Year C,  EASTER 2

 

John 20:19-31             ( Sermon 1” “The Breath of Forgiveness”)

Psalm 150

Acts 5: 27-32

Revelation 1:4-8          (Sermon 2: Ruler of the Kings of the Earth?”

 

GREETING

 

Christ is risen!

       He is risen indeed!

When the disciples saw the Lord,

       they were very joyful.

 

The joy of the Lord Jesus be with you all.

       And also with you.

OR -

 

Grace to you and peace,

from the Alpha and Omega, the A and the Z,

who is, and who was, and who is to come;

from Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, the first-born of the dead,

 

To Christ who loves us and liberates us by his blood,

and makes us priests of his God and Father,

Be glory, and dominion, forever and ever.!

Amen!

 

PRAYER OF APPROACH

 

God of Easter surprises, on this first day the week we are drawn together

       by the power of the crucified and risen Lord Jesus.

Please breathe into our being your Spirit of mercy, that we be ready to forgive

       and liberate one another for a life of uninhibited service and praise.

In the name of Christ Jesus our Saviour.

Amen.

 

CONFESSION AND ASSURANCE

 

Jesus came and stood among them saying: “Peace be with you”. Then the disciples were overjoyed as they looked upon the Lord.

My friends, we are in the presence of amazing grace. Let us without fear

       seek the Lord’s forgiveness and renovation of attitude and thought.

       Let us pray.

 

Because in unpremeditated moments we do and say hasty things which we live to regret,

       and become frustrated with our impatience and insensitivity, we pray:

Lord have mercy.

Lord have mercy.

 

Because in our wilful moments we, with premeditated stupidity, and we undertake

        courses of action which are bound to  hurt others and degrade ourselves, we pray:

Christ have mercy.

Christ have mercy.

 

Because we allow our minds and hearts to become clogged with unrepentant guilt

       and damnable excuses, and thereby leave scant room for grace, we pray:

Lord have mercy.

Lord have mercy.

                                                ----silent prayer----

 

FORGIVENESS

Who is in a position to condemn us? Only Christ; and he comes not to condemn the world but to save it. He is our peace.

Christ died for us.

Christ rose for us.

Christ lives to intercede for us.

 

 

My friends, Its all true! In Christ Jesus you are forgiven. Take courage, inhale the breath of Christ, that you may be able to forgive yourself and then go on to love your neighbour as your now love yourself.

 

To the glory of God, Amen!

 

PRAYER FOR CHILDREN.

 

            Trusting The Risen Jesus

 

Dear God,

thank you for making Jesus come alive,

and for letting him visit his friends,

especially honest Thomas.

Help us to trust you

more than we believe our fears,

and like Thomas

to love you all of our lives.

Amen!

 

PSALM 130

 

Praise God! Praise God in this house of prayer;

Give praise throughout  the mighty universe.

Praise God for the saving deeds of Christ;

Give praise for such exceptional love.

Praise God with the blast of trumpets;

Give praise with guitar and keyboard.

Praise God with timbrel and dance;

Give praise with violin and flute.

Praise God with drums and cymbals;

Give praise with thundering organ.

Let everything that draws breath, praise God;

Praise, yes praise our wonderful God!

 

THOMAS’ STORY

 

I know “dead.”

I’ve seen “dead”

  and smelt it almost every day of my life.

Disease and accident and violence;

  so much brutality in this poor country

  which the old ones, ever euphemistic,

  call “the promised land.”

Death is the bloody monster

  which stalks and stabs and crucifies

  without hint of conscience

  or vestige of respect.

I know dead.

  Dead is dead and evermore shall be so!

 

Pax Romana? Good grief!

  I’ve lived with Roman bloodiness

  ever since I was a child.

The stomp of soldiers boots

and the barked orders of a centurion.

All those bodies hanging on crosses outside our towns,

and the swift revenge the dagger-men,

the Iscari, hand out in dark alleys.

Here in “the promised land”

death is as ugly as it gets.

 

Don’t give me that crap

about celestial fields and paradise.

Heaven is for fairy stories.

