I woke up a couple weeks ago with this sermon in my head, to be delivered after really good musical/liturgical worship. The Lord spurred me to send it on to someone, a person I don’t even really know; friend of a friend kind of thing, with a note that I don’t know who it’s for or what use it should be put to, but I’m giving it away for whatever God’s purposes may turn out to be. I hope it’s a benefit to that person, and for what it’s worth, I offer it to you as well.
I want to talk with you about what we’ve done here today, because I want you to see it with heaven’s eyes. When we gather like this, something special happens. And to see it as God sees it, we need to go back, all the way back to Genesis, because that’s where our story starts.
From the waters below the sky, He calls forth land and sea, and covers the land with plants. But it’s still empty.
Then on the fourth day, He takes the waters above the sky and fills the empty sky with sun, moon, and stars. The fifth day He fills the air with birds and the waters with fish. The sixth day, He fills the land with every kind of animal. And then, it’s time to sign the masterpiece.
How do you sign the painting when you just made the universe? It’s not like there’s a corner you can scribble your name in, right?
And so He made us from dust, and breathed spirit into us, His image, male and female together to bear His name in the world.
And you know the story. We blew it, and in the process we broke our relationships with each other and with God, and we broke the world, too. And the very first thing God tells us about that is, there’s a redeemer coming, a seed of the woman who will really be exactly like us—but victorious—and He will crush the serpent’s head.
Through the whole Hebrew Bible, this longing grows. Who is the redeemer? What will he be like? God reveals more and more, but it’s cryptic. Sometimes it says He will conquer and reign, and set everything right. Sometimes it says He will suffer and die. How can he do both? Late in those times, we learn about where He will be born, from the prophet Micah. We learn about when He will come, from Daniel.
And then…silence. There is no prophet among God’s people, for four hundred years.
The new beginning doesn’t look like much. Just a wild man calling people back to God. He doesn’t work with the Temple; instead he calls people out into the wilderness and baptizes them there, having them pass through water as Israel once did, because God is calling out a new people for Himself. He has no credentials, this wild man, and he says so himself. He’s just a voice crying out in the wilderness—but he is announcing the coming redeemer.
Then Jesus comes to the wild man. The wild man says “you should be baptizing me” but Jesus talks him into baptizing Him anyway, because Jesus is the foundation of the new people of God. When he comes up out of the water: The Spirit descends from heaven and rests on Him, and the Father speaks from heaven , “This is my beloved son; I am pleased with Him.”
That is what we are invited to join. We are invited to be a people the Spirit rests on, and our Father is pleased with us. What would it be worth, if we could earn something like that? But God is even more gracious than that.
Jesus goes to the cross, and there, He takes all our sin, all our shame, all the weight of every time we’ve failed to bear God’s name well. All of it is nailed to the cross and all of it dies with him, and is buried with him in the heart of the earth. When He comes out, He leaves it all behind, and so we are raised with Him, free from every weight that drags us down, and it’s all a gift. Jesus bought it for us.
And then, in the upper room just before He leaves, He breathes on His disciples and says two things to them“receive the Holy Spirit”. and “if you forgive anyone’s sins, they are forgiven; if you retain their sins, they are retained.” It’s a re-creation of humanity, implanting a new spirit in them, a spirit that can move in power for the healing of the world. He ascends to heaven, and on Pentecost the Spirit breaks out and begins to move in power among God’s people, and from that day to this one, He hasn’t stopped. That is what you experienced tonight, and I’m going to invite you to extend the experience a little further.
You are the new people that God is making. You bear His name in the world, and by the Spirit you carry the authority to remake and heal the world that He made. If you forgive the sins of anyone, they are forgiven.
All around us, people carry weights they don’t have to. There’s something they are, something they’ve done, that holds them back from the glorious freedom God designed us for. Some of us also struggle; the past still holds us back. It doesn’t have to, and tonight, I want you to do something about that, starting right in this room.
Turn to someone nearby you. If God gives you something to say in addition to this, then say what He gives you too. But I want you to be sure to say what God gave us all to say when He gave us His Spirit: Your sins are forgiven. Look each other in the eye and say it: I forgive your sins in Jesus’ name. You have the authority to do that.
Make sure nobody gets left out. The people who kinda slid into the corners of the room? Hunt them down. Make sure you get whoever’s hiding in the bathroom. Don’t forget the people down front. We need this too. Go now; I commission you in Jesus’ name, by the power of the Spirit: go do it!