Second Sunday of Easter – 11 April 2021

Written by Pastor Bryan Niebanck

We declare to you what we have seen and heard so that you also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. ~1 John 1:3

“I heard that Tony doesn’t like to do anything.  He just sits around and watches TV all day.”  “Oh, I heard that Maggie doesn’t like people; she just pretends she does in order to get along but always finds excuses to not come to gatherings.”  “That’s great; I also hear that Amy is going to get that promotion.  She deserves it so much!”  Do you like to spread news that you hear?  Good or bad, we capture things that we do not think others have heard yet, and we are excited to be the one to tell it.  Parents and grandmothers are probably the most likely to spread news about their children.  It is either exciting to spread the news, or we need someone to talk to about it.

The news media makes spreading news their business.  Sadly, it is often the negative news that gets passed down to those who follow the media, or at least it is the negative news that is most remembered.  What makes it more exciting to spread negative news than good news?  Perhaps because the people who hold power are always due to take the worst criticism.  Maybe people always criticize the people in power.  This is the kind of news that people seek.  Yet, it just brings most of us down.  Together, we can do our part to spread positive news, and not start spreading negative thoughts about another person unless you want your deepest mistakes publically criticized as well.  There is some news that must be heard, such as when tragedy strikes or perhaps when a promise is broken.  But we can make an equal effort to notice when something good happens, when a broken promise is restored, and when we are actually having a good day.  People are twice as likely to post on Facebook or Twitter when they are having a bad day or are upset about something as opposed to when they are having a good day or are excited about something.  We complain more than we are thankful.  Is there something that we can do about that?  Can we spread the good as much or even more than we spread the negative?  People want to see and hear this news too, and it contributes to society as a whole because it will ultimately make people more productive.

When you hear news, it is your choice to keep it to yourself or to tell another person.  If you are a parent wanting to spread something good about your child, there are only a few cases where that may not be appropriate.  But if you hear a rumor about someone, especially if you do not know if it is true, you might think twice.  There may be people who need to know, who would need to take appropriate action, but it is not a reason to spread it all around the office.  When Mary and Mary went to the tomb to find it empty, they did not shout the news of the empty tomb in the streets because they were afraid that they might be accused of stealing the body.  Yet, according to the longer ending of Mark, they did tell the disciples, those who needed to know.  At first, it seemed like the empty tomb could have been bad news if the Roman government found out.

We know now, as they all did soon after those first moments, as Jesus appeared to them, that the empty tomb is good news.  It is news that we should spread.  It is just as relevant to us today because it demonstrates the power that God has over sin – that sin will not control us and defeat us – and that while we still find ourselves within the presence of temptation and of sin today, we will be saved from it.  We need this reminder almost daily because sin is always knocking at our door, and anything that distracts us from this truth makes us downcast.  The first task that we have as a community of believers is to spread the news of Christ, and the glorious knowledge that this world will not be the last of us.  We are all witnesses; we see the wonders that God works in our lives and we tell others about it, because it excites us.  It powers us.  It gives us strength to move forward.  There are so many around us who are downcast, who let negativity control them and who feel powerless to stop the slide into a depression thinking that nothing can ever be changed.  One thing after the next happens to them, and they ask “Why, God?” or lose the faith altogether.  The truth is that we are all dealt heavy blows.  But that is because we live in this world, not because our faith or our good deeds are weak.

How do we reach out to others and spread the news of Christ?  First, see the word; we declare what we have heard and seen.  The apostle John began his letter, “We declare to you what was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the word of life” (1 John 1:1).  His purpose was to testify to what he had seen with his own eyes, so that we may have fellowship with all believers and with God (1 John 1:3).  The first reason to testify to what one hears and sees is to help others to be included in the same faith, and in the same bond of love that we can all feel with each other.  We often say, “The more the merrier.”  In the Christian faith, it is really true.  With more people, we hear more workings of God in each of our lives.  God has done something for each of us.  We can each think about what that is.  It is likely that God has done more than one thing for each of us.  We have seen things that we attribute to God being with us.  God gave us a beautiful sunrise on Easter morning, for example.  God provided a friend when you needed a friend most.  Do you declare these wonders to others?  It can only help someone else find that God follows through on God’s promises.

