April 11, 2010
The Rev. Natasha Brubaker Garrison
Acts 5:27-32, Ps. 150, Revelation 1:4-8, John 20:19-31
2nd Sunday of Easter, Year C
How many of us are locked in fear? How many of us, for all our ability to move around and do things, are living behind metaphorical closed doors? For many of us this is true, I think, to a greater or lesser degree. It is for me. At this point in my life the fears are different than they were years ago, yet some of the old ones remain. Here are some of mine: what if I lost my position? What if I really gave as generously as Jesus did even if it meant not being sure I’d have enough for myself reserved for tomorrow? Can I really push the voice of social justice and its direct connection to the Gospel or will I get attacked for being too political? What if people are upset? What if they leave the church? How brave am I really in my claim that I follow and trust in Jesus when the popular image is of a judging, partisan, harsh person who seems to condemn more than love and offer unconditional grace and acceptance? And then there are more private and personal hurts.
I relate to these disciples, these followers, who were huddled together in uncertainty and dread. They had dared to follow Jesus who had by his signs of feeding, healing, accepting as equals women and foreigners, and refusing to judge and punish, directly challenged the order of his society. It had cost him his life. It might cost them theirs. And then, Jesus is there, among them alive.
This is a key point. Alive. Life. The Gospel of John is emphatic that it is Jesus’ life that saves us, not his death. John is clear that it is seeing the life of Jesus and emulating it that releases us from sin, not his dying to wipe some celestial slate clean. And it is this release from sin, the work of forgiveness, that is the crux of the passage today. We are to see the alive Jesus here and now, among us and by our side, just like those disciples. In John such seeing places us in God’s presence and in the new creation where heaven and earth are one.
Sin, in this context, means first and foremost not believing in the revealed truth that Jesus is the Son of God. Sin is lack of faith, of trust, that in Jesus we find life. It is not seeing that we are attached to that vine of life. It is to resist that all God requires for us to know salvation is to receive that love and light. Grace is first, not living by strict morality codes or obeying the demands and agendas of those in power, the authorities. Thus, we circle back to this core truth at the heart of this Gospel: forgiveness of sins is not about us judging and then pardoning or punishing others; it is about seeing with the eyes of Jesus. Only God judges. Our lives are to be shaped by loving and serving them.
This is the work of the church: sometimes hard to tell given some of our more illustrious moments of the past such as witch burning and the Inquisition or more current examples. In this Gospel today it is Pentecost; the Spirit is given to the people to continue living as Jesus lived, willing to serve and love as Jesus did. The work, the purpose of the church and therefore us is this: “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you. Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” It is to boldly proclaim that Jesus is alive in and among us, giving us strength and hope even in the face of our worst hurts and fears and terrors. Its central point is forgiveness. We live this out by serving one another in love by humble, mutual service as done by Jesus in washing our feet. This was the new commandment.
It is at this point, I believe, that the story of Thomas and this work of the church merge. Jesus meets Thomas where he is. Thomas wants nothing less than what the others have and Jesus, rather than castigating Thomas, indeed meets him where he is. He gives him what he needs. And what Thomas needs is to be able to delve into the hurt and the wounds. The most accurate translation of Thomas’ request is literally “to throw” his hands into the wounds of Jesus. And Jesus allows this saying in effect that we can throw our doubts, worries, and fears on him. I find this very reassuring. I can toss my fears unto him. I can open my doors locked with fear a bit more each day until his life drives it out. This is very much the point of prayer. We can probe our wounds and our hurts so that we can be healed by the living Jesus.
And this is the basis for true forgiveness and of truly learning to love one another as Jesus loved us. This forgiveness allows us to see correctly. This forgiveness allows us to see others as reflections of God that we are to serve and not to harm or judge as unworthy of God or each other. Even Judas was washed and shared in the meal. This forgiveness asks us to question and resist all that diminishes others and ourselves. It is to have them through us experience the transformative love of God.