It’s garbage served up as tranquillisers

for weak minds and faint hearts.

He’s dead; bloody well dead!

My light, my christ is dead.

Jesus is dead, dead, forever!

 

And the quicker we all accept

the fact the better.

Not that “better”

has much meaning any more.

 

The peace of Christ?

Or Pax Romana?

It’s pax Romana that rules!

His way seemed better, brighter,

but theirs’ is stronger.

Proven once and for all.

 

I knew it was coming, of course.

Way back down the road, I knew it.

While Peter was blathering on

about suffering being impossible,

while James and John

indulged their dreams of coming grandeur,

and while faithful Mary held to her trust

that such love could never fail to win the day,

I knew then that Jesus

was as good as dead meat walking.

 

Yet I rallied them, didn’t I?

Set off up the road with him towards Mt Zion

and that inexorable, Golgotha disaster.

 

O I’d like to believe!

Right now I would desperately like

to be able to say that everything is okay.

I hunger for belief as much as anyone.

Like Peter and the others I want to grab for the hope

that Jesus’ life has .. somehow expanded

beyond the grave, into the whole universe.

What a wonderful universe it could then become!

 

O my God!

I’d love to see that for myself!

Then everything would be going somewhere,

and his God would be eternally valid,

and we would no longer be orphans

shivering in the eternal cold.

Then I would hold nothing back.

I would go the whole way with him.

 

Gladly.

Without hesitation.

Anything, anywhere!

 

But no. I must stick to the facts.

All else is delusion, and delusion is madness.

Jesus is dead, butchered like any foul criminal.

“Cursed is anyone who hands on a tree.”

I must build my tomorrows

on the unyielding rock of despair.

That’s all I have.

That’s all there is.

 

Maybe I could salvage a little bit of something from Jesus?

His lovely stories about how we should treat each other,

They’ll  still stand, won’t they?

I don't need him alive and around

            to believe that, surely?

Isn’t truth still truth,

irrespective of rewards and outcomes?

 

But then again, who is to say

what is truth and goodness?

if Jesus and what be believed

is now on  the eternal scrap heap?

 

Maybe Jesus’ way was just misguided kindness,

an “out” for those who cannot face

the brutality and meaninglessness of life?

Maybe he knew that too,

but wanted to give the common folk

a comfort to hold on to

in a miserable existence?.

 

What if Pax Romana., survival of the strongest,

is the only truth we must deal with.

Then maybe old Moses’ “eye for and eye and a tooth for a tooth”

is far more valid in this real world

than “love your enemies?”

What dare I salvage from Jesus

if death completely annulled him

as surely as it annuls a dog and a flea?

 

O what an absurdity I am!

 

But just give me one fact,

one incontrovertible fact,

some sustainable evidence,

that shows Jesus is still Jesus

and my whole world would be reborn

and I would go to the end of the world for him

without hesitation

and gladly name him

my lord and my God!.

                                                                            B D Prewer Ó 2003  & 2012

 

COLLECT

 

God of the living and the dead, please immerse us in resurrection life. Give us the desire to be patient as you have been patient with us, to be merciful with doubters as you are merciful, to encourage and enable those who waver, even as you have encouraged us. Through Christ Jesus our risen Lord.

Amen!

 

SERMON 1: THE BREATH OF FORGIVENESS

 

John 20:21-23

       Jesus said to them:” Peace be with you. As the Father sent me, so I am sending you”.

       After saying this, he breathed on them and said;” Receive the Holy Spirit.

       If you forgive people’s sins, they stand forgiven. But if you  withhold forgiveness,

        they will remain unforgiven.” John 20:21-23

 

The BREATH stands for the Holy  Spirit, the Soul-force of Christ.  In those words “he breathed on them,” we hear echoes of the beginning of the Bible, where God breathed into the clay nostrils of the strange sculpture he had shaped from mud, and brought to life a human being.  That was the first, old creation. Now we have the new creation. Jesus breathes the invigorating life of the Spirit into the nostrils of the disciples.

