1 Peter 1:3-9
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! By his great mercy he has given us a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who are being protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you rejoice, even if now for a little while you have had to suffer various trials, so that the genuineness of your faith–being more precious than gold that, though perishable, is tested by fire–may be found to result in praise and glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. Although you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and rejoice with an indescribable and glorious joy, for you are receiving the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.
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 to believe.” 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.
Eckhart Tolle in his book A New Earth uses the example of two ducks who are on a pond and get into a fight. The fight doesn’t last very long and then they go on their way releasing their surplus energy with a flapping of their wings. After that they go on as if nothing happened.
He goes on to suggest that if those ducks had human minds they would keep the fight alive by story making in their heads.
They would imagine the motives of the other duck and create a story in their head something like.
“The nerve of that guy. Who does that duck think he is? He thinks he is King of the pond, that’s what. He got into my space. The nerve of that guy. If he thinks he can run this pond he got another think coming.”
And on it goes and then the duck will share the story and emotions with its friends and try to turn them against the other duck, and maybe they even create factions on the pond, with distrust and lies and stories about that duck and its friends…. and maybe there will be wars between one side and another.
The point is that the human mind has this capacity to keep a fight alive for weeks and months and years. To take a painful story and not only keep it alive, but let it grow in intensity and meaning, and the human mind then can seek to draw others into the drama and create sides with allies and enemies.
And this is how most humans live.
According to Eckhart Tolle we are a species that has lost its way.
The point of the duck story is that we need to listen to the ducks and flap our wings and “let go of the story,” and move on in the present.
But for most of us we are seemingly unable, but more correctly unwilling to let go of the past.
Two monks are walking along a muddy road. They come upon a beautiful woman in a silk kimono who wants to cross the muddy road. At once one of the monks picks her up and carries her on across the road.
The monks walk on in silence for a few hours, when the other monk finally says. “Why did you pick up that beautiful woman? We monks are not supposed to do things like that.”
The first monk replied: “I put that woman down hours ago. Are you still carrying her?”
Imagine life where you can never put anything down or let go of pain, stress, conflict, moral quandaries, guilt, grief, wounds, emotional scars and the like.
And every new pain, or stress just adds to the accumulation…
And you understand what this world is like for many, many people, who carry burdens around all the time.
Maybe, it is one of the reasons that Jesus said: Come unto me all you who are overburdened and I will give you rest.
Eckhart Tolle goes on to talk at length about something he calls the pain-body. The pain-body is the accumulation of all this negative energy that we cannot let go. We create stories around this and we interpret experiences in life in light of the pain-body, so that we read negative energy into most of our experiences. We attribute motives to others. We think we know what they are about. We create a story that they are after us, that the world is after us, that only bad things happen to us. This in turn adds fuel to the fire of our negative energy and the negative energy and painful story and drama inside us grows bigger and bigger.
The answer of course is to recognize that we have a pain-body. That we store up negative energy with stories and thinking.
And then once we realize it we start to control our thinking.
All of us think. It is as natural as breathing. Our minds constantly produce thoughts. What we have to realize is that the true self is separate from those thoughts.
Because we have crazy thoughts.
Like I am going to kill my children, or my spouse, or my enemy or whomever.
Or that I am going to win the lottery.
Or that I am going to have an affair with this gorgeous person I met.
And on and on it goes.
We cannot control having thoughts.
But what we can do is control the energy we give to those thoughts.
So a thought comes. Without any judgement on ourselves for having these thoughts, the true self can notice then thought and then we say. That is a good thought worth thinking about.
That is a silly thought that I will just let go.
And so many of our thoughts about the past and about the future are just that.
Silly thoughts that can be let go.
That is another reason why prayer is so valuable. It focuses your thoughts and emotions and energy in the right way.
It can help you put energy into the thoughts that are good and help you let go of the thoughts that are not helpful.
I have told you this because of the events of the resurrection and of Jesus appearing to the disciples and appearing to Thomas.
In particular Jesus says:
“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.”
And I have thought long and hard about the part where Jesus says if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.
And I compared translations and got my Greek interlinear Bible out that has the Greek words with the literal translation underneath.
There are several translations that go something like: If you forgive the sins of other they are forgiven and if you do not forgive they are not forgiven.
And in fact that understanding has been the common understanding in the church maybe even for centuries, because the church authorities liked that understanding. They read it that the authority to forgive sins was in the authority of the church passed on in apostolic succession.
Therefore priests and bishops and popes had authority, through God of course, to forgive or not forgive sins.
One of the ideas of the Reformation which is 500 years old this year is that forgiveness of sins is not the complete purview of the Organized Church but is distributed by God.
The church actually sold forgiveness of sins at the time of the Reformation with a practice of selling indulgences. Martin Luther legend says nailed up 95 theses titled “Disputation on the Power and Effect of Indulgences” on the door of Castle Church in Wittenburg, Germany on October 31, 1517.
The legend isn’t whether there were 95 theses, but whether they were actually nailed to the door or just posted somewhere.
However number 36 reads: Any Christian whatsoever, who is truly repentant, enjoys plenary remission from penalty and guilt, and this is given him without letters of indulgence.
Forgiveness is God’s practice, and while I as a minister have a Declaration of Pardon and say: “In Jesus’ name you are forgiven,” I am not in this instance the forgiver of your sins, but am announcing that God forgives your sins.
