Acts 3:17-19; 1 John 3:1-7; Luke 24:36-48
I don’t know about you, beloved, but my heart has been extra heavy this week. Daunte Wright was killed on Sunday, on Thursday tape was released of Adam Toledo being shot by police in Chicago, there was a mass shooting in my homestate of Indiana on Thursday night, and I found out this morning about the shooting in Fresno we prayed about. The grief and anger at Daunte’s senseless death, while the tape of George Floyd’s senseless death, has been brought back before our eyes in his trial, brought protests and police in that neighborhood have responded with tear gas and rubber bullets. That’s just the highlights. All while we’re trying to get through this pandemic and figure out how to get to the end of it. My heart has cried out, how do we get out of these cycles, of violence of racism of humans doing so badly at our task of caring for one another? Help us, save us, God! The good news God is, has sent us a savior. The bad news is how very incompletely we grab ahold of God’s salvation.
In the season of Easter we consider all it means for our lives that Jesus has risen from the dead. He is risen! Today we hear another resurrection account, thank you Lexi for reading so well! It’s another story of what happened on that third Day, we hear another gospel tell us about Jesus who rose- how startling and unbelievable it was. But with these accounts, at least this one and John last week, we also hear a summary of the purpose of the whole telling of this story of Jesus. Last week John said it was so we could have life in Jesus’ name. Luke has Jesus telling the disciples- now you are to be witnesses proclaiming these things- that not just this book but all of Scripture tells the story of the anointed one of God, or Christ, who would suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and repentance and forgiveness of sins preached in his name to all nations. That is how the Why of it all is named for Luke.
There is so much here. Before this part, Jesus appearing out of nowhere, they thought he was a ghost, but he showed his hands and feet, his body that he was real- even eating before them so they could see this was Jesus, truly alive. Not just a spirit, not a vision, he was really really there.
But I’m focusing on forgiveness today- this part about what they are to do now- how he opened the Scriptures to them, how they could see that the whole faith of their ancestors was leading up to this point and the responsibility they would have now- to proclaim repentance and forgiveness of sins in his name.
And I think God has been giving me some insight into a deeper meaning of this than we usually have. As we I mean, Christians in North America. About sin, about forgiveness- which in some way or another these themes are repeated through all of our Scriptures for today.
Because we tend to make this very individual. We tend to make it about my sin and being forgiven, but just me. I think we miss out on a lot of what Jesus was talking about it when we reduce it just individual sins.
As I’ve been preaching the last many months and years I have found something bigger than what some pressed upon me as a young person to really be what the gospel is about- that I need to understand first just what a rotten sinner I am, then I can know how Jesus saves me. See it’s all about me, in that understanding.
But when I read through the gospels again and again I see Jesus calling out bigger sins than just any one person. Or even all the people one at a time. He calls out the evil that gets embodied in the culture. He calls out the ways that whole groups- namely his people- are being made to suffer. He calls out injustice. He stands up to the Roman Empire, the occupying forces that are taking the food from people who are barely surviving, distributing violence to keep them in check, and establishing intricate hierarchies with themselves at the top. Then he calls his own people out when they copy some of those behaviors. AND he gives models of how to live differently. Instead of taking food he gives it. Instead of seeking the best seat he takes the place of the servant. Instead of responding to violence with more violence, he absorbs it into his body- letting himself be crucified so that everyone could see that this was no justice, this was innocence under the power of evil.
He dies. Their friend, their teacher, person they love, dies.
And then he rises again.
He has taken the worst of the Roman Empire, he has absorbed all of their sinful ways, been punished unfairly, never once doing what they do, always standing against, and then the effect of all their sin is undone. Because he comes back to life.
Standing in front of them, he explains how this is what all of the scriptures are about. How God can take all the evil we do, and free us from the harm we do and is done to us.
We try to “fix” the language as we translate it -but the Greek I looked up really says, not repentance for forgiveness of sins, but Repentance into forgiveness of sins. It’s not God withholding forgiveness to see if we repent. The repentance leads into the forgiveness… and the verb forgive here, can be said to be a loosing – like a freeing- from the sin.
I am not sure if I came up with this image of not but the way I am understanding this is- because the word for forgiveness is related to this idea of loosing, ok loosening like untying, like when you take the leash of your dog, maybe- I started thinking of the sin we do like tying knots. But also the good we are called to do, and now I am thinking about the 1 john passage- the call to not sin and to do the righteousness or just things that Jesus does- as tying different sorts of knots. The loosening of doing the bad frees us to do the good.
The sin knots are the kind that hold us back. That tie us up. That keep us from all that God wants us to have and live. Staying in sin, living in the ways of sinful structures, restricts us.
The good, justice knots are not tying us up but are useful kinds of knots, maybe for making nets to catch each other, or maybe nets to fish and feed each other, like Jesus asked his friends for some fish.
The sin knots I imagine to be made out of barbed wire. They hurt us.
But Jesus’ resurrection, shows that the very worst can be done, and God can undo it. The turning around into freedom is what Jesus calls his followers to proclaim.
1 John 3:5 says that Jesus appeared on this earth, became manifest, put on flesh in the first place, in order remove sin. To untie these knots that keep us hurting and hurting each other. To undo the natural outcome of what we do, forgiveness.