 

Please notice how in the words of Jesus the gift of his Spirit is for the ministry of going out into the world (So I am sending you) to share  the grace of Christ. A ministry of reconciliation. Forgive others and they are forgiven, withhold mercy and people are bound in their guilt.

 

Some sections of the church have interpreted this passage as an exclusive gift to the first male Apostles. They see it as the ordaining of a new, exclusive, male priesthood to a sacrament of reconciliation.  I differ on this point. I see it as the ordaining of the whole people of God (male and female, lay and clergy), for the ministry of reconciliation.  I believe that whether we realise it or not, we are in the business of loosing or binding sins.

 

HOW THE CHURCH BINDS OR LOOSES

 

A friend of mine, a truly lovely older brother named Allan, was touring in England.  Among his delights was visiting not just cathedrals, but village churches which were steeped in generations of the joy and sorrow of ordinary Christians. Arriving in one village, he headed for the parish Church, opened the door and stepped into its secluded beauty.

 

Near the back of the building, a man was kneeling and weeping. Without saying a word, my friend went and kneeled a few paces away. When with a heavy sigh the villager sat up, Allan put his hand gently on the man’s shoulder and said: “My friend, you seem to be doing it tough. Can I be of any assistance?”  The stranger, recognising genuine compassion, blurted out his story. Ten years earlier when he was in his late teens, he had committed a crime, was arrested, tried and sentenced. He had been free for nine months. But he still fell terribly ashamed and came  (not on Sunday with others) but alone during each week, to pray for the Lord’s help.

 

Allan said: “But God forgives you. Forgives you utterly. You know that, don’t you? You don’t need to pray alone, you should be here on Sunday with other Christians .”

 

The stranger commenced to sob again, and then whispered: “Yes, I know God forgives me, but the people in my church and village do not. Until they do, I am trapped with a feeling of ongoing disgrace. I cannot face them on Sunday. That is why I come here alone to pray during the week.” 

 

With that poignant story in our minds, let us again hear the words of Jesus: If you forgive people’s sins, they stand forgiven. But if you withhold forgiveness, they will remain unforgiven.

 

As the representatives of Christ Jesus, those on whom he breathes his Spirit, we are all in the business of either forgiving or binding sins.

 

I am not talking about a legal right to blot out or retain black marks in some judgement book in heaven. I am talking about the nitty gritty of what is happening here and now. What really happens in our relationships. As the only visible body that Christ now has on earth, the churches are constantly offering forgiveness or withholding it, loosing or binding. We either make real the forgiveness of Christ to each other or we tie up each other more tightly in the bonds of guilt.

 

BIG ON FORGIVENESS

 

I do not wish to discount his other word about retaining sins. But if you  withhold forgiveness, they will remain unforgiven.” If we model ourselves on Jesus, there are times when we must confront others with the hard truth.  Refuse to let them off lightly. Jesus did that with some of the Pharisees; he attacked their self righteousness and at times their damning insincerity. Where there is evil arrogance, sins are to be retained.

 

But the overwhelming ministry of Jesus was in releasing people from their guilt, alienation, or sense of worthlessness. He was a friend of taxgatherers and sinners, prostitutes and lepers.  He asked his followers to spread similar mercy to those around them. When Peter asked him: ‘How many times should I forgive a brother who sins against me? As much as seven times?” Jesus answered: “Seventy times seven.” That is, go on forgiving.

 

It is this same Jesus who on the evening of the resurrection day, breathed  on them and said: If you forgive people’s sins, they stand forgiven. But if you withhold forgiveness, they will remain unforgiven.

 

Jesus was big on forgiveness. Such is the ministry handed to us. We cannot avoid it. It is real. It happens in every church in the land, from Wagga Wagga to Picadilly and from Mitta Mitta to Fifth Avenue NY . It happens here in this congregation. Our key ministry is to be one of grace, of mercy, of liberation.

 

Tragically, the church through the centuries has got caught up in the blame game. We have been more vigorous in retaining sins than in loosing them. The church has traded on guilt. Far too often we clergy have used it to motivate people into doing what is right in ecclesiastical  eyes. I find it incredibly sad that numbers of people serve the church like slaves rather than as the liberated brothers and sisters of Jesus of Nazareth.

