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The Joyful Mission. Quasimodogeniti 2016

jesus risen with thomas

Quasimodogeniti (2nd Sunday of Easter)

St. Peter Lutheran Church

St. John 20:19-31

April 3, 2016

“The Joyful Mission”

 

Iesu Iuva

Alleluia! Christ is risen!

 

It is the evening of the first Easter Sunday. St. John pictures the eleven disciples of Jesus sitting inside a house with the doors locked “for fear of the Jews.”

 

Why were the disciples afraid? It’s simple. Outside was death. Jesus had been murdered days before, and Jesus’ disciples were nowhere near as strong as He.

 

But then, says John, this miserable handful of scared men begins to rejoice. “Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you.’ When He had said this, He showed them His hands and His side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord.” (John 20:19-20)

 

Our flesh might expect the story to end here, happily ever after, with the disciples basking in the peace of God.

 

But it is not the end of the story.

 

Jesus doesn’t stop at proclaiming forgiveness of sins and peace with God to His beleaguered disciples in that room. His reign of salvation and life extends to the ends of the earth, to all people and throughout time. “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.’” (John 20:22-23)

 

Jesus empowers and sends the disciples to be the risen Christ, so to speak, to the world. They aren’t Him, but they are given His power and authority, so that when they say, “Peace be with you,” it is the peace of the Lord and conqueror of death.

 

He’s sending them out of those doors that they have locked to try to keep out death. He’s sending them out into the world that killed Him and which will also kill them. But they are no longer to fear death. They are to reign over it.

 

He’s sending them out to reign with Him as King.

 

They will go out into the world and exercise Jesus’ authority to forgive sins and to hold sins unforgiven. They will go out into the world like little Lord Christs, and in His name they will forgive some sinners and they will hold some sinners bound in their sins until the day of judgment.

 

 

But why would Jesus give this prerogative of God to eleven men who were unable to stand by Him when He suffered?

 

That is a good question. But it’s not simply a question about the disciples then; it also concerns us, who have been made Jesus’ disciples by Baptism and catechesis.

 

All Christians are called to reign as little Lord Christs. Every Christian is called to participate in forgiving and retaining sins—by supporting the Church and the ministry of Word and Sacraments, by proclaiming God’s Word to family and neighbors. Every Christian is called to reign with Christ by serving the world with words and deeds. Finally, every Christian is to share the marks of the Lord Jesus’ Christ’s Kingdom; to endure the cross and suffering for the privilege of proclaiming His forgiveness and judgment.

 

But the question is how Jesus can give you this royal privilege, the authority to “forgive and retain sins”, also known in the Catechism as the office of the keys. You too have proven untrustworthy. You have been embarrassed of Jesus, have run away to save your skin when you should have willingly endured the cross with your Lord.

 

This is not the way who believe in risen Lord should act. They should not be afraid, but be joyful. The disciples rejoiced when they saw the risen Lord; they didn’t remember how they were small in number, how their enemies were great and powerful, how death was waiting for them outside the door. They rejoiced when they saw Jesus, because in Him they had peace with God. It was as if they no longer remembered their weakness, their sins, the hostility of the world, or death.

 

Yet many baptized Christians act as if all they can see is the church’s weakness, the hostility of the world, the pain of the cross, and the power of death. It’s as if Jesus hasn’t risen, conquered death, loosed us from sins, and as if He isn’t present in our midst in flesh and blood.

 

In other words, they manifest unbelief.

 

And as a result, by no means are they willing to go outside the locked room and reign with Jesus.

 

What is this but to live as if Christ is not risen? Hypocritical Christians don’t recognize this. They don’t realize they are called to reign with Christ; they are content to live what they consider virtuous lives in the flesh. They say, “I do enough. I go to church. I’m as good a Christian as anyone can expect. Surely Jesus doesn’t expect me to put my life, reputation, comfort, or standard of living at risk to be a Christian. After all, we’re supposed to be saved by grace apart from works.”