But here too, I think in North American Christianity we get it wrong. We think forgiveness, since it is offered so freely, because it has been made possible through Jesus, does not require anything of us. This would not have been AT ALL the understanding of people in the first century. There were always reparations. There was always a giving back of what was taken, or an action of good faith to undo the bad faith one. Even the sacrifices they made were to make some effort of showing their change of heart before God. Only then could the relationship be repaired, the good knot of bond of love formed.
That is why the repentance and the forgiveness are so closely tied in Luke and in the short verse from Acts. There Peter is speaking to people about Jesus and all that has happened, how he was killed and then rose from the dead; and he calls them to repent, to have a total change of mindset, the Common English Bible says, change your hearts and lives. In my words, stop imitating the Roman Empire and all the ways it hands out death and suffering, pits people against each other.
And then experience the loosing, the freedom of living in the way God wants for you- the grace filled, life-filled way. The undoing of all the bad knots. To start to tie good helpful ones instead.
It has never been about, make sure you feel really bad for everything you’ve ever done so God can forgive you. It’s been about the changed way – the totally transformed way we are meant to live now that we know what God can do.
Back to Luke 24, Jesus says, this is what you are to proclaim- this changing your lives so you can have all the bad knots undone and live free- and you are witnesses of these things.
You have seen it with your eyes. Once you see it, and tell someone else, you are a witness. So the disciples there, there in that room where Jesus has come to them- once they can see that it really is Jesus and all of the evil the adversary has done through the machinations of the Roman Empire really can be transformed into their friend in his real body right there with them- they see it is true, it is possible. They have also seen all the ways that Jesus lived differently. A turning away from all the knots that bind and hurt and how we can do good, righteousness, to be free as God intended us to be.
We, too are witnesses. Of how Jesus can transform, people, communities. But oh how we need this, more and more today.
Because we have witnessed, thanks to video cameras, too many awful things lately. The police killings of people of color, the mass shootings, that pile up all the time it seems like lately. Too many really visible reminders of the result of our sin. We witness that, yes.
But because we too are disciples of Jesus Christ, We must also tell the way out of all the awfulness- the power in Jesus’ name to be released by changing our ways. To live into the forgiveness we need to repent. To be freed we need to change.
This is true about gun violence. This is true about systemic racism. This is true about addiction. This is true about bullying. This is true about losing your patience with your spouse. This is true about- you fill in the blank. There are ways how it’s true on a small scale and a large scale. We can choose to turn around and be freed from old chains, old patterns.
This is the power of forgiveness. It is not that we are meant to let others walk all over us or say, I’m sorry, and keep doing the same thing. Forgiveness means we can do things differently. Entirely differently. This is the proclamation in Jesus’ name that those first disciples were charged with and we are still charged with today. We can be set free. What God has done did not end on Easter Sunday. It is meant to be the spark to bring real change in all the world.
I have a friend, her name is Andrea Roske-Metcalfe and she is really good at putting things into words. She also lives in the Twin cities area and has gone to the protest in Brooklyn Center, and described on facebook how the dress, the behavior of the police and national guard are so out of place for what the people want to do which is mourn and scream and let out their anger. Some people pushed back that they need to, to keep people from being violent against the police property, and then she wrote this- “I think we’re facing a massive failure of imagination, to be honest. We look back and see what has happened and we can’t imagine either side doing any differently than they’ve done before.
what if law enforcement’s reaction to their own life-and-death mistakes wasn’t to pick up their guns, but instead was to make space for the understandable, acceptable, wildly appropriate grief to what has happened?
Black people are killed by police at a much higher rate than white people, relative to their percentages of the population, and the officers who kill them are almost never held responsible.
What if the officers recognized this as sin, as deep-seated racial bias, as a verifiably systemic problem from which they need to repent, and which unequivocally needs to change? What if they recognized grief and rage as simply, wholly that, and not as a threat?
What if they came out of their precinct buildings in veritable sackcloth and ashes, rather than riot gear? Can you even imagine them coming forward in the spirit of repentance, rather than doubling down? Can you imagine them coming into the community bearing candles and flowers rather than rubber bullets and batons?
Call me naïve; lots of people will. God knows that whatever we try won’t be perfect. But at the very least I wish we had learned that what we’re doing isn’t working.”
This is the best imagining I can share with you today about what the power of repentance into forgiveness, change of heart and mind into freeing from ongoing cycles of violence, could look like. Police coming to kneel among the mourners and help them hold their grief. I know you know I don’t mean only the police are the problem. It is a problem we all need to repent of. The way we copy empire by using force to control, let ourselves get accustomed to violence and racism as somehow just a part of life the way we assume the worst of others and need to feel in power over them.
We humans tend to copy what we see done. So when we see people hurting and killing and yelling at each other, we copy that. But beloved, What the disciple of Jesus is freed to do is stop copying those sinful ways ways of trying to dominate or control other people, and start copying Jesus.
To let go of all the ways of sin. To start doing the good. The sharing like Jesus shared. The healing like Jesus healed. The serving like Jesus served. All of it is the love that God has shown us, and yes it is a beautiful verse and reminder, we are now called God’ children. We have a name and a power different from the ways of empire and sin. Let us take ahold, together, one step at a time of this salvation, this repentance into forgiveness that Jesus has made possible. And there is hope because of Jesus, another way is possible because of Jesus- proclaim this with your words and deeds beloved because we all need this hope today. You are witnesses of these things.