Fourth Sunday of Easter
There was a movie that was released a number of years ago that told the story of two men who were both diagnosed with a terminal illness. They found themselves in adjacent beds as they shared the same room in the hospital. Against the better judgment of their doctor, the two men set off on an adventure together to do all those things that they had always wanted to do but never did.
The movie was called The Bucket List and it turned out to be quite popular; so much so that the term “bucket list” has just become a part of our vernacular language. People use that term all the time whenever they want to describe something that they have always wanted to do. Your “bucket list” is a list of things you want to do before you die. The idea is that in somehow fulfilling this list you will find yourself living a full and meaningful life.
We all want that, don't we? A Life lived well? A life lived to the fullest? We don't want to leave things undone and we don't want to leave things unsaid. We want to look back at our life and feel satisfied that it was worthwhile.
I suppose at this point I could ask you how you were doing on your bucket list, but then again that really isn't the point. The point is a life well lived. The point is life lived to the fullest. And it could happen that you create a bucket list and check off every single item and then still at the end feel like your life has been empty and meaningless. Ecclesiastes, that old book of wisdom from the scriptures, is written by a man who looked back at his life after enjoying those things in this world that he had always hoped to enjoy. He used his considerable means to provide for himself those joyous and exciting experiences. And having fulfilled every one of them he declared that it was all vanity. This comes as no surprise when we read what St. John wrote to us Christians in his first epistle: “The world is passing away along with its desires.” (1 John 2:17)
It turns out that Jesus wants us to live a life that is lived full and lived well. In John chapter 10 Jesus says that he has come, “That we might have life and have it to the full.” It is God's desire that you live a life that is full. And not just full in a “full for you” sort of away. Not just full “relatively speaking”. God wants your life to be full. The full-EST. As full as it can possibly be.
It's a strange phenomenon these days; we live in a time of wealth and prosperity that is unprecedented in the history of the world. We have the means and the opportunities to see and experience all the world has to offer. Yet in spite of this great opportunity people still continue to report high levels of dis-satisfaction. People who have everything, still wind up feeling like they have nothing. So then, where do we find joy? Where do we find gladness? What is it that brings fulfillment?
As we made our way through the Gospel text today we found the disciples were locked away behind closed doors because they were afraid of the Jews. Then, all of a sudden, Jesus stood before them right in the midst of them. Then, we are told, they saw Jesus and they were glad. This gladness that the disciples felt is a full and complete sort of gladness; a gladness that you can feel that starts in your stomach and then warms your entire body through to the top of your head. In the closing scene of the Beauty and the Beast, the spell of the enchantress has been broken, the castle and all its inhabitants have been restored to the human form, they are reunitied with their families, the darkness and gloom has been replaced with joy and with light, and everyone is glad. The disciples saw Jesus, and they were glad.
They were glad and then Jesus open his mouth to speak.
John 20:21-23 (ESV Strong's)
“Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.” And 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 withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.”
There is a connection between gladness & rejoicing and forgiveness. The truth that I want to submit before you today is that a bad conscience, a conscience that holds on to sin – either sin that you have committed or sin that has been committed against you - a bad conscience leads to a diminished and empty life. Whereas a clear conscience brings joy.
(ESVST) 10 Create in me a clean heart, O God,
and renew a right spirit within me.
11 Cast me not away from your presence,
and take not your Holy Spirit from me.
12 Restore to me the joy of your salvation,
and uphold me with a willing spirit.
The thing that we so often fail to see is that sin diminishes our experience of life. God has given to us His Word of Law and Gospel. His Word of Law sets the world into order. And the order that is established by God is good. God's order is good and it is a blessing to our lives. But the lies of the devil come and convince us that God's good order diminishes our lives. The devil tells us that God's Law takes away our fulfillment and joy.
This is the same lie the devil told to Adam and Eve in the garden of Eden. He contradicted God's command and convinced Adam and Eve that God was withholding things from them that would make them wise and powerful. Now, there was a small element of truth to what the Devil said, there was an area of knowledge that God was withholding. There was an experience that God had forbidden. The serpent was right about that. But where he was dead wrong was in his characterization of God’s motive. “God knows you will be wise”. He planted in their minds the idea that God was trying to hurt them, keep them back and push them down by withholding this thing from them that they all of a sudden desired. The truth of the matter was that God’s Law protected them. God’s law was a blessing for them. As long as they obeyed God and followed his law they were protected and their life was well ordered and secure. The moment they disobeyed God was the moment things became ruined.
