Monday, May 23, 2011

Linda Schoeffler Funeral

Sermon on John 10:11-15, 27-30
For Holy Cross Lutheran Church, Elmwood Park, WI
May 23, 2011 (Funeral of Linda Schoeffler)

“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd gives His life for the sheep.” With these words our Lord tells us who it is that He is looking out for. He isn’t looking out for “number one,” as so many in today’s society are. He’s looking out for His sheep. He is giving His life, not for Himself, but for others. This is in direct contrast to so many in today’s world, who are mostly concerned with, “number one,” namely themselves. Of course, this selfishness is not really anything new in contemporary society. Jesus describes just such a person in the Gospel lesson when he talks about the “hireling” who flees when danger threatens the sheep. Fortunately, Jesus is not like that. He is the Good Shepherd who goes even so far as to lay down His own life so that the sheep might be saved.

From what has been told me by Linda’s family, she was a person who tried during her life to follow our Lord’s example in this. She was constantly giving of herself to serve others. But that’s not what saved her. As are we all, Linda was born of parents who were by nature sinful and unclean, as we all must confess to God that we are, and her good works, her works of service to her neighbors could not undo that basic fact. Linda’s selfless service to her neighbors was not what has now caused her to be blessed forever in our Lord’s presence.

If it wasn’t her selflessness and service to others which has gotten her into heaven, then what was it? The answer is in the first verse of the Gospel lesson. It wasn’t Linda’s selflessness and service in others’ behalf that earned her eternal salvation; it was Christ’s selflessness and service to her and to all mankind that has caused her to be blessed in Christ’s presence forever. As noble and sacrificial as Linda’s life of service was, Christ’s sacrifice on her behalf was infinitely greater. He gave His very life so that she could be saved. He rescued her from the jaws of sin, death, and the devil and delivered her into the hands of His father, by dying on the cross for her sake. His entire life became hers through Holy Baptism. And all of her sins, and all of the sins of the whole world, became His to pay for through His suffering and death. I don’t think we can imagine how unselfish, how absolutely contrary to all the selfishness that we all display every day, this is. Nothing that Christ did throughout His entire life applied to Himself. It was all for us. Even His death was not for Himself. It was for us. Nothing Linda did in her life, and nothing any of us do in our lives, can even begin to compare to what Christ did so that we might be saved.

And not only does the Good Shepherd lay down His life for the sheep, He also cares for them and guards them and watches over them during the course of their lives. Through the Word and Sacraments He feeds His sheep so that they can grow up into the full stature of those who have inherited eternal life. Even though we pass through the valley of the shadow of death, the Good Shepherd comforts us with His Word and His presence.

The psalm which we prayed together at the beginning of this service, Psalm 23, speaks of this care and protection which our Good Shepherd gives us throughout our lives. As most of you know, Linda had cancer three years ago. She thought they had gotten all of it, but cancer is almost impossible to get 100% (it’s kind of an illustration of original sin itself in that way). She spent the last few months of her life in a nursing home, knowing it was unlikely that the cancer that had quietly grown in her spinal column for the last three years would be able to be removed. She knew death was coming. She lived in the valley of its shadow, especially these last few months. But her Good Shepherd was with her. His rod and His staff comforted her even in the midst of the suffering she endured. Now, after this most recent cancer was diagnosed, I didn’t know she had moved to the nursing home in Union Grove. I had tried to call her at her apartment several times but never heard back from her. But the Missouri Synod pastor out there, Pastor James Keuch, found out she was from Holy Cross and was visiting her often (he didn’t contact me because he didn’t know I was helping out here). Finally, only a few weeks ago, I found out where she was and went to go see her and bring her Holy Communion, and I talked with her about what she was going through. It happened to be mother’s day, and even though she was never married and had no children of her own I wished her a “happy aunt’s day.” She knew where she was going, not just to death but to what our Good Shepherd has won for us by laying down His life. She knew she had eternity with that Good Shepherd in store for her. Despite what she suffered, goodness and mercy has followed Hazel all the days of her life. What we celebrate today is that she now dwells in the house of the Lord forever. Amen.

