April 15, 2012 “ 2 Easter B
Acts 4:32-35; 1 John 1:-2:2; John 20:19-31
Robert C. Wisnewski, Jr.
Do you believe in God the Father? Do you believe in Jesus Christ, the Son of God? Do you believe in God the Holy Spirit? Every time we have a baptism we are asked these questions. Every Sunday when we celebrate the Eucharist those questions are implied as we recite the Nicene Creed. We respond with our statement of belief. As we state our beliefs, it’s certainly true that we have our doubts, our unbelief, our inability to understand exactly what it is we are saying we believe.
It’s rather like saying I believe my television will turn on and I will be able to watch a certain show. I believe that but I don’t understand how those signals are transmitted through the air and wires to my television set. I count on it but I don’t fully understand it. If I had never seen it, I’m sure I wouldn’t believe it. And if it was broken for a while I would stop believing it would turn on. Twenty years ago I certainly wouldn’t have believed that so much of my life would revolve around an iPhone but it is now reality.
Do I believe in God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit.? Yes, but don’t ask me to explain how that works. I believe it because the Church has shown that to me. The Church has shown me that God created the world, God redeemed the world, God sustains the world. The Church has shown me that God made all that is and loves all of creation. Would I believe that if no one had ever shown it to me, if I had never seen it for myself? Would I believe it if you quit showing it to me?
Do I believe that I am loved? Yes, because my parents, my wife and children, my parishioners and friends show me that. I believe it but some days it’s still hard to remember. Sometimes I believe it more than at other times. Some who experience less loving environments than I do have a much harder time believing.
Do I believe that I am forgiven? Yes, because that has been expressed to me a number of times. My wife has said to me, Okay, that’s in the past, let’s move on. Parishioners have told me, Yep, that was a big mistake but we’ll recover. Friends have looked me in the eye disappointed but have remained my friends. Situations I have been in have seen me make the totally wrong decision. The circumstances have come to bear and people have been hurt. In time the wound has been healed and people have extended trust to me again. If it weren’t for that, how could I believe that I am loved and forgiven? It really doesn’t make any sense that I would be. I keep falling short so I don’t deserve forgiveness. People are generally pretty unforgiving so they don’t easily forgive. Yet it happens, sometimes by the hardest, but it happens.
One way I come to know that I am forgiven is that I have actually found myself forgiving. If I can actually do that, it’s easier to know that I can be forgiven. Maybe that’s one reason God has continued to allow sin to be part of the mix here on earth, so that we can come to know we are loved and forgiven, as we come to love and forgive others.
Throughout the Easter season we will read of resurrection appearances. Today we hear of the first time Jesus appeared to the apostles. I’m not sure if you’ve ever come face to face with your own cowardice but it’s a heavy burden to bear. As a teenager a friend of mine and I left a high school football game a little early. As we approached our car, a gang jumped us and we started running. I got away but my friend didn’t and he got beat up pretty bad. He forgave me for running away much more easily than I forgave myself. His wounds healed up fairly quickly. In some ways I still carry mine. We’re all cowards and the apostles are bearing that burden three days after they have run away and abandoned Jesus on the cross.
Jesus comes to them and they know forgiveness. That’s the primary experience of the resurrection. People, one by one, come to know that the risen Christ forgives not only their cowardice but all their sins. They come to see that is how God views them too, as forgiven, their sins wiped away. It is such a powerful experience that they are transformed into courageous proclaimers of the gospel, people who themselves heal others, forgive others, love others in such a way that the world around them takes notice. The early church community itself will become an expression of the resurrection as they care for the needy, forgive the sinful, love the unloved. The world watches that and comes to believe.
Thomas isn’t there the first time Jesus comes to them. But he is there the next time. He too comes to believe when he sees. That’s part of the message Jesus is sharing with them when he says, If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained. Each of the eleven apostles had to be shown this forgiveness. The world must be shown as well. That is what the apostles are sent out to do. And that is what we are sent out to do: to forgive the sins of others, not just point them out; to care for the needy, not just tell them how they need to help themselves; to love the unloved, not to say it’s someone else’s responsibility. How is the world to believe if we are not to show them? We need to see things for ourselves to believe. And we need to show others for them to believe.
The resurrection brings a remarkable gift. We are shown God’s love and forgiveness. The resurrection is also a remarkable challenge. We are to take the message into the world, into the places that need it most. The mindset of I got mine, now you get yours just won’t do for the church. The world is hungry for that which has been given to us. If we do not share the good news, who in the world will? In some ways we ourselves will never really know the gift until we offer it to others.
If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained. Move out into the world in the name of the risen Christ. As we believe, we are to help those who do not yet believe. That applies to very little things like how we treat our next door neighbors or beggars on the street. It applies to bigger things like how we vote, legislation we pass, budgets we approve, policies our nation adopts. Forgiveness is not just for us. If any man sin we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; and he is the perfect offering for our sins, and not for ours only, but for the sins of the whole world.