Monday, May 16, 2022

You Can Thank God You Live Today

[Below, you'll find the live stream videos of yesterday's two worship services of Living Water Lutheran Church and the text of the prepared message.]

John 16:12-22
Rosie, some of you may know, was a member of Ann’s and my home church in Columbus. She was in worship and Sunday School every week. She was usually very quiet. One Sunday, a seminarian was leading our adult class and asked what commemoration we would add to the annual calendar of the Church. No one spoke for a long while. But then, Rosie raised her hand. “I sometimes I think we should have a ‘Thank God We Live Now Sunday’ because I’m afraid that if I’d lived around Jesus back when He was on the earth, I wouldn’t have believed in Him. I’m glad I live now and can believe in Jesus.”

Rosie was an older person. Older people sometimes seem to spend a lot of their time pining for the supposed “good old days.” But here was Rosie suggesting that we should thank God for being alive today because living today makes it easier for us to have saving faith in Jesus than it would have been for those living in first-century Judea.

We know, of course, that there were people who saw Jesus’ miracles, including things like walking on the water, restoring the sight of the blind, and raising the dead but still didn’t believe in Him as their Savior and Lord for everlasting life with God. Many saw or heard Jesus doing these things and then called for His execution. Some of these same people celebrated when Jesus drew His last breath on the cross. Even the disciples scattered in fear and disbelief. We know all that, but was Rosie wrong to suggest that, in this age of cynicism and nihilism and unbelief, we have a better chance of having saving faith in Jesus than did the people who saw and heard Jesus?

Our gospel lesson for today is John 16:12-22. It’s part of Jesus’ farewell discourse, a time of teaching His disciples before His betrayal and arrest. He’s been talking about the Holy Spirit.

In today’s lesson, Jesus tells the disciples: “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now.” (John 16:12)

There are two reasons the disciples can’t yet bear the many things Jesus wants and needs to say to the Church. The first is that the disciples don’t yet know that death cannot stop Jesus. They don’t yet see how unique Jesus is, that not even death can thwart His power to forgive our sins or give us new and everlasting life with God. They largely see Jesus as a tool by which “good people,” which is how they think of themselves, will get the good things they want in the world. They don’t see that Jesus hasn’t come into the world to be a genie granting the wishes and demands of those who follow Him. Jesus hasn’t come into the world to make us comfortable in a dying world, but to make it possible for sinners like us, who deserve nothing but condemnation and hell, to be forgiven our sins and have life with God that begins now and is brought to perfection in eternity.

The second reason the disciples can’t yet bear the things Jesus wants to teach them is that Jesus hasn’t yet sent the Holy Spirit to those who believe in Him

This second reason is what Jesus addresses next in our lesson: “When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you. All that the Father has is mine; therefore I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you.”

The Holy Spirit is “the Spirit of Truth.” Jesus tells us that the Spirit will guide us into all the truth. The truth Jesus is speaking of here isn’t an abstraction. It’s not the mere opposite of a lie. Jesus says elsewhere, you know very well, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6) What Jesus means is that God, one God in three Persons, of which Jesus is the second, God the Son, is the foundational truth, the cornerstone, on Whom the whole creation is founded. Jesus claims that He is Who Psalm 118:22 was describing when it said, “The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone.” Jesus also says that it’s the wise person who builds their lives on Him as their Rock. (Matthew 7:24) Because God has given no other name but the name of Jesus by which we can be saved from sin and death, the old hymn nis right when it says that “all other ground is sinking sand.” (Acts 4:12) Our natural impulse is to build our lives on falsehoods, things that won’t last like self-sufficiency, our own presumed goodness, material wealth, good health. But only Jesus, the Truth, can give us life with God that never ends. “Everyone who believes [in the Son of Man, Jesus says, referring to Himself] may have eternal life in him.” (John 3:15) So, Jesus is saying in today’s gospel lesson that after He has died, risen, and ascended, He will send the Holy Spirit to guide us to Jesus. The Spirit will speak the words and deeds of Jesus to us through the Word and the Sacraments–Holy Baptism and Holy Communion–and lead us to believe in Jesus. It’s the Holy Spirit, working through these means, Who makes it possible for us to believe what the first disciples found hard to believe. “I want you to know,” the apostle Paul would write to the Corinthian Christians some three decades after the events in today’s gospel lesson, “that no one who is speaking by the Spirit of God says, “Jesus be cursed,” and no one can say, “Jesus is Lord,” except by the Holy Spirit.” (1 Corinthians 12:3)

Jesus sends the Spirit then, to first, give us the truth about us: the truth that we fail to love God wholeheartedly and fail to love others with the same passion and commitment with which we love ourselves.

