The Breath of Forgiveness – Quasimodogeneti – John 20:19-31

07. April 2013
John 20:19-31

Alleluia! Christ is risen! He is risen, indeed! Alleluia!

In the beginning God breathed. His ruach hovered over over the face of the deep. And then God said. Breathing and speaking. What hovered over the elements of Creation? God’s Spirit which is His breath speaking. Since God’s Spirit is truth, His speaking is truth. When He breathes, His Spirit is sent. When God speaks, truth is uttered. Therefore, when God said, “let there be,” there was and is. Without God’s Spirit speaking, nothing would be that is. Without His divine breath, all die.

Breathing is essential to life. Without breath, all creatures die. Plants must breathe in carbon dioxide or their life is strangled. Even fish inhale through gills, breathing oxygen from rich waters. If those waters become polluted or lack oxygen, the fish cannot breathe and die. No different for mankind. Without the breath of life, we are lifeless lumps of clay. Without breathing, we die and decay.

At the cross, the final words Jesus spoke were “It is finished!” And bowing His head, He gave up His spirit. For God, Word, Spirit, and life go together. When God speaks, there He breathes. Where God breathes, there is life. Thus, at the cross, the Word was silenced. The Spirit departed. And the breath of life ceased. This was shown by the earthquake, the darkness, and the lifeless corpse of the Son of God. The breath of God left the World.

This is why the disciples hid themselves on Easter evening behind locked doors. The Life had died and so their hope with Him. His exhale would no longer be heard. They feared their death at the hands of the Jews as their Lord and master was just crucified at their hands. The breath of life had departed. Without this voice, their hope for life was gone. The hope for humanity was dead. All creation was doomed to destruction.

We don’t always think about our condition this way. Violation God’s holy commands eternally separates us from God and His life-giving breath. Apart from the breath of God, His Spirit, His Word, we are dead in trespasses, condemned to become inanimate dust and food for worms. As we keep our sin to ourselves, refuse to acknowledge sin as wrong, or even downplay the seriousness of this corruption, we are doomed to death. As a matter of fact, we’re dead already. Anyone, innocent though he may seem, is dead to God in trespasses even though he may breathe now.

What can dead people do about their condition? Nothing. They are like the bones Ezekiel saw. Dry, dead bones. There is no hope, no future, and no possibility of self improvement. We might as well bury ourselves like the disciples in the tomb with locked doors—scared of our enemies—terrified of our sin—fearful of death—mortified by God’s Holy Law. God doesn’t soft pedal our condition. We are Lazarus buried and rotting.

But Good Friday could not remain but continued in the a breathless sleep of Holy Saturday. Then the Holy Week of death ceased. The old passed away and the new has come. After Jesus rested from His Holy Week labors, he breathed in again and rose. And with His breathing in also came His breathing out. He breathed out upon Mary Magdalene, comforting her with her own name. He breathed out the Scriptures, opening them to the two disciples on the way to Emmaeus. He breathed, He revealed Himself in the breaking of the bread, and they believed.

The Psalmist said: “When you hide your face, [all creatures] are dismayed; when you take away their breath, they die and return to their dust. When you send forth your Spirit, they are created, and you renew the face of the ground” (Psalm 104:29-30).

There is nothing more terrifying than to think that God has stopped speaking. Without His breath, we die and return to dust. But with the Spirit of God, we are recreated and renewed. This is why the first thing Jesus did when appearing to His disciples is speak to them. But He did not speak any Word but the particular: “Peace be with you.” God breathes upon you the same peace by saying “your sins are forgiven.”

How does life and hope come from such simple words: “you are forgiven”? Christ took all your sin into Himself at the cross. He buried it forever in the new tomb of the garden. But because Christ is risen, death is defeated. Therefore you who are in Christ will not die. Your sins are removed and sin’s wage is removed forever. This Word takes away your sin which is the cause of death. Where this forgiveness is proclaimed, there is the Holy Spirit breathing life into dead things.This Word is His breath and therefore gives life. Where there is forgiveness there is peace in the promise of life everlasting.

It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life” (John 6:63-64). Therefore, Jesus breathed on His disciples—His pastors—His church and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of anyone, they are forgiven; if you withhold forgiveness from anyone, it is withheld.” God wants you to hear the preaching of His Word, thereby also receiving His Holy Spirit and the breath of life in the forgiveness of sins. The call to repentance and the proclamation of forgiveness of sins are the means that the Holy Spirit, through the Word, uses to bring people from death to life. God wants you to know your condition not for to despair but to receive His salvation.

This breathy Word is not merely a generic announcement of forgiveness. It does what it says. When you hear those words, “I forgive your sins” they actually deliver Christ’s forgiveness to you. And where there is forgiveness of sin, there is life and salvation. Where the forgiveness is spoken, the Holy Spirit is given. The Holy Spirit is breathed out upon you when your pastor says, “I forgive you all your sins in the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.”

