Big Idea: Who are we? We are people who are forgiven and sent.
In the movie Memento, Leonard Shelby is an ex-insurance investigator whose wife dies. The last thing that he can remember is the death of his wife. He tries to solve his wife’s murder, but there’s a problem. Because of a blow to the head by the murder, Leonard has a type of amnesia that makes it impossible for him to remember anything new for more than a few minutes. As he tries to solve his wife’s murder, he has to create a system to help him remember things using notes, Polaroid photos, and tattoos.
During the movie, one of the characters says to Leonard: “You don't know who you are anymore.”
“Of course I do,” Leonard responds. “I’m Leonard Shelby. I'm from San Francisco.”
“No, that's who you were,” Teddy says. “Maybe it's time you started investigating yourself.”
What follows is a series of revelations about Leonard that cause him to question his identity. He then suffers a severe identity crisis that leads to the movie's shocking ending — all because he can't remember who he is.
“You don’t know who you are anymore…Maybe it’s time you started investigating yourself.” These are great words, and I want to apply them to us today. When we forget who we are, it has disastrous consequences, and it leads to an identity crisis.
So today I want to look at the passage we just read and ask one simple question: who are we? And this passage gives us two answers.
1. We are forgiven
Here’s the background to the passage. Jesus has just been raised from the dead. Most of Jesus’ followers hid in fear when Jesus died. Many of them wouldn’t even believe that he had risen again. Jesus is meeting with his followers again, and it’s a potentially awkward moment. How will Jesus respond to his closest friends who let him down at the crucial moment of his death?
John 20:19 says, “On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the doors being locked where the disciples were for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, ‘Peace be with you.’”
Jesus could have said, "I've got something to say to you..." He could have condemned them for abandoning him. He could have criticized them for hiding. He didn't come, though, with a word of condemnation. He came instead with the everyday greeting, "Peace be with you."
In English, that sounds like he's saying a lot. That's not how we normally greet people. In that culture, this was a standard greeting. Jesus came in and simply said our equivalent of "Hello." He repeated himself in verse 21, saying again, “Peace be with you.” By the time he repeated it the second time, it began to take on more than the customary meaning of “hello.” Jesus was extending peace to people who had let him down. Jesus is restoring relationship with people who had abandoned him.
He knows who he's dealing with. He knows their doubts and their failings. Here, and in other conversations with his followers after his resurrection, he reestablishes a relationship with these very normal people. He doesn't write them off or dismiss them. He reestablishes a relationship with them.
Here's the thing about Jesus that we need to understand. He is very aware of our shortcomings. A few years ago, the then-new president of the University of Toronto admitted that he was suffering from a case of impostor syndrome. “It was one of the more acute attacks of impostor syndrome that I've had,” he said. “You have a real sense that this is an enormous responsibility and worry that this is something you've been chosen to do by some misunderstanding.”
I think there is also such a thing as spiritual impostor syndrome, to think that God has chosen us due to some misunderstanding, or to think that God wouldn't have chosen us if he knew the truth about us. Of course, we know that God doesn't have any illusions about us. He's never surprised by how we let him down. It's not some misunderstanding. God looks at our lives, and he understands our weakness, and his word - because of what Christ has done for us - is, “Peace be with you.”
When I was twelve, I started to struggle in an area of sin that I thought was really bad. I somehow thought that I was struggling in an area that was unusual for a person who claimed to be a Christian. I remember feeling overwhelmed with guilt. I talked to a couple of people I looked up to, and they recommended that I talk to my pastor about it.
I did. I was as nervous as anything. I suppose I was hoping that he would understand, and I was afraid that I would see this shocked look on his face when I admitted my struggle. I told him, and for a second — before he had a chance to recover — I could tell that he was truly shocked.
We need to remember that Jesus is never shocked by what we've been struggling with. He's not surprised or overwhelmed by our failures and our doubts. He knows, and he still comes to us — even in our failure and our fears — and re-establishes a relationship with us.
He even understands and reassures our doubts. "When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side" (John 20:20). Jesus is not surprised by your sins and your doubts as he looks at you. He has no illusions about who you are.
This is huge, and it forms our identity, our understanding of who we are. We are, before anything else, a community of sinners who are in relationship with God not because of having it together. We are a community of people who are in relationship with God because Jesus looked at us in our weakness and said, "Peace be with you." We are a community of grace because we have received so much grace.
That is primarily how I understand who we are at Liberty Grace Church. Who are we? We are ordinary people who let God down, but have encountered Jesus and heard his words, “Peace be with you.” The thing that ties us together as a group of people is that we are in relationship with God through Jesus Christ. We are not in relationship with God because we are any better than anybody else. We are in relationship with God despite our weaknesses and failures and doubts. It’s all because Jesus has initiated this relationship with us.
This is the basis of our identity. It shapes everything about us. It also means that as we come into contact with others, we don't go, "Ha! Sinner!" We live as those who have been forgiven, so we can live and explain grace and joy and peace and hope.
This is who we are - a group of people who know failure and doubt, but who are in relationship with Jesus. This is important but it's not enough. This is key to our identity. We are people who have been forgiven.
But that’s not all that we are.
2. We are sent.
After Jesus re-establishes a relationship with his followers, he gives them a job to do — one that is unbelievable, considering their failures. He passes the baton to them, and gives his job over to them.