+ Soli Deo Gloria +

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Fifth Sunday of Easter, Series A

Yes, this is largely based on previous sermons for Rogate Sunday. I've got at least one, possibly two, funerals in the next few days, so time is at a premium. God's word is still God's word, though, and that's what's important.

Sermon on John 14:1-14
For Holy Cross Lutheran Church, Elmwood Park, WI
May 22, 2011 (The Fifth Sunday of Easter, Series A)

“Whatever you ask in My name I will do,” says Jesus toward the end of today’s Gospel lesson. So, why didn’t I get that new bike when I was a kid? Why did grandma still die, even though I prayed that she would live? I’m sure many of you could name off all sorts of examples that you asked the Father for over the years, which you didn’t get. Of course, there are those preachers, some of whom have television shows, which will tell you that you didn’t pray with enough faith, or you doubted, or you didn’t make your request specific enough. These advocates of the “name it and claim it” theology would make the person praying feel guilty every time God doesn’t do what he wants. These advocates of having “your best life now” would make the person doubt his Christianity every time something bad happens in life. They also, in a sense, would make God our slave.

Jesus is not promising that whatever we may happen to want, God’s gotta give us if we pray the right way. Every so often you hear the slogan, “Prayer is powerful.” Well, folks, it’s not true. Prayer isn’t powerful; prayer is just us talking to God, and our talking, our words, don’t have any power at all. God is the one who is powerful. To pray in Jesus’ name is to pray in accord with God’s will. To pray in the name of our adopted Brother is to pray to Him who has become our true Father, who gives His blessings to us because we are His true children. Children don’t get everything they want. Sometimes what they want isn’t good for them. To pray in Jesus’ name is to pray that the Father would give us what we need, not necessarily what we want. In other words, to pray in Jesus’ name is to pray that God’s will be done, not necessarily our own. It is to pray, first and foremost, for those things God has already promised to give us, as we do in the Lord’s Prayer, knowing that these petitions are pleasing to our Father in heaven and are heard by Him, for He Himself has commanded us to pray in this way, and has promised to hear us. Anything we might pray for that God hasn’t promised, is subject to His will, and should be prayed with the understanding that His will comes before our own in such matters. He is, after all, our true Father, and He knows better than we do what’s good for us.

Of course, that’s not the way we like to look at God. We want what we want, when we want it. If we don’t get it, we are tempted to be upset or angry with Him, and may even try to get whatever it is on our own without Him. When that happens, the result goes against the Fourth through Tenth Commandments, as if breaking the first three by our selfish attitude weren’t bad enough. We want Him to serve us in an inferior role, as a servant serves his master, rather than serving us in a superior role, as parents serve and provide for their children. In order for us to pray rightly, therefore, He needs to put us to death and raise us up again so that we can be those who recognize their true Father for who He is. We need Him to come to us, to speak His Word to us, thereby killing us and raising us up to newness of life. That’s the only way that we will ever be able to talk to Him rightly, if He opens our mouths and puts in there His Word in place of our own selfish and impotent words. That’s the only way prayer is powerful, is if what is prayed is His all-powerful Word which was first spoken to us.

Like the other Gospel lessons during this part of the Easter season, Jesus spoke these words in the upper room on the first Maundy Thursday. He spoke them as He was preparing His disciples to witness His upcoming passion, death, resurrection, and ascension. He was promising them that the Father would still be with them, even during the worst moments of Good Friday, and that Jesus Himself would still be with them, even though He would be hidden from their physical eyes on Ascension Day. He was promising them that the Holy Spirit would come through Word and Sacrament in response to their prayers for comfort and courage, and most of all their prayers that He would continue to be with them.

