Wednesday, April 30, 2014

What Will You Do with Your New Beginning?

[This was prepared to be shared during worship with the people and friends of Living Water Lutheran Church in Springboro, Ohio, last weekend.]

John 20:19-31
Everybody knows about the excitement that comes when you finally reach long-awaited new beginnings.

People count down the years, months, and days until high school, college, and graduate school graduations.

Couples and their families count down the moments until woman and man say, “I do.”

Expectant parents count down the passing months and days until the due dates.

Old friends keep track of the moments until they get to see each other again.

Job applicants are wracked with nervousness until they’re offered the perfect position for which they've been waiting.

In this time-bound world, it’s truly amazing when long-awaited, prayed-for, days come. When they do, there’s excitement, relief, celebration, jubilation...and apprehension, maybe even fear.

That’s because new beginnings always present us with a question: What  now? What do we do with a life that’s been changed by the new degree, the new husband, the new wife, the new career, the new child, the new love?

We rightly feel that it would be contemptuous of a long-awaited gift to do nothing with it.

Imagine a couple saying, “I do” in a ceremony before God and human beings and then parting ways, going on with separate lives.

Or parents thrilled by the birth of a new baby deciding to walk away from the hospital without their child.

When new beginnings come our way, we may not be certain about what to do with them, but we know, deep in our souls, that doing nothing is not an option.

And, in that same place in our souls, we know that we want whatever we do with our new beginnings to be the right thing. We don’t want to mess it up.

Our Gospel lesson for this morning is John 20:19-31. We’re going to focus on verses 19-23. These verses reverberate with the echoes of the first three chapters of the Bible, Genesis 1 to 3, where we’re told about God’s creation of the universe, the very first new beginnings of the earth and the heavens.

There, God’s breath or Spirit moves over the deep and life comes into being. A new beginning.

There too, God’s breath or Spirit--it’s the same word in Hebrew, the language of the Old Testament and the same word in Greek, the language of the New Testament--God’s breath or Spirit are infused into an incipient man and Adam becomes a living being. A new beginning.

A wonderful beginning. But later, in Genesis 6:6,  after Adam and Eve and their descendants fell into sin, we’re told that God regretted ever giving beginning to human beings.

Regretted, yes. But even then, God didn’t give up on the descendants of Adam and Eve. God hasn't given up on you and me. “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” Jesus bore our death sentence for sin so that when He rose, those who dare to believe in Him will have new beginnings, life with God for eternity.

Look please at the opening verse of our lesson. It says: “On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you!’"

It’s the Easter Sunday of Jesus’ resurrection, an amazing event. But Jesus’ resurrection is more than a neat trick by God. Easter is more than just Jesus beating death for Himself. This is what John is emphasizing by calling the first Easter, “the first day of the week.” For the creation and for us all, God, through Jesus, has brought to a world that spent centuries waiting for it, a new beginning to those who will trust in Christ.

But if it’s a new beginning, the disciples, Jesus’ followers, didn’t know what to do with it. They’d gotten word from several people that Jesus had risen and was alive.

The day and its message should have changed everything for them. Yet here they were, gathered for fear of their country’s religious leaders, behind locked doors.

They belonged to a risen, living Savior. But they were acting like people without hope, without the help of a powerful, death-destroying God. They were intent on hiding, afraid to venture out into the world.

That's not very different from us in the modern Church, really: We sing “Jesus Christ is Risen Today,” "Here I am, Lord...I will go, Lord, where You send me," or “Forever, author of Salvation He rose and conquered the grave,” yet we remain ensconced in our Christian ghettos, our holy huddles, afraid to leave the comfort zones we enjoy in our liturgies and songs and in our small groups and fellowship meals.

It may be true that our world is going to hell in a hand-basket. But part of the reason for that is that many Christians, like the first disciples on the evening of the first Easter, stay scrummed in fear in their little locked lives.

Folks: This is not what God means for us to do with the new beginnings He gives us through the risen Jesus Christ.

We see that in what happens next in our lesson. Look at verse 20: “[After Jesus had declared His peace on them] he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord. Again Jesus said, ‘Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.’" 

During the time He spent with the disciples before His crucifixion and resurrection, Jesus had spoken of being sent to the world by His Father. He was sent, He said in different places, to bear witness to God’s truth, sent to die and to rise.

This truth and Jesus’ death and resurrection were all about giving us new beginnings. “...if anyone is in Christ,” we’re told in 2 Corinthians 5:17, “the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!”

It would be contemptuous of the new beginnings that Jesus expended His life, suffering, blood, and death to bring us not to do something with it. 

And Jesus is clear about what He wants us to do with the gift of our new and eternal beginnings--with our lives as the new creations you and I have become through faith in Him: We’re to go where He sends us.

Out of our locked and self-protective rooms.

Out of the safety of the known and into the unknown world.

After all, if you know you belong to a living Lord Who has already given eternity to you, why should you be afraid of anything this world might do to you?

As David wrote in Psalm 27: “The LORD is my light and my salvation-- whom shall I fear? The LORD is the stronghold of my life-- of whom shall I be afraid?”

Actually, it would be a frightening thing to go into the world to tell others about Jesus, to personally witness to a friend, to get involved with a kindness outreach, to go on a mission trip, or to invite a friend to a Bible study, just to name a few examples, if Jesus expected us to do any of these things on our own. But wherever Jesus sends us, we never go alone.

Please look at verses 22 and 23: “And with that he breathed on them and said, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.’"

The risen Jesus Christ, God in the flesh, breathes on His Church, on those who believe in Him, and they’re filled with the endless, infinite life of God, the same Spirit that brought the universe into being, that God breathed into Adam. And it’s the Spirit of the God Who has, for all who trust in Christ, put death in our rear-view mirrors.

God’s Spirit, the breath of God, comes to us when we are baptized, when we repent and confess our faith again, when we call out in helplessness to God in Jesus’ Name. 

Because of the new beginnings Christ gives to us--beginnings that not even death can end, we can live this life with boldness and confidence and hope.

In the power of Jesus living in us, we can do something with our new beginnings.

We can live.

And we can share the precious message that has changed us forever with a world that needs the same liberation from fear Jesus has given to us. Amen

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