Two months ago my colleague at A Rocha International invited me to contribute an entry for the Sustainable Preaching website, providing “ideas and outlines for creation care sermons based on the Lectionary Readings.” I was given a particular set of scriptural readings for the Sunday after Easter this year. Part of these readings from the Gospel, John 20:19-23, caught my attention again.
Before digging into that particular passage, allow me to start at the very beginning of that same Gospel:
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. … The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth,“ ~ John 1
John the Apostle was essentially proclaiming that the Sovereign Lord God had returned, pitching his tent among his people, showing forth everywhere his glory, which actually means his all-encompassing presence. As the glorious presence of the Lord God was manifested in the person of Jesus throughout the Gospel, the visions of Shalom were invoked once again – turning water into wine, feeding the hungry, healing the sick, restoring the outcast, liberating the possessed, even raising the dead.
Leaping forward to the end of John’s Gospel, this same Word, the resurrected Lord Jesus, appeared in front of his fearful but anticipating disciples, and told them:
21 … “Shalom be with you! As the Father has sent me, so I am sending you.” 22 And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive anyone’s sins, their sins are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.” ~ John 20
Hearing the deep echo of John 1:14, we can see that Jesus was essentially saying: “I am sending you all now in the similar fashion as God the Father has sent me.” Jesus the Word was sent to dwell among us, the world, “pitching his tent in our neighbourhoods.” (The Message) And that is the glorious presence of the Son with us, full of grace and truth.
Here Jesus commissioned his followers, essentially meaning all Christians, to be his faithful presence in the world with grace and truth, the same way as God sent his only beloved Son pitching the tent among his people once again. AND they were “installed” into this commission, with a perplexed gesture of “breathing on” the disciples by the resurrected Jesus; again this was another powerful echo, this time in Genesis 2 – the Lord God installing his priestly representative in his Temple (ref. Adam being installed in the Garden) – now not just one but many.
What would this grace-and-truth-filled faithful presence look like in our world today then? How would this presence impact the core Christian mission of reconciliation and shalom-making? I could imagine such presence be found:
- in planting trees or restoring wetlands;
- in the corporate boardrooms discerning for decarbonized financing;
- in the local community gardens advocating food security and climate resilience;
- in welcoming those fleeing from their homelands because of climate and environmental disasters, providing aids or welcoming them to our homes;
- on the campaign trails for environmentally conscious politicians and alongside with the youth in the climate marches;
- in the engineering labs testing newer generation of energy saving technology;
- in the financial advisor’s office, bridging and advocating for the wellbeing of both the investors and the communities and habitats being impacted by the investment being managed and putting forward;
Or whatever sphere or situation we might find ourselves in!