RECEIVE THE HOLY SPIRIT
Sunday School, March 22, 2015
I had a birthday day last week and I used to get a few birthday cards but now people send these greetings on Facebook. The one I liked best was from a former seminary class-mate….. Happy birthday wrinkled butt, blow out your candles quickly before your dentures melt, Oh, good luck at bingo tonight.
PURPOSE: To understand that Christ gives the Holy Spirit as power for forgiveness.
FOCUS: Jesus speaks peace to and empowers the disciples with the gift of the Holy Spirit.
1. To explore the importance of Jesus appearance to the disciples.
2. To describe feelings from times when the words of others calmed our fears.
3. To explore the relationships between the Holy Spirit and forgiveness.
INTRODUCTION: Do you have some unfinished business of forgiveness in your life? Are there, perhaps, some people in your life who have hurt you and you are still thinking of how you can get even or even get revenge and how sweet that would be? Some of us were hurt by parents or step – parents who didn’t like us very much. Some of us were hurt by partners who professed they loved us and it turned out they were more concerned about themselves than anyone else. Some of our children married poorly and got stuck with partners who spent them into bankruptcy or hit them or were unfaithful to those who are near and dear to us. Some of us have been hurt by our children when we had such high dreams for them and their lives and they have wandered off into never, never land and hardly ever have contact with their parents. Some of us have been hurt by employers or bosses who were abusive or wanted to get rid of us because we were in their way. Some of us have been hurt by people in the Church and even ministers who, we think, neglected our family in time of need. Some of us are mad about the whole political system in the United States that seems to be broken. I know what some of you think because I read about it on Facebook. Some of us did not have the ideal childhood. Some of us did not always have perfect teachers in school or in college. Some of us got taken advantage of by car dealers because we were not taught by our parents to walk out of dealerships when you get an offer that insults your intelligence. And then some of us got taken advantage of by encyclopedia salesmen. My wife bought a 15 volume set of music books one time and she didn’t play the piano. I bought a mirschame pipe one time and I don’t smoke. Some salesmen are pretty convincing.
And then a few of us thought we had forgiven someone but it keeps coming back up and getting in the way of our happiness. Forgiveness is not something that happens once and for all. Depending upon the depth and intensity of the hurt and pain we need to forgive and forgive and as we go through this process the power it has over us can diminish and when it comes up again, we need to forgive again and our feelings of anger and hurt will continue to go away until this may happen several times depending upon how important that person was to us and how deep the hurt was. If we are on the road to recovery and the subject comes up again, and this time, instead of forgiving that person, we have a tendency to rehearse how terrible it was, this is a set-back on the forgiveness process.
Who does it hurt when we do not forgive? It hurts the person who carries around the resentment and anger which can sometimes have physical consequences of high blood pressure or more serious physical issues. It can interfere with our day to day happiness and relationships and even cause us to say things that we are not proud we said.
Forgiveness is like healing a wound in our bodies. If we keep putting antibiotics on it and keep it clean and allow it to scab over then it can heal. Sometimes we have wounds so big or so deep we need the help of a doctor to sew us up. Most every boy I know, who is worth his salt, has made trips to the doctor to get sewn up or get a broken bone in a cast. Forgiveness is a similar process – it is a wound to the psyche or to our emotions where we feel we have been miss-treated or abused or neglected or overlooked and we get angry or hurt about it. This can cause withdrawal or angry outbursts, both of which are unhealthy. We simply, if we want to be healthy, must find ways to release pent up emotions of unforgiveness in ways that are not harmful.
This issue of forgiveness is at the core of our Christian life and our emotional health. It is an almost universal experience in life. I am concerned because this is a touchy issue and can touch people in ways that bring up emotional scars and reactions and sometimes tears which can be healing, but not always
Some of us find it difficult to forgive ourselves. When I think of the dumb decisions I have made and people I love who have been hurt I find it hard to say to myself – Jim, it is okay, everyone makes mistakes and God is in the forgiving business.