 

Real Christians, however, are troubled by this failure to follow Jesus out of hiding and self-protection. They recognize that when Jesus gives us peace with God, it’s not an earthly peace. Peace with God means that God exalts us with Christ. We become “a royal priesthood”, as Lutherans are fond of saying—kings and priests together with Jesus. But as kings with Jesus, we go into the world not to be served, but to serve. We proclaim God’s law and His Gospel, we serve our neighbor in every way. But we also endure hostility from the world and the devil. To receive Christ’s blessing, “Peace be with you” by true faith at the same time means to receive His cross. Christians are troubled to recognize all the ways we try to avoid the cross. They are all manifestations of our unbelief in Jesus’ victory over sin, death, and the world.

 

And this is another reason why Jesus gave the office of the Keys to the Church. It isn’t simply so that we may forgive and retain the sins of those outside of the visible boundaries of the Church. Jesus gave this authority also for the sake of those within the visible Church, so that those who are baptized and yet struggle to leave the locked room may be loosed of their sins.

 

When Jesus rose from the dead and proclaimed, “Peace be with you” to His disciples, He was proclaiming not only that they were forgiven, but that they were new creatures. What they saw themselves to be—men who a few days before had fallen away from Christ, who were weak and unworthy to be His disciples—was not who they were anymore. Jesus forgave them everything, and His forgiveness also meant that the old disciples had died and new men had risen in their place.

 

And when you are absolved of your sins, Jesus frees you from them as well. Their guilt is taken away. But you are also not the person you were before. You live now by His Spirit. Your sins, inscribed on His flesh with nail and spear, died when He lay in the tomb; now that He is risen, the wounds are memorials before God of your priceless worth to Him. The old you has died, nailed to the cross with the Lord, and you now live in Him who died and has been raised again, in Him over whom sin and death have no dominion (Romans 6).

 

That is what enables us to go out into the world to reign with Him—this appearance by Jesus declaring that His work for our justification is finished.

 

Yet in the Church so many people seem to be unaware of the fact that in the Divine Service, in the Scriptures, in the Sacraments, and in Absolution, Jesus is appearing to us with peace just as in that locked room on the first Easter. This is shown by so many people’s lukewarmness toward His Word and Sacraments. People don’t come to pastors and say, “Show us Jesus.” Generally pastors have to urge people not to despise the Divine Service, Bible Study, and so on. But nowhere is this more evident than in people’s disregard of absolution.

 

Yes, we’re willing to be absolved in general, as we do in the service. But that’s really not much different than what happens in preaching, except we add a general confession of sins to it. A sainted member of the church once remarked to me that private confession and absolution probably made it seem “more real”. This person never came to private confession but understood that it’s easy to admit in a general way “I’m a sinner” without owning the sins by which we have earned damnation. Similarly, it’s easy to hear “I forgive you all your sins” in the same way—as a general statement about the way God works instead of a personal forgiveness for our personal unfaithfulness. General statements don’t usually provide much comfort.

 

The reality is that everyone struggles with sin. It’s true that God has already assured us of the forgiveness of sins in the Scripture. Yet it is also true that many people doubt whether that forgiveness applies to them because of the state of their heart. When you reveal your sins in front of the man God has called to speak in His name, and that man forgives your sins with the authority Christ here gives to His Church, it provides comfort and assurance that is greater than your heart.

 

In private confession and absolution God’s forgiveness spoken in response to the very things that make you feel alienated from God. The absolution says those things are forgiven, and that you are not the person that you see in yourself, who has repeatedly failed Christ and cannot be trusted to reign with Him. You are a new person, raised from the dead to live before God in righteousness and purity forever.

 

Private absolution says, “You can speak God’s judgment and grace to the world because you are not the slave of sin you once were. You are released from sin and condemnation; peace be with you.” You are righteous through Christ, and everything He has is yours. You are no longer under the law’s curse; you have been set free from the law, having died to it through the body of Jesus.

 

Of course, no one is going to force you to confess and receive absolution privately. No one should be forced to receive the gifts of Christ. If our need and the greatness of the gifts don’t compel us to come to hear God’s Word preached, or to baptize our children, or receive the Lord’s Supper, or go to Bible study, or read it at home, or confess and be absolved, external force won’t help. It would be wrong for me, however, not to show you the greatness of Christ’s gifts and remind you of your need.

