April 8, 2018, The Power Is On! – Mtr. Kathryn Boswell
To listen to this sermon, click here: Z0000076
Well, three things to begin with this morning. First of all, it is my Mom’s birthday. She would have been 88 years old today. She was tiny, and funny, and smart, and beautiful. It doesn’t have anything to do with the sermon. I just mention it because I want to send her my love wherever she is right now, doing whatever she’s doing – probably teaching some of the angels how to dance the Charleston.
Second, it’s still Easter! Not only are we still technically in the Easter season, that stretches all the way from last Sunday, Easter Day itself right up to Pentecost in May, 50 days in all. But the gospel reading for today begins on the very day of the first Easter, before Jesus’ friends have even found out that he is alive.
And third – it was a very strange week, weather-wise, as I am sure you all noticed, with winds that reached hurricane force at times, and very long, widespread power outages generally, but especially in our own little village of Norwood. At our house we lost power on Wednesday evening while I was cooking supper, and we didn’t get it back until Thursday night, when we had nearly given up for the day and gone to bed – a good 29 hours in all.
We have a wood stove, so even though some of the rooms in our house got a bit chilly, we were nice and warm by the fire. For many people, though, the storm was a real hardship, even a danger for people who depend on electric power for all of their heat, or for an oxygen pump, or other critical needs. But for all of us, I think, whether our lives were at risk or not, the storm was scary. It was a little frightening to sit in the dark, or by the flickering light of a few candles, and to hear the roar of the winds tearing around the house, and to see the snow swirling past the windows in a blinding rush, and to watch fully-grown trees along the street or in our woods bending and snapping like saplings. It was scary to feel isolated, shut up in the dark house with the storm raging all around us.
And I think that must be something like the disciples were feeling on the night of the first Easter, though of course a thousand times more so. As suddenly and as unexpectedly as we all found ourselves in the midst of a storm and without power, the disciples had found themselves swept up in the outrageous and frightening sequence of events that led to Jesus’ brutal execution. The man who had been the center and source of their lives for three years had been betrayed by one of their close friends, falsely accused and unjustly condemned by men who claimed to represent God himself, then mocked and tortured and publicly humiliated by their most powerful enemies, soldiers who wielded the full authority of the Emperor of the whole civilized world.
And now they huddled together, as we all did just a few days ago, in the candle-lit darkness of the house, locked in against the howling, raging, unstoppable forces that threatened to tear their hearts and their lives and their whole nation to shreds. John, who was there, puts the whole experience into one simple, understated sentence: “It was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews.” But can we even imagine the full weight of what the disciples were feeling? On top of their dismay and bitter grief at the loss of their friend and all their hopes, they had to be wondering if they wouldn’t all end up sharing his fate, tortured and humiliated and murdered, one by one, for being his followers. And then again, maybe even more frightening, each one of them faced the inner tempest of their hearts, knowing that they had failed Jesus at the crucial moment, running away in cowardly self-preservation – and even, on the part of Peter, denying him outright. And there was no going back, no un-doing what they done.
But then suddenly, in the darkness and fear and sorrow of that place, Jesus was there. And as they all stood, speechless with awe, afraid to believe and unable to quite disbelieve the evidence of their senses, the first thing Jesus said to them was, “Peace be with you.” They had all been in a boat with their Lord one time, out at sea in the midst of a raging storm, and on that night he had spoken a word to the wind and the water and all at once it was quiet. It must have been very much like that now, the ragings of fear without, and the storms of sorrow and shame within – all falling quiet in an instant at the sound of that beloved Voice.
And yet, still, they hesitated, as we all did when the lights first flickered on and then off and then on again after the wind storm. Was the power really restored? Or was it just a momentary thing that would blink off again, plunging us back into shadows that looked even darker after that brief gleam of hope? The people in that room must have wondered if they were imagining things – or worse, if what they saw was a ghost. And as the disciples held back, Jesus went to them. He held out his hands and showed them the scars that the nails had left in his hands. He drew aside his robes and showed them the gash that the soldier’s spear had left in his side, when his life had poured out on the ground in blood and water. And then at last the light came on for every one of them; John wrote, “Then they rejoiced when they saw the Lord.”
