Have you ever been in a moment...

Sermon on John 20:19-31 The Holy Spirit

Easter 2 - April 11, 2010

Have you ever been in a moment, when what you expected did not happen? Something that changed everything?

Rick was one of my best friends in High School. Most of our relationship was based on a competitiveness that drove us to try and out do each other. At the same time, we wanted the other to do their best. He was elected student body president. I came in second. He had a perfect 4.0 grade point average, without extra weighting for college level classes. I pursued him, and managed a 3.8. He was better than me in basketball, even though he was only 5í7". I was better then him in football. I think my extra 60 pounds had something to do with that! He ran the 440 in Track, and I was a high jumper that sometimes ran the 880 to fill out the lanes. Rick was the fastest in our League, but was second fastest in our State section. At one of our duel meets, he had to run against Mendes, the guy with the fastest time. I told Rick that there was an empty lane for the 440, and coach said I could fill it. I said lets switch Jerseys and I will take the first lane. We switched jerseys, told the meet official that our numbers had changed, and I took the inside lane, so that Mendes would think I was Rick.

Before the race, there was the normal psych-out behavior between the competitors. Stretching, kicking your feet as you walk with your hands on your hips, shaking your arms to loosen them up. Rick just humbly took his place in the third lane. When the race started, I ran like I was in a 100 yard dash, and Mendes tried to keep up with me. At the last turn, as my legs began to turn into concrete and my lungs were going to explode, two guys passed me like I was standing still. The first was Rick, and the second was Mendes. No, I wasnít third. Two more passed me in the last 50 yards. But Rick won the race. Mendes was furious when the PA announced that Rick had won. I can still feel the indescribable elation when I saw Rickís back, wearing my number, as he crossed the finish line.

You can imagine then, how I felt at our 5 year reunion, in 1973, seeing Rick again for the first time since graduation. I played football in college and graduated in those 5 years. Rick, on the other hand, had just returned from Vietnam. He dropped out of college during the second year, and enlisted in the Army in lieu of the draft. All of the old gang sat at the same table, and we partied like old times. Rick was drinking and quiet. Rick shared with a few of us, that his normal duty in Nam had been with a recon team, and because of his short, slender build, they had him crawling through dark underground tunnels looking for Viet Cong. These soldiers were called tunnel rats, and the tunnels were booby trapped, so it was always dangerous. This left the rest of us without much to say. Then another good friend, Zeke, trying to uplift spirits and bring the reunion tempo back, came up behind Rick with a party balloon, and pooped it right behind his head. In a split second, Rick was out of his chair, spun around, and was pounding poor Zeke with both fists. Rick had been to hell and back. We realized then, It was never going to be the same, and we were going to have to accept that.

When you do something with someone, you should consider where they are in their life. When you read the gospels it is the same. It is good to know where you are in the life of Jesus of Nazareth. At times, he is the young, bright-eyed boy with an enthusiastic love for the word, who enjoyed nothing more than discussing scripture with the elders in the temple. At times, he is the missionary, sent by God to teach the truth, exposing hypocrisy, and revealing that love is the true character of God. On the way to Jerusalem, this begins to change as he nears his passion. He is driven to fulfill the promises of his Father, and his face is set on the cross at Calvary.

In todayís gospel, Jesus literally, has been to hell and back. This is the Risen Christ, this is Christ the King, who has been given authority over all things. He is taking care of the business of Godís salvation, delivering on a promise he made on the way to the cross. In John 14:15-20, Jesus says:

15 "If you love me, you will keep1 my commandments. 16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate,1 to be with you forever. 17 This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in1 you.

18 "I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you. 19 In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me; because I live, you also will live. 20 On that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you.

With this in mind, todayís Gospel begins by telling us it is Sunday evening, the evening of the first day of the week. Is the first day that the world has been in the light of the Risen Christ. From that day, we hear that nothing will be the same.

To illustrate this further, walk with me through some other first days in the Scriptures. You and I will investigate together what happened on those days.

In Genesis, on the first day of Creation, the first day of the Fatherís glorious week, the situation was this: "the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep."

Then what happened? "A wind from God swept over the face of the waters."

What did God do? "Into that environment of darkness, water, and his Spirit, God spoke his word, "Let there be light," and where there was darkness there was now light. It changed everything.

ANOTHER FIRST DAY, THE FIRST DAY OF JESUSí PUBLIC MINISTRY. What was the situation? At the Jordan River, in the wilderness, Jesus has come to John the Baptist, to be baptized. What happened? The Spirit of God descended on Jesus. What did God do? Into that environment of the wilderness, water, and the Holy Spirit, God spoke his word: "You are my Son, the beloved, in you I am well pleased." It changed everything.

What did Jesus do? Hmmm. That would make a nice saying for a charm bracelet! No, what did Jesus do? He went immediately into the wilderness to face Satan, aka temptation. Who leads him there? The Holy Spirit.

What did God do? Into the environment of the wilderness and sin and the Holy Spirit, God speaks his Word through the lips of Jesus, each time Jesus says "It is written, it is written, it is said." It changed everything.

NOW, ITS ANOTHER FIRST DAY, PENTECOST. What day was it? The first day of the week. Whatís the situation? Jesus was executed 3 days before, and the disciples are afraid, and are hiding in fear behind locked doors.

Then what happened? The Risen Christ appears. What did God do? Into that environment of fear and darkness, God spoke his word: "Peace be with you."

Then what happened? Christ shows the disciples his wounds, and they see that he is Jesus, their friend and teacher whom they love, the one who had hung lifeless on the cross is now alive. There is great joy in their hearts. He did it!! Jesus rose from the dead!! Just like he said!!

What did God do? Into that environment of fear and the water of their tears, he speaks his word. Jesus repeats: "Peace be with you," and adds, "as the Father has sent me, so I send you," and he breathes on them the Holy Spirit.

What did God do then? Into that environment as changed by the spirit, God speaks his word: "Receive the Holy Spirit." Then what did God say? "If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them. If you retain the sins of any, they are retained."

And, WHAT DID YOU SAY? Is there anything more important than observing the teachings of Christ?

It changes everything, does it not? No longer is it just Jesus who is filled with the Spirit of God. Now, because of the gift that Jesus Christ has given us by his authority, we are filled with the Holy Spirit. Into the environment of water, body and the Spirit, God speaks his word to us, telling us that we are his children, baptized as sons and daughters of God, whose Lord is Jesus Christ, and whose mission is to reveal Godís love to others, through the forgiveness of sins.

It is a moment that surpasses all understanding, when we realize that God has elected us to receive his Spirit, so that we may give others the love that abides within us. You have been given not just the duty, not just the authority, but also the responsibility, to forgive sins. All that remains is the speaking of Godís word: "I forgive you."

Three words can change everything through faith in the Risen One, Jesus Christ. If it helps, switch jerseys! Thatís what I did when I put on this alb. I am still the same child of God, with the same powers to forgive as you have, through the Holy Spirit and Godís word. Through these gifts, the risen Christ is risen in you. Through these gifts, any environment can be transformed, from a breeding ground for Hell, to a gateway to Heaven. As the Word tells us in Hebrews 12,

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us,

Jesus Christ is Risen in you. AMEN