 

But mostly I preach this for those who see their need for it and desire the blessing, but who are afraid or ashamed; I preach this to encourage you to come. I cannot invite you as graciously as Jesus invites you; I wish I could. I can tell you that Jesus welcomes sinners and those who are weak in faith. He wants them especially to receive His comfort and pardon. I can tell you that the greater our sins appear to us, the more worthy we are of condemnation, the more graciously Jesus invites us to come to Him. When we come, He will not only forgive us. He will wipe our guilt and shame away entirely. He will make us reign with Him, seat us above the holy angels, make them our servants.

 

I can tell you that when Jesus showed the disciples His hands and side He didn’t do it simply to show it was Him, nor did He do it to remind them of their sins. It was also an invitation to them to consider how sincerely He loved them and had how completely He had forgiven and put away their sins. The place of the nails and the spear in His body are seals to us that we no longer have anything to fear, but have peace with God that can’t be taken away.

 

By those same marks Jesus invites and urges us to come to Him so that we may hear Him say, “Peace be with you”. I pray that you will hear His invitation and recognize that when He opens His Word, bestows His Sacraments, and absolves us, He comes into our midst with peace as He came into that locked room. And when He does so He enables us to leave our locked rooms and go forth into the world with His peace to reign with Him.

 

Alleluia! Christ is Risen!

 

Soli Deo Gloria

No Way. Quasimodogeniti 2014. John 20:19-31

Guercino_-_Doubting_Thomas_-_WGA10951Quasimodogeniti + St. Peter Lutheran Church + St. John 20:19-31 + April 27, 2014

“No way”

 

No way.    Sorry.

 

I’ve been with you guys for 3 years now, so I know how you operate.

 

You’re on fire for Jesus until it might cost you something.  Then it’s, “No, I don’t know this man you’re talking about.”

 

You’re all about Jesus as long as you think you stand to gain something.

 

So you tell me you saw Him.  You say you know it wasn’t a hallucination because He showed you the holes in His hands and the slit in His side.  You tell me He sent you, He breathed on you, gave you the Spirit.

 

No way.  I’ll believe you when I put my finger through the holes where the nails were and reach my hand into the gash in his side.

+++

 

Poor Thomas.  This wasn’t just about the facts—whether or not Jesus rose from the dead.

 

This was about jealousy.  He rose from the dead, and all the disciples got to see Him except Judas and Thomas.

 

Poor Thomas could see all the reasons why Jesus shouldn’t send these ten disciples to be His messengers.

 

He could see their sins, but couldn’t hear the joyful message—“We have seen the Lord!”

 

If Thomas could have heard that, then he could have heard the grave that was so much bigger than who got to see Jesus and who gets authority and who gets to be first.

 

Christ is risen!  That means—you’re free.

 

Whether you saw Him or didn’t.  It doesn’t matter if you are the one who saw Him or who gets to be in charge.  You’re free!  Death and hell no longer hold you!

 

Thomas didn’t hear that.  Didn’t see Jesus sending the others with this key of freedom for Thomas.  He just saw theses sinners trying to exalt themselves over him again.

 

Poor Thomas!  Look what he almost missed!

 

Poor us!  Look what we are missing!

 

Read more…

Familiar Chains. Wednesday after Oculi, 2014.

False Witnesses Before CaiaphasWednesday after Oculi + St. Peter Lutheran Church + What sins should we confess? [Small Catechism] (Passion History Part III) + March 26, 2014 +  Familiar Chains

 

Iesu iuva!

What sins should we confess?  Before God we should plead guilty of all sins, even those we are not aware of, as we do in the Lord’s Prayer.  But before the pastor we should confess only those sins that we know and feel in our hearts.

 

…..

If you get away from God, you’ll have freedom. Absolute freedom. You won’t have to worry about doing what He says and you won’t have to worry about dying.

 

Get away from God or get rid of Him; then you’ll be free. Unlimited freedom.

 

 

But really, chains.

Adam hides. That’s his freedom.

 

Peter hides and he won’t come back because he’s trying to escape chains and death. But he gets a different kind of chain. He has to keep lying and stay away from God in order to maintain his freedom.

 

Jesus doesn’t look like He’s free to us, but He is.

He confesses the true God. He confesses Himself.

