Lectionary Year B
April 27, 2003
John 20:19-31

Step VI: Contemporary Address


      I had just awoken. The house was so quiet and peaceful. As I arose and made my way out of the bedroom I could make out the faint sounds of clicking toys. Looking in the boys room I saw Andrew quietly playing with his animal friends on the floor. "Hi, bro." "Daddy, do you see my Tiger. I got him at the toy store. He is really mean and big. Yeah, and he will bite you." "Yes he will. Buddy, I'm going to go make some breakfast. Do you want some, too?" "Okay, Daddy."

      Hand in hand we walk toward the kitchen. As the kitchen light flickers into service I carefully scope out the kitchen floor for any surprises from the dog. The coast being clear, we enter. As I get out our bowls, Andrew stands in front of the refrigerator waiting. One look and I know trouble is on its way for he is staring at the candy bowl on top of the refrigerator. "Do you want to have some oatmeal with me, bro?" "Noooo." With every passing second the situation gets more desperate. Like a stunned fish I float into his waiting net. "What would you like for breakfast this morning?" "Bubble gum and suckers, I like bubble gum and suckers, do you like bubble gum and suckers, too, Daddy?" "Well yes but not for breakfast." "Ah, but I want bubble gum and suckers."

      If I could only reason with him or stall him until Katie woke up everything would be fine. Not Andrew. Suddenly, before I could react or do anything his body had gone catatonic. Simultaneously his arms stiffened, his hands and fingers curled. The veins in his neck came out and just as his face turned beet red his head began to quiver from side to side. Then, through gritted teeth and slanted eye, a gutteral, almost unnatural sound came out of him. "Noooooo."

      The message was clear. That is the good and the bad news about three year olds. Generally they don't speak with forked tongue. Many adults could use the fresh air of a clear message. A clear direction. Have you ever said, I wish they would just come out and say whatever it is instead of playing these games.

      The disciples certainly got the message. "Crucify him, crucify him!" No mistaking that, but now as they sit huddled together, behind closed doors, they sit in fear. They sit wondering what the message is for them. Its a very confusing time I would imagine.

      Peter and the beloved disciple say they saw the empty tomb. Mary Magdalene says she saw Jesus. But the booming message of last week still echoes. "Crucify him, crucify him!" And so they sit together and they wonder. What is the message in all of this? Will the Jews be coming for us next, do they know us, can they find us? Was it all a big mistake? Could it be that we were tricked? Were these years an utter waste? Will I live to see Christ's face? What is the message in all of this? Jesus came and stood among them and said, "Peace be with you." they rejoiced and again the Lord said "Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you." When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, "Receive the Holy Spirit; If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained." Then one week later he appeared again to the disciples, including Thomas, who having missed the first appearance still doubted, and Jesus said, "Peace be with you. Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe." "My Lord and my God", said Thomas. And Jesus said "Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe."

      Did you get the message? Well, it would be clearer to you if you could read this text in the Greek, particularly the 21st verse. Here the author of John is tinkering with the word sent. In English the word is the same but in the Greek there are two different words. "Pempo" and "Apostello". And if you were trying to get the message straight you might study the words in John and you would find that the word "apostello" is used by Jesus when he wants to ground the authority of his work in God and "pempo" is used when he wants to establish the participation of God in His work. So the "apostello-authority" of his work is in God and "pempo-participation" by God in His work.

      Now for example in 17:18, Jesus is praying to the Father and says "As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world." Both words for sent are "apostello". But in our passage at verse 21 the second word sent is "pempo". As the Father has sent me with His authority, so I am sending you, but I will go with you and participate with you as well. And then he breathed on them and they received the Holy Spirit.

      Now tell me, did you get the message? We are not alone. Christ walks with us in the Spirit. Back again in chapter 17, I wish we could read the whole prayer, but taken from verse 18 again we find these words of Jesus. "As you have sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. And for their sakes I sanctify myself, so that they also may be sanctified in truth. I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me."

      Christ walks with us in the Spirit, this person who saw Himself as sent by God, whose personal will was made transparent to God's will and authority, this person is calling us forth into self-identity like his. We are the people who have been sent by God into this world that through our obedience the world might believe. The summation to the gospel is found in the last verse of our passage. Quite succinctly put it says: "But these are written so that 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." What is the first gospel anyone will ever read? Your life. We are the living gospels of God, and like the gospel of John our purpose is that the world might come to believe. Do you get the message? We are the people, whether scared or doubting, who are sent by God. Not in some ego-centric sense of being empowered as the chosen ones, but as people who shine because their lives are transparent to the Light of the World who stands right behind them.

      The problems you will face having this identity are a lot like that story about Andrew. The world wants bubble gum and suckers for breakfast and the world will not take long to tell you so in a clear and concise way. Andrew does not want to hear about how oatmeal and cereal will help him become a big boy. But if I just give in to avoid the trouble, what kind of a father would I be? The world does not want you or your God interfering. Just keep quiet and mind your own ways - Christian. But if you just give in to avoid the trouble, what kind of a sent one would you be?

      Did you get the message? We are the sent ones, placed in the world to do the work of Christ as people who, like Christ, take their identity as ones having been sent "apostello" and "pempo" by God. If you are here because this is a safe place to huddle with other disciples out of the sight of the Jews, in doubt, then Jesus has a message for you. If you are hiding your identity outside of this place, keeping your faith locked behind the closed doors of your heart, then Jesus has a message for you. "You know, I have a knack for getting into closed places, either buildings or hearts but listen to me, Peace be with you, my peace I give to you. As my Father sent me, so I am sending you. But not alone, not without hope, not without a destiny far greater than any cost you can weigh, not without my authority and participation. You are my sent ones for whom I pray before the Father. Do my work.

Let us pray: Father God, come into the midst of our closed places and help us to bend our will in parrallel to yours. We thank you that you have made us your sent ones, may your light shine through us to the world now and everyday of our lives. Amen.

A Response from ES
Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. I learned of your service a few months ago while completing my seminary studies. I am about to graduate from Luth. School of Theo. in Chicago. I am in the Diaconal Ministry program (an ELCA ministry of WORD and SERVICE). I am currently involved with my DM "Project" which is 200 hours of planning, organizing, etc. short inter-denominational worship services for a local hospital. Since I have to prepare and deliver a short homily each week, and this is all quite new to me (I was a nurse for 33 years prior to going to LSTC),I am finding your service a real work of the Holy Spirit. I had a fantastic homiletics professor and did exceptionally well in that class, but now that I am "on my own", I feel a bit at a loss for inspiration. I read all the "steps" you provided on this verse and will incorporate some of the ideas in this weeks service. Hope this is of some help to you, you certainly were to me.

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