A reading from the Holy Gospel according to Luke. Glory to you, O Lord.
Jesus himself stood among [the disciples] and said to them, “Peace be with you.” They were startled and terrified, and thought that they were seeing a ghost. He said to them, “Why are you frightened, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? Look at my hands and my feet; see that it is I myself. Touch me and see; for a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.” And when he had said this, he showed them his hands and his feet. While in their joy they were disbelieving and still wondering, he said to them, “Have you anything here to eat?” They gave him a piece of broiled fish, and he took it and ate in their presence.
Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you—that everything written about me in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms must be fulfilled.” Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures, and he said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things.”
The Gospel of the Lord. Praise to you, O Christ.
Grace to you and peace from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
Many years ago when I was 22-23 years old, I spent about nine months working as a security guard. This was at Sugardale Meats in Canton Ohio. My job involved walking the grounds regularly, mostly for fire prevention, weighing any vehicles in and out to make sure they weren’t stealing meat, and observing employees as they came and went for the same purpose.
As a side note, Everyone got observed and every vehicle got weighed, even if they were high up executives, except for one small group. The plant produced Kosher beef which meant that Rabbis had to do the butchering of that meat. We didn’t mess with the rabbis.
Anyway, I got to know a couple of the employees a little bit. One of them had been trouble maker, living the life of the prodigal son at some point in the past. At some point before we met, he had come to faith and his life had changed drastically. In one of our conversations he told me that he didn’t sin anymore. When I questioned him about that, he insisted that as a Christian, he didn’t sin. Now I considered myself to be a Christian also, and I knew that I sinned. I sinned regularly, and irregularly, in ways I knew and in ways that I didn’t know. I was in bondage to sin and could not free myself. I confessed that fact every Sunday. I’m not sure where this guy had gotten this idea, but I was pretty sure someone had fed him some bad theology.
Now I read in I John that, “No one who abides in him sins; no one who sins has either seen him or known him.” Ouch, those are some harsh words! No one who abides in him sins? Was that guy right? Christians don’t sin? Since I know I sin, does that mean I don’t abide in him or know him? What about you? I’m going to assume you also sin, since you’re human and many Sundays I hear you confess it at the beginning of the service. Do you also not know him or abide in him? We are all guilty of lawlessness.
I don’t know about you, but I don’t find this very hopeful. In fact I feel rather condemned by it. It doesn’t help that in the first chapter of the book, John says, “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us,” and, “If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.” So if we don’t deceive ourselves, then we know it’s true we have sin and if we have sin, then we don’t abide in Christ. If we don’t abide in Christ, then we are lost. Truly and utterly lost.
But, and this is a big but. This is a but of cosmic levels. This is a but whose size dwarfs the universe. But God has provided a way out of our hopelessness.
In our first reading from the book of Acts, Peter is talking to the people who have just seen him heal a lame man. As they wonder how that happened he explains to them that it was by the name of that man, Jesus, whom they had rejected and turned over to a death on a cross that the man was healed. Peter says if they repent and turn to God their sins will be wiped out.
Well, that gives me a ray of hope. I’m starting to see a way out of our lostness. What does the Gospel reading tell us?
Luke tells us that the disciples were gathered together in Jerusalem. At this point, the disciples must be feeling feeling pretty lost and confused. Several of them had seen the empty tomb and were trying to understand what it meant. Just before todays reading Jesus had appeared to to of them on the road to Emmaus and now they were hearing a report from them.
Suddenly, Jesus is standing in their midst and says, “Peace be with you.” It says they were startled and terrified. I bet they were. Obviously they were not expecting this turn of events! He shows them his hands and side and eats a piece of fish to show that he is real and not a ghost. He goes on to explain the scriptures to them. He finishes off with, “that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.”
Again with the repentance and forgiveness. That ray of hope is getting stronger. Let’s go back now and look some more at I John.
Back in the first chapter where it says, “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us,” it continues with, “If we confess our sins, he who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” Again, repentance and forgiveness. Not just a little forgiveness, mind you, but a cleansing from all unrighteousness. This is our hope, that we would be cleansed form our sins and be made righteous in the eyes of God. Why would God do that for us?
Back to today’s reading from I John. The first line reads, “See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and that is what we are.” We are children of God. Through our baptisms we have become children of God. Not servants of God or acquaintances of God or even friends of God, but children of God.
Because of God’s great love for us, God sent his son, Jesus, to come and and live among us, to show us how we should love one another, to take our sins upon himself and to suffer a cruel death on our behalf on a Friday night. Then, because the grave couldn’t contain his great love, he conquered the grave and death on a Sunday mornings and was resurrected.
Through our baptisms we are joined with him in his death and resurrection so that sin no longer has power over us. Do we sin? Yes, Can it separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus? No. In fact, when we confess those sins he throws them away from us as far as the east is from the west. He keeps no record of them. They are no more.
So, was the worker at Sugardale meats correct when he said he was sinless? No, he was wrong because he was a sinner and still committed sins, just like you and I. And yes, he was correct because God had forgiven his sins and cleansed him from all his unrighteousness, just like God does for you and me.
Out of his love for us through Jesus, God brings us into relationship with himself. Out of his love for us, God abides with us. Out of his love for us, God has forgiven our sins, no matter how big or small, and will continue to do so as long as our earthly days last. We are not utterly lost, we are utterly found!