He knows full well what this means; the people will want to kill Him.

He also knows that it is the Father’s will.

It seems to us that denying His Father (and Himself) would make Him free and that doing the Father’s will has made Him a slave.

 

Sin is a chain.

It gets you away from God. It cuts you off.

But to turn back to God is to turn back to punishment; the wages of sin is death.

To confess your sins to God is not like a get out of jail free card. Confessing your sins does not earn you freedom. Confessing your sins is like turning yourself in to the police.

 

It is to agree with God’s law that you deserve death.

 

It doesn’t make you not a sinner anymore. It’s like if Jeffrey Dahmer turns himself in to the police or pleads guilty. He isn’t now good and fit for life in normal society. He’s still worthy of punishment. He still would do unspeakable things if you let him out on the street again.

 

It’s not confessing that makes us free from the chains of sin.

It’s Jesus receiving our penalty of death and hell for us.

Then rising from the dead with our new life.

 

 

Read more…

“I Appoint You to a Kingdom.” Wednesday after Invocabit 2014. “What is the Office of the Keys?”

Lenten Midweek Vespers + St. Peter Lutheran Church+ March 12, 2014

Passion History, Part 1 + “What is the Office of the Keys?  Where is this written?”

“I appoint you to a kingdom”

 

Iesu Iuva!

 

As surely as I live God said, I would not see the sinner dead.

I want him turned from error’s ways; repentant, living endless days.

 

God doesn’t have pleasure in damning sinners.  He wants to see them turned, repentant, and forgiven.

 

It’s because David knew that about God that he is so bold when he prays to God for forgiveness in Psalm 51.  Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, cleanse me from my sin, blot out my transgressions according to your steadfast love.  Purge me with hyssop and I will be clean.  Wash me and I will be whiter than snow.

 

And when David is cleansed of his awful sin of murder and adultery?  Then I will teach transgressors Your ways, and sinners will turn back to you.

 

Because David will teach them who the Lord is—He is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, eager to see those who have sinned be reclaimed.  David will say, “See, this is what the Lord did for me.  He cleansed me from bloodguilt.  He made me whiter than snow.”

 

God does not want the sinner dead and damned.  He wants him to come back and be saved.

 

But first the sinner has to realize his sin.  When they don’t, they have a different spirit.  They do have pleasure in damning, in condemnation.

 

See the priests.  They are not like the Lord.  They do have pleasure in the death of sinners.  They plot in the darkness to have Jesus killed.  They don’t come out in the open and say, “Jesus is a false prophet.”  They’re afraid of the people.  They’re more concerned about their well-being than about the people God has appointed them to serve by telling them the truth, His Word.

 

But when Judas comes to hand Jesus over, they are delighted.  God has no pleasure in the death of sinners.  He condemns them and punishes them, but has no pleasure in it.

 

But the priests have pleasure in it.

 

How different Jesus is!

 

He is about to die unjustly.  His disciples are going to leave Him in the lurch while He suffers for them.

 

You know that after two days is the Passover, and the Son of Man will be handed over to be crucified.

 

If you knew you were going to be betrayed and killed in a matter of days, would you find it hard to think about other people?  Would you lament the injustice?  Would you be afraid?

 

All Jesus is concerned about is His disciples.  About the people He is going to serve and die for—the apostles, but also the Church that would come after them, born from their preaching and service.

 

He is loving them.  Proclaiming the Passover.  Longing to eat it with them.  Turning it into the new testament of His body and blood.  Teaching them about His kingdom and what greatness in His kingdom is.

 

He loves them to the end.  He loves them to the fullest.  He fills up the full measure of love toward them and us.  He gives Himself completely.

 

The Father gave all things into his hands—really?  As He is about to be handed over and to suffer not just nails, spitting, flogging, a crown of thorns, mockery, agony in the garden—but above all God’s righteous wrath against sin?  Really everything is in his hands?

 

Yes, right then, when He gives up everything for sinners, He reigns.

 

He reigns from the cross.  Because He pays for all sins, He has authority to forgive sins and retain them.

 

….

 

SDG

The Gates of the City are Always Open–Sermon, Quasimodogeniti 2013.

