God’s agents of Forgiveness Psalm 133 John 20:19-31
“How good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity! It is like precious oil poured on the head, running down on the beard, running down on Aaron’s beard, down on the collar of his robe. It is as if the dew of Hermon were falling on Mount Zion. For there the LORD bestows his blessing, even life forevermore” (Psalm 133)
This is an inspiring image of a faith community! Sadly however, it is in sharp contrast to the reality in our families, in our world, not to mention our own denomination. Unity, as this text states produces unity leads to a wonderful communal experience even life forevermore. But the opposite is also true that disunity could create misery, desperation, bitterness, barrenness and even death for a community. The picture of this community that the Psalmist holds up for us ought to compel us to ask ourselves, What kind of community are we or are we becoming? The one that the Psalmist describes or the one I have described? Take some time to reflect on this challenge.
The psalmist likens the experience of unity in a community to the act of anointing with oil. The anointing with oil was as a symbolic act that was used to designate and set apart a person for some, public leadership function in the community much like today’s inauguration or ordination. This practice applied as well to things that were sanctified or dedicated for a special purpose for God (Ex. 29:7ff)
In the Old Testament the following people were anointed as leaders; -Priests (Ex. 28:41) -Kings (1 Sam. 10:1) -Prophets (1 Ki. 19:16.) When someone was anointed or authorized for leadership, God empowered them through the Holy Spirit to do the job (1 Sam. 16:13; Isa. 61:1). Jesus is the ultimate anointed king in the line of David, priest in the order of Melchizedek and a prophet like Moses who was promised by God to come and accomplish God’s salvation as he himself quoted from Isaiah 61 as recorded in (Luke 4:18-19).
Salvation comes about through the forgiveness of Sins. I believe that at the center of disunity in the community of faith is un-forgiveness. The Easter story declares God’s victory over death and the grave and proclaims a new beginning for God’s people marked by forgiveness and unity. To this community God pours out God’s anointing Spirit and even life forever not just for the community itself but also for the whole world as the community is sent forth on God’s mission to both proclaim and embody forgiveness.
In our John text, the anointed, resurrected Jesus appears to the community that was locked up and terrified by the realities around them in their case, fear of the authorities. You may be in a similar situation; you are terrified by the news that you just received about your health, family relationships, or some other news that altered your life completely etc. From the John text, in the midst of the disciples’ terror, Jesus appeared unhindered by anything including locked doors and strong walls and did three significant things:
1. He blessed the disciples with his peace greeting (Shalom in its fullest extent). He said it not just once, but three times if you read the text further.
2. He breathed in them empowering them with the Holy Spirit.
3. He commissioned them as his agents to forgive – or retain – sins.
Like these disciples, I pray for us that the Lord may intervene today and pronounce “shalom”. Thomas missed the first experience but as he interacted with Jesus he made the declaration that the author of John sees as the purpose of the whole book, “But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name” (Jn. 20:31). The resurrection event resulted in a mandate and the empowerment of a community to do what Jesus did and since this is an impossible task without the Lord’s help, the Lord empowered them.
I believe from our text that the resurrection is an experience of forgiveness; it is a testimony of forgiven lives communicating forgiveness to others as Archbishop Rowan Williams once said. Now, in the same manner that the anointed son of God was filled by the Holy Spirit while on his mission (Jn. 1:32-34; 3:34), his disciples also received the Holy Spirit in order to accomplish their mission and as his disciples we are likewise sent forth and empowered by the Holy Sprit to do likewise. The author of John initially stated that since Jesus had not been glorified, the Holy Spirit had yet to come (cf. Jn. 7:39) but after the resurrection, the Holy Spirit came and he imparted the Holy Spirit to his disciples through his breath in the same manner God breathed into Adam making him a living being (Gen. 2:7; cf Ezk. 37:9).
The disciples of Jesus are God’s agents, mandated to declare God’s forgiveness for the world. We must always remember that we posses no authority independent of Jesus and the Holy Spirit to forgive sins or do anything for God for that matter. I believe that it is through forgiveness that we are able to dwell together in unity. Through the resurrection, we are empowered by the Holy Spirit to forgive and to embody forgiveness for all peoples in the world. Jesus, God’s beloved son who came to reveal God to the world, commissioned us his disciples in the same way he was commissioned by the father to proclaim and enact forgiveness. This is our mandate and mission as Jesus’ disciples. Amen! (This sermon was first preached at Goshen Mennonite Church, with some revision preached at New Danville Mennonite School at the New Danville District renewal and mission weekend by Nelson Okanya)