This is the opposite of what you'd expect. These people fail the test, and Jesus comes to them and puts them in charge. Jesus looks at us, sees who we are, and still he gives us the responsibility of doing what he did during his ministry.
Verses 21-23 say:
Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.” And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.”
Jesus restates his mission - “As the Father has sent me…” Jesus talked a lot about being sent by his Father. Over and over again, he talked about the reason for his existence, and the reason for what he was doing. “As the Father has sent me…” Jesus served because Jesus was sent. He preached, healed, and forgave because that is what God called him to do. Jesus was always clear on his mission, what he was there to do.
Jesus accomplished this mission by going to those who were out of relationship with him. He talked about not going to the spiritually healthy but to those who weren't doing well spiritually. His ministry was grounded in the nature of God, who is a sending God.
You can capture the sweep of this throughout Scripture. One of the big macro-themes is the image of God. God made us in his image (imago dei). This image has been broken by sin. God's been working to restore that image, to undo the damage caused by sin. The Bible tells us that we're being changed into the image of Christ, who is in the image of God. He's restoring that image.
Another macro-theme is the mission of God (missio dei). God is on mission to restore that image. The whole Bible is about the mission of God. God chose a people to carry out his mission to bless the world. God sent his Son to carry out this mission. Now, Jesus gives the mission to those who follow him, to the glory of God (gloria dei).
In other words, we were made in the image of God to participate in the mission of God, all for the glory of God.
This is the reason for our existence as a church, as a group of people. It's rooted in the very nature of God. God is a sending God. The Father sent Jesus; the Father and the Son sent the Spirit; the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit together send the church into the world.
Ed Stetzer and Daniel Im write:
God is a missionary God in this culture and in every culture. His nature does not change with location. Therefore, a missionary posture should be the normal expression of the church in all times and places..
The church needs to realize that mission is its fundamental identity. A nonmissional church misrepresents the true nature of the church. (Planting Missional Churches)
Who are we? We are people who are forgiven and sent. We’ve been given a mission by God who is on mission. We are a missionary people. We are a group of people who have been sent into this community to do what Jesus did. We've been called to enter the lives of people who are out there. We have been sent to leave our place of security, to risk ourselves, to travel to the places where people are, to go onto their turf rather than to expect them to come onto our turf. We've been called to become missionaries in our own societies, to understand our culture, to creatively engage the issues of the day. We've been sent into the world just as Christ as sent.
I find it fairly easy to remember the first part — that we’re forgiven — compared to remembering the second part of our identity: that we’re sent. But we need both parts of our identity. When we forget our mission, we soon lose the very nature of what it means to be the church. We lose our identity as the missionary people of God.
A church can't exist without mission. It's not an add-on or part of what we do. There is no such thing as a missions budget. The entire budget of the church is the missions budget. The essence of the church is to live in relationship with God, sent into the world just as Christ was sent into the world.
Think this is too much? I don't blame you. This is why Jesus breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” He’s given us everything we need to carry out our mission.
God has called you. He's not surprised by your mistakes or doubts. He's given you the job to be sent to live and serve just as Jesus lived and served. Reggie McNeal says:
God must have a lot of confidence in you to put you on the planet at just this time. It was his sovereign decision to insert you onto planet earth during a time of huge transition. It takes incredible faith to lead or follow Christ during hinge points of history ... Jesus doesn't slam you for your doubts, fears and uncertainties either. He wants to encourage you in your current assignment. (Reggie McNeal, The Present Future)
God must have had a lot of confidence in you? That's sort of right. God had confidence in what his Spirit could do through ordinary, failed people like us.
Some of us have been ordained as pastors. But some of you have an even higher calling. You've been ordained as teachers, firefighters, students, sales representatives, parents. You've been sent to where you live and work and study, just as Christ was sent.
You're not there by accident. God has strategically placed you there. He's given you all the resources you need. You have been sent. You are in relationship with God, and sent into the world to be a blessing to the world.
So today I want to ask you: Who are you? Who are we as a church? And the answer comes in two words. We are forgiven, and we are sent.
In the coming weeks, we’re going to talk about what this means for us as we try to live it out. But today I just want to pick up the notes, Polaroids, and tattoos, just like the character in the Memento movie, because like him, we tend to forget who we are.
Remember the line I mentioned from the movie? “You don’t know who you are anymore…Maybe it’s time you started investigating yourself.” What would happen if we investigated ourselves and reminded ourselves that we are forgiven and sent? What if we left clues about this so that we remembered this every day of our lives? How would we live our lives differently if we lived out of this identity? My suspicion is that it would change everything.
Who are we? We are people who are forgiven and sent. And this, my friends, changes everything.
Father, thank you today that the story doesn’t end with our failure. Thank you that Jesus enters the room and says, “Peace be with you.” And then he repeats himself to make sure we get the point. Thank you that we are forgiven and restored into relationship with you. It’s a core piece of our identity. We have been forgiven.
But thank you also that we’ve been sent. We are your missionary people, sent a missionary God. Thank you that you haven’t just given us a mission, but you’ve given us the Holy Spirit so we could carry out this mission.
I pray that this identity would shape everything about our lives. Help us to remember every day who we are: that we are people who are forgiven and sent. We pray this in Jesus’ name. Amen.