However, let us also be clear in the scripture that Jesus on more than one occasion tells us to forgive.
Here are a couple of examples:
If you forgive others your heavenly father will forgive you… and if you do not forgive neither will you be forgiven
Peter asks Jesus how often should he forgive…seven times.
And Jesus replies 70 times 7 which is another way of saying unlimited.
And the same thing is repeated in Acts and the epistles.
For instance in Ephesians 4:23. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another as God in Christ forgave you.
So we are to forgive.
But getting back to the literal reading of the scripture where Jesus talks about forgiving and retaining sin. The literal reading goes something like.
Whoever looses sins they are loosed, but whoever holds them, they are held.
And I like the way that Eugene Peterson a former Presbyterian Minister and former Professor of Spiritual Theology at Regent College in Vancouver, put it in his paraphrase of the Bible called the Message.
“If you forgive someone’s sins they’re gone for good. If you don’t forgive sins, what are you going to do with them.
And it is in this sense that I think retain is a good word.
My point is when we do not forgive, when do not let go, the sins and the hurts and the wounds take up residence within us…
And we retain them.
And that is why it is so vital for us to forgive. It is not just matter of loving the other, it is a matter of our own health.
By not forgiving we retain the negative energy in our minds and in our bodies, doing harm to our selves and also doing harm to others…
Because negative energy will always come out.
You have met people who have tons of negative energy.
You have met people who use anger as a weapon, who are bullies, or who only have a sad sob story to tell, or who are constantly victims not because they have to be, but because they want to be…
And all of us at times retain some of this negative energy when we do not forgive, when we do not flap our wings and let it go.
But we have trouble believing this. We have trouble believing we should forgive.
And sometimes I wonder about Thomas and his reluctance to believe.
Unless I see the scars on his hand and side and touch them I will not believe.
I think we moderns read back into the story the incredulity we have about a dead body coming back to life.
That to us is impossible.
But remember Jesus had raised Lazarus, so why is it so impossible for the disciples.
I think the bigger question of doubt might be around the whole question of a Messiah or a Saviour or a Christ who dies.
Remember their understanding was of a Messiah who was going to conquer and defeat the bad guys, not of a suffering servant.
And in that context think of Thomas who says:
Unless I see the scars on his hand and side and touch them I will not believe.
Because if it is true that the Messiah suffers and dies and rises then everything else that Jesus says is true.
It means that love is the way to be in this world.
It means we are to love our neighbour
It means we are to love our enemy.
It means we are to be non-violent.
It means that the poor and the outcasts and the prisoners are welcomed into the kingdom.
It means that we cannot serve both God and wealth.
It means that we are blessed when we are persecuted.
It means Christ is in the hungry and the homeless and the sick and the prisoner.
It means we are to forgive like Christ, universally and unconditionally.
Maybe we sit here and think that we are not like Thomas because we believe in the resurrection.
But I daresay that there are many Christians who believe in the resurrection but don’t believe that we should love our enemies and be non-violent and forgive them.
So we believe in the resurrection, but we doubt the resurrected Christ.
And consequently we retain sins and hold on to grudges and ramp up the rhetoric all those we perceive as our enemies and out obstacles and our opponents.
And we hold on to those hurts and those grievances and use them as fuel to energize us to get someone, or to get ahead, or to mess somebody up… or to feel justified that we are right and the other is wrong….
And we doubt the resurrected Christ every bit as much as Thomas did.
Maybe what we need to do today is touch the wounds of Christ.
To see the nail scars in Christ’s hands…
and put our hands into Christ’s side…
About 19 days ago it appears that chemical weapons were dropped on civilians in Syria.
If you saw some of the horrific video of people dead… and children and youth and adults gasping for breath…
Then you were seeing the nail scars in Jesus, you were touching the wounds of Jesus…
Every night on the news you can see the nail scars.
Go to any hospital, prison, nursing home, women’s shelter and you can see the wounds of Jesus, touch the wounds of Jesus.
Go deep inside your own self, where you have been rejected, or someone has said something nasty about you, where you have been hurt, or victimized…
And you can touch the side of Jesus.
Andy maybe … just maybe by touching all the woundedness in the world we will start believing in Jesus.
Not only believing that Jesus is alive in us…
But trusting in his word to forgive, to let go of all the negative energy…
So that we don’t retain it.
Jesus the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world was crucified on a cross..
From the Cross he said: Father forgive them.
He absorbed all the negative energy and gave back only love.
That is how he takes away the sins of the world.
So take all that negative energy and give it to Jesus. Pour your heart out to him.
Tell him about your wounds, your hurts, your grief, your anxiety, your grudges and let it go.
And when you tell Jesus about your wounds…when you touch the nail scars in your own hands, the wound in your side…
The rejection, the betrayals, the misunderstandings, the bitter words, the blows… and let them go…
When you forgive everyone who has hurt you….
You will become a healer…and those wounds in you, which heal, will become your source of energy…
To give out positive energy..
To love, to forgive, to share, to turn away anger with kindness…to have compassion….to understand those who cannot let go of their inner hurt.
Now you truly believe the resurrected Christ and the wounded and resurrected Christ is alive in you. Amen