Readings And Sermons or Talks

The Collect for today, the Second Sunday of Easter

Risen Christ, for whom no door is locked, no entrance barred: open the doors of our hearts, that we may seek the good of others and walk the joyful road of sacrifice and peace, to the praise of God the Father. Amen

Today’s Psalm is Psalm 133

How very good and pleasant it is when kindred live together in unity! It is like the precious oil on the head, running down upon the beard, on the beard of Aaron, running down over the collar of his robes. It is like the dew of Hermon, which falls on the mountains of Zion. For there the Lord ordained his blessing, life forevermore. Glory to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit. As it was in the beginning is now and shall be forever. Amen

Today’s first reading is taken from the book of the Acts of the Apostles : Acts 4 : 32-35

Now the whole group of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one claimed private ownership of any possessions, but everything they owned was held in common. With great power the apostles gave their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all. There was not a needy person among them, for as many as owned lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold. They laid it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need. This is the Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God

Today’s Gospel reading is taken from the Gospel according to St John : John 20 : 19 – 31

When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, “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.” But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.” A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.” Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come. Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. 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. This is the Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God

Today’s Reflection is by Mike

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

It’s a funny old world, isn’t it ?

One minute, you’re riding high on the crest of a wave. You’re following this man, who might well be the Messiah. He’s been the centre of your life for the past two years. You’ve seen him perform wonders – healing all sorts of sicknesses, straightening out those who were mentally possessed, even bringing some people back to life, once it appeared they were dead. You’d even been sent out in pairs with one of your close friends to practice healing and spread the news about this coming of God’s Kingdom yourself. You’d seen “the authorities” put in their place for their hypocrisy to such an extent, that you thought that you were untouchable.

The next minute, everything seems to have blown up in your face. The man, in whom you had come to believe, had been arrested, tortured, put to death in the cruellest of ways and buried in the tomb donated by some rich stranger. You and your friends had had to go into hiding, because “the authorities”, having seen off Jesus, were now out for your own blood. It wasn’t safe on the streets. Nobody could be trusted. Anybody might grass on you.

I’m sure you can picture the scene. Worried men and women are hiding in a safe house for fear of their lives.

Up to this point, it’s the kind of scenario, which has often been played out in many Hollywood movies, especially some of the old war films, the westerns or even The Sound of Music !

It’s the kind of scenario, which has probably been repeated many times throughout history, where an attempted coup or rebellion has petered to an end, and the authorities are out to clean up the rebels. It doesn’t just happen to people rebelling against a state, either. Think of people such as the knights templar, the huguenots, the Jews under the Third Reich, the Muslims in Bosnia Herzegovina – or even the Uighur Muslims in the Xinjiang province of China today.

But this is different …

Peter, John and Mary Magdalene had braved things and gone to check on the tomb. They wanted to make sure that it hadn’t been vandalised by the henchmen of the pharisees or the Levites. They came back, with the strangest of news.

They’d found the tomb empty !

Jesus was gone ! – In fact, they said that he had risen ; that he was no longer dead. They said that they’d even spoken to Him and He to them.

You want to believe them. You remember that Jesus had told you all that he was to be put to death, but would rise again. You’re still terrified, though. That’s’ why the windows are shuttered and the door securely barred.

Try to picture it now in your mind’s eye.

Take in the smell of the fire in the dimly lit room. Some of your friends are sitting on the floor, with their back against the walls, discussing what will happen next. Others are standing by the fire to keep warm. Suddenly, you see that Jesus has come into the room. You don’t know who let Him in, but He’s there. “Peace be with you”, He says. You see His wounds from that horrendous crucifixion. You want to turn your head away. The wounds are still angry and sore. He speaks again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” 22 When He had said this, He breathes on everyone, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”

Wow !

In verse 23, Jesus tells His disciples, “If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven." The very core of the gospel message is the truth that the way someone has their sins forgiven is by having faith in Jesus Christ as his or her Lord and Savior. In Acts, Chapter 10, when Peter was sharing the gospel, he said, “Everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.” Earlier in St John’s Gospel (Ch 5:1–5) we read that only he who believes in Jesus will overcome the world. Elsewhere, in Luke 5:20, we are told, “When Jesus saw their faith, He said ‘Friend, your sins are forgiven.’” St Paul, in his letter to the Colossians (Ch 2:13–14) says Jesus forgave all our sins. All these passages confirm that Jesus is the one who forgives sin, and He forgives all of our sins. If we have had genuine faith in Him, someone else cannot later decide we are not forgiven one sin or another. So, what exactly did Jesus mean in John 20 verse 23 ? 