The ultimate prayer, the most important, most basic thing that we can pray for, is that we can be with our Creator and He with us. This is the most basic need of every human being, even though it’s also a need that fallen human beings cannot and will not recognize rightly. That’s why even the mass of humanity that is in rebellion against the true God needs to find some sort of a god to worship, some sort of a religion to follow, no matter how false or even kooky it is. But this most basic prayer, that God would be with us and be merciful and gracious towards us, He has fulfilled in sending His Son. He fulfilled it by sending His Son to die on the cross. He fulfilled it in raising Him from the grave, and by sending His Holy Spirit through the Word and His body and blood to sustain and guide us. Our prayer that God would be with us is fulfilled in the most real and concrete way when we receive His Son’s body and blood in our physical mouths in, with, and under the bread and wine of the Lord’s Supper. And that prayer will be fulfilled for all time when we are taken to be with Him in heaven, to sit at the heavenly marriage feast of the Lamb in His kingdom, which has no end. He is the way, the truth, and the life. The reason He is the only way, is because He did it all for us, which is something no false god ever even tries to claim; all the rest want us to do something to get right with them. Since sin is what would separate us from God, prayers to be with Him are really prayers for the forgiveness of sins, which carries with it nothing less than life and salvation, “For where there is the forgiveness of sins, there is also life and salvation.” That’s what you receive in the Gospel Word and the Sacrament of the Altar here today. The forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation. God is fulfilling your prayers here today, and thereby giving you a foretaste of eternity. Amen.

+ Soli Deo Gloria +

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Fourth Sunday of Easter, Series A

Sermon on John 10:1-10
For Holy Cross Lutheran Church, Elmwood Park, WI
May 15, 2011 (The Fourth Sunday of Easter, Series A)

Sheep don’t have a very good reputation. Not only are they defenseless and mild, they’re also pretty stupid. They tend to play follow the leader in a manner that shows an utter disregard for the fact that the leader may be heading into disaster and death. To be referred to as “sheep” indicates a helplessness and a foolishness that most people would consider insulting. And yet, that is what we as the Church call ourselves. We are God’s sheep. We are His flock, and He is our Good Shepherd. It’s not a nickname that is very good for the Church’s public relations, of course. After all, many worldly people already think that we Christians are being duped by our leaders into giving money and time to a cause which doesn’t really exist (since they deny that God really exists) and that religion is only an elaborate fraud being perpetrated on the people of our country by the pastors and other religious leaders who profit from it. The idea that Christians are “sheep” would seem to lend itself directly into this way of thinking, because of the uniquely stupid and blindly following nature of real sheep. This is especially true since unfortunately there have been some Christian and quasi-Christian leaders (I hesitate to call them “pastors” since the word pastor means “shepherd” and these were the hirelings Jesus describes in today’s text rather than true pastors) who have, in fact, fleeced their flocks in the name of religion, defrauding them of millions of dollars for causes which profit these so-called pastors rather than the work of God’s kingdom. For that matter, even when following our true Shepherd, Jesus Christ, we engage in things that seem like foolishness to the world. We follow Him, but He leads us to the cross, to our own deaths. We know that’s not the end of the story, of course, since the death of the Son of God leads to His resurrection and ours, but the world doesn’t know that. And so, for us Christians to call ourselves “sheep” would seem to be an absolute public-relations disaster.

And yet, at the same time, sheep is what we are. We can look at this in several ways. One way in which we are sheep is that we must admit the simple fact that we are easily led astray. Our sinful natures easily cause us to want to “go along with the crowd,” to give into peer pressure and become involved in that which is popular in the world but which compromises our Christian confession and perhaps even leads us into outright sin. This sheeplike character we have is not something we easily admit; we like to think we are strong and independent, but it’s a simple fact. That’s what we’re often like when faced with the direction in which our fellow human beings are moving. In this sense, admitting that we are sheep is a way of admitting that we are sinful and unclean, and that we are easily swayed by the devil, the world, and our sinful flesh. We are sheep who need a shepherd to keep us in the green pastures and quiet waters, to comfort and protect us even in the valley of the shadow of death. Not to admit this need is simply to deceive ourselves.
But to admit that we are sheep is also to claim the Shepherd who has bought us. After all, this Shepherd Himself became a sheep, a lamb, so that He could be slaughtered in our place. Now, it’s true that in the middle east of Jesus’ time, shepherds viewed their flocks as much more a part of the family than a modern sheep rancher out in Wyoming would. They cared for them and watched over them and even faced dangers such as wolves and lions so that their sheep could survive, as David did. But this Good Shepherd, David’s descendant, did even more than any shepherd of Jesus’ time ever would. He became a lamb, a baby sheep, and submitted Himself to the power of the lion. He faced Satan, the roaring lion who prowls about this world, seeking whom he may devour, by submitting Himself to that lion’s teeth, having his hands and feet pierced with nails and his side pierced with a spear. That was how He protected His sheep, by becoming one of them and sacrificing Himself in their place.