April 10, 2013 4 comments

IVNYI_~1Quasimodogeniti

St. Peter Lutheran Church

St. John 20:19-31

April 7, 2013

Jesu juva!

Alleluia!  Christ is risen!

Beloved of our Lord Jesus,

Jerusalem’s gates will never be shut (Rev. 21, Is. 60).  This means they have no fear of attackers.  Jerusalem is the Christian church, Christ’s little flock.

But the doors are shut where the disciples are.  They know there are bad people outside who want to hurt them.

This is not the life Jesus promised the Church.  John says in the Epistle: Everyone who is born of God overcomes the world.  This is the victory that has overcome the world: our faith.  Who overcomes the world but the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?

 

The church didn’t look like it was overcoming the world.  It was in hiding, running from the world for fear.

That’s because to overcome the world is beyond human power.  To be born of God is beyond human power.

People in Jesus’ day thought that they could recognize the truth and choose to follow it.  They think the same today.  Jesus will come in if we just open the door and let Him into our hearts.

Jesus disagreed.  You are not able to do that, He said.

And He is right.  If Jesus only could come to us if we held the door open for Him, the church would have died in the room with the cowering disciples.  In shutting the doors they were keeping the Jews out but also, unwittingly, showing that they didn’t believe Jesus’ word—Don’t be troubled.  I will rise on the third day.

We think, and it really seems true, that we and other people don’t believe because either Jesus has not done enough, or we have not done enough.

Thomas is ready to believe as soon as he can thrust his hand into Jesus’ side.

We don’t hold the door for Jesus.  He doesn’t come into our midst because we let Him in or because we are expecting Him.

He doesn’t carry out His mission in the world because we let Him out.

The stone wasn’t rolled away from the tomb to let Jesus out, but to let the disciples in and see that He was not there.

We don’t hold the door open for Jesus.  Our old nature does not allow that.

To open the door to Jesus to our old nature is like the disciples opening the door of that room.  Jesus said He would come in.  But it seems a lot more likely some guards with spears and torches and chains will come.

We don’t expect God to do us good.  We call into question God’s good will toward us.  We act like His power is bound by our willingness or unwillingness.  This is nothing new.  Look at Sarah.  She laughed when she overheard that the Lord would return a year from that time and cause her, an old woman, to bear a child in her old age.  She laughed at God.  And she is one of the examples for Christians.

We do this continually, and even if we overcome it, it is always present with us—resistance, unbelief, calling God a liar.  Looking to another God.

We are truly helpless to save ourselves.  You can’t do anything to make God turn His heart toward you.  Nor can you rid yourself of your resistance toward God.

Even the apostles couldn’t.

What hope is there for us then?

Only this: that God has decided to be open toward us and freely forgive all our sins.

When Jesus was in the room with the disciples, He said, “Take, eat, this is my body…”  He was informing them that He was indeed going to death as He had said, and that they could not come with them.  But they should not be troubled.  It was all for them.  And just as clearly as He showed them that He was open to them and for them—washing their feet, giving them His flesh and blood even as they were about to forsake Him—He also explained to them that His Father was for them.  If you had really known Me, you would have known My Father also.  From now on you do know Him and have seen Him.

  Read more…

Prayer of a Person desiring to go to confession for the sake of the holy Absolution. Gebets-Schatz

February 12, 2013 8 comments

454pxWiblingenbeichtstuhl1298.  Prayer of a person who wants to go to private confession and desires the holy Absolution.

Lord Jesus Christ, my Redeemer!  You have bequeathed to Your beloved church here on earth and her faithful butlers (servants; ministers) the holy Office of the Keys with the promise attached to it, that what they  in the power of this office will loose or bind shall also be loosed or bound in heaven.  For such a grace-rich means and instrument of Your Spirit, I declare Your eternal laud, glory, and praise.  I beseech You from the bottom of my heart: since as a poor, bound sinner, I am  in need of this comforting loosing-key, and so that I will not be held in the fetters of the jailwarden of hell, let it come upon me through my Christian father-confessor, and for the sake of Your blood and death graciously release and acquit me from all my sins.  Lend me Your Holy Spirit alongside of the holy Absolution, that I may take hold of it in genuine repentance, unwavering confidence, good purpose [to amend my life], brotherly love, and thankfulness, and finally come to everlasting blessedness in heaven.  Amen.