And the Spirit also makes it possible for us to believe the gospel, the good news that God loves us and has overcome our sin, death, and darkness through Jesus. Romans 5:8 says: “God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” When Jesus sends the Holy Spirit, He brings faith to those who are drenched in the gospel Word at their Baptism, who stand under that gospel Word, and who, in faith, receive Christ’s body and blood with His words, “This is My body, given for you! This is My blood shed for you.” The Word that comes to us from the Holy Spirit is what enables us to believe, no matter the circumstances of our lives. Because the world is such a dark and death-filled place, we need to hear and receive this Word over and over again, especially in the fellowship of the Church.

The story's told about a pastor newly arrived at a congregation who, on his first Sunday, preached a stirring sermon. People greeted him at the door after worship and said, "Nice sermon, pastor," "Good sermon, pastor." The next Sunday, he preached the same sermon. People filed by after worship with the same words, "Nice sermon, pastor," "Good sermon, pastor." This went on for several weeks. Finally, a perceptive member of the congregation said, "You know, pastor, I can't help noticing a similarity between the sermons you've been preaching." The pastor said, "When I'm sure you've heard it, I'll stop preaching it." 

We need to hear the Gospel over and over again, Martin Luther observed, because we forget it all the time. And so, if there's a sameness to the sermons from Sunday to Sunday, there's a reason. Do you remember the children's book, The Best Christmas Pageant Ever? In it, some neighborhood kids who had never before had any connection to the Church get involved in a local congregation's annual Christmas play. "What's it about?" one of the kids asks. "Jesus" is the answer. The kid responds, "They can't stop talking about Him here." 

We cannot stop talking about Jesus. And so the Word comes to us again and again so that we might believe.

“A little while, and you will see me no longer; and again a little while, and you will see me,” Jesus then tells the disciples. (John 16:16) Soon, He’ll die on a cross, then He will rise. To the disciples, these words are a riddle. Jesus, being God, knows their thoughts and supposedly secret conversation. He tells the disciples, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice. You will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will turn into joy.” (John 16:20)

Friends, this promise is for you too. Today, you don’t see Jesus, Who is seated at God’s right hand. But Jesus still comes to you in those means of grace–Scripture, Baptism, Communion–and in the fellowship of believers. In the Word given to us by the Holy Spirit, given to us personally and directly, Jesus comes to you and helps you to trust that because Jesus has died and risen, you belong to God forever! The Spirit reminds you again today of Jesus’ promise that even when, “you have sorrow now…I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you.” (John 16:22) One day, by God’s grace through faith in Christ, you will see Jesus face to face and live in His perfect kingdom eternally.

Rosie was right. It is a blessing to live today, on this side of Jesus’ cross and resurrection. The Holy Spirit has been unleashed so that you can believe in Jesus and so have eternal life with God. You can thank God for that! Amen

Saturday, May 14, 2022

The Shepherd's Voice

[Below you'll find the live stream video of both the 8:45 AM Traditional and 11:00 AM Modern worship services with the people and friends of Living Water Lutheran Church, Centerville, Ohio, as well as the text of the prepared message for the day. God bless you.]

John 10:22-30
On this Fourth Sunday of Easter, the Gospel lesson, John 10:22-30, doesn’t tell us, as we might expect, about one of Jesus’ resurrection appearances. Instead, it takes us back to a point in Jesus’ ministry before His death and resurrection. But it deserves to be considered in this Easter season because it assures us that Jesus’ resurrection isn’t just a victory for Jesus, but also a victory for us!