READ THE SCRIPTURE: John 10: 19 – 23
We have spent a couple of weeks talking about what is the Holy Spirit and what is the work of the Holy Spirit. Today I would like to concentrate upon the last two verses of the scripture today.
It is most likely that the disciples continued to meet in the upper room where the Last Supper had been held. This is the first day of the week or Sunday – that first Easter Sunday. Jesus followers were afraid; they knew the bitterness of the Jews; the Jews had killed Jesus and the disciples were afraid their turn might be next. So they were meeting in terror, listening for every step on the stairs and for every knock at the door, lest a representative of the Sanhedrin should come to arrest them too.
And as they sat there on this Sunday evening, the very first Easter, Jesus was suddenly in the midst of them. He gave them the normal everyday eastern greeting; “Peace be to you.” It means far more than the words seem to imply. It means, “May God give you every good thing; may you be saved from trouble. May it be good with you and your relationships to God and others. Then Jesus gave the disciples the commission which the Church must never forget.
1. He said that as God had sent Him so he sent them forth. It means that Jesus Christ needs the Church. This means exactly the same as Paul later meant when he called the Church the “body of Christ”. The Church has to be the mouth of Jesus, the feet of Jesus, the hands of Jesus. Jesus is dependent upon the Church
2. Secondly it means the church needs Jesus. A person who is to be sent out needs someone to send him; we need a message to take, we need the power and authority to back up that message. The Church needs Jesus. Without Jesus we have no message, without Jesus we have no power; without Jesus we had nothing to enlighten our minds. So the Church is dependent upon Jesus.
3. Thirdly, the sending out of the Church by Jesus is parallel to the sending out of Jesus by God. Here is where the rub comes because he was perfectly obedient and demonstrated perfect love. The Church, because it is full of people like you and me, is not a perfect messenger of Christ. We need to always ask what God calls us to do. The decisions made in Church should not be what do I want to do. Yes, unfortunately we have people in positions of authority and power in the Church who are less than perfect messengers. I’m sorry to admit that I know ministers who have anger issues right below the surface………….who don’t want to get out of their offices……and some who are lazy. I suppose it is true in every profession though I am more familiar with ministers. The Church fails when we try to solve problems with our own wisdom and strength.
Then Jesus breathed on them. Why did the Biblical writer of John have to say that Jesus breathed on them? Is this an issue of bad breath or the need of Listerine? Jesus breathed on them. Why didn’t the writer just say that Jesus spoke to them – why must he include this phrase, Jesus breathed on them? There can be little doubt that when Jesus spoke in this way, he was thinking back to the old story of creation. And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul. When the Holy Spirit comes into a Church she reawakens and recreates for new life. The coming of the Holy Spirit is like a new creation; it is like the wakening of life from the dead. When the Holy Spirit comes upon the Church she brings new life – similar to God blowing into the nostrils of humanity. My personal opinion is that this is happening at First Christian Church – there is new life all around us. Look out that window – people are planting vegetables and new life is coming – look in the gym when the handicapped children are playing basketball, new life is coming to this building – look around when members are preparing weekend food for kids – look around when Dr. Coleman is here on Fridays taking care of people in the last phase of life so their weary care-takers can have a few hours of rest………and there is more coming with the feeding program beginning this month.
The Title of this lesson is “Receive the Holy Spirit.” If we go to verse 22 & 23 we read, Jesus said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone’s sin, they are forgiven.” Why is it that the topic of forgiveness comes right after Jesus says, receive the Holy Spirit. Could it be that one of the most important works of the Holy Spirit is helping us forgive? Could it be that one of the most important works of the Church is helping us learn to forgive? The need for forgiveness is pervasive and constant and wide-spread. Where it is present, there is a quality of life that is tension free and full of grace. Where it is missing, there are hardened lives frequently sloshing around in self-pity, self righteous behaviors and sometimes anger that can turn to rage. (Donnelly, “Learning to Forgive”, p. 5)
I am very dependent upon a little book by a professor from Princeton, Doris Donnelly – who wrote the book “Learning to Forgive” which, after I read it began to form the basis of my own theology on forgiveness and what I share with you today is basically from her book. In her book, Donnelly tells a story of Corrie ten Boom.