–Sigismund Scherertz (1584-1639)—Superintendent at Lueneburg (Germany)

 

S

Seelen-Arznei und Spiegel der geistlichen Anfechtungen  (Soul-Medicine and Mirror of Spiritual Afflictions)

From Evangelische-Lutherischer Gebets-Schatz

Sermon Fragment–19th Sunday after Trinity

October 15, 2012 2 comments

I am reduced to fragments because I never get through the editing process before Sunday morning.  I have to edit on the fly.  Though I would like it to be different, I am afraid it will be the same this week, since I have two funerals and a houseguest.  If I really want to get my sermons shorter, what I think I need to do is plan to preach on about half of one point that I want to make.

19th Sunday after Trinity

St. Peter Lutheran Church

St. Matthew 9:1-8

October 14, 2012

“I Will Build My Church”—Week 3: Divine Service, Scripture, Prayer

“Built by the Authority of the Son of Man”

 

You who have been consecrated to be God’s dwelling place by the authority of Jesus Christ:

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. 

 

We are God’s house of living stones

Built for His own habitation.

He by baptismal grace us owns,

Heirs of His wondrous salvation.

Were we but two His name to tell

God still with us would ever dwell

With all His grace and His favor.

 

When Jesus promised Peter that He would build His church, He was already signaling that He was a different kind of Messiah than Peter thought he would be.  The glorious King of the Jews from David’s house was going to build a temple for the Lord in the last days, the Scriptures said.  But Jesus said that He was going to build “His Church,” which means a gathering of people. 

 

To us a king’s church calls to mind a cathedral with ceilings arching into the heavens and walls of cavernous, echoing stone.  It’s difficult for us to get comfortable with the idea that when Jesus said, “I will build my church” He didn’t just mean the city of God with 12 pearly gates that comes down from heaven in glory on the last day.  Is it possible that He envisioned the church on earth between Pentecost and judgment day appearing not only in churches with pews packed full of smiling people but also in congregations less than half full, congregations where funerals outnumber baptisms, churches that die slowly through persecution or through rejection of God’s Word?  Or congregations wracked with conflict, where members sin grievously against one another, where pastors feed themselves and not the sheep, or where there is more joy over the 99 that need no repentance than over one sinner who repents?  How could it be possible that the Messiah would come to build that kind of a temple?

 

Jesus’ Church is holy.  On the last day the church’s holiness and radiance as the pure bride of the Lamb will be visible before all creation.  Those who truly belong to Christ will be manifest.  But now the church’s holiness is hidden.  The sinful flesh of Christians makes the perfect holiness which Christ put on them in Baptism invisible.  False Christians also are in the midst of the visible gathering of the church, along with false teachers.  Together they cause divisions and harm the witness of the church, but it is not always possible to root them out without also destroying or harming weaker members of the true church.

 

So the church on earth suffers and is weak.  You don’t necessarily find it in buildings that are beautiful, or full of nice people who are dedicated to serving God.  This is very hard for us to accept.  If Jesus is God, how could His temple be so weak and small and afflicted?

 

It was also hard for Peter to accept.  Right after Jesus praised Peter for confessing, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God”, right after He promised to build His church, Jesus began to teach the disciples that when they went to Jerusalem, Jesus would not be seated on David’s throne and begin to rule the whole earth.  Instead He would suffer at the hands of the chief priests, be killed, and then be raised on the third day. 

 

Peter, who had just confessed the faith, that Jesus is the Messiah, begins to rebuke Jesus for saying this.  And a few minutes after praising Peter, Jesus says to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan!”  He went from blessed to Satan in a few minutes.  Why?  Because he believed Jesus was the king of the Jews, but his reason couldn’t accept that this mighty king would then be rejected and put to death.

 

That is why it is so hard for us to accept that Christ’s church can really be found where there is great sin and weakness and suffering.  How can weakness and suffering be the work of a God who loves you?  How can God’s temple be being built if it is suffering and dying?

