It is wonderful to be here in church with you on the ‘church’s birthday’, the Day of Pentecost, 50 days after Easter and 10 days since we celebrated Jesus’ ascension into heaven. What a day to be re-opening again for services and how joyful to be gathering once more in church, and with families and friends around the community as some of the restrictions are lifted. We have travelled a great distance in the last few weeks and months.
Our last Church service was on the 22nd March, over two months ago and we are still experiencing some of the requirements of our changed way of life and in these gatherings in our churches. And it will change again next week. It is a very different world for all of us but you are all welcome.
Our readings today in Acts 2:1-21 and 1 Corinthians 12:1-13 help us to think about what happened at Pentecost. With the Gospel of John 20:19-23, the texts remind us of the experience of the first disciples and followers when Jesus gifted the Holy Spirit to them. Two weeks ago, I preached on Jesus’ promise of the gift from God of the Paraclete, the Advocate, the Spirit of Truth (John 14:15-17 and 26) to his disciples. Jesus was giving them a remarkable promise and assurance of his love and of God’s love. He said:
The Advocate, the Holy Spirit whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not let them be afraid. John 14:26-27
In John’s Gospel this morning in the few short verses of John 20:19-23, we hear Jesus again offering his peace twice to the disciples and a third time a few verses later. Then Jesus shows them the reality of his broken and tortured body, he gives them the gift of the Holy Spirit as he breathed on them, he commissions of all of them and finally, perhaps unexpectedly he gives them the capacity to forgive sins. Taken as a brief 5 verses, there is an awful lot included in the text.
During this last week, the worldwide Church has been praying for Reconciliation and Unity. As I have prayed, I have found myself reflecting on our capacity and need to be forgiven, for repentance in our acceptance of God’s love and the transformation which occurs when we experience the peace Jesus describes: ….’Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not let them be afraid.’
These are essential characteristics of God’s peace, God’s shalom. An active blessing of peace is not simply an absence of conflict, violence or war. Peace is an active experience and delight and does not happen without intention and a constant commitment to ensuring it is renewed and refreshed with love.
As I have reflected on reconciliation and unity and on this text, I have become deeply aware of our unwillingness to be reconciled on so many fronts. It is evident in our rejection of peace offered by those we hold in contempt, fear and hatred; our willingness to follow leaders onto paths of hatred and violence, and our fear of the consequences which keep us on this path.
In these five verses, Jesus shows all of us the consequences of this fear and hatred, as the marks on his own body testify; the nails in his hands and feet, the piercing of his body, the beatings and casual cruelty of the crown of thorns jammed on his head. It is hatred writ large, embedded with fear and rejection.
Jesus specifically and unequivocally says, ‘Peace be with you’ despite this treatment. His disciples must have gasped at his words. They had betrayed, abandoned and denied him and were now hidden from him. The disciples had refused to listen to the women who witnessed to his resurrection and who had been commissioned by Jesus. Yet Jesus says:
‘Peace be with you.’
All of us have experienced the rejection of peace by someone else; an offering of reconciliation which was ignored or not taken seriously and we ourselves have done likewise to others. We have turned away and chosen the path of rejection and hate. We are frightened to trust and try again. Jesus says: ‘Peace be with you.’
Jesus breathes the Holy Spirit onto those gathered behind locked doors. As he had promised, God has given in love, the love bond of the Holy Spirit which binds us gloriously in relationship with God.
Our ability to accept this gift then flows through to our willingness to forgive and let go old resentments and judgements.
So my question to you and me is, will we hold tight to sins, our prejudices and old scores with others?
Will we retain the hatred and contempt, the fear and rejection binding our lives into cold despair littered with broken relationships?
Will it be forgiveness and repentance or retention of sin and fear?
Will we accept Jesus’ commission of love and life, or deny it and stay in darkness and hatred?
As I have prayed this week for reconciliation and unity, I have reflected on our continued appalling treatment of the First Nation Peoples of Australia; our suspicious, racist and callous disregard of those with different coloured skins; our rejection of asylum seekers whom we blame and dehumanise; our contempt for those of other faiths or those whose faith journey does not meet our standards (not God’s); our fear and hatred for those of different sexualities who don’t meet our norms; and those who are simply different from the cultural, social and economic standards we have set…our sins of both commission and omission are legion.
My prayers for repentance and forgiveness have been lightened by God’s love which is flowing freely as the gift of the Holy Spirit. Yet my recognition and acceptance of God’s gift of peace means I must do something about all we have named today along with all the other injustices burning in our hearts.
Its worth reflecting whatever has been done to you and me out of dislike and hate, does not exceed what was done to Jesus. Whatever we do to others as Christians we are doing to our Lord.
And look, Jesus has come into the room in spite of us, behind our locked doors, locked minds and hearts and instead is offering us peace, love and forgiveness. How wonderful and extraordinary are such unearned gifts so freely and abundantly shared.
As Christians and disciples, we pray today to God for the gift of the Holy Spirit. We pray with thanks and deep gratitude, for the glory of Jesus Christ whose light shines in the darkness knowing the darkness never overwhelms it. Whose living water wells up continuously so we are constantly refreshed.
We pray today for the unsettling experience of the Holy Spirit who disrupts our lives unceasingly; and let me assure you, if you are feeling comfortable with God and don’t want to change, it is time to see where else the Spirit has chosen to blow instead.
The Holy Spirit turns our lives upside down and invites us with joy and delight to see God’s creation freshly, as it was then and is now, on this the first day of the new week and of the new creation. Let us see each other with clearer, more loving eyes and ears listening to hear Jesus’ words of forgiveness and peace.
As we do so, we are invited to see Jesus, and I hope in seeing him you are accepting Jesus’ commission. I repeat to you the words Jesus said:
“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not let them be afraid.” John 14:26-27
“Peace be with you, as the Father has sent me so I send you.”…. He breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” John 20:21-22
The Lord be with you.