Reflections...

Meditations, Reflections, Bible Studies, and Sermons from Kowloon Union Church  

Forgive or Retain

A sermon preached at Kowloon Union Church on Sunday 12 April 2015, Second Sunday of Easter, by the Rev. Dr. John LeMond. The scripture readings that day were Acts 2:14a, 22-32; 1 Peter 1:3-9; John 20:19-31.


Jesus comes in through the locked door

And stands among the disciples

He shows them his hands and side

He says “Peace be with you.

As the Father has sent me, so I send you.

Then he breathed on them and gave them the Holy Spirit.

But Thomas wasn’t there

So when he returns he says he doesn’t believe

So Jesus returns and shows doubting Thomas

That it really is him.

And then praises those who believe without seeing.

The story has a nice flow to it,

Moving from one thing to another.

But I left out something in the retelling

There is one verse in this passage from John

That we generally do leave out

Possibly because we aren’t really sure what to do with it.

Right in the middle of the story

Jesus says, “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven.

“If you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”


Another  way of putting it is

“If you refuse to forgive anyone sins,

They are unforgiven.”

Could that really be so?

Is this something that we have overlooked in our understanding

Of what it means to be a follower of Jesus Christ?

If it is something we have overlooked

It is a major omission in our doctrines.

Jesus tells his disciples that they have the power to forgive and retain sins.

That we have the power to forgive and retain sins.

Should we take this seriously?

On the face of it, it seems to be a very important bonus in the life of a Christian

But not only an advantage in being a believer…

A great responsibility as well.

There are different scenes we might imagine

Someone harms you in some way

And then later comes to you and asks for forgiveness

You have the power to forgive them or not.

Please forgive me for harming you.

You can hold that sin over the person’s head forever if you choose

Or forgive them on the spot

Or, maybe even require them to carry out some sort of penance

Before offering a final forgiveness. 

The church, or at least the power structure within the church

Has traditionally chosen this option.

Yes, you can be forgiven

But first…you have to do this thing, and say these prayers.

But imagine if someone came to you

And confided in you something they had done to someone else.

They had murdered someone…

And they confessed this crime, this sin, to you

And they asked you to forgive them

You have that power, Jesus says

What will you choose?

You can forgive them…

Or you can condemn them to live with the guilt of their sin for eternity.

But the situation goes beyond even this

Jesus doesn’t say that the person has to come to you asking for forgiveness

He just says: Forgive the sins of any and they are forgiven.

Retain the sins of any and they are retained.

So, in effect, you have the power at every moment

To forgive some sins and to retain some sins

For instance, to forgive all sins of greed

But to retain all sins of lust…

In the whole human race.

To forgive all sins of anger

But to retain all sins of envy…

In the whole human race.





In fact, you would have the power

To forgive every sin of every person

Now, and in the past and in the future

Or to retain every sin of every person

Now, and in the past and in the future.

Jesus has made this possible for us.

What will you do?

This is a benefit of faith in a risen savior

That we seldom consider

But there it is

Hidden within a familiar story.

What will you do?

Forgive or not forgive?

No wonder the disciples were hiding away.

John says they were afraid of the Jews

I think it might have been for fear of one Jew in particular:

Jesus of Nazareth!

When Jesus walks through the door,

It is not to make us feel good

It is not to reassure us that everything is going to be okay

It is rather, it seems, to present us with a terrible dilemma

It is to put within our hands

The power to be the judge of others

Not with earthly matters alone

But with matters of eternity.

When Jesus says these words

When he tells us

That we have the power to forgive or retain sins,

The incarnation, the crucifixion and the resurrection become for us

Not mere historical events,

Not even important religious events.

These events become for us the center of our universe.

It is upon these events

The incarnation, crucifixion and resurrection,

That we are given the power to decide the future of every person.

What will we do?

Jesus says to the ten disciples that morning:

Look, here are the holes in my hands and side

This is who God is.

Jesus says to Thomas

Put your hand into my wounded flesh

This is who God is.

Now you know the nature of God

Now you know the nature of the one

Who has created you.

The one who has come to you

The one who has lived among you

The one who has died for you

And the one who now stands before you.



Now you understand the power of the resurrection.

You know what God has done.

What will you do?

You are invited to decide.

To your neighbor, to your enemy,

To the thief, to the immigrant,

To the stranger…to yourself.

Forgiveness or unforgiveness.

Given the nature of the one who stands before us,

In whom you live and breathe and have our being,

How will we live our lives as Jesus' followers

How will we live in the kingdom of God?

“If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven.

“If you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”

What will we choose?

And John concludes,

This is written so that through believing we may all have life in his name.

Amen.

# posted by Heddy Ha : Sunday, April 12, 2015

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