It’s Not Our Forgiveness to Give

Pastoral Prayer: Almighty and everlasting God, who in the Paschal mystery established the new covenant of reconciliation: Grant that all who have been reborn into the fellowship of Christ’s Body may show forth in their lives what they profess by their faith; through Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen

John 20″19-31

We turned on to the I-44 on-ramp at SW 59th. The preacher, that would be me, and the pilots, David and Larry, had gathered with a crowd at what is now the Cox Center for the Mayor’s Prayer Breakfast. No sooner had we turned we felt a jolt. David stopped his pickup. We got out expecting to see a blow out. There was no trouble with the tires. We got back in the car and headed back to Tuttle.

It was 9:02 a.m. 

Once there we learned what had happened. A truck loaded with a massive fertilizer bomb exploded ripping the Alfred P. Murrah Federal building apart. It is hard to believe that was twenty-five years ago this morning.

One of the stories that came out of that horrible day is told by Bud Welch who lost his daughter in the bombing.

Three days after the bombing, as I watched Tim McVeigh being led out of the courthouse, I hoped someone in a high building with a rifle would shoot him dead. I wanted him to fry. In fact, I’d have killed him myself if I’d had the chance.

Unable to deal with the pain of Julie’s death, I started self- medicating with alcohol until eventually the hangovers were lasting all day. Then, on a cold day in January 1996, I came to the bomb site – as I did every day – and I looked across the wasteland where the Murrah Building once stood. My head was splitting from drinking the night before and I thought, ‘I have to do something different, because what I’m doing isn’t working.’

The death of Jesus was not working well for Thomas. Fearlessly he had encouraged the disciples to follow Jesus to Judea so that they may die with him. Instead, he witnessed the resurrection of Lazarus. But now that Jesus was dead, who would raise him? Absent a stand-in for the now dead Messiah, Thomas would find it difficult, maybe impossible, to believe that Jesus was alive. Even after hearing from those who saw the empty tomb and had seen the risen Jesus, Thomas was unmoved.

No one is suggesting that Thomas self-medicated after the crucifixion of his Messiah. But, it is clear that Thomas had taken on a deep suspicion that the world could be any different from what he had known of it, even if he had heard Jesus say, “I AM the Resurrection and the Life.”

Thomas was in good company. All the disciples, save John, and the women, had abandoned Jesus. He could not be singled out for his lack of faith. Thomas would not be alone in his failure to connect Jesus’ words that he would rise from the dead. No one believed that to be the case. In fact, many of us may find it hard to believe the word of another, even close friends, that something you had never seen or heard of before is the now the case for someone so close. No one had come back from a crucifixion, and there had been plenty of them. It is one thing to work through what sounds like a new way of seeing the world.

But, abandoning the Messiah, the One in whom you had pinned your future hopes, how could that be forgiven? And, Thomas was not alone. He was one among the Twelve. 

The Good News, the surprise feature that undermines the way the world as we know it works, Jesus keeps showing up, even to those who had abandoned him, and to those who take the grace of God for granted.

There it is, in back to back episodes reported by John, the gospel writer, Jesus seeks out the disciples. On the night of Jesus’ resurrection he shows up where the disciples are gathered. There, where they are hiding out of fear that Jesus’ adversaries may be looking for them to arrest them. Maybe John is once again replaying his primary theme, 

The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.

Seeking the disciples out seems another retelling of the God who pursues with a steadfast love. It is a picture that Jesus has been painting with his life from the beginning.

Then, one week later they are again locked in the house together. Fear still grips them. Jesus shows up, again. 

Persistent love is on display. On the first night, the night of the resurrection the disciples are there except Thomas, and of course, Judas. The abandoned Messiah shows up to those who had left him. And, to avoid any notion that the disciples were just seeing things, Jesus reveals his wounds. They did not see a ghost. It wasn’t just a memory. John wants the Church then, and we today, to know that the disciples saw something tangible, something real. They saw the wounds. The wounded God revealed in Jesus shows up to those captive to fear and greeted them with,

Peace be with you.

While this may have been a greeting shared among Hebrew people, it is especially fitting given the anxiety the disciples experienced wondering if they were to be next on the powerful religious hit list.

We will come back to what else Jesus told them in a moment. But, while we are considering that Jesus showed up to those who had scattered while he hung on the cross, we cannot escape that the second time John reports that Jesus showed up, it is to the disciples and Thomas. Whether word got back to Jesus that Thomas would be a hold out unless he could verify it was Jesus with his own eyes and his own hands we do not know. But, what we do know is that when Jesus showed up this second time, he angled for Thomas, who was absent the first time. Speaking to Thomas, Jesus insisted that Thomas verify that it was indeed Jesus himself

Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.