That sacrifice was, of course, what we celebrated only a few weeks ago. And of course, we know the rest of the story. The Good Shepherd who was also the Lamb of God was not subject to death. But He died. And so, by doing that, He broke the power of death over His flock. He transformed death so that it is now the gate of everlasting life for us. As Luther put it in the hymn we sang two weeks ago during our Easter celebration, “It was a strange and dreadful strife when Life and Death contended; the victory remained with Life, the reign of Death was ended; Holy Scripture plainly saith that Death is swallowed up by Death, his sting is lost forever. Hallelujah!” It is in this way that our Good Shepherd has led us into the pastures of eternal life, by dying our death and transforming it into the road that leads to the green pastures and quiet waters of eternal fellowship with Himself.

It’s also there, on the Cross, that our Good Shepherd gave us those green pastures and quiet waters to sustain us even now as we journey through this valley of the shadow of death. Out of His side came blood and water, the Sacraments of Holy Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. Thus He provides us with the quiet waters and the green pastures of the rich food of heaven even now while we journey here on earth. We are sheep because we follow the Good Shepherd. We may look like foolish sheep because the Good Shepherd died, and we too shall die, but the fact is that He transformed death into the door of His eternal sheepfold for us. And so as we follow Him into death we are really following Him into eternal life. All of us must die, one way or another. We don’t gain anything by dying apart from our Good Shepherd, led astray by hirelings and false shepherds given us by the devil, the world, and our sinful flesh. But by dying trusting in our Good Shepherd who died on the cross for us, we follow Him through the valley of the shadow of death into eternal life. And we will dwell in the house of the Lord forever. Amen.

+ Soli Deo Gloria +

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Third Sunday of Easter, Series A

Sermon on Luke 24:13-35
For Holy Cross Lutheran Church, Elmwood Park, WI
May 8, 2011 (The Third Sunday of Easter, Series A)

If someone were to ask any of you about their feelings regarding Easter Sunday, and the Church’s celebration of it, you might get a variety of answers, but I suspect that not many people would say that their feelings regarding the Resurrection of our Lord include being perplexed or sad. Of course, most of us have known the whole story for much of our lives, while the two disciples in today’s Gospel lesson had just lived through the first Good Friday and Easter Sunday. In fact, the reports of the resurrection had reached them only hours before the events St. Luke records here. But we still would like to think that we would have been joyful, overflowing with happiness and confidence and excitement that Jesus had been resurrected, not perplexed and sad about the whole thing.

And yet, perplexed and sad is what we all too often are. Of course, when it comes to the Easter celebration itself, we’re properly joyful and exuberant. But as we go about our lives, as we serve our neighbors in the various callings God has given us in this life, as we experience and hear about the many pains and sorrows, illnesses and injuries, calamities, wars, and rumors of wars that surround us in this old world, we do think and act as if Christ were not raised, and thus we end up perplexed and sad, confused and anxious, unsettled and unbalanced as we go about our daily lives.

Now, to be sure, I’m not saying that sadness or confusion is itself a sin. This old world really is messed up, and things really do happen that don’t make sense to us, and may never make sense to us until we arrive before our Father’s face and can ask Him directly what His intentions were in this or that situation. And in the meanwhile, the emotions of sadness or grief or confusion as we look at these things are perfectly natural. It’s unrealistic to expect Christians to simply float above these things and always be smiling and cheerful and happy.

What I am saying, however, is that our feelings and reactions to life in this old world should not dominate or control us to the point that we lose sight of the greater victory Christ won for us on the cross and proclaimed to us in the resurrection. When that happens, we do become like the two disciples on the road.

The kinds of things that happen in this old world, the unfairness, the random hurt that nature and man can inflict upon us and our fellow human beings, really can make us wonder if God really is watching out for us and taking care of us. They can make us doubt whether the message of the resurrection, that God in Christ has reconciled the world to Himself and rescued us from the perils of sin and death, is really true. When that happens, we are in grave danger of losing the faith entirely. And of course, it doesn’t help at all that many of our fellow Christians have been misled by the health and wealth, name it and claim it (or, as one Lutheran podcast host recently put it, blab it and grab it) preachers into thinking that when things go wrong for us it means we’re lacking in faith or being punished somehow by means of what we’re suffering. During my ministry I’ve had several of my sheep in the hospital who were, at some point during their stay, visited by a relative or friend or even some random ambulance-chasing evangelist who told them that if only they had more faith they wouldn’t still be sick or injured. This, first of all, is not true, and secondly it is spiritual poison of the worst sort, because it causes us to look at ourselves for the key to our relationship with God, and not to Him who has already provided us with that key in His Son’s death and resurrection.

