The sporting world has been divided in recent times regarding the punishment dished out on Rugby League player Israel Folau.
In case you missed it, Folau posted a quote from the bible that offended some people because he said unless they repented of their sin that they would end up in hell.
Irrespective of whether you believe he was right or wrong in posting what he did on Social Media, he was so convinced in what he wrote about his Christian faith that he was prepared to risk his $4,000,000 contract over it.
A couple years ago, tennis champion Margaret Court now a Pastor in a church in Western Australia faced similar backlash about her controversial comments but refused to back down even after threats of removing her naming rights from the iconic Melbourne tennis arena – Margaret Court Arena.
In our bible reading today, Peter and the disciples are also warned about speaking about their Christian faith in the public sphere to which they respond –
“We must obey God rather than any human authority”.
There may come a time – or maybe you’ve had a situation – where you’ve had the opportunity to speak out about your Christian faith but felt that fear that many, if not all Christians have felt at times.
Peter and the disciples weren’t always that brave.
We have the situation in our Gospel reading when they had gathered together and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews,
Whether you have conservative views of Christianity or more progressive views it’s getting harder to share your faith as the rejection of the Christian faith is growing in Western culture.
In fact a senior magistrate is calling for all Bibles to be removed from courtrooms in Victoria, labelling them relics that belong in a museum.
Again the outcry is that Australia is a secular society so why are we swearing on Bibles in court.
It’s the same with the teaching of RE in schools, playing football on Good Friday, singing Christmas Carols, or whatever other attack is made on our religious freedom – how can we respond.
First of all we need to remember what our mission is.
The first place we go to when understanding that is to what we call the Great Commission.
Matthew 28 says – “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.
The first thing we take from that is recognising that the world can say and do whatever it likes but it doesn’t take away the fact that – All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Jesus.
That’s what Jesus’ victory on the Easter cross is all about.
Secondly, there is the sending – go and make disciples of all nations baptising them.
Not go and fight the infidel – or go and make sure everyone believes what you believe.
No, the final part of that says – “teach” them to obey everything I have commanded YOU.
Not “force” them to obey everything I have commanded THEM.
The call is to live YOUR faith not to demand it from others – that’s the work of the Holy Spirit.
St Peter says that in his letter when he says: Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect.
We should not be frightened by the criticisms and attacks on the Christian faith because it has been the pattern of things for it since the birth of Jesus even before he is born.
There was no room for Jesus when Mary gave birth to him.
Just as there is no room for Jesus for many people today in our society.
He was rejected when he went to preach in his home town and they wanted to throw him off a cliff.
He was abandoned by his own disciples when they fled at his arrest.
He was betrayed by his own disciple Judas.
He was denied by his closest disciple and friend Peter 3 times at his arrest.
His death was demanded by his own people even though Pilate, a foreigner, looked for any way that he could release him.
One of the mistakes that we can easily make as Christians is to believe that our success in mission is gauged by the same measures as worldly success.
As we see the change in courage from those frightened disciples locked away fearing for their lives and now prepared to stand up for their faith, it was not because of some worldly courage they had received.
What enabled the apostles to open the doors where they were huddled in fear and go out into the threatening world to proclaim the resurrection?
What enabled Peter and the other disciples to resist the orders to stop preaching Christ among the people?
It did not come from earthly courage they had suddenly attained.
Our gospel reading tells us quite clearly today what, or rather “who” gave them that couage.
Before his death Jesus had promised to send an “Advocate” to teach the disciples the truth, set them free and send them out into the world.
Today Jesus keeps his word and breathes his Holy Spirit upon his followers.
We know what the disciples were like during Jesus’ ministry, right up to his death.
They showed early signs of ambition hoping Jesus was the promised Messiah who would give them positions of earthly power in the new kingdom he was proclaiming.
But when their world fell apart and Jesus was arrested and killed, they fled in fear.
That’s what earthly courage does – it fails in times of distress beyond our control.
That’s where we find them in today’s gospel — behind locked doors in fear.
Again, what changed them?
Jesus breathed the Holy Spirit on them.
If we think back to the opening verses of Genesis which describe the earth as “a formless void, and there was darkness over the deep…” what brought light and order to the darkness and “formless void?”
“God’s Spirit hovered over the water.”
Then God began the work of creation.
What gave the lifeless Adam life?
Formed from the dust of the ground God breathed his life – his spirit into Adam.
John’s Gospel began the same way as Genesis – in the beginning;
In the beginning God created the Heavens and the Earth – Genesis.
In the beginning was the Word and the word was with God and the word was God – John’s Gospel.
Now John’s gospel ends the same way with the Spirit of God bringing order into the chaos of the disciples fear.
Bringing courage to replace fear.
And now God sends you out into the world and asks you not to fear.
You have nothing to fear as Jesus earlier told his disciples:
Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom.
God sends you out into a hostile world where again we see what the world thinks of Christians in the example in Sri Lanka where Christians worshiping on the most holiest of days are slaughtered.
And in the midst of this hostility towards us the primary mission of the church is to preach and act as Christ’s messengers of peace and forgiveness and love.
Jesus says – love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.
It is Jesus’ gift of his Spirit that gives the power to disciples to overcome their fears, prejudices, and doubts and become powerful witnesses and preachers of God’s love and forgiveness – not revenge and hatred.
Each of us has that same power, the Spirit, given to us in our Baptism, that urges us to move out from our comfortable places into a world that sorely needs the good news — Jesus Christ is risen from the dead.
That’s who we are; that’s our mission statement as disciples inspired by the Spirit of Jesus.
Jesus commissions his disciples to continue his ministry:
“As the Father has sent me, so I send you.”
They will proclaim forgiveness of sins, not by their own power but from the power the Spirit gives them.
They will pronounce forgiveness, not on whom they determine to be worthy but on those whom the Father moves to repent just as he forgave the thief on the cross – just as he forgave those who crucified him crying out – forgive them Father for they do not know what they are doing.
We are called to urge those who have committed the atrocities in Sri Lanka, in Christchurch, anywhere in the world to repent so they can be forgiven.
We are not called to condemn them because that alone is the work of God.
What an example we can be to the world when we come out of our fears and be brave enough to forgive those who persecute us – to love those who hate us – to befriend those who reject us – for that is what Jesus did and that is what his Father sent him to do – and as the Father has sent him so he now sends you.
And if you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them;