It would be easy for us to scold Thomas except that we would, and do, struggle with any occasion where our experience of the world is challenged by something different. Jesus did not scold Thomas. His tone is hardly a rebuke. It is more an appeal. Here is Jesus, the wounded God, showing up again, and with the care of a shepherd appeals to Thomas, Believe.

Though some want to insist that Thomas indeed put his finger in the wounds of Jesus, in his hand and side, the text seems to indicate that Thomas, seeing Jesus, and his wounds, saw enough to break out in a confession, even in worship,

My Lord and My God.

Let me be clear. The actions of Jesus, along with the resurrection, are enough to rupture anyone’s idea about how the world works. First, no one comes back from crucifixion. Second, the wounded God shows up to those whose actions may have compounded those wounds. And, Jesus, the wounded God in the flesh, brings peace to the fearful.

Seeing Jesus may have brought a different fear than the fear authorities may have knocked on the door of the house looking for Jesus’ followers. Facing Jesus, having abandoned him, would provoke its own fear. How could they face Jesus knowing they had let him down, left him alone? His very act of showing up again let them know that, He did forgive them and more.

The disciples were forgiven before Jesus showed up, they just did not realize it. Jesus’ returning to them signaled that he was giving himself to them again in love and care.

We need to look back and see what else happened that first night Jesus showed up at the locked house and greeted those there with his words of peace. Jesus gave his followers a mission. Rather than be fearful of those who might come for them, he told them he was sending them into the world. 

Here world stands for the arena where human beings are at their worst toward others. It is a description of the environment created by the lack of love, a rejection of the good, and the absence of beauty. These features grow out of fear, selfishness, and out of abuse and neglect. The world as such is hostile to grace, to love, and to forgiveness. Into that world, that environment, the Father sent the Son and here, in turn, the Son, Jesus, told the disciples,

As the Father sent me, so send I you.

Christians, followers of Jesus, inherit that mission. And, what Jesus does next creates a condition for Christians that makes them safer in the world. It is not that somehow Christians brandish a new invincibility. It is that  Jesus gives the gift of the Spirit of God, his own Spirit, that emboldens them with a message aimed to undermine the hostility experienced under the conditions of fear, selfishness, of abuse and neglect of the beautiful – forgiveness.

First, having heard the declaration, “Your sins are forgiven,” frees Christians to no longer need fear as a motivation, no longer see life as a matter of scarcity – not enough ness, and find in the world illustrations of grace rather than objects to abuse or neglect. The peace Jesus declared to the disciples erased their fears as they received the embrace of forgiveness and love.

Second, given the mission of Jesus, they will take the freeing words they have heard, and declare the forgiveness of sins. What’s important here? What really ruptures the way the world is experienced and viewed? The forgiveness we announce is not our forgiveness to give. In other words, if there is forgiveness to be given, it is the forgiveness of God that frees us to forgive when we are wounded. And, when we announce that God forgives, we are declaring God’s message revealed in Jesus for the hope of the world.

Let me be honest. Many of you who are listening this morning have heard plenty from the Church. We seem to be pretty good at identifying what is in us – our hostilities toward those not like us, our fear that somehow we won’t get what we think we deserve, and that often we treat people like projects to be completed than people to be loved. For that we ask your forgiveness.

What we would rather be doing for all is what was done for us. We want you to know that your sins have been forgiven in Jesus. It is a forgiveness that we have been given to declare. It is not our forgiveness to give, it is ours to announce. Being embraced by God’s forgiveness enables us to forgive and freely declare today, Your sins are forgiven.

Bud Welch went on to tell his story. He had visited Tim McVeigh’s Dad, Bill and his sister Jennifer. Bud discovered he was not the only one wounded by the Oklahoma City bombing,

I had found someone who was a bigger victim of the Oklahoma bombing than I was, because while I can speak in front of thousands of people and say wonderful things about Julie, if Bill McVeigh meets a stranger he probably doesn’t even say he had a son.

About a year before the execution I found it in my heart to forgive Tim McVeigh. It was a release for me rather than for him.

And, that is the Good News we declare today, God’s Good News for you in Jesus, Your sins are forgiven, a great release for you.

I generally take a manuscript with me to preach each week. However, the preached message is often a bit different than what you will find here.. You may listen or watch here.

About the Author
Husband to Patty. Daddy to Kimberly and Tommie. Grandpa Doc to Cohen, Max, Fox, and Marlee. Pastor to Snow Hill Baptist Church. Graduate of Oklahoma Baptist University and Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. Reading. Photography. Golf. Colorado. Jeeping. Friend. The views and opinions expressed here are my own and should not be construed as representing the corporate views of the church I pastor.

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