Of course, looking inward, at ourselves, is what the Old Adam likes to do most of all. We are born with ourselves as our own gods. And so all the things that happen to us in this old world, whether good or bad, are going to look like a reward or punishment for our own actions and behavior. That’s why the solution to the problem we face, and the problem the disciples on the road faced, is not found in simply criticizing the lack of faith. Pointing out the lack of faith, or the weakness of faith, may be a correct diagnosis of the problem, but it doesn’t fix it. Which is why after Jesus points out the disciples’ weakness of faith, He goes on to fix the problem in the way Jesus always fixes Christians’ faith problems: Word and Sacrament.

You see, faith is not created or sustained by pointing out that it is weak or dead. Faith is created and sustained by the good news in which faith trusts. Which is why we Lutherans always almost obsessively focus on the Gospel, the good news of what God did for us in Jesus Christ, and not on principles or steps we’re supposed to take to bring us closer to Him. God must be the one to do the work, not only because for us to try to fix our relationship with Him ourselves is to break the First Commandment, but also because He’s the only one that can fix things.

And so, Jesus remedies these two disciples’ lack of faith the same way He creates and sustains faith in all believers: Word and Sacrament. He preaches to them from the Scriptures, and He feeds them with His body and blood. For the earliest Church to whom Luke was writing, “the breaking of the bread” was a nickname for the Lord’s Supper. In the sequel to Luke’s Gospel, He refers to “the breaking of the bread” quite a few times when describing the participation of Christians in the Lord’s Supper. That’s why I believe that what Jesus shared with these two men was not simply an ordinary meal, but the Holy Supper itself. And so Jesus the Good Shepherd feeds His two wandering, lost sheep in the same good pasture and quiet waters which He always feeds us. He proclaims to them Himself, from the Holy Scriptures, thus giving them perspective to see the things that happened on Good Friday and Easter Sunday as salvation rather than failure, and He feeds them Himself, nourishing their new selves which will live before Him in righteousness and purity forever. He feeds them, and us, Himself, thereby reassuring them, and us, that He is to be found for our blessing, for our strengthening in faith, in the Word and in the breaking of the bread. He may speak through the mouths of human pastors, men who are just as sinful as everyone else, but it is His powerful Word and His body and blood that He gives us here. He is the one speaking, absolving, preaching, and His body and blood are what we eat and drink. He is recognized, also by us today, in the breaking of the bread. Amen.

+ Soli Deo Gloria +

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Second Sunday of Easter, Series A

Sermon on John 20:19-31
For Holy Cross Lutheran Church, Elmwood Park, WI
May 1, 2011 (The Second Sunday of Easter, Series A)

Seeing is believing. It’s necessary to operate with this idea in mind, because all of our fellow human beings are corrupted by the sin that we have all inherited from Adam and Eve, and so you can’t always trust the other person with whom you have dealings. You can’t always trust what the advertisers say about their products. You can’t always trust what people say about their own abilities. Even people who mean well may make claims that they can’t back up because they don’t really understand what they’re up against. And so we are naturally, and rightly, inclined to be suspicious of what people say. It’s not their words that matter, it’s what they do. Actions speak louder than words. A picture is worth a thousand words. If it’s too good to be true, it probably is. Seeing is believing.

This is the way Thomas thought when the disciples told him about Jesus’ resurrection. He thought that the story about Jesus being resurrected was just “too good to be true.” He wanted to see with his own eyes and feel with his own hands before he would believe that Jesus had risen from the dead. He wasn’t willing to accept the word of the other disciples about Jesus; the news about Jesus’ resurrection was too impossible, too wonderful, to be believed on the basis of their word alone. He had to see Jesus in the flesh in order to believe. He had to see Him for himself in order to be convinced of the truthfulness of what he was being told.