 

But not only the clergy have played on guilt.  Members of congregations do it to each other, and with their ministers and priests. The blame game is a disease from which Christ died to save us. Yet it festers on. We are often much harder on each other than Christ is.  That man weeping in a village church in England, is a more dramatic manifestation of what goes on in numerous churches around the world.

 

HOW ARE WE DOING?

 

Let’s not talk in generalities.  How are we doing?

       How much forgiveness operates here in our midst? How merciful is this congregation? How much loosing of sins do I offer in the informal life of the church? How much do you offer affirmation and forgiveness to each other— not in any formal sense but in our attitudes and casual words? Compassion or criticism? Innuendo or true mercy?  Law or grace?

 

And how much are we a liberating influence out there in the community? Or how much resentment is nursed ? How many old injuries are tallied up for a chance of some pay-back on a day to come?

 

This brings me to salient point: when we lock ourselves into unforgiveness, ungrace as I like to call it, we have indeed manacled ourselves. Ungrace makes us the prisoners, as well as those we whom refuse to forgive. Ungrace is a fearful bondage.  It  takes the zest out of life and creates sourness, it chains us to the past, it poisons the springs of spontaneous joy within us. There are none so moribund as those who are trapped in ungrace.

 

RECEIVE THIS HOLY SPIRIT

 

Receive the Holy Spirit says Jesus.

 

Be a gracious forgiver as Christ is a gracious forgiver to you.  Be a liberated liberator. That friend of mine, Alan, did more in half an hour with the poor fellow in the village church, than the locals had done in the nine months since the prisoner had been physically set free.. For Christ’s sake, I ask you to take a very deep breath. Get ready.....

Receive the Holy Spirit. Breathe in the Holy Spirit, Let the Spirit fill you with every breath, flow in your blood stream, and saturate your attitudes, your thoughts, your words and your deeds.!

 

 

SERMON 2: THE RULER OF THE KINGS OF EARTH?

 

       “ Grace to you and peace from the One who is and who was and who is to come...... and from Jesus Christ the faithful witness, the first-born of the dead, the ruler of kings on earth”                                                                                                           Rev. 1: 5b-6

 

The first-born of the dead, the ruler of kings on earth.

 

How does that sound to you?

 

To many in the world around us, it may seem like pious rubbish. Grandiose piffle!

 

Ruler of the kings on earth?

 

 “Oh yeah?  Pull the other leg! If they really believed that stuff, those early Christians like John must have been on another planet, or with the fairies at the bottom of the garden!” They had to be drugged on otherworldly fantasy, to be able to rattle on about Jesus being the ruler of the rulers of earth!  In your dreams, mate!” And so must contemporary Christians!

 

Look around you and across this world today. Look at those who rule.

       The war lords of Afghanistan, the military oppressors in Burma, Palestinian Hezbollah and Jewish extremists, old guard communists in Cuba and the “Beloved Leader” of  North Korea, Mugabe in Zimbabwe and the post-communist junta in China, Assad in Syria and the Taliban infiltrating the new army of  Afghanistan, ready to cause mahem within the ranks as soon  as our allied troops pull out. Are these under the rule of the risen and ever-living Prince Christ ?

 

Come closer to home; let’s think the Western world.

Look at the leaders in Australia, France, Russia, England, the USA, South Africa, India, the Philippines, New Zealand, Fiji and Canada and Brazil and many more nations.  Do these “democratically” elected leaders show any sign of being under the rule of Christ? Or is such a thought just pathetic, wishful thinking?

 

We too may be tempted to conclude:

“Just let the writer of the Book of Revelation take a time trip and come and live in our world, and then see if he still thinks Christ Jesus is the ruler of the kings on earth.”

 

THIS ONE AND ONLY JESUS

 

Let us get this one straight: Our faith is grounded in the Easter of Christ Jesus..