 

The same way that God was found in a man who was condemned to death as a blasphemer, then whipped, mocked with a crown of thorns, presented to a crowd in his humiliation who screamed for His crucifixion.  If that happened to you, would you have a hard time believing God was with you?  Yet we say that the true God can’t be known or found apart from the man who died in this shame and weakness.  We preach that there is no other tree of life than the dead tree He dragged out to Golgotha, and His blood that stained it and the body that hung dead from its limbs is the fruit of the tree of life.  We say that only in the curse pronounced by God upon Jesus—“Cursed is everyone who is hung on a tree”—does God bless us and make His face shine upon us.  His face shines upon us in the face that poured bloody sweat onto the ground in the olive grove, the face in which we spit and tore out the beard (Is. 50? 52?), bleeding from thorns, the face that pleaded till death for His Father’s blessing and forgiveness for us.

 

If Jesus’ death on the cross saves us, if our Lord and Savior is the one who died on the cross, then it is a simple fact—the way of the cross is the way of salvation.  Jesus’ church inherits the life everlasting.  It is being saved.  That means that instead of looking as though it is being built up, we can expect it to look like it is being torn down and destroyed.  The one that Peter said was the King of the Jews and the Son of God later had a sign above His head that said “This is Jesus, the King of the Jews”—and His head was bloody from a crown of thorns, and His hands were nailed to a tree.  And what little He had in the way of earthly possessions and honor was torn down and thrown in the dust.

 

That is the rock on which Jesus builds His church, against which the gates of hell can never prevail.  The rock is Himself, the King of the Jews, who dies on the cross and rises from the dead and takes away the sins of the world.  Because this is who He is and what He does, He has the authority from God the Father to loose people from their sins.  That means that He forgives sins, but also that He sets people free from the power of the devil, and all that goes with the devil’s kingdom—death, sickness, misery, slavery to sin.

 

In the New Testament, “authority” usually means not only power but also the right to use it.  Lawful rulers have authority from God to punish lawbreakers with death—that means God has given them the right to do it.  Parents have authority from God to punish their children.  In today’s Gospel, Jesus shows that He has been given the right by God the Father to loose people from their sins.  He not only has the power to do it, but He has been authorized by God.

 

In contrast, the devil and demons are sometimes described as having “authority”, but their authority is really only power that they have stolen from God.  The devil does not have the right to twist God’s Word, or to tempt us to give glory to ourselves or our idols instead of to God (which is the same thing as giving glory to the devil.)  When the devil lies and tempts, and then dominates sinners, the devil is stealing from God.  He has power, but he has done this against God’s will.

 

In the same way, sinners are able to steal from God.  Those who are under the power of sin take God’s gifts and do not thank Him.  They love and serve and trust God’s gifts instead of Him.  They have the power to do this, but not the right.  Adam and Eve were authorized to have dominion over all the earth, to be fruitful and multiply, and to eat all of the fruit in the garden except the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.  They had the power to take from that tree, but not the authority.  And once the devil had gotten them to step out from under God’s authority, he now was able to control every person who was not brought to repentance by God.  Since that time, people are born taking what God has not given them authority to have.  We judge and condemn and take revenge on those who sin against us—even if that is only in our hearts—but we have no authority to do this.  We put our own honor above God’s honor; we put our will above God’s will.  We give the love, praise, and worship of our hearts to other things besides God, to whom it belongs.  When God does not give us what we want or think we need we go and take it for ourselves.

 

That’s why it was such a shocking thing for Jesus to tell the paralyzed man, “Take courage, child.  Your sins are forgiven” or better, “Your sins are loosed from you.”  Even when you sin against another person, your offense is most of all against God.  If you lose your temper and insult and curse your neighbor, you have sinned against them, but you have also sinned against God, because He has not authorized you to condemn and curse and injure those who sin against you—not even to punish them in your heart.  By taking revenge, you dishonor the true God and worship another, because you are saying, “God is unjust and will not take care of me, so I have to get justice myself.”  The same thing is true with every sin against our neighbor—they are all dishonoring God—not trusting Him above everything else, not loving Him above everything else.

