Quasimodogeniti Sunday Sermon
March 30, 2008
“Words of Peace”
St. John 20, 21-23
So Jesus said to them again, “Peace to you! As the Father has sent Me, I also send 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 retain the sins of any, they are retained.” St. John 20, 21-23
Jesus says to his disciples, “Peace be with you.” Then he shows them the wounds he suffered when he was dying for them. Then he says again, “Peace be with you.” There is a connection between his wounds and the peace he speaks to them. The peace he pronounced upon them was won by his suffering. The wounds he suffered bring us peace. As Isaiah foretold, “The chastisement for our peace was upon him.”
It is on the cross that Jesus secures our peace. Listen to what St. Paul writes in Colossians 1, 19-20
Our peace with God is not secured by us. Peace with God does not come about as a result of anything that we do. It comes from God. First, the prophets foretold it. Isaiah called the promised Savior the Prince of Peace. Then the angels preached it: Jesus’ birth brought peace on earth and goodwill toward men. Then the Lord Jesus won it. He faced the wrath of God against sinful humanity. He bore the just punishment for the sin of the world. In suffering for sins he took them away. He secured peace with God.
And there he was, standing in front of the disciples. They saw the wounds he suffered. Later, Thomas would see and believe.
We were not there. To give a simple answer to the question the singer repeatedly asks in the popular song, “No, I was not there when they crucified my Lord.” None of us was there. We live here and now. He died then and there. We need peace in our lives right now. We need to hear the words of peace that Jesus spoke. Otherwise, the account of Jesus speaking peace to his disciples on that first Easter evening will remain mere history for us.
Jesus was sent by his Father. Jesus sent the apostles, even as he had been sent. The Father sent his Son to establish peace between God and mankind. Jesus, the Son of God, accomplished this. God is reconciled. His anger is removed. Just as the Father sent his Son, the Son sent the apostles. He gave to them the authority to forgive and to retain sins. As St. Paul writes: “God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not imputing their trespasses to them, and has committed to us the word of reconciliation.” 2 Corinthians 5, 19
Since God is the one against whom all sins are committed, it is God alone who has the authority to forgive sins. Since Jesus is the One who suffered and died for the sin of all people, and since Jesus Christ is God in the flesh, Jesus alone has the authority to forgive sins. Since Jesus gave the authority to forgive sins to his Church and to his whole Church and to nobody but his Church, the Church is the only place where forgiveness of sins is available.
There is no authority to forgive sins in the Lodge, in the Mosque, in the synagogue, in the University, or in the corridors of power of the various kingdoms of this world. The United States Supreme Court doesn’t have this authority. Neither does the President. Neither does the Congress. Neither do the Army, the Navy, the Air Force, or the Marines. The Holy Christian Church is the only entity in this world that has the authority to forgive sins.
Jesus gave this authority to the apostles when he sent them out to preach the gospel. He didn’t ordain them by laying his hands on their heads. He breathed on them. Ordination would come later. It was the apostles who ordained and commanded that ministers be ordained and so it has been in the Church from the time of the apostles. But Jesus himself ordained no one. Why not? Why did he send out the apostles by breathing the Holy Spirit on them instead of by ordaining them into the office? He did it as he did it in order to teach his Church that the office of teaching the gospel and administering the sacraments belongs to the whole Church. Indeed, this office belongs to every Christian. All those who have the Holy Spirit have the authority to forgive and retain sins.
Any Christian can speak God’s word of law that condemns sinners to hell. Any Christian can speak God’s word of gospel that pronounces sinners forgiven of all their sins and rescued from death and everlasting punishment. The law and the gospel are true and powerful whether spoken by a minister or by a layperson. God gives us all many opportunities to share his word with family, friends, fellow students, coworkers, and others we see in our daily lives.