       What twenty first century cynics need to realise is that those words in the book of Revelation are a direct consequence of resurrection faith. That alone. Such faith was not based on observation of what was happening around John in the Roman Empire, but on what happened in Bethlehem, Galilee, and Jerusalem with a man named Jesus who was crucified yet now lived gloriously. Without the Easter event this strange yet wonderful  Book of Revelation could not have been written.

 

It is written because God had done the improbable.

       The Spirit of the Holy One had been uniquely with Jesus and had placed a seal of vindication on his life and teaching. and self sacrifice.  Only one person qualified. It was this particular Jesus who was raised up, this particular Jesus who transcended death.  It is his way of life that is vindicated at Easter.

 

The same Jesus who has split our history in half.

       The fellow who touched lepers yet called Herod a fox. The exact Jesus who told parables about a prodigal son and a Good Samaritan, and taught his followers to forgive their enemies and pray for their persecutors. It was this exact Jesus who renounced earthly power and force, who challenged the authority of the religious hierarchy, and cared about poor widows and outcastes. The exact Jesus who was not intimidated by the power of Caesar’s representative, Pontius Pilate. The Jesus who died forgiving those who crucified him, and was buried in a borrowed tomb. This Christ Jesus is the one whom God has raised up from the grave and  (to quote St Paul) “has been given a name above all earthly names, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth.”

 

The cross and resurrection defined the nature of Jesus’ ultimate authority over all people, including over mighty Caesar and his puppet kings. Such faith was not a deduction from the usually brutal way emperors and kings lived and ruled, but from the way God had vindicated the word and way of the humble, true-man, Jesus. The resurrection is God’s vindication, a mighty seal of approval.

 

If God’s human experiment on earth is to work out it will be in alignment with Christ ‘s teaching and deeds or it will not work out at all.

 

NOT OUT OF TOUCH WITH HARD FACTS OF LIFE

 

Don’t for one moment imagine that those early Christians were pathetic day dreamers. They did not live a secluded, other-worldly life, out of touch with events and unrealistic about the prevalence of political chicanery and violence.  Their world was at least as perverse and bloody and unforgiving as our world. Maybe more so.

 

In that Roman world, life was dirt cheap. Slavery, cruelty and sudden death were “normal.“

       Physical power lay absolutely in the hands of the Roman Emperor and his vassal kings or governors.  The army patrolled every province. So called justice was quick and bloody. Savage executions and massacres were common place. Yet the Apostle John writes in his letter to the churches of Asia Minor.( the region of today’s Turkey) that the authority of Jesus was greater than all the others put together.

       “ Grace to you and peace from the One who is and who was and who is to come......... and from Jesus Christ the faithful witness, the first-born of the dead, the ruler of kings on earth”

 

Never forget that John was writing this letter from exile.

       Imprisoned on the small, largely barren, island of Patmos.  He was definitely under the iron heel of Rome. He had no comforts around him, no supportive fellowship of a congregation, scant physical freedom, no reason to imagine that Rome’s authority was about to collapse. Yet he could fervently proclaim that Jesus “the first-born of the dead, is the ruler of the kings on earth.” Whether they realised it or not, and at this stage none did, the kings were midgets in the kingdom of God. Jesus was far above them all.

 

Such was the resurrection faith of the young Christian church.

       Based on the validity of Christ Jesus and his death and resurrection, they had confidence that Jesus and his way would have the last word. In fact Jesus was and is the last word from God.

 

If my friends, we try to base our attitudes and actions on the contemporary evidence of how human authority, wealth and muscle are misused in this world, we are on a loser. If they have the last word, then shut up and keep your head down!  Or as one canny soul put it: “I keeps miselve to miselve and bovers nobidy.”

 

There’s not a lot of comfort out there in this remarkable yet terrible world. But our ground of hope is in Christ Jesus: that humble, Person of inclusive love whom God has raised from the dead.  His words and his life are vindicated! Easter good news is the stuff that gives us ultimate confidence. Nothing we do in his name is perishable, no love offered to others is wasted, no humble service is inconsequential, for we serve a Jesus in whom God has placed his trust, forever.

