A PECULIAR COMMUNITY
This is all a bit peculiar, isn’t it?
Don’t get me wrong.
This is really exciting.
Church Beautiful has begun to gather.
I cannot tell you how excited about about us beginning to worship together.
But it’s all a little strange, right?
A bit odd?
A bit different than the regular rhythms of the rest of your week?
I may totally off base,
but I suspect that this is the only time this week that’s we’ve:
gathered in basement
to be with people we may not even know
to recite an ancient creed
and sing some songs
and talk to someone that we can’t see.
And in just a few minutes we’re going to dip some bread in a cup.
Let’s call a spade a spade—
this is all a bit peculiar.
Maybe it all seems a little foolish.
We’re definitely swimming against the stream of our regular routines.
So why? What’s the point?
Why are we gathering like this?
And—more than that—why are we planning to this regularly?
Why would we plan on continuing to gather week-after-week
for regular reciting and singing and praying and dipping?
What are we doing on an evening like this?
Why are we gathering?
And why are we going to be gathering regularly?
What I’m really getting at is—why the local church?
More specifically, why Church Beautiful?
To get at this, I’d like for us to reflect for just a few minutes this evening on John 20.
If you don’t have a Bible with you today we have some that you can use—we just ask that you leave them on your seat when you leave (so we can have them here for next week).
If you do not own a Bible, please disregard what I just said. That’s yours to keep.
There are four accounts of the life of Jesus recorded for us in Scripture:
Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.
We’re actually going to be looking at a story at the end of that fourth one.
(It’s found on page 756, if you’re commandeering one bluish Bibles.)
open our ears and give us eyes,
we need you to breathe on us, here in this room,
because we want to the real and true and lasting life found in you.
Speak now, for your servants are listening.
We ask these things in the name of your Son, Jesus,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God now and forever,
(20.19) On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jewish leaders, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord.
Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone’s sins, their sins are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.”
(v24) Now Thomas (also known as Didymus), one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord!”
But he said to them, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.”
A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.” Thomas said to him, “My Lord and my God!”
Then Jesus told him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”
(v29) Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.
Add one more peculiarity to our list.
We just read from some incredibly ancient texts.
In particular, we read some of the closing moments of a late first-century document that is pointing us toward the most surprising and perplexing moments in world history.
Those moments when the disciples of a failed Christ (a failed Messiah, a failed King)
began to encounter this person—exceedingly alive—after his death.
They were confronted with something that no one in the ancient world ever expected.
I think we tend to think of ancient cultures as primitive, gullible and foolish,
and our own cultures as logical, reasonable and enlightened.
But read the ancient sources. Everyone across all the philosophies and worldviews and cults of the ancient world agreed on one thing.
People who are literally dead stay dead.
And in the strange stories where someone winds up resuscitated from the dead,
(like we’ll sometimes hear of today), that someone is going to die again.
And once someone is dead long enough—when death really sets in—they stay dead.
For all their mystery religions and mythic stories,
the ancient world understood death in very similar terms to the way we do:
death is the mysterious and unstoppable enemy of the human race
who plays for keeps
and will eventually consume every single person who ever lived.
But the ancient text we just read—
the ancient translations of that text that you hold in your hands—
here we a testimony of something absolutely different happening in the world.
Something inexplicable in human history.
Why did ancient Judaism mutate into what we now call Christianity?
Why did large numbers of monotheistic people,
people willing to die in mass for their ancient tradition of worshipping Yahweh,
why did these people start worshipping a human being?
We’re talking grand-scale worldview transformation in less than decade.
It’s unparalleled. Unprecedented.
This hasn’t happened before or since.
And this transformation wasn’t just a whim.
It wasn’t just a passing fancy.
Leader after leader of this movement died because of what they were proclaiming.
After all, they were sectarian blasphemers in the eyes of the Jewish people,
and they were insurrectionist atheists in the eyes of the Roman world order.
But they kept insisting—Jesus is Lord.
