In these first days after Easter Sunday, I’m continuing to share from my 2013 Series at Diversity in Faith church, “Discovering Your New Life in Christ”, which fell between Easter Sunday and Pentecost. After I’ve finished sharing these posts, I plan to continue to my series on prayer.
I hope it helps renew and strengthen you in your walk with Christ.
And I’m not just whistling Dixie!
Your progressive redneck preacher,
New Life In Christ, Part 3: Becoming God With Skin On
For those who are just joining our series, we are continuing to look at the accounts of the forty days Jesus appeared to the disciples, risen from the dead, and the lessons they teach us about the new life possible for you and me because Jesus is risen.
This week will be continuing with a passage in John 20.19-23.
As you turn there let me set the context:
Have any of you ever felt you were at a point that is hopeless, helpless, and without a future?
I know I have. I remember a time a little after the first church plant I worked with in southern CA. This was church plant and had begun because of encountering transgender people who desired to know God and had no place to go to hear about Jesus and be welcomed. We poured our heart, soul, and life into that ministry. We probably spent every waking moment working on it.
This was because I forgot. I forgot Jesus’ example to take time to go out to our quiet place and be. I forgot to make time for myself. I forgot to make time for my marriage. I didn’t plan out how to provide for ourselves in that ministry, being so swept up in the call of God I at least didn’t count the cost.
I remember everything hitting the fan. Finances ran out and we couldn’t pay the bills. We were offered a place to stay with family, but it meant leaving the ministry in the hands of another minister. Heart-broken, not knowing where to turn, we began again.
On the way there, I hit another snag. A tire popped on the freeway in New Mexico. There, physically stranded, it all hit me like a ton of bricks. I remember the heartache when, as our car was hauled away by a tow truck, it looked like everything was over. Dark shadows seemed to fall like a solid sheet over me, and I saw no light ahead.
Have you been there?
That is how Jesus’s disciples were at the moment we join them in this text. For them, their world is ending. Their hopes and dreams lay shattered. They know Jesus lies dead, buried, killed as a traitor.
If you would, lets now read this together.
19 It was still the first day of the week. That evening, while the disciples were
behind closed doors because they were afraid of the Jewish authorities, Jesus
came and stood among them. He said, “Peace be with you.” 20 After he said this,
he showed them his hands and his side. When the disciples saw the Lord, they
were filled with joy. 21 Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the
Father sent me, so I am sending you.” 22 Then he breathed on them and said,
“Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive anyone’s sins, they are forgiven; if you
don’t forgive them, they aren’t forgiven.”
Would you pray with me?
Holy Spirit, mother of all living and light of life, embrace us with your love. As you came on these men and women giving them new life, fall upon us. As we discuss your work and Jesus’ words, help us be made new by your presence. Show us your will. Help us hear your call. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
Does anything stand out to you about the new life Jesus brings in this passage?
I have four aspects of the new life that stand out to me here.
First, we find in this story that at their darkest moment, when God seems far away and they have shut themselves off from everything, they find Jesus is already in their midst. In that moment sitting in my car alone, tear-filled and broken, in New Mexico it seemed to me that I was all alone. I wanted, like them, to shut myself into some cave, lock the door, and hide from the world. When they do this, what do they find? That Jesus appears, standing beside them.
Now some scholars will sit and wrangle over science and metaphysics to try and explain how Jesus walked through a shut door. I think they get this story all wrong. You see I read in Ephesians that when Jesus ascended he rose to fill all things. To me that means that because Jesus is risen, because each and every one of us now share in new life through Jesus, we no longer have a place we can go or a thing we can do where the risen Jesus is not present.
You see Jesus didn’t have to do a magic trick to walk through the locked door to where they were. No, Jesus was already there. As Jesus tells them later in Matthew 28 — “Lo I am with you always, even to the end of the age”. All Jesus did was open their eyes so that they could see he was present, though they faced their darkest night and locked the world out for fear.
Friend, do you face darkness? Do you have your moments when you see no hope, and want to lock the doors to the world and its pain. Know that Jesus is already present with you. Jesus is already standing beside you. Always, ever, Jesus is saying to you “lo I am with you always even to the end of the age”.
Secondly Jesus shows us that our new life brings peace with God.
What are some barriers to peace with God? How does Jesus’ resurrection help us find a new life at peace with God?
You don’t have to wait until you’ve become religious enough, worked hard enough, obeyed enough commandments, or begun to fit another’s image to have peace with God. Peace with God is offered to you and me as a free gift, something we can experience simply by faith, which is trusting God with your heart and life. Have you done that? Will you trust God and accept God’s friendship?