Corrie ten Boom tells a story that helps us understand how forgiveness happens. After her release from a concentration camp in Germany where her sister Betsie died, Corrie preached and lectured on the need to forgive our enemies. After one of her sermons Corrie was greeted by a man whom she recognized as the SS guard at the shower room in the concentration camp.
“How grateful I am for your message, Fraulein, he said. To think that He has washed my sins away. And suddently, it was all there – the memory of the roomful of mocking men watching us as we got in the shower. Betsie’s painful face came back in my memory.
His hand was thrust out to shake mine. And I, who had preached so often on the need to forgive kept my hand at my side. Even as the angry vengeful thoughts boiled through me, I saw the sin of them. Lord Jesus, I prayed, forgive me and help me to forgive him.
I tried to smile, I struggled to raise my hand, I could not move. I felt nothing, nor the slightest spark of warmth or charity. And so again I breathed a silent prayer. Jesus I cannot forgive him. Give me your forgiveness.
As I took his hand a most incredible thing happened. From my shoulder along my arm and through my hand a current seemed to pass from me to him, while into my heart sprang a love for this stranger that almost overwhelmed me. And so I discovered that it is not on our forgiveness any more than on our goodness that the world’s healing hinges, but on Jesus. When He tells us to love our enemies, He gives us, along with the command, the love itself.” (Donnelly, p. 6) End of quote – forgiveness is something that we cannot do by ourselves – from our own effort – it is something that comes from the Holy Spirit.
WHY DO PEOPLE NOT FORGIVE? When it is all said and done, there are basically 6 reasons why people don’t forgive. I am going to give you all 6 reasons and then elaborate upon a couple of these.
1. People don’t forgive because the pain is new and deep. Someone said time heals all wounds. That is a half truth. Sometimes time helps, if we do the right things. And then sometimes we need a little time to get our thoughts together - a cooling off period – to sort through what is important and how important is this relationship and do I want to make the effort to keep this person as a friend.
It is no easy thing to love our neighbors – a command at the very heart of Christianity. And it is even harder when we are hurting. Forgiveness is something that takes practice to do it right. What we are saying about pain – fresh, new, deep, wounding – is that it is a part of the human condition. It happens to all of us. The forgiver and the non-forgiver both experience. The forgiver, with the help of the Holy Spirit will eventually move beyond it until it no longer has power over her life. The non-forgiver will make his or her home there and be stuck forever. It is a choice we make to be healthy and happy or grumpy and bogged down in self pity.
2. People don’t forgive because they are filled with anger, jealousy or resentment. The word resentment is derived from the Latin (re- sentire) – that is to feel again. The non-forgiver is someone who feels and reacts to the pain again and again.
Resentment is the opposite of forgiveness. Forgiveness is restorative; it is therapeutic. Forgiveness takes the lop-sided scales and puts them right again, it doesn’t allow for the holding of grudges or retaliation.
3. People don’t forgive because of Revenge.
4. People don’t forgive because it is socially unacceptable. It is out of fashion to forgive some people. The list varies in different cultures and in different times. In the time of Jesus, the hard line was against tax collectors and prostitutes. Nowadays tax collectors and prostitutes aren’t as vulnerable as welfare cheats, drug dealers, child abusers, environmental polluters, for example. The temperament of a society varies widely in its empathy toward the outcasts at the moment.
5. People don’t forgive because they think there is an easier way. Baron van Hugel, a gentle and sensible guide in these matters, once wrote to his niece. “I wonder whether you realize a great fact? That souls – all human souls are deeply interconnected? It is the same idea as the poem by John Donne titled, “no man is an island.”
6. …… There is here what is called the scissors approach to conflict – that is, we are able to cut out of our lives those persons who offend or criticize us or are in disfavor. The question of forgiving these persons becomes a moot point, since, very simply, I do not have to forgive someone who has been cut out of my life and for all intents and purposes does not exist.