Let’s set the scene. The place is Solomon’s Colonnade, an open-sided, roofed porch on the east side of the temple, a sensible place to gather to get relief from the elements in this season, and a spot where rabbis often met with their students. The time is that eight-day period during the Jewish month of Chislev, roughly corresponding to our modern month of December, when Jews celebrated the Festival of Dedication. Also known as the Festival of Lights. Also called Hanukkah.

Hanukkah commemorates an event that took place in 164 BC. At that time, a Jewish army led by warrior kings known as the Maccabeans, defeated and expelled the occupying forces of the Seleucid Empire from both Jerusalem and the temple. The Seleucid conquerors had desecrated the temple, erecting altars to their own gods there. With the retaking of Jerusalem, the temple was rededicated to God. Jews, often the victims of invasion and prejudice, have celebrated their people’s military victory at Hanukkah ever since.

We read in verse 24: “The Jews who were there gathered around [Jesus], saying, ‘How long will you keep us in suspense?’” Actually, John doesn’t say that Jesus’ fellow Jews gathered around Him, but ἐκύκλωσαν (ekuklosan), they encircled, surrounded, besieged Jesus. They were like accusers zeroing in on Jesus. And their question of Jesus, “How long will you keep us in suspense?,” is a common Greek idiomatic phrase, used even today, that means, “How long are you going to keep annoying us?”

They’re annoyed by Jesus because they want Jesus to reveal whether He is the Messiah (the Christ) promised by God. The Messiah, the Old Testament taught, was to be a descendant of David anointed by God to bring salvation and peace into the world. These Jews had their own ideas about what this Messiah should do and be. Again in first-century Judea, as had happened in the second-century BC, God’s people found themselves under the thumb of foreign conquerors, this time the Romans. This group wants Jesus to be a Messiah modeled after the Maccabean warrior kings, a Messiah who would lead an army to dispatch the Romans from their homeland. So, Jesus’ fellow Jews tell Jesus, “If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly.” (John 10:24)

It’s easy to understand how Jesus’ fellow Jews feel, isn’t it? Aren’t there times when we, despite knowing that we have been baptized into Christ and saved by God’s grace through faith in Jesus, we’ve wondered whether God is there? Or, when we look at our own failure to love God and neighbor and wonder whether Jesus’ death on the cross for sinners was for everyone else, but not us? Have we ever bargained with Jesus, offering Him our undying loyalty if He will only give us some earthly blessing, if He’ll spare us the suffering that is the common lot of fallen humanity and that’s even more common among Christians in a world that hates God? But the God we know in Jesus Christ doesn’t make deals. And He wants to bless us not just with the temporary removal of pain or inconvenience in this life! Jesus came into our lives to give us so much more than that.

To His fellow Jews’ demand for a plain declaration of His messiahship, Jesus says: “I did tell you, but you do not believe. The works I do in my Father’s name testify about me, but you do not believe because you are not my sheep. My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all[b]; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand. I and the Father are one.” (John 10:25-30)

What in the world is Jesus talking about?

First of all, Jesus says that He already has declared openly that He is the Messiah. The Gospel of John is built around seven signs performed by Jesus, all pointing to Him as the Messiah and as God-in-the-flesh. At this point in John’s narration of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection, Jesus has performed six of those signs: turning water into wine at Cana, healing a royal officer’s son, healing a paralyzed man at the pool of Siloam, feeding 5000 with a few fish and scraps of bread, walking on water, and healing a man born blind. The old saying tells us that action speaks louder than words. And these signs of Jesus should have screamed His identity as God’s Messiah. They should have told all who witnessed them or heard about them that Jesus was the Messiah promised by God, even if he wasn’t the Messiah people wanted Him to be. And if all of that weren’t enough, Jesus had already said, “Before Abraham was born, I am!” (John 8:58) So, Jesus says, “I have told you plainly that I am the Messiah.”

But then, Jesus says, there’s a simple reason why this group of inquisitors doesn’t know that He’s the Messiah: “ do not believe because you are not my sheep. My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish…” The reason you can’t see that I’m the Messiah, Jesus tells His questioners, is that I’m not saying what you want to hear.

