+ In nomine Patris et Filii et Spiritus Sancti + Amen.
Text: John 20:23
Theme: A Sacred Trust
Dear friends in Christ Jesus,
Let the one who has not sinned cast the first stone1 - at Thomas. The prudent will be reluctant to move their tongues or their arms. Why Thomas and why this doubting? Because he was human and he was chosen to bring glory to the risen Christ. There is no use in rushing to judgment. His doubt served as the occasion to teach the faith to many. “Because you have seen Me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”2
Today’s gospel account moves us to the evening of Easter Sunday. Fear turns to amazement and then to joy. Were the disciples not at least as happy as the father of the prodigal son? Their Master now stood among them again. After a greeting of peace weighted with pardon Jesus wastes no time commissioning His disciples for the task at hand. “As the Father has sent Me, I am sending you…If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.”3
Here we have the bestowal of sacred authority. It is apostolic authority. It is pastoral authority. It is biblical authority. We should not be jaded by the negative connotation the term authority is often freighted with in modern usage. This is authority that tends only to the glory of God. It is the special authority Christ has given to His church on earth to forgive or retain sins according to Christ’s command.
Only certain men are called by the church to wield this authority on her behalf.
We are in danger- witlessly or intentionally- of propagating a view of the pastoral office that is essentially functional. That is, the belief that the minister is just there to perform certain functions. If it’s just a matter of practicality why can’t anyone do it? But the pastor is called to stand in the stead of Christ, bear the word, and be conscientious about the consequences. Some will reject God’s truth. Others will be brought to repentance. But regardless of the response the pastor is called to remain faithful to the truth; representing the faithfulness of Christ, the Bridegroom, to His Bride, the church.
The world always has and always will recoil at the Bible’s claim of exclusivity: “There is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus who gave Himself as a ransom for all men.”4 There are no grey areas in matters of truth. There is no neutral ground between the dominion of darkness and the kingdom of light. God suffers no idols- least of all elevating ourselves onto pedestals. Shades of grey and illusions of neutrality are only expressions of our ignorance and incapacities. They are exactly as transient as we are mortal. There is no safety in some ‘middle ground’ between God and Satan. God’s call to repentance is never just a generic warning to curb sinfulness. It is a specific call to turn away from self-centeredness and Satan’s interests and turn to the triune God revealed only in Jesus Christ.
God doesn’t supply air to breathe also to the wicked because He intends to convert them through such indulgences. Nor does He intend to give them the impression that it doesn’t matter anyway; that all is well in the end. What He does intend, is to show the unbelieving that He is patient with evil because He is giving opportunity for repentance. “He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.”5
To bring people to repentance and faith is exactly the on-going purpose and significance of this authority Jesus’ vested His disciples with? Our Lutheran Confessions say, “To obtain such faith God instituted the office of the ministry, that is, provided the Gospel and the sacraments. Through these, as through means, He gives the Holy Spirit, who works faith, when and where He pleases, in those who hear the Gospel.”6 Today Nathan Underwood hears the Gospel and the Holy Spirit is pleased to be present to forgive His sins and welcome Him into the kingdom. Today He is reborn of the Spirit. He has been baptized into Christ’s death and resurrection and now can live with Him. He is incorporated through the same order by which Christ opened the gates of heaven.
The sequence of Good Friday to Easter is not a presentation of possibilities, but the necessary order for the fulfillment of the promise. As Christians we understand this as a universal reality. That is, there can be no enduring life for mortals apart from the death of God’s Son. It wasn’t optional; it was necessary. God, in His infinite wisdom and compassion, determined that was the only way to redeem humanity. “He is not the God of the dead, but of the living, for to Him all are alive.”7 “In Him we live and move and have our being.”8
A soldier returning from Afghanistan had his left leg blown off in an explosion. Greeted by reporters at the airport he was asked how he felt about losing his leg in the conflict. His reply, “Sir, I didn’t lose my leg, I gave it.” It’s important as a matter of perspective. Christ didn’t simply lose His life, He gave it. He was crucified for us and for our salvation. Believers now live in expectation of a greater reality. We’re not looking to go back. We’re straddling two dimensions; being drawn into the future.
We spoke last week about the distinction between God’s work of restoration and His work of resurrection or recreation. Think of Lazarus- four days in the tomb. Could you, if you were Lazarus fully appreciate your resuscitation? Would it be a fog? Yes, it would be a mind-numbing joy to realize you were alive again. But could you grasp what you had returned from? The raising of Lazarus was for the purpose of glorifying Christ and engendering faith in those who saw it. His was a personal encounter with the Messiah that served the greater purpose of Christ’s mission. But rest assured, despite the claims of those in modern times who supposedly saw- or went to heaven and came back- it would never be our desire to return to this existence.
We must be careful not to confuse the general hardships we endure because we are part of the fallen creation (or the general goodness we enjoy because God is merciful to that creation) with the chastisements or sacred blessings that come because we are His children. Of course the two realities overlap. Christ came to release the creation from its bondage holistically. Physical healing only happens at His pleasure. Spiritual life is only accomplished with His blessing.
In church and in our baptismal living we are ‘practicing’ our resurrection. It is a spiritual reality every time we are absolved. It is a foretaste of the feast to come every time we commune. Your sins- the temptations particular to your weaknesses- still chase you, but they do not constitute your identity. They stalk you but they do not label you. Temptations will always accompany you in your Christian life. But the Holy Spirit is your companion. You cannot be free of temptations - Satan is persistent. But you can be free of the punishment of sin and the condemnation of God’s wrath. You can be free from the burden of guilt.
Again, the challenge lies in the fact that we are often expecting, praying for, and working towards restoration; when in fact what Christ is bestowing on us is resurrection. Christ is living and we have new life in Him. He bears the scars of His crucifixion. These are the trophies that give our lives meaning. Amen.
+ In nomine Jesu +
Second Sunday of Easter
7 April 2013
Reverend Darrin L. Kohrt
1 See John 8:7
2 John 20:29
3 John 20:21, 23
4 1 Timothy 2:5-6
5 2 Peter 3:9
6 Augsburg Confession, Article 5
7 Luke 20:38
8 Acts 17:28