I want to insert a footnote here. Most of us have friends at different points in our education and career and some friends continue to decades. I know some of you have friends for 50 years or more. On the other side, some people float into our lives and we remember them but we no longer consider them as friends. A few people are destructive in relationships and are demonic and to try to maintain a friendship with someone like this takes too much time and emotion and energy
7. People don’t forgive because of Pride. Have you heard people say, she didn’t fire me, I quit. When we are absolutely sure of our facts. Our friend might be saying, I didn’t want you to know how hurt I am, how vulnerable I am, how embarrassed I am. I didn’t want your pity because the image I have of myself is one of success in all relationships. Other people say – He didn’t throw me out, I left…….She didn’t fail me, I withdrew from that class….. Pride helps us make excuses so we can continue to look good – even if that looking good is only to me. Everyone around me may in fact know the truth, but in deference to me and my feelings they have to pretend that it is otherwise: Don’t offer him help – his pride will be hurt.
I want to end on a positive note understanding the subject of forgiveness is much larger than we can deal with in one Sunday school lesson. Let us talk of Jesus as a forgiver.
1. Jesus forgave Simon Peter who seemed prone to act impulsively in ways that were not positive and ultimately could not find it within himself to admit he was a followers of Jesus
2. The story of Zaccheus (Luke 19: 1 – 10) Evidently Zaccheus had accumulated great wealth that was illegally gained by extracting it as an illegal tax collector and when Jesus accepted him Zaccheus promises – “Half of my good I give to the poor, and if I have defrauded any one of anything, I restore it fourfold.”
3. The woman caught in adultery (John 8: 1 – 11) The punishment for adultery was stoning until the person was dead. We all know the statement here of Jesus “Let the one who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.”
4. The thief on the cross – (Luke 23: 39 – 43) Jesus ends His life where He spent most of it; in the middle of sinners. The thief on the cross asks Jesus – “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” And Jesus answered him, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise.”
We won’t spent much time on them today because they are so familiar to us anyway. First, the phrase in the Lord’s Prayer – Forgive us our debts or sins as we forgive those who sin against us. And secondly, Peter asked Jesus – how many times must I forgive – as many as 7 times and Jesus answered him 70 times 7.
CONCLUSION: Jesus forgives because He is a freeman; so radically and totally free that He does not have to be concerned with losing face, with being hurt again, and He does not have to insist upon his offender guaranteeing they will change. When Jesus forgives, it is an unconditional display of love and acceptance offered with no strings attached.
A lady names Hannah Arendt made the claim that the person who discovered the role of forgiveness in life was Jesus of Nazareth. She probably had in mind the capacity of a kind of radical behavior to alter lives and situations. There are several ways to explain what happens when Jesus forgives.
1. Jesus initiates the act. People don’t have to ask for it. Jesus starts the process of healing.
2. When Jesus forgives he confers self-esteem and self worth. The conferral of pardon, absolution and forgiveness does precisely that – it claims no special advantage and offers pardon in a way that restores self respect.
3. Jesus cancels a debt. True forgiveness always means that a debt has been canceled and the slate has been wiped clean.
4. Jesus shifts the emphasis from us to God – In the moment of need, Jesus promises that the greatest of all gifts, forgiving love is ours.
Finally – What happens to us when we forgive? There is a sense of freedom and power that comes into our lives. When we acknowledge that forgiveness is not just an idea, but an event. Forgiveness is not just words, but deeds. When we forgive or when we are forgiven something radical happens. There is a sense of freedom because we no longer carry the pain, the anger, the resentment of an unforgiven action. …..There is a sense of power because we are allowing the Holy Spirit to direct and work through our lives until we have power over the forces that drag us down.
The image of forgiveness comes from Psalm 103 which says we are separated from our sins as far as the East is from the West. North and south have 2 precise poles and can be measured so that we are able to head to the North Pole, but at one point we stop going north. There are limits to northness and southness, but if we travel east, we will go on indefinitely because there is no East Pole; there is no limit to eastness.
James S. Oglesby
March 21, 2015