When we live in this posture of forgiveness so much is opened up. For example, the family member that is a bitter and hard person, someone we really can’t stand or who we don’t want to be around is someone we invite to tell their story. Under all that there is a wound that has never healed. Instead of judging and writing them off, we can find a way to see what is underneath and maybe, just maybe, bring new life to the relationship. Or the person who always criticizes us we decide not to treat with anger, but to deflect the barbs and offer kind words in response. Or a rather amusing, but insightful, example from a Bollywood film I saw three years ago where a man is fed up that his neighbor one floor above him always spits out his tobacco juice on his door and landing. He decides to stop yelling and simple wash it up every day while smiling a warm greeting to the spitter. And finally, one day the spitter winds up, takes aim, sees the neighbor waiting and stops. He has finally learned to see with new eyes that realize he can no longer do such a thing.
In this place of forgiveness we can probe our own hurts and let go of our anger, our need to judge others, our need to justify the way the world is. We can delve underneath conventional politics, and partisan ideologies, to see a deeper and more complex truth to which we must respond. For instance, we can ask the foundational question of if the relentless pursuit of profit is compatible with washing the feet and serving one another in mutual regard. We can look at the greed and desire to profit at others’ expense be it underpaid workers, decisions to not pay for medical procedures, or miners who perish due to unsafe working conditions that were not fixed, which are the wounds of fear and insecurity turned outwards, and work to create something new. We may make new choices in what we buy or how we look at social issues or decide to work to adjust our economic relationships so that reasonable profit and fairness are not seen as mutually exclusive.
Or we look again at the cultural mindset that drugs and drug users are criminal and begin to look for the hurt underneath, both of the users and the society in which they grew up, that needs to be healed. We can begin to see the realities that need the life of the resurrected one invited in, not just condemnation, which simply locks people up as so much garbage and does so in ways profoundly shaped by racism and poverty.
We can look to Jesus sign of feeding the 5,000 and ask how is it that today there is more food than ever in the world and yet more people than ever are hungry because they cannot access what creation freely gives? How is it loving one another when food is controlled in a way that denies it to so many? Does this change what we eat, where we buy our food? Does it encourage us to learn about the realities of the global food system and the devastating impact it is having on farmers and the land? Charity isn’t enough; love and service requires dissolving the divide. The theological truth of Jesus is that God feeds all abundantly. If we believe in Jesus we too feed others all that they need and to create a world where all participate directly in that source. Radical stuff, but that is the nature of forgiveness that flows from a confession of Jesus as God.
These are some of the places that this Gospel takes me. I start from the assurance that in Jesus I meet God and that meeting is grace. I can let go of my fears and wounds and place them on his life so that I can see with his eyes. His eyes are so much better than mine that can be so clouded by misunderstanding, selfishness and anxiety.
Then I can join most fully in the purpose of the church, which is to be a community of people that embody grace, unconditional love and service without qualification. Jesus’ life reveals that no matter who we are or what we are God is love for us. To live that out in fullness and in truth would indeed be a miracle. It is the miracle we are entrusted to perform within ourselves and within this community. We each must see what this means for our own daily life and then we must be open to see what it means for our life in the greater world. As Bishop Jelinek said yesterday at Bishop Michael’s consecration we are to work for the common good and trust that in the common good we will find what is truly good for us each individually as well. Just like he did for Thomas, Jesus will give us exactly what we need when we need it. Just like that first community that wrote John, we are to believe that we are graced and loved as we are. Just like that first community, this sense allows us to see, not as judgers, but as lovers, who are transformed to see the world anew and offer the vision of the kingdom to its sin, its brokenness and its pain.
So this week I invite you to imagine what living out this vision looks like in your own life and what you imagine it could be calling us here at Resurrection to do in our future. Next week, instead of me preaching, I would like for us to share our thoughts and understandings of this, so we can learn from each other what being alive in Christ and sharing his life means to us.