Let’s be honest. Jesus doesn’t always say what we want to hear either. “Take up your cross–that is, admit that you’re a sinner deserving of death and eternal condemnation–and follow Me,” Jesus says elsewhere. (Luke 9:23) “​​In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world,” He says elsewhere. (John 16:33) I don’t know about you, but I’d rather not have any trouble in my life! But at Jesus’ transfiguration, God the Father made it clear that whether we like everything Jesus says or calls us to do or not, we need to listen to Him: “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!” (Matthew 17:5)

But, of course, there’s a very good reason to heed Jesus and follow where He leads us. As He tells us today, He gives to those who listen to Him, who believe in Him, something that all the kings and conquering armies, all the wealth and power, all the fame and popularity, all the things of this world cannot give us: eternal life with God. And while we may decide to walk away from God, neither God the Father or God the Son Jesus will ever walk away from us. We may sin, but God will welcome us when we repent “seventy times seventy times.” We may endure pain, adversity, or hardship or be tempted, but God will not let us go: “ one will snatch them out of my hand,” Jesus says, and “no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand…” (John 10:28-29) The Good Shepherd has spoken–from the cross and the empty tomb–and still speaks–from the Word and from the water, the bread, and the wine. His voice calls to us now not to settle for the things this dying world can offer us, but to hear Him and to follow Him alone to eternal life with God. Amen

Wednesday, May 04, 2022

The New Testament Book of First Thessalonians, Part 2

Now What?

[Below is both the live stream video of the 11:00 AM worship service with the people and friends of Living Water Lutheran Church, Centerville, Ohio, and the text of the message presented during worship. Ordinarily, I would also link to our 8:45 AM service, the traditional worship service, but we had technical difficulties that prevent that.]

John 21:1-19

Today’s gospel lesson, John 21:1-19, is part of the epilogue of John’s gospel. John’s gospel, of course, has a prologue. It starts out, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” (John 1:1) 

John’s prologue prepares us to hear Jesus when He says things like, “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.” (John 3:16) 

Or, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die…” (John 11:25-26)

But now, after taking us on this dizzying journey with Jesus, John comes to today’s Gospel lesson. The rest of the gospel poses questions like, “Who are you, [Jesus]?” (John 8:25) Or, “How can someone be born [that is, how can someone born in sin start all over again in the righteousness of God] when they are old?” (John 3:4) 

But, today’s lesson asks the question, “Now what?” 

After I’ve come to believe in Jesus as “my Lord and my God,” like the once unbelieving Thomas, and so have eternal life with God, now what? How do I live my life from now until the resurrection?

The opening of today’s Gospel lesson finds seven of Jesus’ disciples hanging out together. That in itself is healthy. We Christians need each other. This is why the New Testament book of Hebrews tells the Church: “to [not neglect to] meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another…” (Hebrews 10:25) 

So, here we meet those seven disciples of Jesus, gaining strength from their fellowship around God’s Word, but still not clear about what they should do now.

Then, Peter announces, “I’m going out to fish…” (John 21:3) Friends, the call to follow Jesus and the call to gather with His Church, is not a call away from the world or its mundane pursuits. Part of the call of Jesus is, as we’re regularly fortified and challenged by God’s Word through the Church in worship, the Church in study, and the Church in service, to go into the everyday places of life, fulfill our daily duties, and be Christ’s witnesses “out there.” 

We can’t share the Gospel with others if we spend all our time with the people in our church family who agree with us about Jesus. Imagine a football team that spent all of their games in a huddle. Not much would happen.

Jesus has sent us into the world. That’s why I told Trish a few weeks ago during our staff meeting that I want to personally devote two nights a week this summer to doing kindness outreaches. 

Peter decides to go fishing and the other disciples, even the ones who weren’t formerly fishermen, say, “We’ll go with you.” (John 21:3)

The disciples spend the night fishing and catch nothing. Life can be like that, even when you’re following Jesus. You seek to be faithful, maybe faithful in sharing Jesus with others, and nothing happens, no one is interested. At times like these, the life of discipleship seems futile and meaningless.