 

Even though we are Christians we have a difficult time believing in original sin, because our society has eliminated sin from its way of thinking.  We believe that there are bad people, but those are usually people who do evil against other people on purpose.  The fact that from the time of birth we dishonor God—not trusting Him to give us what is good, not loving Him more than we love His gifts—we don’t think of as sin, but rather as weakness that God would be unfair to be angry about.  The fact that it is natural for us not to pray or want to hear God’s word, to disobey and dishonor parents and authorities, to hold grudges, to lust and engage in sexual sin, to attack people’s reputation and covet their things—we think that since we can’t help it, it can’t be a punishable offense.  God in a sense owes us forgiveness.

 

But when someone is born with some flaw that they have little control over that causes them to harm us repeatedly, we behave differently.  They say that sociopaths are born without the ability to empathize with other people’s pain, but that doesn’t prevent us from getting angry when they run us over.  People are born with mental illness, and we may give them some breaks, but if they are dangerous to society we don’t say, “Well, they can’t help it, so we won’t lock them up.”  They say Hitler was abused when he was a child, and the reality is that those who are abused quite often become abusers when they become older, but no one says that Hitler should be excused.  And in the same way, we were born in sin, and as a result we dishonor God every day and refuse to acknowledge Him as God.  If we say, “I can’t help it, so I shouldn’t be punished,” what we are really saying is that God is at fault for our sin.

Which is indeed what we said when we crucified Jesus.

 

That is why it was a shock when Jesus said, “Your sins are loosed.”  Human beings can’t forgive sins.  God must forgive sins.  They are committed against Him.

 

Is that why Jesus forgave—because He is God?  Yes and no.  Notice what Jesus calls Himself—the Son of Man.  Jesus is not on earth simply to show that He is God.  He has put aside His divine power and put on our likeness—the likeness of sinners who are subject to death and God’s curse.  He only uses His divine power when it is necessary for fulfilling His mission.  He never uses it to make things easy for Himself, because He is on earth to be what we are.  He has come to do what we cannot do—live under God’s authority without sin.  We disobey God and live as we wish.  Even when we repent, we find our flesh rebelling against the will of God.  Jesus came to do what we could not.

 

So it is not simply as God, but as one of us that Jesus has authority to take sins away, to take them off of people, to set them free from their power. 

 

To show that He had this authority and power from God, He did a shocking miracle.  With a word He told a paralyzed man to get up and walk home. 

 

Yet Jesus acts as if it were a better thing, a greater thing, to simply say, “Your sins are forgiven” or “Your sins are loosed from you.” 

 

That is because it is.  Because if your sins are taken away, God erases them from His book.  They are gone.  His wrath then is gone, death is gone.  God becomes yours, and everything that is His.  Not in the sense that you get to do what you want with it, but in the sense that it all serves you; He makes it all work for you.  It’s all yours, but not in such a way that you can destroy yourself by misusing it.

 

That authority—to forgive sins—is how Jesus builds His church—how He creates a holy assembly who belong to God and are free from sin, and able to live forever in His presence.  Who begin to love their neighbor.

 

When Jesus told Peter, “I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven…” He was talking about this authority—to forgive sins.

 

Jesus has given this authority to the Church, and He has authorized ministers to exercise this authority so that people may be loosed from their sins, set free from Satan’s kingdom, and delivered into the Kingdom of Jesus, the church, in which we have the forgiveness of sins, eternal life, unity with God.

 

How is this authority exercised?  Through Jesus’ word and sacraments.  That is why the church is not found where there is earthly glory.  We know where the church is by where Jesus’ gifts are—where His authority to forgive sins is being used.  There, even though human beings are exercising the keys, Jesus is present, working through His church.

 

Baptism

All authority…

 

It’s not that we simply need information.  We need to be free to be Jesus disciples.

 

Jesus’ power, connected to His sacrifice on the cross.

Divine Service

            Gospel

 

            Sacrament of the Altar.

 

Healing

Growth in love

 

            Confession and absolution.

                        It looses us, just like the paralytic, but spiritually. 

                        It is better to be a paralytic and have sins loosed.

                        The tremendous gift—we are free, and we are not alone.

 

Scripture/meditation.

            The whole Scripture points to Jesus and gives us the Spirit.

 

Prayer:

 

            Claiming our authority as sons of God when the gates of hell close in on us.

 

            Bringing our paralyzed neighbor to the Father.

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