Sunday, March 31, 2013

Sent by the LORD, Indwelt by the Spirit & Given New Life. Homily for 4.7.13 from John 20:19-31


Second Sunday of Easter (or Sunday of Divine Mercy) 
Homily for 4.7.13
John 20:19-31 
Year C

This Homily is revised and republished from a Homily first posted on 4/9/12 8:17AM




"On the evening of that first day of the week," reads the text. You know, that first day, that new day, that day when the hinge of history turned, when the promises of Hebrew history came running forward into the resurrection of Jesus, or the promises the Hebrews thought of as future came flooding backward like a great sea of hope settling over the land. You know, that first evening.

Well, on that first day of the week the risen Jesus makes a home visit to his disciples, who were locked up tight in hiding for fear that they might be the next to find discover the agonies of a Roman cross. These disciples were hiding, but they could not hide from Jesus. 

The text reads:
Jesus came and stood in their midst and said to them, "Peace be with you." When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. The disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, "Peace be with you...
Jesus comes to his disciples offering to them the reality of his resurrection -- "he showed them his hands and his side" -- and then he offers them what they needed most of all -- peace. That is, they needed to know that even in the very eye of the storm all would be well no matter what happened next. They needed to know that no matter how ferociously evil darkness and all-powerful empire threatened, they no longer had to worry. And they needed to be reminded of Jesus words from several days earlier -- "Because I live, you shall live also."

But one of them was missing. Thomas happened not to be with them on the first day of the week. So, when he returned and the disciples told him that they had truly seen the risen LORD, Thomas said to them:
"Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands and put my finger into the nail-marks and put my hand into his side, I will not believe."
Far from a fantastic request as he is sometimes accused, this was asking only to be included in what the other disciples had already seen, and besides, this is far less than what we post-moderns would have probably requested as proof. 


Her we confront the question of that first day of the week.  Is the resurrection true. N.T. Wright, whose book on the resurrection is more than seven-hundred pages offers this insight:
My argument, however, is not that we can somehow ‘prove’ the resurrection of Jesus according to some neutral, objective canon of plausibility. That would, indeed, be to capitulate to the folly of the Enlightenment. My argument, rather, is that we can, by historical investigation, reveal the folly of all the other explanations that are sometimes given for how Christianity got going in the first place. This forces us back to the much larger question, which of course the Enlightenment did not want to face: might it after all be the case that the closed worldview of some modern science is incorrect, and that the world is after all created by and loved by a God who is not distant, detached and unable to act within the world, but rather by a creator who remains mysteriously present and active within the world in a thousand ways, some of them dramatic and unexpected?

Can’t you imagine the grief Thomas took as the odd man out?The others are talking with such joy because wherever the LORD is there is joy, and they are living in peace because of their experience of the living LORD, but Thomas has made his stand, “I must touch the scars.” 

Well, happily, one week later the risen LORD obliges him:
Now a week later his disciples were again inside and Thomas was with them. Jesus came, although the doors were locked, and stood in their midst and said, "Peace be with you." Then he said to Thomas, "Put your finger here and see my hands, and bring your hand and put it into my side, and do not be unbelieving, but believe." Thomas answered and said to him, "My Lord and my God!" Jesus said to him, "Have you come to believe because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed."
Thomas’ confession is astounding in its depth of insight: “My Lord and my God!” Can there be any greater confession of faith than what Thomas utters on this Sunday evening just one week removed from the resurrection?

Which is a fitting place for us to turn to the lessons from the text:

SENT BY THE LORD

Notice first, the disciples are sent by the LORD. The text reads: “As the Father has sent me, so I send you."