This man—who really was dead—is alive again.
When we’re asking questions about our peculiar gathering—
about why we would start coming together regularly,
why the local church, why Church Beautiful,
what we’re really asking—beneath it all—is a question about Jesus:
Is Jesus dead?
Or is Jesus Lord?
If Jesus is dead, this is all absurd.
Us gathering here is absurd. Utter foolishness.
But if Jesus is living
then Jesus is Lord.
We believe that the peculiar-ness of what we’re doing right now
is matched by peculiar-ness of what has happened in history.
We believe that if Jesus is living,
then we be looking to him to know how to order our world—
and how to order our lives.
If Jesus is alive,
then he gives us a glimpse into the deepest mysteries of the universe
and the deepest meanings of it means for us to be alive.
A JESUS COMMUNITY
Now—of all the sections of Scripture we could have read this evening,
we’ve read John 20.
We’re not going to try to probe every detail of this text this evening.
In fact, one of the reasons we’re starting with this text is because it mystifies us a little.
It’s a bit mysterious.
It throws us off balance a little.
When people talk about Jesus in vague terms
and say that they really like him but they’re don’t really care for the church,
I’m not what Jesus they’re talking about.
We don’t have a meek-and-mild Jesus here,
gently holding a fluffy lamb,
patting small children on the head,
and dishing out good advice
that we can easily apply to our lives and go about business as usual.
No—here we have Jesus himself at some of his most peculiar.
And I think seeing Jesus here may throw us off balance just enough
to start reimagining what it may looks like when Jesus shows up here among us.
So a few observations, and then we’ll come to the table:
Jesus shows up in the most expected of places and at the worst times.
He keeps just popping in—especially when the doors are locked. (v19, 26)
Jesus just shows up among us.
“Peace be with you.”
It’s a pretty standard greeting of the day.
Almost like just a boring “hello.”
Peace be with you.
But when we’ve abandoned him,
when we’ve betrayed everything we hold dear,
when the past is shameful,
when the future is uncertain,
when the present feels like an unmitigated disaster,
and we don’t know what we’re going to do,
and we’re cowering in fear,
and we’ve locked the doors,
Jesus wants us to see him.
Present. Alive. Smiling.
And when you’re locked up in fear,
“Peace be with you” is anything but a boring “hello.”
Jesus shows up and he isn’t issuing commands.
Jesus shows up and is giving gifts.
That’s what Jesus does.
Jesus gives peace.
That’s who Jesus is.
Maybe that’s why he keeps saying it.
Three times. (vs, 19,21, 26)
“Peace be with you. It’s OK.
Take heart. I’ve overcome the world.” (cf. 16.33)
Jesus comes to us and wants us to trust him.
And then we’ve got Jesus, man-of-mystery, breathing on people. (v22)
“Here. Have my life. Have my Spirit.” (cf. Rom 8.9-17)
And if we carefully read through all of the fourth gospel,
we’d see that—for John—receiving the Spirit
is something like receiving Life itself. (cf. 3.5-8, 6.63)
In fact, if we carefully read through the entire sweep of the story of Scripture,
we’d see God breathing a few key places.
God breathes life into dirt (Gen 2) to create humanity in the first place.
“I’ll take this mud—this adam—and make it something remarkable.”
And then after humanity embraced disintegration and death,
we’d hear God promising to breathe into corpses (Ezk 37) to re-make humanity.
And here—with Jesus, breathing on people—
it’s like we’ve got God making good on his promises.
He’s just doing what he loves doing.
He loves giving life.
“Your life is flying apart? You’re destroying yourself?
Let me teach you how to live. Let me remake you.
Receive the Holy Spirit.”
“Allow me to fill you with new life.
Allow me to fill you with real life.
Allow me to fill you with my life.”
Jesus wants us to trust his word of peace,
so he can show us what real and lasting life is—and how to celebrate it.
And then Jesus gives his followers the most mysterious and monumental job description you can imagine:
(v21) As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.
