Pentecost Sunday is a day when we celebrate the birth of the Church and the giving of the Holy Spirit. And we know we do have Pentecost Sunday 50 days later from Easter. This year exactly on Sunday, May 24 we celebrate the giving of the Holy Spirit and the birth of the church.
But the Bible makes it clear that it was not just on that first Pentecost that the Holy Spirit was given. It happened to some in Old Testament times. For example, “But the spirit of the Lord took possession of Gideon (Judges 6:34) “And the spirit of God came upon Saul in power.” (1 Samuel 11:6). And also the Spirit was also given during Jesus’ own life on earth. Here’s the story.
The disciples were still pretty much in despair that Sunday evening over the events of Good Friday. Their hopes and dreams were shattered. And they were dejected and depressed. Yes, there had been some hopeful news relayed by Mary Magdalene. She told them that she had seen the stone in front of Jesus’ tomb being removed and found the lines that had wrapped the body. On top of this, she told them she had seen the Lord. But the disciples were not sure about this, not really understanding and still in despair. Fully understandable, isn’t it?
Then it happened that evening. They were inside the house whose doors were locked. But then suddenly Jesus stood among them, saying “Peace be with you.” Showing them his hands and his side led the disciples to rejoice. They had seen the risen Lord! (John 20:19-20).
The story continues. The risen Lord continues to address his followers. He told his disciples he was sending them, as his Father had sent him (John 20:21). Yes, Christ is sending you and me! Christ is sending Fairfield Grace.
And then, Jesus breathed on them; he gave them the Holy Spirit! (John 20:23). There you have it. According to John’s gospel, the disciples had the Holy Spirit even before Pentecost. So what? What’s the point of all this talk about the Holy Spirit? What does the Holy Spirit have to do with our Christian living?
After Jesus had given the Holy Spirit to his disciples, he added, “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained” (John 20:23).
What is going on here? This is what has happened. Jesus links the Holy Spirit to forgiveness. By giving his followers the Holy Spirit, Jesus gives them the authority to forgive. The same Jesus gives us the authority to forgive. Jesus empowers us to forgive. This is the gift of the Holy Spirit to all of us: the authority to forgive.
Forgiveness is a big part of the works of the Holy Spirit. Our gospel lesson this morning makes it very clear how God is involved in the forgiveness of our sins.
See how Jesus approached the disciples on that first Easter in the locked house. It is how he approaches you and me today. See that Christ came to them through locked doors. It is how he breaks through those locked doors of our lives. When Jesus came to the disciples, he showed them his hands and his feet, and then his side. It is the way he comes to you and to me today. And when he comes, he comes in a warm friendly and gentle manner. That’s what the offer of peace is all about.
Imagine the moment Jesus encountered with his disciples on the first Easter Sunday evening. Christ treats his disciples tenderly, not reproaching anyone for unbelief and sin. “Why did you guys run away from me?” “Why did you ignore and betray me?” “Why? What did I do wrong to you?” Christ did not chastise them for their betrayal. Christ did not make them feel shameful. Instead, Christ comforted, strengthened and lifted them up. Christ showed them how loving, kind and caring he is. This is the way Christ comes to us and shows us his forgiving love
Who can stand without blemish before God? Who can face God without shame? Aren’t we all inside the locked room hiding from God? We are in our locked room, feeling sorry over the old failures, the old guilt, the old mistake and the old sins, aren’t we? Don’t we feel unworthy? Don’t we consider ourselves not being good enough to be loved? “I am not good enough.”
But Christ comes to us and calls us by name. Christ embraces us with love and empowers us to stand strong. Christ lifts us up. So you and I can be confident, certain of a loving God, because God keeps coming back and never leave us alone.
Our gospel lesson says that the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord Jesus (John 20:20). You and I can celebrate; his tender and loving and forgiving presence among you and me can make us happy! Amen. God comes and God forgives.
When we realize that the power of God takes the initiative to come and forgive us, then we understand how forgiveness comes easy in our Christian living.
Sometimes the Hebrew word for “breath” (nephesh) is translated as “Spirit” in our English. And the other Hebrew word for “Spirit” (ruach) is used interchangeably with nephesh. When John says that Jesus gave the Spirit by breathing on his followers (John 20:22), his point was to make clear that the Spirit is the breath of God! As the breath of God, the Spirit is essential for us when doing good works and when forgiving others, as the air we breathe is essential to keep us alive.
Yes, the Spirit is the power of God. The Holy Spirit as God’s power gives you and me the power, the strength, and the ability to do God’s work. If you and I do any good, it is only because God has given us the power, the ability, to do them. That is what the giving of the Holy Spirit is all about.
Forgiveness is not easy. Isn’t it? It does not always come easy. It’s so hard to forgive someone who did you wrong. Right? But it is not so difficult if you believe the Holy Spirit, the power of God who given us the power, the ability to forgive. Forgiving is not so hard if we believe that God alone has the power to forgive. That’s good news.
When somebody says he or she forgave you, believe it! It’s not theirs to forgive. The words of forgiveness are God’s, even if the human speaker had some reservations. Take it as if God himself had spoken these words to you!
When you say you forgive someone, believe it. Maybe you are not quite sure you can forget along with the words of forgiveness. Forgiveness belongs to God, not you. Forgiveness depends on God, not you.
I don’t know about you, but that is a wonderful, liberating insight. It takes the pressure off me when it comes to my relationship with God, when it comes to my relationship with you and with others. It makes life a little easier, a little more fun. That is why our gospel lesson says that “the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord” (John 20:20).
The next time we have difficulty forgiving, give God, the Holy Spirit, a lot of room to work. The Holy Spirit will come along and do all the heavy lifting for you, because forgiving is God’s job! Receive the Holy Spirit, and you will know you are forgiven. Receive the Holy Spirit, and you will know you are empowered to forgive. Yes, you have received the Holy Spirit. Know that God has forgiven you. You have received the Holy Spirit. Know that God has given you the authority to forgive. Enjoy being forgiven and enjoy forgiving, knowing that forgiveness is the work of God, not ours. Amen.