Sermon for Easter 2 -2015
1 John 1:1-2:5
‘Receive the Holy Spirit . . .’
‘the whole group of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one claimed private ownership of any possessions, but everything they owned was held in common. With great power the apostles gave their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all’
As I’ve said on occasion, those who set the lectionary readings for Sunday at times refuse to treat the Church like adults, carefully chopping out passages which may offend our sensibilities and in the process infantilising the church. Well that hasn’t happened today, although if we were to attend to what we heard perhaps it might call into question the reality of our faith andn common life . . . but this reading from Acts comes immediately before a reading you will never hear on a Sunday, that is the story of Ananias and Sapphira. No sooner have we heard of the revulutionary life of a community which is filled with the Life of God, than we are told of a couple in the church who chose not to live out of that Life of God.
They too sell a piece of property but choose to deceive the church and suggest that they have given the Church all that they have. Having received the forgiveness of sins and Gift of the Holy Spirit in the name of Jesus, they choose to continue to live in the old life of sin and deceit. Except, as our Easter liturgy dramatically announces ‘The Age of Sin is Dead’ – . One after the other they lie to the Apostles, and one after the other they drop down dead.
As we said last week it is the events of that first Easter day which should be far far more troublesome to us than those of Good Friday. The world is a world of endless Good Fridays – there seeming to be no other way. The Life of God and With God we thus put off until after we die – the message of Easter is as it were put off until we complete the cycle of Good Fridays. Nothing is disturbed if the Life of God is for after our earthly bodies expire. But that is not the case.
As St John puts it We declare to you what was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the word of life— 2this life was revealed, and we have seen it and testify to it, and declare to you the eternal life that was with the Father and was revealed to us— 3we declare to you what we have seen and heard so that you also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ.
The Church has but one proclamation, Life in the name of its Risen Lord Jesus in the power of the Holy Spirit. This Life has been revealed and it is the testimony of the Church, n word and action. The Church has no business living out of anything else, for she has discovered that there is nothing else to live out of, but the Life which is made known to us in our Risen Lord
5This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light and in him there is no darkness at all. 6If we say that we have fellowship with him while we are walking in darkness, we lie and do not do what is true; 7but if we walk in the light as he himself is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.
Everything else is darkness and death – and here we must gently but firmly insist on one thing, that God is Light and in him there is no darkness at all – we know what is Good and True and Beautiful only in so far as we have fellowship with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ. THis is Life – all else is darkness and death.
Which is why Ananias and Sapphira disappear so dramatically from the story of the early church. They choose death rather than Life – they elect to walk in darkness and deceit, a life which has been declared Death by the resurrection of Jesus. In what we are confidently told over and again is a world of infinite choice, a story which is steering all of creation into destruction – the Resurrection of Jesus reveals the One Way – there is the Life of God and nothing else, all else is death
So we live in the lIght which means complete light regarding ourselves – no longer living in the self deception of saying we are without sin – freely confessing our sisns one to another, living in the Light of Christ, not the darkness of self deception. Those who live in fear of being known fully for who they are still do not know the Love of God in Jesus Christ for His Love drives out all fear. 8If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. 9If we confess our sins, he who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 10If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.
The endless Grey of Good Friday is dispersed by the Light of the Risen Christ, brighter than a million suns burning with full force. Darkness flees in his presence, there is only Life. All else is Death.
And so Jesus comes to his disciples, to cast out Fear “Peace be with you.” 20After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord.
And then commissions and empowers them to Walk in the Light – empowers, not force. There is no Coercion in Love. Life has been revealed but Death is still choice “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” 22When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”
Receive the Holy Spirit – now that which Sin made impossible for you I make possible. humanly speaking who can forgive Sin but God alone? Receive His Life – and Live out of it! Whosoever Sins you forgive they are forgiven! As the Son of Man hath authority of Earth to forgive sins, so those who Live His Risen Life are also empowered so to do . . . but it is choice – it is not coercion.We can still choose death ‘Whoseover sins you retain, they are retained’
God in His superabundant mercy has freely given us all things – to hide, to live in the dark, to choose not to sell what we have for the sake of the hungry, those are our choices, the Way of Life and the Way of Death having been put before us. The early church full of the Spirit knew no poor amongst them, for whenever someone saw someone else in need and had the means to feed clothe did so. As John puts it elsewhere in his letter How does God’s love abide in anyone who has the world’s goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses help?
And of course it is obvious. Someone is hungry, we have the means to help and we do not – we are clearly outside of the life of the God who superabundatnly and freely hath given us all things. There is no more dangerous myth to the health of our souls perhaps than ‘I have earned all I have’ and those weasel words ‘I did what I could . . .’ no – God has put it into our hands and we are utterly responsible to Him for it. As St Vincent de Paul puts it – when we give to the poor we do not do so with any sense of ‘doing good’ but rather asking their forgiveness for having closed our hearts against them.
There is no worse understanding of Spiritual than that which is not rooted in the Holy Spirit – the Life of the Living God made known to us in Jesus Christ. Jesus the Son breathes the third person of the triune God into us – the Divine Life. This is no warm glow feeling, no mountain top experience – this is the very life of The Living God who has called everything into existence who is the source of all that is Life, before whom even the nations are as grasshoppers, His Life!
So too the frequent warnings about forgiveness – ‘if you do not forgive your brother or sister from your heart, God will not forgive you’ – Jesus in giving his Life and breathing upon us the Holy Spirit – releases the forgiveness of God into the world – ‘Father forgive them for they do not do what they are doing. We in mercy freely forgive all people for everything – but we are not robots – we are still responsible agents. We receive the Holy Spirit in fear and trembling – this is why it is SO important that we are truthful about our own sinful condition – for it is that which will cause our downfall. If we hear the words of Jesus ‘Whoseover sins you retain, they are retained’ and think anythiong other than ‘Why on earth would anyone retain the sisn of another – why on earth would one not forgive??’ we are in mortal danger. Because LIFE has been set free in the Resurrection of Jesus and the world is not as it was
The Resurrection of Jesus means that at last, Life is Loose in the world. We as those who are indwelt by the Spirit KNOW that we can only live in this life – that all else is death.
Freely you have received