On the Other Side of the Cross: Making Peace with Ourselves John 20:19-23

ArnoldSome of our sisters and brothers thought a bumper sticker that read: Jesus is coming soon and he’s mad as ‘?&%$#@$’ was a good idea.  I see why we might think Jesus would do a Schwarzenegger and march into the palace of Pontius Pilate to say, Big mistake, Guv!  Who can blame him for busting in the Sanhedrin saying, Payback time, boys!  But, he didn’t.

Over a period of 40 days, Jesus appeared to maybe 500 people.  None were his enemies; unless we count disciples; with friends like them who needs enemies?  Jesus has unfinished business with them but, it’s not what we think.  The first thing Jesus says to his unfaithful friends was Shalom or Hello.  These are words of comfort and assurance, not words of anger and vengeance.  Jesus says “peace be with you” three times; offering a peace they would need before offering it to their world.

We’re not accustomed to peace Jesus offers.  Our familiar peace tries to end conflict with blame or defeat.  We keep the peace by building good fences.  But, there’s no lasting peace if there is resentment and lives are segmented.  Peace of Christ doesn’t grow naturally in the relationships of our divided world.  So, when we see peace in a person or situation it can seem strange, for we’re not accustomed to this gift from God.  Yet, when it is intentionally offered and experienced, we know it taste good. Fruit of Peace

The peace Jesus offers is a peace that passes understanding and lives in unity by offering forgiveness based on the gracious rule of God.  We’re made new creatures when Christ’s peace falls on us, not distracted by daily challenges or worldly havoc.  A person who has made peace within can fulfill what Jesus grants when he offers the “power to forgive or retain sins”.  We aren’t sure what that means, so we move to a subject we’re more familiar, Doubting Thomas.  That way we’re not challenged by these words that question some of long-held beliefs: 1. We have direct access to God; 2. We don’t need a human agent to aid us in the forgiveness our sins.

First, these words challenge the idea that every person deals directly with God.  Lone Ranger Faith, which thinks it has direct access to God, tends to warp the image of God to the world and distort the activity of God in our lives.  So, God invites us into a relationship through Jesus, our mediator, the definitive revelation of God in the world.  Jesus shows through his death and resurrection that scapegoating, violence, exclusion, desertion, doubt, and all human frailties are forgiven.  We see in Jesus, how far God will go to show God’s love; making Jesus our direct conduit to God.

Bridge to GodOur access to God comes by investing ourselves into the rhythm of Jesus.  We know God if we’re willing to bury our smaller selves; so God can raise up our new selves.  We will make peace with God and ourselves as our lives mirror the life of Jesus; living his resurrected life, like he.

Second, his words defy the idea that all we need to do is to ask forgiveness and we’re forgiven.  Protestants have reacted to the church’s past role in offering forgiveness; believing God doesn’t intend for the church to be God’s judge on earth.  Our overreaction to prior abuses miss the mark of what Jesus meant; perhaps hindering people from making peace; fooled into thinking they alone can secure their own forgiveness.Forgiveness

We don’t have power to coerce heaven.  God doesn’t wait for us to repent before we’re forgiven.  God took the first step in Jesus; so in one sense every sin is a forgiven sin.  But, the church is to speak this good news that God doesn’t hold our sins against us, and we’re to invite people to cross the bridge to new life God built by the death and resurrection of Jesus.  What Jesus means by the power to forgive sins is we enable people to make peace within when they realized they’re forgiven.  The people of the church are God’s mouthpiece, along with hands and feet, of forgiveness.

The strictly spiritual view of forgiveness says, God forgives me, and that’s all that matters?  The spiritual life is connected to flesh and blood.  So, forgiveness is realized through humans who speak up and make amends.  We don’t grant forgiveness; but we assure each other (every chance we get) our sins are forgiven on earth; sins don’t happen in heaven.  We validate what God has done in Christ when we act as priest to each other; speaking words of assurance and prodding to each other to let go of what weighs us down, until we’re free to live in peace with God and ourselves.

AmendsThere’s nothing like the miracle of forgiveness.  Michael Carlucci was in his Connecticut apartment after a two-day bender of drinking and drugs.  A 24-year old neighbor Scott Everett came home from a night of drinking too and found his apartment had been burglarized.  In the commotion, he locked himself out.  Scott pounded on Mr. Carlucci’s door yelling, “Let me in!”  When the door was opened, Carlucci thought the young man had a knife.  He ran and got a gun, and in the struggle that ensued, he killed the boy.

Scott’s father is Rev. Walter Everett.  He and his grief-stricken wife huddled in the courtroom as Carlucci was convicted of manslaughter and sentenced to five years.  At first, the preacher thought it was too light of a sentence for the life of his son.  He listened to the apology of the man and was moved by his sorrow.  The minister forgave the man, and in doing so, he lost his marriage.  Later, Everett officiated the wedding of his son’s killer.

Carlucci told of the first letter he received in prison from Everett.  He told me he had forgiven me for the love of God.  Tears were coming down my face.  It made me feel like I wanted to live, where before that I didn’t care.  Carlucci may never have known what Christ had done if he had not known it through this man who made it real for him. Everett

Our appetites are teased when we see a sign that reads Fresh Bread for Sale.  We would be disappointed if we go inside and learn it’s a sign store that doesn’trep sell bread.  When we spend more time pointing out sin rather than offering forgiveness for sin, we throw into question the sign out front.  People expect the church to be forgiving, so souls can find a place where they make inner peace with God.  Christ’s peace is made possible when the church regularly offers God; by breathing on each other and our world a forgiveness that comes from the live giving breath of God.

It sounds unchristian to think about refusing to forgive sins in Jesus’ name.  That is what Jesus seems to mean upon giving the power to retain sins.  We might understand better what that means if we remember how we don’t always know or engage in what forgiveness entails and just want to be excused.  Forgiveness is hard work; requiring confession and change; admitting we’ve hurt God, ourselves and others.

act of compassionWe’re privileged to announce the good news of forgiveness through Jesus, but we are also responsible to not change its terms, so it remains good news.  If someone would rather be excused than forgiven, we can only painfully and lovingly retain their sins and suffer along with those who remain burdened with unforgiveness   If forgiveness cannot be offered, we’re responsible to God and each other to continue to offer forgiveness; knowing there will be no lasting peace until all of us know the peace of God from within that comes through the power of forgiveness.

Who do you need to offer the peace of Christ; assuring them of the forgiveness of God?  Some of us need to start with ourselves and sit with a mature and loving friend who can point us back to God’s forgiving ways.  Some of us know a name right now that needs to be assured they are forgiven.  Someone may cross our path and surprise us; needing to hear the good news of God’s forgiveness.  Be bold in speaking of God’s forgiveness to yourself, each other, or stranger.  After all we’re exhaling the peace of God into the world.  The Peace of Christ be with you!

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