Early in the morning following this futile fishing venture, someone calls the disciples from the shore. They don’t recognize the risen Jesus at first. Jesus doesn’t say, as our translation puts it, “Friends, haven’t you any fish?” (John 21:5) Rather than “friends," the word Jesus uses here to address them is Παιδία (paidia). It means children. It’s the Greek word that gives us the English words pediatrician and pediatrics. Jesus tenderly calls out to the disciples who have been seeking to be faithful in spite of the challenges of this world, “Children, you don’t have any fish, do you?” No, they don’t have any fish, the disciples admit.

So, echoing a similar incident that occurred near the beginning of His earthly ministry recounted in Luke, chapter 5, Jesus tells the disciples, still unaware of His identity, to throw their net to the right side of the boat. No one says as Peter did in that earlier incident, “We’ve been out all night. There aren’t any fish to be had.” Instead, like little children, credulous and unmarred by cynicism, they toss the net over the side of the boat. The net becomes so heavy with fish that they can’t haul it in. 

This is a picture of God’s grace. There is no end to it. He loves us. His Son died to free us from our sin, from death, and from our idolatries. He covers those who trust in Jesus with His abundant forgiveness and new life, even in the midst of life’s frequent futility.

I’d been called to the hospital room of a twenty-one-year-old who had been fighting cancer for seven years. She had taken a turn for the worse. On the car ride, I prayed I could get there before she died. I walked into her room to find her sitting in a chair, eating a chicken dinner her grandmother had sent. I just looked at her, a bit shocked. She smiled at me and said, “I know. I’m complicated.” After that rally, she did, some weeks later, die. But I reflected later that while her life had been complicated by cancer and this life, she wasn’t complicated at all. She trusted in Jesus and was committed to taking the next step in His rich grace even in the midst of great pain and uncertainty. 

The rich, abundant grace, love, and favor of Christ are on offer to us all, no matter how complicated (or futile) our lives can become.

John is the first to recognize the man on the shore as the risen Jesus. On hearing John say, “It is the Lord,” Peter throws himself into the water to meet Jesus. 

This incident provides another contrast between that earlier miraculous catch of fish Luke talks about and this one. There, you’ll remember, after Jesus caused Peter’s nets to fairly burst at the seams, Peter fell on his face and said, “Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!” (Luke 5:8) But now Peter can’t wait to get to Jesus. 

This is the difference between life under the Law and life under the Gospel. 

A life lived under the Law is one in which we labor under the delusion that we can or must be good enough or work hard enough to gain God’s favor and forgiveness. That was the life that Peter was living earlier. God’s Law is good because it describes the life of righteousness. But it’s pure egomania for us to think that we can keep God’s Law. As the layperson (not the comedian) Steve Martin, wrote on Twitter the other day, “The job of God’s Law is to obliterate any confidence that you might have in anything outside of Jesus Christ.” Martin Luther said that the function of God's Law is to drive us to despair over our sin to the foot of Jesus Christ, to the only One Who can set us free from the debt for sin we owe our Maker!

But now, after Easter Sunday, Peter understands that despite his sins, he lives life under the Gospel of Jesus Christ. As Christians, we still sin. That’s why Jesus calls us to daily acknowledge our sin so that its power over us can be covered in the grace of Jesus. 

This is what Peter experiences now as he comes into Jesus’ presence. 

On the shore, Peter finds that Jesus has lit a charcoal fire, “burning coals” in our reading translating the Greek word, ἀνθρακιὰν (anthrakian), from which we get the English word, anthracite. The only other time we encounter this word in the whole Bible is in John 18:18, where Peter warms himself by a fire set by Roman soldiers in the place where Peter denied knowing Jesus three times. As Peter sees the burning coals, he no doubt remembers how he had abandoned the Lord on the night of Jesus’ trial.

Peter doesn’t run away though. He already knows that Jesus has forgiven him and sent him into the world, as he sends us, despite our sins and imperfections, to point others to Jesus as the way and the truth and the life

Jesus then, in a reversal of Peter’s three denials of his Lord, underscores His forgiveness and His sending of Peter, when, three times, He asks: “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?” “Feed my lambs.” “Take care of my sheep.” “Feed my sheep.” (John 21:15-17) 

When we live under Christ’s Gospel, not only are our sins forgiven, we also have a mission, to feed the Church and to feed the world on the truth of the same Gospel that has saved us from sin, death, and darkness for everlasting life with God.