Right back throughout the Old Testament of the Bible, we are told that only God can forgive sins. In the New Testament, we see that Christ, being God, has the power to do so as well, but He never communicated any such power to His disciples, nor did they ever assume any such power to themselves. The key to understanding the meaning verse 23 from today’s reading lies in the previous two verses: “Again Jesus said, ‘Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.’ And with that he breathed on them and said, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit.’”

He sent them, as He is sending us, to bring the good news of the way to salvation and heaven to the whole world. Jesus was leaving the earth physically but promised God would be with them in the person of the Holy Spirit living in them. As they proclaimed the gospel, they could honestly tell people who believed in that message that their sins were forgiven, and they could honestly tell people that did not believe in the message that their sins were not forgiven and that they stand condemned in God’s eyes. Jesus said, “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on him” (John 3:36).

Having given His peace (twice !), Jesus can now reveal to the disciples their purpose. This purpose is Christ’s purpose also: they will be His representatives on earth; “As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” The disciples are charged with the task of spreading the Gospel of Christ, to Jew and Gentile alike. Their place is not behind the locked and bolted doors of a house in Jerusalem, but in the world and among its peoples. Their place is not to hide in fear, but to go in peace and spread the Word. Having given them His peace, and His purpose, He now gives them the power which they will need to carry out His divine will.

It is by the gift of the Holy Spirit that the disciples will be given the power to do God’s will. Without the Spirit to strengthen and guide them they would flounder in a hostile world; “he breathed on them, and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit.’” The Spirit is a gift, something to be received. The Holy Spirit cannot be taken, only received; the gift must be accepted or else rejected. In receiving this gift the disciples can; “go and make disciples of all the nations.”( the so-called “Great Commission” of Matthew 28:19) They have His peace, His purpose, and His power, in the measure they need to fulfil his commands.

Believers today have the very same mission given to us! We are obligated to share the gospel message, the way to heaven, to others in the world, and we go about that mission with the Holy Spirit living inside us, guiding us as we share His truth. We are obligated to tell people the only way to be forgiven is through faith. Jesus said in John 8:24 “If you do not believe that I am (God), you will indeed die in your sins.” This is the very core of the gospel message and the very heart of what we are to explain to the world. It was Jesus’ last command to His followers before He physically left the earth—carry forward the message of hope and save as many as will believe in Him.

… and then there’s poor Thomas. Didimus. The twin. He always was a little slow on the uptake, wasn’t he ? In some senses, he was a bit like Peter. He wasn’t averse to putting his foot in it. It wasn’t his fault that he missed Jesus coming into the room with everyone else. It’s perhaps easier for us, almost 2000 years later, to believe in the risen Christ than it was for Thomas back then. After all, we know what came next. We know of the struggles, persecution and growth of the early church.

That doesn’t mean that we can be complacent, though. We live in a world, where our faith is derided, mocked and, yes, still persecuted, not only in this country, but wherever the light of Christ shines in the darkness.

Our mission is not just to sit comfortably here in church on a Sunday morning, but to spread the Word of the love of God through Jesus Christ in the world around us, seven days per week.

We all have different roles and functions within the Body of Christ, as both Scripture and Tradition make clear, but that we all have our part to play is certain. Just as Jesus led the fearful and perplexed disciples into His peace, gave them a divine purpose here on earth, and granted them the power by which they could accomplish His will; so too does He grant us this life-giving privilege today. We can bolt the doors to our rooms and our hearts, or we can receive His gifts and spread the Truth of Him that stands among us.

Some of the threats to our faith, in this secular and libertarian society we live in, are very subtle. Others are not so….

I saw a Tweet over the Easter weekend. It was posted by a person, who is the President of Humanists UK, an atheist movement. The tweet read “Just a little reminder today. Dead people don’t come back to life”.

As Christians, we know that she’s missed the point on two accounts. Firstly, Jesus wasn’t simply a person. To us, Jesus was both wholly human and wholly God. Secondly, as we read in our Bibles, and as is one of the cornerstones of our faith, Jesus did rise from the dead.

Personally, I feel a kind of pity for humanists. It must be very sad to live a life with no hope of anything thereafter. To them, when this life ends, that’s it. The end. There is no hope of anything else.

The events of Easter did not lead to a hopeless end for the disciples. They led to an endless hope, not just for the disciples in that room ; not just for us here in Goodshaw today, but for the whole of humanity.

Our task, as Christ tells us in today’s Gospel reading, is to receive the Holy Spirit and, having been filled with it, to go out courageously and tell others about God’s wondrous love for us.

And so let us pray.

Father God, in the same way as Your Son, our Saviour, Jesus Christ, breathed the Holy Spirit on the fearful disciples gathered together in that room, so may we receive your Holy Spirit and take the good news of your Gospel out to those we meet in our community and in our lives this week and always. This we ask in the name of Your Son, Jesus Christ. Amen