But Jesus did more than give the authority to forgive to his Church. He also established a specific office in and for his Church on earth that exists for the sole purpose of preaching the gospel and administering the sacraments so that the peace with God and the forgiveness of sins that Jesus gained might be given to those in need. The apostles were the first incumbents of this office. The same Jesus who earned the forgiveness of sins for us all gave to us, his Holy Christian Church, the authority to forgive sins.
This is how you and I know that when I preach the gospel, baptize, absolve, and distribute to you Christ’s body and blood for the forgiveness of sins I am doing so by the authority of Jesus Christ. First Evanger Lutheran Church in Fertile, Grace Lutheran Church in Crookston, and First American Lutheran Church in Mayville are Christian congregations to whom Jesus has given the power of the keys. When a Christian congregation – or three Christian congregations, as the case may be – appoints a man to preach the gospel and administer the sacraments of Christ in their midst, it is Jesus Christ himself who is doing so. He gave the Holy Spirit and the ministry of reconciliation to his whole Church. Therefore, the call of the Church to a man to preach the gospel and administer the sacraments is the call from God.
God established one and only one office in the Church to preach the gospel and administer the sacraments. God sent the apostles to forgive and retain sins, to baptize, to preach the gospel, to administer the Lord’s Supper. This is what God sends his ministers to do. The Church may establish various offices to assist the divinely established office. Such offices are neither commanded nor forbidden by God.
The office of the ministry is a hotly debated topic among Lutherans and many errors are promoted. The ELCA ordains women as preachers even though the Bible forbids women to preach. The WELS and the ELS teach that parochial school teachers are in the ministry of the word even though the Bible says not one word about the office of parochial school teacher. The pietistic Lutherans regularly have laymen preaching, even though we Lutherans confess in the Augsburg Confession in accordance with God’s word that no one should preach, teach, or administer the sacraments in the church unless he is rightly called, and that means called and ordained.
But the biggest error concerning the Holy Ministry comes from the religious culture of America. It penetrates every church body in America. It is a culture of radical individualism when it comes to spiritual matters. It distrusts ministerial authority. It distains any definitive or dogmatic claims to the truth. It makes the individual believer his own authority in spiritual matters. If you say that the man in the pulpit speaks for God, the average American will deny that anyone anywhere speaks for God, least of all a preacher of organized religion.
They distrust ministerial authority in the name of spiritual freedom. Yet, ironically, they enjoy no spiritual freedom. They are bound in sin. Even if no minister is there to tell them that their sins are retained that doesn’t mean that their sins are not retained. True, Jesus took away all sin on the cross, but it is just as true that those who live in impenitence do not have the forgiveness of sins. Those who regard their sins lightly and see no need to repent do not trust the gospel of the forgiveness of sins. They remain unforgiven. And even as they rail against the ecclesiastical authority that faithful ministers claim to speak on God’s behalf, it is precisely this authority that these self-deluded sinners need.
It’s tragic. The Church and her ministers are seen as the enemy, as if they exist only to put guilt trips on spiritually free souls. In fact, the Church is the oasis of living water in this world and her ministers are the voice of God speaking peace to sinners facing death and hell.
Recently, the Governor of New York resigned in the midst of a scandal. He had been involved in a prostitution ring. When he publicly apologized for his wrongdoing, he did not confess to committing sins against God nor did he confess to committing crimes against the State. Instead, he confessed to failing to meet his own standards. That’s how it is. Each one of us is his own god or goddess and the only standard we must meet is the standard we set.
But that’s just not true. God’s law stands as the standard for conduct that defines good and evil, right and wrong. An informed Christian conscience surely knows the difference! When we find ourselves embracing sin and refusing to repent we need the voice of God spoken with authority telling us that if we do not repent of our sin we will surely be condemned. And when our consciences accuse us and we seek God’s forgiveness and we listen to the words of absolution spoken to us by Christ’s minister we hear words of peace that no mere human authority can give. Thank God for his words of peace! Thank God for his ministry of peace that provides these words to us in our need!
Rolf D. Preus