St. Thomas wanted more than words spoken. He did not believe that the speaking of His fellow disciples “We have seen the Lord” was the breath of God the Holy Spirit. He resisted the Word of testimony. And so he made demands to touch and see the risen body of Christ. On the octave of the first Easter, they were gathered together again and Jesus entered their locked tomb and said to them, “Peace be with you.” Despite Thomas’s unbelief, the Lord came to him to give him the very same life-giving breath.

Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and thrust it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe.” Seeing, though, is not believing. To believe to to know without seeing. Believing only comes from the voice of God, the Holy Spirit, breathing His Holy Word into your ears. You cannot feel forgiven. You do not see Christ’s wounded hands and side. You believe you are forgiven, because the Spirit of Jesus has given you faith, hope, and life through His Word. “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.

Yet, like Thomas, Jesus helps your unbelief by combining His Word with earthly, tangible means. When you hear that your sins are forgiven, you are plunged again into your baptismal waters where sin was washed away and death drowned. There the Lord touched you with his holy name, placing it on your forehead and heart, thereby naming you as sons of God though faith in Christ. As coheirs with Him, you were declared righteous, all sin cleansed, and given the Holy Spirit for faith.

So also in the Holy Communion: “Peace be with you” comes after the words “given and shed for the forgiveness of sins.” After you eat and drink the body and blood and are thereby forgiven, Christ’s Spirit proclaims “The peace of God which passes all understanding… [and] Depart in + peace.” Christ thrusts His own body into your mouth with the words: “given for you!” Forgiveness and peace flows from the chalice into your mouth, just as it flowed from his pierced side at the cross.

When you hear the pastor speak, Christ himself is forgiving sin and breathing forth His Spirit upon you to revive your faith and renew you in Christ’s righteousness that covers all your sin. Receiving forgiveness is the reason we gather. The Spirit of God has made [you], and the breath of the Almighty gives [you] life” (Job 33:4). Your faith desires to have sin exposed by the Law and forgiven by the Gospel. Your faith desires the breath of God, the ruach, the Holy Spirit to bring you to life again as a redeemed saint and child of God. “Peace be with you.” Your sin is forgiven.

Alleluia! Christ is risen! He is risen, indeed! Alleluia!

In Name of the Father, + Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

Rev. Christopher R. Gillespie
Grace Lutheran Church
Dyer, Indiana

Abide with Me – Advent Midweek 1 2012

05. December 2012
Advent Midweek 1
Psalm 73

This season of Advent we are considering the hymn “Abide With Me” for our midweek meditations. This hymn is a favorite of many and yet also unknown by many. In our hymnal it is prescribed to be sung at close of day. Our agenda also prescribes the hymn’s first and last stanzas to be sung at the committal at every funeral. It is an evening hymn, a funeral hymn, and much more. It resonates with the anxieties and fears of the evening. It speaks with those who are older and face death. It even speaks to the young who yearn to be with Christ.

This hymn was written by Henry Francis Lyte of Brixham, Devonshire, England. As is often the case with our hymns, “Abide With Me” was written in the midst of suffering. Pastor Lyte was frail and dying from tuberculosis. Three weeks before he died, he composed this hymn. His poetry is written to bring comfort to his own fears but also to comfort his beloved people for whom he had provided our Lord’s pastoral care.

The text for Pastor Lyte comes from the Emmaus story of Easter evening. You recall that the same day Jesus rose from the dead, He met two people on the road both grieving and in sorry. Jesus walks with this father and son, possibly his own uncle and cousin. The story of Emmaus is about seeing Christ for the first time. Everything they had come to think of Jesus needed to be seen from a new perspective.

Jesus’ story is a repetition of the whole Gospel journey. He rehearses for them everything happened in Jerusalem. He opens to them the Old Testament to show why He came into this world. This story brings the two great comfort. They plead with Jesus to not go any further. While they don’t recognize Him yet, they yearn and long to be with Christ and dwell with Him.

When we are looking for the presence of Christ? It’s probably when we dwell in darkness and the shadow of death. What are we looking for when the darkness deepens? There is a similar wanting and desire in us. We need to be close to God. This desire is built into us. We desire our Lord to be present, to abide with us, to join us into communion, to remain with us, and to be with us forever.

These desires are especially felt when we’re in darkness. “As for me, my feet had almost stumbled; my steps had nearly slipped.” We only lose our step and stumble when we’re walking in the dark. Asaph, one of David’s tabernacle song leaders, tells us about his darkness. He was envious of the prosperity of the wicked. When he looks at them, he thinks that they have no troubles.