This speaks of the Apostolic calling of the eleven to receive and to carry forward the work that Jesus started. And what was this work? We could put it this way. These men -- and women too, for women would be an integral part of this work -- are called to bring forward the news that the world has changed, that the forces of empire and darkness have been defeated through the cross of Jesus and his glorious resurrection. They were called to let the world in on the glorious news that the most wonderful thing had happened. These ragged followers had a royal announcement to proclaim --
“There is a new king;
there is a new day;
there is new life
offered to the world!”
And they were to make this royal announcement from the praxis of sacrificial service and reconciling forgiveness. For certain, it was not to be an announcement from the seat of triumph or power, for this would place them on the axis of empire and the powers of darkness which the resurrection had just defeated. Instead, this announcement would come from the position of humility and self-emptying, of detachment and abandonment, for anything else would less than the Messianic pattern.


INDWELT AND EMPOWERED 
BY THE LORD

The question is, therefore, how were they to carry forward and accomplish this royal proclamation, first in their own hearts and finally making it alive outwardly to the entire world?

This brings us to our second lesson: We can only fulfill this calling -- and the “we” here is correct for the calling given to those first followers to live out the royal announcement that Jesus is King has come down to the community of the King --  by being indwelt and empowered by the LORD, who comes to us in the presence of the Holy Spirit.

The text reads: 
he breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit.’”
That is, the possibility to experience this new life found in King Jesus, and the reality of making known the royal announcement that Jesus truly is King, can only be accomplished within the advocacy of the Holy Spirit.

Said differently, this work now heard in our hearts and proclaimed to the hearts of others is spiritual work -- work done within the world-that-can-be-seen and within the world-that-cannot-be-seen. Therefore it is only as we, the followers of the King, are empowered and indwelt by the presence of the living, risen King, who is the Christ, that we are able to make sure our confession of this unique royal announcement, and to do so in humility and not triumph.

BELIEVING AND FINDING 
LIFE IN JESUS’ NAME

Which, finally leads to the idea of what the royal announcement, that Jesus is King, means to the individual person. 

Initially, what must be said over and over is that the announcement about King Jesus is not about us! Rather, this proclamation is about GOD and his final and successful movement to reclaim his good world -- his good world that has fallen into idolatry and sin -- through the work of the Christ. But, even though this word is about GOD, it also scoops up the individual in its wake, offering new life and a new way to live to all who are strangely warmed by the proclamation and who become willing to follow the narrow Jesus-way to true humanity.

Here the text reads:
“...these are written that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that through this belief you may have life in his name.”
Life in his name? What kind of life? Well, a truly human life, which is life as the Creator designed it to be lived. Life free of selfishness, self-aggrandizement, and the fear of tomorrow because of death. 

Here we are offered life within a community not cut-up because of race or gender or socio-economic divisions. Here we find true agape love, and not what the advertisers and the romanticist describe, which is love beyond a wisp of smoke or the durability of a paper towel.  Here we are offered a new way to live that gives us meaning because it is lived beyond the hatred and violence of empire and the powers of darkness. Here the individual believer finds, within the Spirit’s presence and leadership, the power to change from within and to discover a life lived with meaning and joy. Yes, here we are offered genuine human hope. Here we are offed the true life found only within the King’s presence and within the King’s service.

_________________________________

JOHN 20:19-31
On the evening of that first day of the week,
when the doors were locked, where the disciples were,
for fear of the Jews,
Jesus came and stood in their midst
and said to them, "Peace be with you."
When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side.
The disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord.
Jesus said to them again, "Peace be with you.
As the Father has sent me, so I send you."
And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them,
"Receive the Holy Spirit.
Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them,
and whose sins you retain are retained."

Thomas, called Didymus, one of the Twelve,
was not with them when Jesus came.
So the other disciples said to him, "We have seen the Lord."
But he said to them,
"Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands
and put my finger into the nailmarks
and put my hand into his side, I will not believe."

Now a week later his disciples were again inside
and Thomas was with them.
Jesus came, although the doors were locked, 
and stood in their midst and said, "Peace be with you."
Then he said to Thomas, "Put your finger here and see my hands,
and bring your hand and put it into my side,
and do not be unbelieving, but believe."
Thomas answered and said to him, "My Lord and my God!"
Jesus said to him, "Have you come to believe because you have seen me?
Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed."

Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples
that are not written in this book.
But these are written that you may come to believe
that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God,
and that through this belief you may have life in his name.