Following Jesus isn’t easy. Jesus tells Peter that his life is no longer his own, that he will die as one sent into the world to fish for people. But, you can be sure that as he walked with the risen Christ for the rest of his life, Peter, knowing that he lived under Christ's gospel, would always say, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.” (John 6:68) 

Jesus has died and risen for you. That's an accomplished fact. 

So, now what? 

How should we live each day? 

Simply in this way: By turning to Jesus each day, confident that wherever we may go and whatever the duties of our lives may call us to do, we live under His gospel, set free to be God’s people now and always


Wednesday, April 27, 2022

The Work, the Mission, the Power, and the Model

[This past Sunday, I was privileged to lead worship and preach at the non-denominational Emma Anderson Memorial Chapel in Topsail, North Carolina. As they do with guest pastors fifty Sundays a year, the people of the chapel provided my family and me with a parsonage-by-the-sea, an opportunity to rest and recharge our batteries, and incredible hospitality!]

EMMA Anderson Sunday Worship Service from Emma Anderson Memorial Chapel on Vimeo.

John 20:19-31
Today, in light of the Bible lesson, I want to talk with you about four things: the work, the mission, the power, and the model.

The lesson opens with Jesus’ disciples huddled in a locked room on the first Easter evening. The doors are locked because they’re afraid of their fellow Jews, afraid that, like their Lord and teacher, they might become targets for rejection, arrest, torture, and death.

Now, the disciples had heard the report of some of the women of their group that Jesus was risen and alive. John’s gospel tells us that John himself had hurried to the tomb in that foot race with Peter and, as a consequence, believed the women’s words. But most of the disciples seem to have concluded that, even if the reports were true, they had no idea of whether, if they were crucified like Jesus, they would also rise again. Besides, because we’re all averse to pain, they surely don’t want to be crucified even if they are going to be raised again!

Some have suggested that on that first Easter evening, the disciples may have had another fear. Namely, if Jesus really was risen, what would He do or say to them after they had scattered and abandoned Him the second He was arrested?

Amid this scene of fear and uncertainty, the risen Jesus, no longer constrained by time or space, appears in that locked room and says, “Peace be with you!” These are more than the words of a well-wisher. Jesus is God the Son and when God speaks, things happen. When, at the creation of this universe, God said, “Let there be light,” there was light. God said through the prophet Isaiah: “My Word will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire...” (Isaiah 55:11) So, in pronouncing peace on the disciples, Jesus isn’t just wishing them His peace, He’s giving them peace.

When Jesus talks about peace, He’s not telling the disciples that their lives on earth will be a smooth ride and they’ll never know conflict and they’ll always get what they want. To have Jesus’ peace is to have a right relationship with God, our sins are forgiven, and we have life with God, both here in this imperfect world and in perfection in life beyond the grave.

And this brings us to our first word; work. Peace with God is not something we can work for or attain. Peace is God’s gift to us through Jesus. Ephesians 2:8-9 tells us, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God...

When Jesus said from the cross, “It is finished,” He meant it. Everything necessary for the forgiveness of your sins and for everlasting life with God has already been accomplished by Jesus. He took the death sentence for sin we deserve. He rose again to open up your never-ending life with God. True peace is God’s work and God’s gift to us through Jesus. I hope that’s as big a relief to you as it is to me!

The Bible teaches that we are born in sin. That is, we have a sinful nature that leads us to commit individual sins. Our sin is a serious matter. The Bible is unblinking in saying the rightful punishment for our sinful nature is separation from God, eternal chaos and condemnation rather than peace. That’s why Jesus’ work from the cross and tomb is so amazing and wonderful! With the apostle Paul, we can say: “Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (Romans 7:24-25) Thank God for the finished work of Jesus Christ for us!

After giving His disciples His peace, Jesus says, “As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” (John 20:21) This is a remarkable thing! Jesus was sent into our fallen world by God the Father to do the work of our salvation. Now, Jesus says, He’s sending His disciples, including you and me, into the world. He does because He has a particular calling for us: We’re to share the good news of new and everlasting life for all who believe in Jesus and the work He’s already accomplished for every human being. Giving others the Word of new and everlasting life for sinful people who trust in Jesus is our mission. This, of course, is called the great commission, the mission Jesus gives the Church and individual Christians: to be and make disciples, sharing what Jesus has done to save us from sin and death to give us His peace! He describes that mission in today’s lesson as declaring God’s forgiveness to repentant believers in Jesus and withholding God’s forgiveness from those who refuse to trust in Jesus.