When we consider ourselves according to others we’re in the dark. Our worth and value are not judged based on our prosperity, our pride, our abundance, our ease, or riches. If we judge ourselves by this standard, we are in the dark. These things all wither and fade. They come and they go. Even the rich will ultimately face death. No amount of strength can overcome a life that will pass away.

We need life that will never pass away. No other comfort can do. We are helpless. We need comfort. This is especially true in the evening and when we are dying. All other helpers and comforts flee and fail. Everyone is looking for someone or something to fill the loneliness that we all feel. Our spouses, children, friends sometimes help but ultimately only Christ can do. We are totally broken and in need of Christ. Nothing in this world abides like Christ. Only Christ can abide forever, giving us peace that passes all understanding. He can fill us in a way that only God can fill. The Emmaus disciples knew that Jesus could fill their every longing. As Asaph sang, “Nevertheless, I am continually with You, You hold me by my right hand, You will guide me with Your counsel, And afterward receive me to glory.

We live in a suffering world. The decay of this world is seen in our brokenness of sin, the attacks of the devil, and all the difficulties of this world. When its dark, night, or near death, our defenses are broken down and we get overwhelmed by the darkness. Even earth’s joys grow dim and pass away. Everything is changing and is in flux. This is why we want to abide with the changeless one, Jesus. We look for the one who is faithful.

The truth is that we don’t have the luxury of time anymore. The clock is ticking. Especially as we age, we savor every moment not knowing how many more there are. As you see your children grow and grandchildren born, you see yourself in them both good and bad. We become more conscious of our mortality, our brokenness, and our sin. We live in a fleeting world where our lives are but a blip on the timeline. We sometimes think we’re so important because we are the center of our own existence. When you look in the big picture we are only a small part. We are held to our own sense of brevity, the larger cosmic plan of God.

“Whom have I in heaven but You? And there is none upon earth that I desire besides You. My flesh and my heart fail; But God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever… It is good for me to draw near to God; I have put my trust in the Lord God, that I may declare all your works.”

The fact that God doesn’t change is a source of comfort. The Biblical view of Christ acting in mercy comforts us. The mercy of the Lord endures forever. He gives forgiveness. We sheds His blood. He is love. Even before the foundation of the world, the Lamb was slain. The plan has remained unchanged. God’s promised mercy is given. It is for you. Broken people. Lonely. Melancholy. We don’t know what to do when we get this way. Earth’s comforts fail. Our pleasures flee. We need something bigger. Greater.

Jesus works through timeless Word bound to timely means. The Word of God endures forever. Everywhere the Word leaves its mark endures forever. Your baptism endures forever. We long for these sure promises that never change. Jesus, yesterday, the same, and forever. He promised to come. He promised to die. He promised to have His blood cleanse, wash, and forgive us. He feeds you with the Lord’s Supper. This is heavenly food and eternal.

That is why “Abide with Me” is fitting for evening and funerals. It confesses our own want for communion and the longing to dwell with Jesus. It also leads us on a pilgrimage of comfort. We are searching for the holiness only God can give. We find this rest in Jesus.

In Name of the Father, + Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

Rev. Christopher R. Gillespie
Grace Lutheran Church
Dyer, Indiana

Last Sunday in the Church Year – St. Matthew 25:1-13

25. November 2012
Last Sunday in the Church Year
St. Matthew 25:1-13

Recently two books were released that sought to answer the question of what happens after judgment day. In one book a little boy recalled his near death experience. His father named the book “Heaven is Real.” I understand it had all the typical features: a light at the end of the tunnel, a feeling of calm, white clothing, and such. In another book “Love Wins” author Rob Bell agreed with the little boy about heaven but rejected hell. While Bell has much to say about heaven and God’s love he couldn’t abide by the idea of a place of weeping and gnashing, fire and brimstone.

Both authors implicitly reject the precise thing that Jesus affirms. You also affirm this ting when you confess: “from whence He will come to judge the living and the dead.” The little boy “died” and went straightway to heaven. Do not pass go. Do not collect $200. And Rob Bell denies the final judgment but giving only one possible verdict—heaven. What happened to the universal confession of the church and the explicit teaching of Jesus about the final judgment? St. Matthew spends chapters recalling Christ’s Word on the topic.

Why the fear of judgment? Why the skepticism about Jesus’ teaching of heaven and hell? It seems to the wise of this world utterly foolish. Why would God create life and then judge that life to an eternity of hell? If God loves the world—indeed, us—so much, why would he damn anyone. The young boy who claims to have met death didn’t talk about judgment because he likely never heard about it. Rob Bell doesn’t talk about judgment because he can’t handle a God who doesn’t meet his expectations.

The parable of the wise and foolish virgins sets the wisdom of the world in stark contrast to the wisdom of God. There is reality and there is unreality. The gift of faith allows you to see what is truly real. Rejecting this gift means you continue to live in the unreal. This world would tell you to judge yourself by a flexible scale. Everything is about being the best we can be, doing well enough, trying hard, and striving for excellence. Such gauges of performance are unreal. They lack any kind of absolute standard.

