This is the third Sunday of the Easter season. It is the time that we celebrate that Jesus rose from the tomb. And we reflect and what that means for us. What does it mean for you and I that Jesus came and lived and died and rose again? Over the last couple of weeks we have been exploring this question as we examined the first responses of the disciples to the news.
On Easter day we came and stood before the empty tomb and we gathered with the disciples filled with belief and misunderstanding. We came with our questions about life and death and our meaning and purpose and we listened to the mystery of our faith – he is not here, he is risen! And we listened with Mary as Jesus called our names.
Last week we stood alongside Thomas and with all of the disciples in their doubts and scepticism. We remembered that it is “acceptable to be sceptical” as we explore the news of Jesus resurrection and what that might mean for us. And we heard amidst the questioning a moment of revelation from Thomas, who declared, “My Lord and My God!” A declaration that we hope we can share at some point in our lives.
And now for this third time we come and hear again of Jesus appearing to the disciples and their response is fear and terror. Once again the disciples mirror the confusion and apprehension we have as we encounter the risen Christ. Yet, once again we hear Jesus word of hope standing against the wall of emotions emanating from the gathered group: peace be with you! Even after the this declaration we are told the disciples “in their joy they were disbelieving and still wondering”.
Confronted with the mystery, doubt, fear, disbelief and joy of the disciples we can find reassurance that they, like we, were human. It is into this volatile bunch of emotional men and women that today we remember Jesus speak words of commissioning to his followers: “repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations.”
This year we have continued to pursue the theme followers and fishers and today as we continue to contemplate the conundrum the disciples faced in their encounter with the risen Jesus we too are listening to Jesus commission to us that we are to proclaim “repentance and the forgiveness of sins”.
I want especially to focus on the proclamation of repentance.
The word repentance is laden with spiritual meaning for us and it literally meant turning back to God – it was about a change in heart and mind. If you can imagine with me for a moment that our lives are a journey and that God is situated at true North Jesus challenging proclamation is to remind us that we are not travelling towards God but we have other destinations and courses plotted on the map of our personal existence.
It is not as if we are simply travelling North or South but as people we travel to all kinds of places different directions on the compass and I would like to suggest a few of those directions with the help of a few of you.
I have made up a number of characters, with significant names, to help us understand the other directions we might be travelling and what it might be that we need to repent of.
(arrow up down)
Let me first introduce you to Plato Jones who lives down in Central Avenue. Now Plato has a conviction that when we die we are judge for the good and bad that we do. How we are judged determines what happens in our afterlife. The biggest question in Plato’s life is, ‘What is going to happen to me when I die?’ Life for him is a test and the direction he travels is not towards God but towards his desire for eternal life.
Now let us meet another friend of mine Max, Max Weber – no relationship to the barbeque. Max thinks that his purpose in life is his work. He works down at the University and a mentor of his John Calvin told him that life was all about vocation – your job. Max’s obsession with work is reflected in the fact whenever he meets someone the first question that comes out his mouth is “What do you do?” and Max’s biggest fear is retiring because retiring will take away his meaning for existing.
(smiley happy face)
Here now is another friend of mine Alexander Pope, he works down the humanities end of the University and is a bit of a poet and he once wrote “Oh, happiness, our beings end and aim!” If you meet Alex in the coffee shops, where he likes to hang out, if you tell him about your life he is always going to ask you, “But, are you happy?” The pursuit of personal happiness for him is more important than anything else. He is a great guy but I do admit he can be a little moody.
Now Alexander introduced me to another friend of his who works over in the school of economics. Mr Adam Smith, come on down! Adam knows that life is all about supply and demand and that the most important thing in life is to a build a solid portfolio. He had a friend called Gordon who once said that “Greed is good!” Adam probably doesn’t think this but a nice tidy port folio for retirement is essential for the modern man because money gives you freedom so if you ask him what you look for in a job he will always want “How much are they going to pay you?”
Recently I met a new international student Fred Nietzsche who is concerned that there is really no purpose and meaning to anything. Ask him and he’ll respond with the question, “What’s the point?” I ran in to him arguing with another friend of mine Andy recently who was telling him that we would all get our moment in the sun our 15 minutes of fame and so we would all be remembered. It left me thinking about whether the purpose of my life and your life was “will we be remembered?”
And finally one more introduction to James Dobson a gut I met at theological college who told me that families matter. And you know when I ask kids at school what the most important thing is in their life again and again and again they say the same thing “My family?” Is this destination that we are travelling towards, the thing that we make the most important in our lives? Is family the most treasured part of our existence?
Now I have introduced these characters because these characters represent some of the key destinations we worry about and we travel towards: heaven or hell, vocation, happiness, wealth, recognition and family. Objectives for our lives that can relate to our faith but when they become the primary direction of our lives, and they do, they take us on a journey away from God.
When Jesus says to proclaim repentance he is making all of these directions and the many others we might travel a secondary distraction from our journey towards God.
Jesus wants us to encourage others to turn and glimpse the divine, to look at our origin and our true destination: God!
And what we will see and experience if we turn. Well if we listened to Jesus and his injunction to proclaim repentance and the forgiveness of sins when we look at God, when glimpse God’s story then maybe what we see is a merciful and gracious Father running to meet his son returning from the far country. And we like lost sheep are already being carried towards that celebration.
This is the good news – we have glimpsed God coming to us, running, full of lavish grace and forgiveness, wanting us to be part of the celebration. And we have been invited, instructed, implored to share this vision with others.
Turn from these directions around which you base your life and witness to a hope that transcends anything we can imagine we are loved; we have a future; we have a calling; we have a joy; we have riches beyond compare; we are remembered; and we have a family in God which is all humanity.
We stand with the disciples filled with a myriad of emotions, our doubts and our fears, and Jesus says, “do not be afraid”, “peace be with you”; and he gives us purpose: “repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations.”
Hear and believe that this is good news.