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  • Writer's pictureChurch of the Incarnation

Being a disciple is not coffee hours and roast beef dinners: "as the Father sent me, so I send you."

This morning’s Gospel reading continues the incredible sightings of the resurrected Jesus. It’s the first day of the week and the disciples have locked themselves away in a house where they had gathered because they were afraid of the Jews. One can only assume that their concern had to do with thinking maybe the Jews wanted to finish the job of getting rid of Jesus and followers who might try to take up his cause.

Lo and behold, Jesus shows himself to them, presumably appearing rather suddenly on the inside of the locked house. He greets them with the peace, shows them his hands where the nails had been driven through, and his side, which had been pierced by the soldier’s sword, from which flowed his life: blood and water.

Sure enough, this was the Jesus they had witnessed be crucified, now standing before them alive and greeting them with the peace; your sins are forgiven for I have borne them and now you are reconciled to God. So as with his own baptism, Jesus, present with these disciples, then breathes the Holy Spirit on them, to mark their recognition and reconciliation to his Father who is now, through adoption, their Father. Gathered to God and marked as his own forever.

As he breathes the Holy Spirit on them, we hear him declare, “receive the Holy Spirit.” It would seem that breathing the Holy Spirit on them is not simply an affirmation of their reconciliation to God, but that this reconciliation necessitates them “going out” into the world, “as the Father has sent me, so I send you.” Martin Luther, writing in the 16th century against the abuses of Papal authority in a work called, “On the Freedom of a Christian,” makes this pretty clear: By faith alone, God sets people utterly, completely, free in Christ; free from death, condemnation and fear of damnation. Christ is lord of all, subject to none. Love binds him as an utterly dutiful servant to the neighbor, subject to everyone. The paradox of Christian freedom then plays out in faith and love. Because we no longer have to fear damnation or condemnation or slavery to the whims of this world, we are utterly free.

Freedom, however, as it is defined by Jesus’s life - his words and actions - is to serve neighbour and enemy. It is not to sit back in a pew thinking, ‘ah I’m saved, check mark.’ It is not to sit at roast beef dinners and coffee hours and social events, or in church business meetings, office time, or rearranging church fixtures, thinking, ‘this is it, I’ve done my Christian duty.’

No, the freedom of reconciliation to God is specifically to live Jesus’s own life. The first step of this is knowing who God is. If you do not know this, you really can’t go out into the world to share what God has asked you to share. Who is God? He is revealed in the whole life of Jesus who manifests God’s relationship to every single human who has and will ever exist. So where do we find God? In the Scriptures, read through Jesus’s life, death and resurrection. Therefore, step 1 in going out is knowing your Scriptures, every word of them. Step 2, is about judgment: “I am giving you the power to both forgive and retain sins.” That is, I’m giving you the power of wisdom in your judgments; not the nasty kind; but the kind of judgment that lets you see words and actions in light of who Jesus is and help guide others toward Jesus. Step 2 then is both about knowing all your scriptures, but also following Jesus as you live with others who are within and outside the church, just as Jesus did in his earthly life. This requires humility in recognizing your perspective is very limited. Your ways are not necessarily, or even likely, God’s ways.

Of course many of us are more like Thomas who is late to the game in getting to see Jesus. Thomas represents those of us who were not present immediately after the resurrection. Those who hear thousandth hand from a tradition handed on to us. As with most things we don’t observe or hear first hand it can be difficult to trust even our senses, or our upbringing in the faith. How do I know the God of the Christian Scriptures is even real, I’ve had many young people ask me, I have Hindu, Muslim and Jewish friends, none of whom believe in the resurrected Jesus. Why should I believe in this one. I respond to them in this way: you really can’t reason your way to faith. It is God who comes to us when we are humble enough to receive him. And then you’ve got to stick your hands into Jesus’s hands and side; you’ve got to physically commit to following Jesus through your doubt. That’s when you will begin to see the evidence for God at work in so many nuanced ways in your own life and that of others. There’s no formula. It is fundamentally about following, learning, praying, worshipping, then going out and experiencing God’s relationship with you and those whom you encounter.

“Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe … these things are [in Scripture] so that [knowing it] you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name. Follow him. Learn who he is in the Scriptures and in your life committed to serving others. And then go out and share this so that others might have this same life in Christ. AMEN.

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