The reality is this: there is an absolute standard established by God and it is unattainable by prudence. For many Christians their life is about getting all the Jesus ducks in a row. Baptized? Check. Sunday School? Check. Confirmed? Check. Fairly regular attendance? Check. Money in the plate? Check. Christian funeral? Check. And when the marriage feast comes around they think they’ve got it all together. Seems like they’ve taken care of the whole list of Christian duties, marked off the list just like Jesus wants it to be.

These figurative five are wise according to the religion of this world. They’ve risen to the challenge, received their share of good and ill, showed up to the party prepared. Some friends came too, another five outrageous. For some inexplicable reason they come with extra jugs of oil “just in case.” Just in case of what? Everybody knows the party is tonight. Why have so much extra oil? What could go wrong, they ask? Whatever. Let’s party and wait for the bridegroom.

The whatever is the point of the parable. Whatever could go wrong does. As the bridegroom was delayed, they all became drowsy and slept. But at midnight there was a cry, “Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.” This world is never so predicable. The unexpected happens. The bridegroom is late. Funny that? God late to His own party? There’s God’s wisdom at work and its utter foolishness to us. The eternal God can’t even show up on time. Why are we surprised? You yourselves are fully aware that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night.

There is another problem. Whose fault is it that only half of the virgins are prepared? Ancients tried to answer this question. It was called theodicy, the perennial why-some-and-not-others. It’s the bridegroom who can’t even show up on time. The foolish virgins were completely prepared with enough oil to burn until the  party. They did it all just right but the bridegroom had to muck it up.

All through the Scriptures we wise people end up in a mess: Job, Peter, Judas. Whose fault is it that Job suffered or Peter denied or even Judas betrayed? It is God’s. They were chosen and God even sent suffering their way. Ouch. That’s not the God we want but He’s the God we’ve got. And He’s stuck with us. In the final analysis, it’s the way God is doing things. We suffer. We deny. We betray. And we answer with Job in the midst of his suffering: Though He slay me, yet will I trust Him (Job 13:15).

When its all said and done there’s no point in using the wisdom of this world to figure out the ways of God. We’ll look at God choosing foolish means of a pastor, or water, or bread and wine, or even just simple words and scoff. Ha! Ha! That could never be enough. I’ve got to fill my lamps, follow the orders, do the right thing, and then—and only then— will I be ready.

It turns out that all our self-wrought preparation will be wasted when the time comes. Whether wise or foolish, we’ll be sound asleep. But at midnight there was a cry, “Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.” The cry will ring out. Those questions about when Jesus will come, what is happening in the meantime, and even what we must do are immaterial to the feast. The question we ought to be concerned with is faith.

The Father has reconciled us to Himself in Jesus. He did it, not us. This means we’re restored to a trusting relationship. We don’t have to figure God out but only know that’s He’s got it figured out. We don’t need to know when He’s coming back but only that He is coming. We don’t need to know why we suffer but only that He sends suffering for our good. That’s faith—to trust in the Holy Trinity explicitly even in the face of things we cannot understand. Faith, after all, comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of God. Faith does not come by experiencing or simply knowing, but by believing and trusting.

This is the God we’ve got and we’re stuck with Him. He will deliver on His promise to draw all to Himself. We are reconciled to God no matter what our sins. The doubter, the denier, and even the betrayer all received the call to faith. It’s a gift, no questions asked, given without answering our questions. God’s way of doing things is silly and outrageous. It’s also worth celebrating—and we will during Advent. Come, Lord Jesus! O Come, O Come, Emmanuel!

There’s no denying the judgment outlined in today’s parable and the rest of Scripture. Heaven and hell are real. We don’t have to like it or even agree with it. It is God’s way of doing things. Some will deny the reality in the midst of this unreal world. Some will waste their whole life trying to prepare themselves for the day. Many will try to jump through all the right religion hoops. In the end, at the final judgment, it’s not really up to those who wait but up to God. He’ll be late, things won’t go as they’ve planned, and only the faithful will be able to say: “Oh, well.” That’s God’s way and it’s wise.

God has fudged everything in His favor. We’re not in the dark. Now is the long dark teatime for our soul. We belong to the light. We wait and celebrate the divine blessedness of His way of saving. Despite the world, despite his delay, even despite our suffering, we trust we are not destined for wrath but to receive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ who died for us. Yeah, its messy business. Dying and rising isn’t so pretty. Such it is for a God who works in history. He’s delivering the package and he’s given the trust, a lamp and more worth. Look, He comes on clouds descending—eventually. And at midnight—the cry!

In holy name of + Jesus. Amen.

Rev. Christopher R. Gillespie
Grace Lutheran Church
Dyer, Indiana