You see, the way it works with sin and disobedience to God's law it that sin always makes promises to give you something you didn't have before. And it does, it delivers on that promise. But what the devil doesn't tell you is that when you acquire that thing you want so badly, there will also be something that is taken away. Sin gives, but sin also takes. It defiles your heart. It disorders your life. It spoils your conscience. And you always lose more than what you received.
Therefore, in our sinful world, we live our lives searching for and hoping for fulfillment and joy in the things of this world and always hoping to find it. But it doesn't ever come. Even if we acquire all those things on our list we still come up empty.
So instead we turn to Jesus. Jesus who says I have come that you might have life and have it to the full. Jesus came and stood before the disciples so that they were glad. And Jesus opens his mouth to speak.
“Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.” And 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 withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.” John 20:21-23
Jesus came and offered two very powerful things that enhance the experience of life for his disciples and for his Christians. Jesus gave peace and Jesus gave forgiveness. Peace that sets right the relationship between you and God and forgiveness that sets right the relationship between you and the people you have offended, that sets right the relationship between you and the people you have sinned against.
Jesus died for sinners. His blood covered over your sin. His blood has washed away the stain of your sin. Your sin stains your conscience. Your sin fills your life with the experience of guilt and shame. Your guilty conscience makes you uneasy about your relationship with God and frustrated about your relationship with others. The blood of Jesus gives you confidence that God does not hold you accountable for your sin because he has instead held his own son accountable. Therefore, as you consider your relationship with God, you are and can be fully at peace. There is no stress. There is no worry. There is no concern. There's only joy. There is only gladness. There's only thankfulness and love toward God because of what he has given and what he has done for you.
And as for your relationship with other sinners, well, we are in the same boat. To begin with, we are floundering and drowning in the shipwreck of our sin. We are struggling against the tide of sin in the world that is dragging us out deeper and deeper so that we are defiled by impurity and immorality. But then our Lord sends out to us his rescue ship, the boat that is the church. Through water and the Word we are baptized and a life line in thrown out to us that draws us it. Our sin that was weighing us down and pulling us under falls off our backs and we are saved, we and every other sinner. We are all sinners and we have all been forgiven. Our offenses against Jesus and against each other are piled high on his cross and he has paid for every one. There is not one sin that has not been accounted for. We have been forgiven, therefore we are enabled to forgive.
It should be said that sometimes forgiveness isn't easy. Sometimes our wounds that we have received from other people cut us deeply. We are injured and we hurt. Forgiveness sometimes requires supernatural strength.
Sometimes forgiveness requires supernatural strength but that is exactly what God gives.
Receive the Holy Spirit said Jesus if you forgive anyone his sins they are forgiven.
Receive the Holy Spirit. In your baptism, you received the gift of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is with you and the Holy Spirit enables and empowers you to do things you couldn't do on your own. That includes giving forgiveness to people who have sinned against you. That seems and sounds and feels impossible. But with God all things are possible. (Matthew 19:26) Give to him your hurt. Ask him to help you forgive.
As Lutheran Christians we read this text from John 20 and understand that Jesus is here instituting the Office of the Holy Ministry. He is giving pastors to his church. Pastors exercise this office of unlocking and locking the doors of heaven publicly on behalf of the church. But you also are a Christian. These keys also belong to you and you also have the freedom to use them.
The wonderful thing about this forgiveness that lives in the church among the people of God is that when we forgive each other, when we exercise the forgiveness that God has given to us, we have the promise that this same forgiveness is exercised in heaven. Jesus hears you giving forgiveness to someone who has sinned against you and he likewise forgives that sin.
And what a testimony to the power of God is this thing we call forgiveness. It takes enemies and makes them not just friends, it makes them friends for life, for eternal life. How's that for something to put on your bucket list?
In the name of Jesus.Amen.
 Ecc 2:10-11 And whatever my eyes desired I did not keep from them. I kept my heart from no pleasure, for my heart found pleasure in all my toil, and this was my reward for all my toil. Then I considered all that my hands had done and the toil I had expended in doing it, and behold, all was vanity and a striving after wind, and there was nothing to be gained under the sun.
Text: Philippians 2:5-11
Text: Romans 8:1-11
Text: John 9
Text: Genesis 12:1-9
Test: Exodus 17:1-7