Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Faith for Life - The Wounded Hero's Arsenal

Preached on Resurrection Sunday, Easter Sunday, April 16, 2017
Scripture readings: Exodus 15:1-3; John 20:19-31
I saw a cartoon once with a young minister talking to his little boy. The minister has his sleeve rolled up, and he’s pointing to a long, jagged scar on his forearm, and he says, “And I got this scar in the battle for the new church carpeting.”
Spring Photos Around Desert Aire/Mattawa, WA
             April 2017
We get other kinds of scars from much worse battles and ambushes.
Jesus got many scars. He was scourged, and crowned with thorns, and nailed to a cross, and he died there. On his way to death he received many wounds. After he was dead, his heart was pierced by a spear. When he rose from the dead, he showed those wounds to his disciples.
Most soldiers would rather not talk about their battles. Still, Jesus was like a soldier showing the scars he had gotten in a war that he had won.
In another way, Jesus was briefing his disciples by showing them his wounds. His disciples would have to take up the fight for themselves because, although the war was won, the enemy had not surrendered and the fight was still going on.
The same fight is still going on to this day. It’s our fight too, and we need to be briefed in the fight by Jesus.
The scars of Jesus are the signs of his victory. The simple fact that he was so terribly wounded, and died, and rose from the dead was the very way he won the war. His scars are his trophies, his medals, from that war.
But Jesus has better trophies than these: the trophies that he is most proud of. After he showed the disciples his wounds, he told them what he had won for them, and for us.
The greatest trophy is everlasting life as the gift of Jesus to us; with heaven first, and then our very own resurrection (the resurrection of all things). When he raised his friend Lazarus from the grave, Jesus said, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live; and whoever lives and believes in me shall never die.” (John 11:25)
After the resurrection, Jesus seemed to be always starting with the word “peace”. We catch him repeating himself, that first day with the disciples. “Peace! Peace!”
When Jesus said “peace” the second time, he began to give his disciples some gifts and instructions. I think it’s not out of line to look at those gifts and instructions as playing a part in the peace he gives to us.
These gifts are his arsenal and strategy. Even peace is part of his arsenal. All of these gifts are his resources for us in the good fight.
I think I should say something about peace, first. Peace, in the Bible, means “well-being”. Peace is a kind of healthiness and thriving. You have peace when things are working well inside you, no matter how things are working on the outside.
Of course, there is an outward peace too. In the outward peace, in a nations peace, in a world truly at peace, everything works. Everything and everyone thrives. We don’t always see a lot of that in our world. That kind of peace will be the rule only when God creates a new heaven and a new earth.
Right now, by the word peace, I mean a spiritual health within. Things are working well in your soul. Also, peace means that things are working well between you and others or, at least, you are relating to others in a healthy way, whether they relate back to you in a healthy way or not.
Even on the cross, Jesus had this kind of peace. This is part of the peace that we need, and that Jesus gives.
The kingdom of God will be a kingdom of peace, because everything in the kingdom of God will work in healthy ways. There will be no injustice. There will be no judging or lording over others. People will serve and take care of each other. People will be free to grow and develop their gifts without fear.
Peace in the church is supposed to be exactly like that. Peace in the church can be seen where the grace of God is evident. People serve and care for each other. People grow together spiritually and in their ability to use their gifts, and there is plenty of wisdom and mercy spread around.
Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” (John 20:21) “As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.”
There is peace in being “sent people”. It means that wherever you go you have a purpose. You have a mission. You have a mission to your family and neighbors. You have a mission to people who are completely different from you, to people who are strangers, and to people you may never meet. You have a mission to people you disagree with, and you have a mission with people who are in conflict with you. You are always sent.
Sometimes we don’t want to be sent. We want to pursue our own priorities. We want to be on our own, and to be independent, and we want to be uncommitted (or at least selectively uncommitted). If this is what we want, then we won’t receive the peace that Jesus is reaching out to give us: the peace he wants to breathe into us.
Jesus said, “As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” Jesus was sent from the heart of God. In the first chapter of John, John tells us, “No one has ever seen God, but God the One and Only, who is at the Father’s side (or the Father’s bosom); he has made him known.” (John 1:18)
The One and Only is Jesus, who came to earth from the Father’s side, taking up our human nature. We have to be sent from the heart of the Son who is in the heart of his Father. We have to serve where we are sent, knowing the very heart of God. We have to know what it means to say, “God so loved the world.” This is an essential part of our arsenal: the arsenal of the wounded hero Jesus.
