Receive the Holy Spirit and Forgive
4-12-15 Second Sunday of Easter
The Lord is Risen!
The Lord is risen indeed!
This is a very confusing time, in our readings, and in our own day. Thomas is a good reminder of that. I love Thomas. A lot of people look down on Thomas, and they use this story to say, “you are just a doubting Thomas” when we ask questions they don’t want to deal with. We have to remember that just a few days earlier, when Jesus says that he is going to go back to Jerusalem, it is Thomas who says, well, I guess we might as well go back and get killed with him. This is not someone who does not want to follow Jesus. He’s just fed up with the whole situation – one that makes no sense.
Well, Thomas, you are right. This does not make sense, at all. When someone dies in bed, there is this time, right after they have taken their last breath, that you keep expecting them to shudder a little bit, and take another one, like they have been doing for many hours already. Only they don’t, so then you call the nurse.
However, when you have seen someone crucified, it is a different story. No one survives that terrible ordeal, and they saw it, and the Roman soldiers who were used to seeing death on a daily basis were quite sure he was dead, and told Pilate so.
So Thomas is not being “faithless” which is how “doubt” often gets translated here. He is being realistic. He is being rational – unlike the others, who have obviously lost it while he was out doing business. And then Jesus shows up again. And Thomas becomes such an important evangelist that there is a branch of the church named for him in India. Do you know how far that was to go in those days?
But there is another thing that happens here, not with Thomas, but with the whole group. When you look at this, you can see that the conversation with Thomas is a side issue, not the center. Here it is: First, Jesus breathes on them and tells them to receive the Holy Spirit. Second, he says the thing about forgiveness.
We are much more familiar with the other story of Pentecost. In that story, the followers of Jesus were all together, and then it seemed like there were tongues of fire on people’s heads, and they started speaking in different languages, so that all of the people who were from different parts of the empire could understand them.
They were literally “on fire” with the word of God, and they could not wait to tell people about Jesus, about what had happened, about how he had been resurrected, about how he was still with us. They rushed out into the street, grabbing anyone who would listen, telling them the amazing news.
We forget that this was in the face of having just had their leader taken away and tortured to death by the political/religious folks in power – who were quite willing and able to do the same to his followers. Indeed, until the Spirit caught hold of them, they were terrified, hiding behind closed doors, afraid that the secret police would come for them next. And then suddenly, they were not afraid. They were not just not afraid, they were out on the streets preaching.
This morning we hear the other story of the gift of the Holy Spirit. It is not nearly so theatrical, but I think it is equally important. Why? Because we all experience things differently. Some of us get whacked by God to pay attention, some of us are more gently guided. For some of us, the awareness of God’s presence in our lives is a sudden and amazing incident. For others, the awareness of God’s presence has grown, but we cannot say that there was any particular time when something “happened.”
So I think some people experienced, and experience now, the gift of the HS as definitively as Jesus showing up for Thomas. For others, they, and we, remember Jesus simply saying: Receive the HS.
The fact of the matter is, we do not draw a breath without the Spirit being in us. But it is another matter for us to acknowledge that, and then to start participating in the work of God more and more consciously. As we align ourselves with God, we exhibit more of the traits of a person who follows the way of God that Jesus taught us, and we depend more each day on the guidance and power of the Spirit to show us the way and to keep us going.
I think that it is tuning in to the Spirit. The more you align your actions with God, the more you tune in, the more you can do. When people say, I don’t know how you do that, the standard response is: it isn’t me, it’s God working through me. When you hear that without understanding the work of the Spirit, it sounds trite. But when you look at the actions, you start to look again. There is, in fact, no way that person could have done what they did.
There is a great true story about this old guy who has decided it’s time to get rid of the old canoe out front. He’s disabled, weak with Parkinsons, no strength in one arm. A storm comes up and he sees a boat has capsized out on the lake, and without thinking too much, he runs out and gets his daughter to push the canoe out and he rows out to the kids that are drowning. Only he can’t row well, and he prays, and the next thing he knows, he has literally been pushed over to them. He, who has no strength, hangs on to two of the kids for a while, and then rows again with one hand, still holding the one who is unconscious. There is no way he could have done that under his own power. When he got back to shore, he fumbled again, and then he realized. While he was out there trying to help the kids from drowning, he was as strong as he had been as a young man, as strong as he needed to be, and when that strength was not enough, a mighty breath came from heaven.
Jesus knocked the socks off of Thomas, and Thomas would never be the same. If you had been in his situation, would you have reacted any differently – either in his questioning, or in his response?
Br Almquist from SSJE says that we try to bury Jesus, over and over, and that Jesus refuses to stay there. He says: “Wherever we bury Jesus, he comes back to life. We can bury him in the Bible or in stained glass windows. We can bury him in creeds and formulas and the heritage of our own tradition. We can bury him in movies and plays and music. We can bury him in our past. We can even bury him in bread and wine. And each time from each place he rises from the dead. He sheds the words and images and walks right on out into the world.”
And when he does that, he challenges us, just like he challenged Thomas, just like he challenged the disciples, to receive the HS, and to get moving. Part of that moving has to do with forgiveness. Let it go, he says. Don’t hold on to your anger and resentments, they will bury you. Look at the order here, it is important. Why? Because releasing anger and resentments is one of the most difficult things we will ever do. Receive the HS, and release everything that is deadening, everything that gets in the way of life. Receive the HS and live.
The word comes down to us, this lively and enlivening Word, the word that sets things in motion when it is said. I invite you to acknowledge the work of God in your life, to know yourself as a child of God, as one who moves through your life because the Spirit moves in you. I invite you to step ever more deeply into that awareness, opening yourself to the work of the Spirit, hearing the word for you at all times and in all places, giving you guidance and power to do the work God has given you to do. I invite you to receive the Holy Spirit, as an old friend or a new one, who reminds you of the real you inside that is waiting to get out.
So when you find yourself saying: Really? Really?? You want me to do what?
Listen, and hear the words: Receive the Holy Spirit. Let go of your anger and resentments, and rise to new life.
The Lord has risen. Now it is our turn! This very day, Jesus comes into our dark places, declares that peace has come, and invites us to receive the Holy Spirit, to release all that holds us captive, and to live. What’s your answer?