Now that’s weird.
Like Jesus was sent?
Are we sure it’s just like that?
Like a one-to-one correlation?
He seems pretty serious about all this because he says:
(v23) If you forgive anyone’s sins, their sins are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.
That’s heavy. Wow.
There’s a lot we could say here.
Over the centuries, there’s been a lot of ink spilled over this. In fact, giant institutions and rituals and rites and even abuses of power have grown out of statements like this. (And another found in Matthew 16.19.)
And maybe that’s to be expected.
After all, all of the most important and beautiful things in life
(relationships, food, sex, work, art)
can be misused and manipulated and even abused.
There’s a lot we could say about this cryptic statement,
but I think we can understand it by saying one thing:
We are the place in the world where the world meets Jesus.
It’s not like we’re each suddenly endowed with the mutant-power of forgiving sin.
(The “you” in “if you forgive” is plural, not singular. He’s talking to them as a group.)
John is still telling the same story in chapter 20 that he was in chapter 1:
(Jn 1.29) The next day John [the Baptist] saw Jesus coming toward him and said, “Look, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.”
Jesus takes away
the darkness of this world,
the rebellion of this world,
the death of this world,
Jesus takes away the sin of the world.
And we are called to be the people who bring this Jesus to the world.
We are sent like Jesus into this world.
So we are meant to receive the life of Jesus to such a degree that
we don’t just trust peace spoken over us,
we don’t just celebrate resurrection from the dead,
but we also embody his life
everywhere we go to everyone we meet.
With all of our lives, we are to be saying:
Here—here in Jesus—is radical forgiveness and lasting life.
Here! Believe this life.
Here! Be embraced by this forgiveness.
Jesus is the only light we have.
If we refuse this light, there’s only darkness. (cf. Jn 8.24, Heb 10.26)
Man-of-mystery Jesus has created a mysterious community in the world.
A community that trusts him, celebrates him and embodies him.
The reason for this gathering,
the reason for a local church,
the reason for Church Beautiful
is to recognize and remember
that Jesus invites us to be a part of this mysterious community.
We’re invited to be a Jesus community.
That’s we gather.
Because Jesus is alive.
Because Jesus is Lord.
We’re going to be exploring this for the next six weeks:
What is Church Beautiful?
What does a Jesus community look like?
What do we begin becoming as we center our lives
more and more on the Triune God revealed in Jesus?
And since the eve of his crucifixion, this is the place where Christians have come to be centered most deeply in him.
The scandal of our faith is that God himself—the mystery-made-man—is most clearly recognized in a body broken and blood poured out.
It’s right after they see his hands and side (v20)
that the disciples are “overjoyed when they saw the Lord.”
Thomas recognizes his Lord and his God (v28)
only after he sees the wounds of his God (v27).
We hear Paul’s words—the earliest witness to the Jesus community practicing this nearly two thousand years ago:
(1 Cor 9.23-26) For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you: The Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.” For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.
We, Church Beautiful, are invited
to trust and to celebrate
the victorious, unconquerable life of Jesus.
Until he comes.
He’s coming again.
That’s good news and should fill us with hope.
If you’re discovering within you a confidence that this true
then you’re invited to this ancient table,
where Jesus meets us in a unique and mysterious way.
But something else is also happening here.
This table—and this church—is about more than just receiving Jesus.
It’s about embodying Jesus.
You see, verse 27 is still true.
Jesus still gives the world what it needs to believe:
“You need to see and touch my broken body?
That will help you believe? Then here.”
So he gives this bread and this cup to us.
And then he give us to the world.
We receive Jesus
so we can reveal Jesus.
At this table we’re invited
to begin to embody
the broken, healing wounds of Jesus.
We’re invited to be the peculiar place and the peculiar people
through whom God meets and heals the world.
Our prayer as a community is that when our story is written,
that Denver could see and believe the beauty of Jesus
and have life in his name.