We are not sent just to serve any old way that suits us. Jesus was sent as the incarnation of God; as God present in the flesh. We are sent to incarnate Christ. We are sent to be the hands, and the feet, and the voice of Jesus in the world around us.
We can only do this, though, if Christ has taken us, and sent us from his own heart. We have to be sent from his love if we are ever going to embody it. His love is grace, and the best grace is freely given. The best grace is unconditional.
“And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” The Holy Spirit is the Giver of Life, the Breath of Life.
The first time anyone in the Bible breathed into a person to give them life was in the story of the creation of the first humans. In the second chapter of Genesis it says this: “The Lord God formed the man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.” (Genesis 2:7) The older translations say that God’s breath, or Spirit, made the man (the human) into a living soul. I like that translation. The ancient people thought of souls.
In partnership with Father and the Son, the Holy Spirit is an agent of creation. In the creation, in the Book of Genesis, only of humans is it said that their soul is something that God has directly breathed into them. Other scriptures tell us that there is some way that all other creatures have their life from God’s Spirit. But Genesis tells us that our life is different from any other creature. What God has breathed has made us into living souls in his image.
Sin robs us of the true life of the soul. Jesus breathed the Holy Spirit into his disciples to make them truly alive, spiritually and personally alive, as they (and we) were created to be. Jesus made them alive within, in a way that they could never have imagined on their own.
Peace comes from Jesus breathing into you. Jesus breathes a presence that makes you alive in a way that you could never guess beforehand.
Without the breath of the Holy Spirit we can act like good people. We can act and talk like religious people, but there’s no true life in it.
Without the Holy Spirit, we are only a bare image of life, just a picture; maybe even just a cartoon (or a stick drawing) of life. Without the Holy Spirit, we are only play acting; and we will always be afraid of being found out. We can’t have peace that way.
We are sent, simply, to be truly alive; to be real, genuine people, each in our own unique way but, most of all, in God’s way: Jesus’ way.
Jesus said, “If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.” (John 20:23) The best way you can forgive another person is to give them Jesus, and also to be Jesus for them.
Real forgiveness, the most important forgiveness, comes from God. Jesus is saying, “If you let someone know about me, then they can experience forgiveness. If you don’t let someone know about me, then they may never experience true forgiveness.”
But, in order to have peace, and to share peace with others, we need to know that there’s a proper time to speak of Jesus, and there’s also a proper time to simply be Jesus. To know the gospel, sometimes, people need something besides talk. The Holy Spirit will change you into a real, living person who can know the difference between the time for talk and the time for service.
Then the Holy Spirit will show you when other people need some explanation from you, to explain why you are so different. Then you have the chance “to give a reason for the hope that is in you.” (1 Peter 3:15)
There is something important about Jesus’ using his resurrection as the time to give his disciples their instructions and their arsenal for bringing forgiveness into the world. You can’t have real forgiveness without the resurrection.
If there was only the cross, and no resurrection, then you would have only the kind of forgiveness that brings pain and guilt. Without the resurrection, you would have a sacrifice for sins without any victory.
Forgiveness is so hard, and so costly, that some people will say that they can forgive, but they can never forget. So, their forgiveness always carries a chip on its shoulder. It gives comfort and peace to no one.
Forgiveness is costly, but real forgiveness needs victory. The resurrection takes the cross to the next step. The cross forgives sins, but the resurrection reverses the effects of sin. It brings true change.
This is a mystery, but this is why the Bible can say that God not only forgives sin, but even forgets it. I can’t explain this, but God speaks through the prophet Isaiah in order to say this: “I, even I, am he who blots out your transgressions, for my own sake, and remembers your sins no more.” (Isaiah 43:25)
We feel lost because we can’t forget what we regret. Peace comes when we know that God has forgotten what we regret. Then this new life calls us to forget as well. Or this new life gives us the gift of acting as though we have forgotten.
There comes a time when we are told by God to forget our own sins, and to forget the sins of others. That gives us (and them) God’s peace.
We are sent from the heart of God. We are breathed into by the breath of the Holy Spirit of Life. We are people of forgiveness, who can bring the message of forgiveness to others.

These are the trophies and the arsenal of a wounded Savior who give his awards to us. These are the trophies of a risen Savior, who enlists us in a war that’s already won. This is the power of the resurrection for the life we are living today. If we believe, then we will have this new life in Jesus’ name. We will have it now, and we will have it forever.

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