The second reason to declare what we have seen to others is so that our joy may be complete (1 John 1:4).  We have celebrated the Easter Resurrection Sunday.  We are still in the season of Easter, where we recognize Jesus appearing to the disciples.  They could not keep the news inside of them.  When they recognized that Jesus actually had risen, when their doubts were satisfied, they became missionaries throughout the region.  Peter and Paul especially became founders of many new Christian churches, and are most known today.  Yet even those who did not travel far and wide spread the gospel message.  Those who Jesus healed wanted to go with Jesus, for example, but Jesus told many of them to go back to their town and tell others what had been done to them.  Jesus had healed a man possessed by demons before he was chased out of the town for doing so, yet, “As he was getting into the boat, the man who had been possessed by demons begged him that he might be with him. But Jesus refused, and said to him, “Go home to your friends, and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and what mercy he has shown you.” And he went away and began to proclaim in the Decapolis how much Jesus had done for him; and everyone was amazed” (Mark 5:18-20, Luke 8:39).  Those in the very city who had chased Jesus out became amazed by what the man testified to.  Can not the same be said for our cities, that even when we notice that people refuse Jesus, sharing what we have seen might win over some hearts for Christ?  This is the joy that the man testified with, for he was so happy that Jesus had healed him that all he wanted was to be with Jesus.  When he could not be with Jesus, he talked about Jesus.  His joy could not be held back.

If you are having trouble imagining this level of joy, think about the joy you feel when someone close to you succeeds.  You enjoy their success.  You are so happy for them, and you want to tell everyone about them.  This is the joy that those who want to spread the message of Jesus feel.  They cannot do anything else but spread their testimonies of what Jesus has done for them.  They are an inspiration to what I would love to grow up to be.

Third, we declare what we do to others to help them gain protection from sin.  The disciple John wrote, “I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; and he is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world” (1 John 2:1-2).  This is the celebration of Easter.  Jesus atones for our sins so that we no longer need to go into exile to answer for turning away from God.  We can simply turn back to God and we are forgiven.  The same is for everyone in the world.  If we can help others turn away from sin, or from anything that has distracted us from the reality of the presence of God, all that we must do is seek God again to be forgiven, and we may join a Christian community in order to be built up by others, and to testify to what God has done.  Yet if we do not share our joys, but keep them inside instead, no one can benefit from knowing what God is capable of doing.  The writers of the New Testament wanted to share their eyewitness accounts with any Christian who might read them, in that day and in our day, so that we may be helped from the power of sin over us and into God’s forgiveness and grace.  We must learn to recognize how God works in our lives, and then tell others about it.  Our joy should not be able to keep it in, if we have followed our Lenten call to become true Disciples of Christ.  In our Lenten series, I recommended that we keep following the calls to action even beyond Lent, and that includes today, so that we might lessen what takes our attention away from God and increase our recognition of God working in each of our lives.  Our joy will abound.

When Jesus appeared to the disciples, he said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.  If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained” (John 22-23).  Jesus has sent the disciples to continue the work that he has been doing.  Those disciples have since passed it on to us.  Even when we have not seen Jesus, but have only heard about the resurrection from those who have passed it down to us, we are called to believe.  We are called to work together and testify to what we have seen.  That way, the rest of the world may hear and believe as we have, and be protected from the power of sin in this life.  Do you believe something that you hear, or do you doubt it?  It probably depends on who you hear it from.  The disciples still doubted the Resurrection when they heard it from Mary.  Thomas doubted it when he heard it from the other disciples.  But all the writings that we read today are not playing a joke on us like Thomas may have thought.  Jesus is risen.  Jesus is among us.  And Jesus is working in us today!  The world makes us doubt that, but that is why Jesus prays for us who are in the world (John 17:8-11).  We are not to be overcome by it.  We are to overcome it with the power of the Resurrection.  And we are to spread that good news to others, so that they may also overcome the world, and live the life that they are meant to live.  May joy abound.  Christ is risen!  Let us continue the celebration.  Thanks be to God.  Amen.

Scripture Readings:

1 John 1:1-2:2
1:1 We declare to you what was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the word of life–
1:2 this life was revealed, and we have seen it and testify to it, and declare to you the eternal life that was with the Father and was revealed to us–
1:3 we declare to you what we have seen and heard so that you also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ.
1:4 We are writing these things so that our joy may be complete.
1:5 This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light and in him there is no darkness at all.
1:6 If we say that we have fellowship with him while we are walking in darkness, we lie and do not do what is true;
1:7 but if we walk in the light as he himself is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.
1:8 If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.
1:9 If we confess our sins, he who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
1:10 If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.
2:1 My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous;
2:2 and he is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.

John 20:19-31
20:19 When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.”
20:20 After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord.
20:21 Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.”
20:22 When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit.
20:23 If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”
20:24 But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came.
20:25 So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.”
20:26 A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.”
20:27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.”
20:28 Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!”
20:29 Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”
20:30 Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book.
20:31 But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.

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