I’m convinced that more people are open to our mission from Christ than we Christians often realize. Part of my personal mission field is the deli of a Kroger grocery stor near me. I’ve gotten to know some of the employees and there’s one man in particular that our church has been able to help in the past. A few weeks ago, I was at the deli counter again. While another employee waited on me, this man we’ll call Bill wrote a note for me on the back of a deli order form. In large letters, he wrote, “Please! Please pray for my son!” I looked at him after reading his note. I could see how much he wanted God in his son’s life circumstances. You and I are surrounded by people like Bill who need Christian disciples who will pursue the mission Jesus has given to us of sharing the Gospel with everyone!

Of course, if we try to do our mission on the basis of our own sparkling personalities, we won’t get done what Jesus has sent us to get done. That’s why after Jesus had given the disciples–all disciples, including you and me–His mission, John says, “with that [Jesus] breathed on them and said, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit.’” (John 20:22) This brings us to our third word for the morning. After Jesus has done all the work for us to know God’s peace and after He gives us our mission, He gives us the power to fulfill that mission. He gives us the Holy Spirit!

Jesus says elsewhere in John’s gospel, “apart from me you can do nothing.” (John 15:5) We Christians often forget this. When I was a seminary student, our spiritual and academic progress was assessed annually by a committee that included laypeople, professors, and classmates. In preparation for these evaluations, we had to write essays in response to a series of questions. I’m embarrassed to say that in my first year, I began one essay with these  words, “I have great confidence in my potential for being a good pastor.” I was rightly called out for arrogance! No Christian and no Christian pastor will ever fulfill Christ’s mission for them by their own “potential” or abilities. That’s why Jesus gives the Holy Spirit to every believer. Jesus promised this to His disciples before His crucifixion: “I  will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever— the Spirit of truth.” (John 14:16-17) If you can say that Jesus is your Lord, you can be assured that Jesus has given you the Holy Spirit. God’s power for fulfilling His mission for you is in you!

The last part of our lesson is well known to you. It takes place one week after the resurrection. Thomas, who hadn’t been in the locked room when the risen Jesus appeared, had refused to believe that Jesus was risen. But Jesus didn’t give up on Thomas, any more than He gives up on us when we stubbornly refuse to trust Him or when we violate His will. Jesus appears to Thomas and the other disciples. Jesus invites Thomas to touch His wounds. Then Jesus tells Thomas, literally, in John 20:27, “Do not be unbelieving, but believing.” At this, the formerly unbelieving Thomas calls Jesus, “My Lord and my God.” (John 1:28) Here, Jesus becomes our model for pursuing our mission. Jesus doesn’t upbraid Thomas. He doesn’t criticize Thomas’ lack of faith. Instead, He calls Thomas to believe in Him and so to know the peace of God. Would Thomas have come to believe in Jesus had Jesus not been patient with Thomas? As a former atheist, I can tell you that it was the patient, loving witness of Christians who shared Christ and His Gospel with me that brought me to being able to say of Jesus, “My Lord and my God!”

Often today, it seems that Christians treat their unbelieving neighbors as enemies. But the Bible tells us that our real enemies aren’t other people. Our enemies are the devil and the spiritual forces of darkness who imprison people in unbelief and sin. Our neighbors are people who, just like us, need the peace Jesus has secured through His death and resurrection. This is why 1 Peter tells us: “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect…” (1 Peter 3:15) For this, friends, Jesus is our model.

So, four words for us to consider today. The work for our peace with God, others, and ourselves, which has already been completed by Jesus; the mission Jesus gives to share that peace; the power Jesus gives us to fulfill our mission by sending the Holy Spirit; and the model Jesus has given us for pursuing our mission with gentleness and respect. May Jesus bless and guide you as you and this remarkable fellowship of believers follow Him and lift Him up to this community and world. Amen