 

“ Grace to you and peace from the One who is and who was and who is to come......... and from Jesus Christ the faithful witness, the first-born of the dead, the ruler of kings on earth”

 

THANKSGIVING

 

We have much for which to give thanks.

Let us pray.

 

We thank you God for the resilient power of you love, which never accepts defeat, and constantly renews our humanity.

 

We thank you this day for all parables and events of resurrection:

       For the belladonna lily that breaks free from the hard soil to bloom after a long summer’s drought.

       For seeds of the Inland that sleep for many years, until the rare rains awakens them

       to life and wild beauty.

       For those song birds on a freezing winter’s morning, lifting up their heads

       and singing their best to the dawn.

 

We give thanks:

       For the guilty and despairing who wish they were dead, until they are reborn as they encounter  the grace of Christ they sing for joy!

       For sour personal relationships that discover new life and hope through

       pastoral counselling and reconciliation.

       For discarded employees, who have put the hurt and disillusionment behind them

       and made for themselves a new way of life.

 

We give thanks:

       For the gravely ill and dying who find inner peace, and then go on to become

       the comforters of living.

       For the bereaved who sorely grieve, shedding hot tears, yet who also smile

       and give thanks through those tears.

       For the abused, and those who are enduring unjust imprisonment,

       who nevertheless forgive their enemies.

 

For all that sings of your indomitable Spirit,

       and for the promise that nothing on earth or in heaven can separate us from your love,

       we give you thanks, God of boundless life.

 

Through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Amen!

 

INTERCESSIONS

 

Prayer for other people is a first step;

Let us pray.

 

Holy Spirit of Christ Jesus, Holy Spirit of God, we pray for a world where blaming one another

        will give way to trying to understanding , and a determination to put right old wrongs. .

Breathe on us breath of God:

Spirit of Christ Jesus, come with your breath of pure sanity and grace.

 

We pray for our imperfect system of justice in this land. Let magistrates, jurors and judges

       begin by seeing themselves standing there in the dock, but for the grace of God.

Breathe on us breath of God:

Spirit of Christ Jesus, come with your breath of pure sanity and grace

 

That in spite of their limitations, our prisons may be geared towards character change

       and restoration, and that communities may give ex-prisoners a fair go to make good.

Breathe on us breath of God:

Spirit of Christ Jesus, come with your breath of pure sanity and grace

 

We pray for the United Nations when it is faced with the obscenity of war crimes;

       that a thirst for vengeance may not override the hunger for complete truth,

       justice and the wisdom of mercy.

Breathe on us breath of God:

Spirit of Christ Jesus, come with your breath of pure sanity and grace

 

Let compassion and encouragement flourish in our family life, that biting criticism

        for obvious faults, and nit picking over minor ones, and the habits of pay-back,

       may not set the dominate mood.

Breathe on us breath of God:

Spirit of Christ Jesus, come with your breath of pure sanity and grace

 

We pray for church congregations around the globe. Let us become extravagant

       with the ointment of compassion towards the lost and those who hate themselves,

       yet steel-sharp in confronting both injustice and social evils.

Breathe on us breath of God:

Spirit of Christ Jesus, come with your breath of pure sanity and grace

 

Loving God, please continue to save us. Where our true need is the loosing of sins,

       deal gently with us. But where we need discomforting, binding and rebuking,

       give us no rest until we come to our senses and open up to receive your mercy.

Breathe on us breath of God:

Spirit of Christ Jesus, come with your breath of pure sanity and grace.

 Amen!

 

SENDING OUT

 

Jesus said: “Peace be with you. As the Father sent me, so I am now sending you”.

 

He believes in you. The busy world awaits your compassion.

God believes in us.

Sometimes you will give your best yet fail.

God believes in us

At other times you will succeed in spite of your stumbling.

God believes in us

Go gladly, daring to succeed or fail to the glory of God,

and then at the very end, nothing shall dismay you.

God believes in us

With Christ’s own breath within us, we shall travel well.

 

The help of the saving Christ,

the wisdom of the Living God,

and the support of the loving Spirit,

       will be with you

every step of the way, now and always.

Amen!