I think it is only fair to point out that Thomas, whom we have all known down through the centuries as “Doubting Thomas”, he was no slower to believe than his friends were. When he showed up a week later and demanded the proof of his senses before he would believe that the one they had seen was really and truly the Lord, risen from the dead, it was no more than they had all done themselves on that first night. Thomas gets a bit of a bum rap, I think. And what would we have done if were were there?
When the disciples finally believed the evidence of their eyes and hands and hearts, Jesus spoke to them again, “Peace be with you.” And then he said to them, “As the Father has sent me, so I am sending you.” And then he breathed upon them, which might seem a strange thing if we didn’t remember that the word for Spirit is “breath”. Jesus breathed his own Spirit upon his friends in that room, empowering them to do what he was sending them out to do. Later, on the day we call Pentecost, it happened again on a grand scale with a great rushing of wind and tongues of fire and a sudden outpouring of languages and conversions galore. But on that first night, their friend and Lord passed his warm, living breath, literally and directly, from his own risen body to the wondering, joyful bodies of his disciples. And, empowering them with his own Spirit, he commissioned them to carry on the work that he had been born, and lived, and died, to accomplish. Is it any wonder that the Apostles, as we read about them in the Book of Acts and in historical records, are so incredibly different from the bumbling, quarrelsome, fearful men we read about in the gospels, possessed of so much courage and confidence? Is it any wonder that Peter’s very first sermon touched the hearts of literally thousands of people?
And I think it is of the utmost importance to notice what Jesus said to his disciples at this first commissioning. “As the Father sent me, so I am sending you,” he told them, as he breathed his Holy Spirit into their very lungs. And then he said this: “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” The moment the disciples had received his power, he placed in their hands and minds and hearts the central power of the abundant life he had come to bring to the world – and that was the power of forgiveness. Not only were they empowered to offer forgiveness to anyone, with the authority of God himself (which, if we stop to think about it, is amazing enough) but even more, we – and I would say, that means we the Church – hold that power, so that our failure to forgive means, in some real sense, a failure for people to receive forgiveness.
It is a commissioning of the utmost power, and terrifying responsibility. We, and the whole world, have witnessed the awesome power of forgiveness when the Lord’s people have offered forgiveness in the face of unthinkable evil – the sister of Corrie ten Boom, forgiving the Nazi guard in the concentration camp, the Amish at Nickel Mines School, the family and friends of the Bible study members at Mother Emmanuel Church. It is, in fact, so unfortunately rare and precious a thing that when we think of forgiveness we always seem to come up with these same few powerful examples.
But if we are honest, most of us are also all too familiar with the ravages of the Church’s failure to offer forgiveness. I think we have all known individuals who have turned away from God because his people have offered them only judgment and condemnation, withholding the forgiveness and grace they so desperately needed. I have sometimes called forgiveness our “Superpower”. And there have been, and continue to be, far too many times when the Church’s failure to use our superpower has caused terrible hurt in people’s lives.
This past Thursday night, when the power finally came on and stayed on – after a few false flickers – I was already in bed. But as soon as we noticed that the green digits on our alarm clock were glowing steadily, and knew that the power was on for real, the first thing I had to do was to hop out of bed, and go around the house, and turn all the lights on. I powered up my laptop, and I switched on lights in every room, and I just generally went around the house glorying in the return of our electricity, and giving thanks to God and Mr. Edison.
And it is with that kind of delight and gratitude and wonder that the people of God ought to go out every single day, wielding our superpower of forgiveness. We are all just as bumbling and quarrelsome, fearful and faithless, as those first disciples, aren’t we? And yet, our Lord Jesus has breathed his Spirit into us and given us his forgiveness: and not grudgingly, not in careful, stingy measure, but gladly, abundantly, willingly, lovingly.
The Father has said this over you, you yourself, “This is my beloved Child, in whom I delight.” We have received the forgiveness and love of God, with all the stops pulled out. Let’s get out there and put it into practice, with the same joy and delight as we have received it, all undeserving as we are. Jesus once put it this way:
“Forgive, and you will be forgiven; give, and it will be given to you. Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you.”
So – the Good News is, the power is on. Let’s use it!