Thirdly we see that Jesus’ new life is not something we experience alone.
This is pointed to by Jesus breathing on the men and women gathered in front of them and saying “receive the Holy Spirit”. Jesus is actually acting out a scene from the Bible:
in Genesis 2 when God creates the first person Adam. There God gathers up clay and dirt, shaping it into a statue of God, and breathes into it the breath of life. Jesus does the same thing but instead of gathering clumps of dirt Jesus gathers the men and women who have followed him, and breathes on them.
He shows that this new life is not something we can experience on our own. Alot of times people have this idea. They say “I can just worship God at the fishing hole; I don’t need to be around other believers”. But when Jesus breathes the breath of the Holy Spirit on them, it is on them when they are together, gathered remembering Jesus.
Turn to someone and say “I need you, You need me, we are all a part of God’s family”. Turn to someone else and say “You are important to me. I need you to survive”.
You see, you can’t experience this new life all alone but need others to help you grow. How can other people, at church, in our small group Bible studies, who we foster spiritual friendships with, help us grow in the new life Jesus gives us? How can we be ones that help others grow?
Not only is it other people we need but we need God the Holy Spirit. God the Holy Spirit is God as God comes to live within your life, within the lives of others around you like aid filling your lungs, even flowing through your blood. God the Holy Spirit’s presence brings life to the plants, animals, and newborn babes. We need to be open to the presence of God the Holy Spirit within our own life, within the lives of every living thing. And important to remember, we need to learn to look for the Holy Spirit to be at work in the lives of those around us — because in any person, friendly or hateful to us, Christian or of another faith, even hardened atheist, if we look with eyes of faith we can encounter God the Holy Spirit in their life.
My friend Bob McLeod puts it like this, in his commentary on the Gospels:
“A Christian should always be trying to communicate with that bit of [God] that resides in every person. ‘Don’t just talk to that individual personality … don’t just look at that person as someone full of ambition and selfishness and personal strategy. If you try to negotiate with that, the job is far beyond you. Remember instead that in that other person’s heart [God] is trying to reach out to the [Holy Spirit] in you.’ .. [the Holy Spirit] is everywhere and in everything, and if we wish to attach ourselves primarily to [the Holy Spirit], as opposed to a tradition or personal interest, Christ will unlock doors for us in some very surprising ways”
So you, I, all of us, cannot thrive in our spiritual life alone. We need the Holy Spirit and each other to thrive in this new life.
There is a final part to this message is probably best pictured by an exercise a friend from school shared with me. What I am going to do is start with this person here. I am going to whisper something in their ear. Then they will act it out to the person beside them. Then that person will whisper the message to the next person’s ear, who acts it out … until we come to the last person in the room. If anyone has ever done this example, you know how
by the end the message is oh, so different.
I share this example because it illustrates the final message about the new life this story gives. After miming shaping them into a statue of God like Adam was, Jesus says “as the Father has sent me, so I am sending you”. How was Jesus sent? John 1 tells us that Jesus came as God -with-skin-on. We are sent like Jesus to be God with skin on, so that when people encounter our life it is like they are seeing God in a way they can touch, they can feel, they can hear.
Obviously we can’t do this perfectly — because unlike Jesus we screw up. But we can be someone through whom God appears with skin on for others. Have any of you had people whose lives radiated God’s love, goodness, compassion, or mercy in your life in such a way that for you they were like God with skin on?
I know some in your life who brought the presence of God with skin on to you may not have quote a Bible verse to you at all, or even mentioned God directly. I bet if I asked too you probably have some people who sent mixed messages in their life. Maybe they voiced they were about “God” but their lives sent messages of rejection, condemnation, selfishness, abuse.
We can send send the wrong message, failing to be God with skin on — or embrace our new life in Christ and be God with skin on to others.
How can we be God with skin on ourselves?
Jesus points to one key word in his words on forgiveness — by radiating forgiveness to others, showing them by how we live that God has forgiven and loves them; showing them God’s forgiveness and mercy. This is a part of what we mean when we say in our church’s mission statement that our mission is to welcome all people to join in healing our world.
In closing I want to give you a few minutes to reflect on what image of God you are presenting. I have put some pla-do on the corner table. As you prepare to come to communion, take some of the pla-do and shape something — maybe a heart for loving, a hug for forgiveness — of some aspect of God you feel called to put skin on more in your life. When you come to communion, if you are comfortable share what it is before we pray and break bread together.
Remember here at Diversity in Faith you don’t have to be a member of this church or any church to take communion but simply come open to God, ready to experience new life. All are open at Christ’s Table.