011; John 20:19-23

Rev. George Miller
John 20:19-23
“Fearless Forgiveness”
May 1, 2011

It is said that the Resurrection is the defining moment of Christianity.

I struggle with that because there seems to be so many defining moments. Creation. Exodus. The Birth of Jesus. The Last Supper.

Each has their own significance.

Life out of chaos. Freedom from bondage. God entering into the human story. A meal to unite all people throughout all time. A sign of just how far God will go for us.

All of these so personally meaningful. To select one event over another seems too much to ask.

Yet, the Resurrection of Jesus Christ stands in it’s own place, a triumphant testimony of what God has done; proof everlasting that death, as ravenous as it may seem, has no power over life and the God who gives it.

The Resurrection is the event in which we build our faith; it is the Resurrection in which we say that we have experienced the living and the wounded Christ.

And in that living, wounded Christ we discover again who God is.

As we talked about last week, each Gospel writer presents their take of the Easter event in their own way, with their own agenda and lessons they wish to share.

In reading John’s account, I found myself struck by what the risen, wounded Christ says.

It is Sunday night. The disciples have heard the news of the empty tomb. They have gathered. Afraid. The door is locked.

Their leader, the one who had been betrayed, the one they had deserted, the one who had been publicly humiliated and brutally crucified, appears to them.

And the words he speaks says volumes. Under normal circumstances the expression “Peace be with you” would be considered a common salutation.

But this isn’t a normal circumstance and for people huddled in fear, the claim of peace is almost ironic.

How can one speak peace when everyone’s convinced that they will be next on the cross?

How can one speak peace to deserters who left you high and dry?

But that is just what Christ does.

And with that peace, comes a gift: the Holy Spirit, shared in that room.

And with that gift, a direction. To forgive.

Let us reflect upon that for a moment.

To forgive.

John is doing something amazingly subversive here.

If you want to know who God is and what God is about, look at the resurrected Christ, the one who still bears marks of the nails that held him to the cross.

Look, and listen to the one God has raised from the dead.

Does he say “I condemn you for deserting me”?


“I banish you for not believing what Mary Magdalene said”?


“Grab your swords and let’s kill all those who were responsible for my death”?


He says “forgive.”

Forgive the sins.

Members of Emmanuel United Church of Christ, as Christians who proclaim Christ resurrected, we are called to forgive.

To forgive. To forgive. To forgive…

…In the past week I’ve been called to visit two people, both who were born and raised Catholic.

And if you know anything about Catholics, or perhaps you were or still are Catholic, you know that it is not just a form of Christian faith, it is a complete cultural identity.

And part of that identity is the sacrament of confession coupled with the forgiveness of sins. It’s vital. It’s powerful. It is beautiful.

And in visiting these two individuals, I realized that at some point they needed to hear the words. They needed to be told that they were forgiven.

That whatever mistakes they may have made, whatever wrong they may have done, God through Christ has released them.

It was powerful to be able to say it. And at least for one of the families, it was important for them to know their loved one heard those words.

“You are forgiven.”

My God, if those words do not create new opportunities, restore relationships and open up closed hearts, I don’t know what does.

Yet, sadly, forgiveness seems to have been…forgotten.

In an article, it is stated that only 50% of UCC congregations use a form of confession during worship.

That blows my mind, because without confessing our sins, how can we receive assurance that our sins have been pardoned?

And without the assurance of that forgiveness, how can we truly step out into the world being reflections of Christ’s peace, love and harmony?


The Gospel truth that the good and liberating God accepts us despite who we are and what we have done.

And yes, we can’t always wipe away or reverse the ramifications of what we have done, but at least we can know that God does indeed forgive us.

Admitting our own sins and seeking forgiveness can be difficult, but perhaps even more difficult is our ability to forgive those who have wronged us.

The actions of forgiveness are not something you can really teach a person to do, like jumping a rope or fixing a car.

There are no proven steps on how to forgive. There’s no fool-proof way to assure that it is done in the proper manner.

And truthfully, can anyone really forgive and forget? And actually, do those two words even belong together?

After all there are some events, some actions so horrendous and hurtful, that one can not forget, nor should one forget.

But can one still forgive?

I think back to a few years ago when a book called “The Shack” was released, and it seemed like every church-going person was reading it, sharing it, discussing it.

Out of curiosity, I also read it. The author did something I found stunning: he presented a theology of forgiveness that I had not encountered elsewhere.

For those who have not read it, “The Shack” is about a man named Mack whose daughter had been murdered.

This horrific event creates a riff in Mack’s relationships. For years, he is left stunned and numb.

Then, one weekend, he finds himself at the place where his daughter was killed and in the presence of God.

Mack is asked to do a difficult thing: to forgive the man who killed his daughter.

But before Mack could do the seemingly impossible, he has to speak the truth; he has to name what’s on his heart.

In an outpouring of tears, Mack begins to confess; his anger, his rage. His desire to seek revenge.

God allows Mack to say everything he feels, and then God says “For you to forgive this man is for you to release him to me and allow me to redeem him.”

Over the next few pages, God explains that forgiveness is not about forgetting or immediately having all forms of trust restored.

We forgive so that we can be released from the anger and hurt that can eat us alive and destroy our ability to feel true joy again.

And forgiveness does not have to be a one time deal. It is a process, in which we may need to declare forgiveness over and over again, and then perhaps one day we may even begin to pray for that person’s wholeness and restoration in God.

There is one line from the novel that I most enjoyed: to forgive is “about letting go of another person’s throat.”

To let go of another person’s throat; it means that now our metaphoric hands are free.

They are free to hug and they are free to hold. They are free to serve and they are free to heal.

They are free to feed the hungry and to visit the sick.

They are free to take care of the widowed and orphaned, the alien and the disenfranchised.

They are free to build and they are free to create. They are free to worship and they are free to give thanks.

In other words, by forgiving and in being forgiven we are freed to do the ministry of the resurrected Christ in this, our Father’s world.

So, on this new day, on this new week, on this new month, may we find our own ways to forgive.

May we find our own way to release our feelings of anger and our hold upon other’s necks.

And may we find that the peace of Christ allows us to reflect that peace to others.

Blessings be to the Holy Spirit that brings us new creation, blessings be to God who wants to redeem us all and to the Risen Son, who is both the bearer of wounds and the key to our healing.

Amen and amen.

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