We can certainly understand Thomas’ reluctance to believe his fellow disciples. After all, only a few days ago he had his entire world turned upside down. His Lord and Teacher, the one he confessed as the Son of God, had died. God isn’t supposed to die. And He had not only died, He had been brutally murdered by the Jewish leadership in collaboration with the Roman authorities. He was the one who was supposed to save his people, and now here He had died. Of course, Thomas had heard the things Jesus said about His death being the way it was supposed to happen and that this was how salvation would come to men and that He would be raised up again on the third day, but with everything that had happened, Thomas couldn’t bring himself to believe that all of that had been what Jesus had intended. And in all his fear, uncertainty, and doubt, he wanted to see Jesus for himself to make sure.
We are by nature a lot like Thomas. We see sin in the world around us, we see God’s will for the lives of His creatures being ignored and spit upon daily. We see increasing acceptance of lifestyles such as homosexuality, living together before marriage, divorce for casual reasons, lifestyles which God has prohibited to His creatures for their own good. We see increasing selfishness and callousness toward those who are in need of help. In the Church herself we see all kinds of people who don’t act very Christian toward each other. We see old hurts and grudges carried on over the course of years and even decades, despite the damage it does to the work of the Church. We see a mentality imported from the world of big business that wants to measure success rather than faithfulness to God’s word. What we don’t see is Jesus. And so we begin to doubt Him and His word, and wish for some sign from Him that He really is there watching over us and taking care of us, some sign that our own sins really are forgiven and that our sacrifices and our struggles against sin are in fact all worthwhile. Like Thomas, we want to see Him with our own eyes and feel Him with our own senses in order to believe.

But what Christ says to Thomas reminds us that we are looking for God with the wrong sense. “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” In other words, in matters having to do with faith, we are to trust our ears rather than our eyes. Instead of relying on what we actually see for ourselves, we are to rely on the words that are spoken to us for our salvation. We are to rely upon faith, which trusts in what is not seen, instead of testing God, trying to force Him to prove Himself. As St. Paul says in Romans 10, “Faith comes by hearing.” It does not come by seeing.

Elsewhere in the same chapter, Paul elaborates on this. “Whoever calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved. How then shall they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher? And how shall they preach unless they are sent?” What St. Paul says here has to do with the first part of our text this morning. Jesus met the disciples, breathed on them, and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them, but if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” As St. Paul points out, if faith comes by hearing, the Church needs preachers. When Jesus told Thomas, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed,” he was talking about the people to whom he and the other apostles would preach, as well as the rest of us Christians down through the ages who have believed by hearing the Word. When Jesus gave the apostles the Holy Spirit and told them that they were to forgive and to retain sins, He was ordaining the apostles into their office as apostles and as pastors of the Church. The Fifth Chief Part of the Small Catechism refers to today’s Gospel lesson, and then it asks, “What do you believe according to these words?” The response we confess together with the Catechism is, “I believe that when the called ministers of Christ deal with us by His divine command, in particular when they exclude openly unrepentant sinners from the Christian congregation and absolve those who repent of their sins and want to do better, this is just as valid and certain, even in heaven, as if Christ our dear Lord dealt with us Himself.” You can’t see Jesus with your physical eyes. You can, however, hear His words.

Christ tells the apostles that when they proclaim the forgiveness of sins to someone, either by a specific announcement such as what we call Holy Absolution, or by preaching, or by baptizing, or by allowing someone to come to the Lord’s Supper, that their sins are actually forgiven. What a pastor does is not simply to talk about something that has already happened. Through a pastor’s declaration of forgiveness, God Himself actually acts to forgive a person. Now, that forgiveness which is granted to a person first in Baptism lasts through his whole life; it’s not as if you aren’t forgiven until you come to Church again the next Sunday. And, of course, anybody can tell his neighbor that God has forgiven their sins for Christ’s sake, and this message creates and sustains faith just as much as does the direct action of the pastor in administering the Means of Grace. But the pastor’s job is to speak Christ’s own words, “I forgive you,” directly into your ears, first person to second person. While the objective power of the Gospel is the same either way, it is especially comforting to hear God’s own words spoken through the mouth of his servants as opposed to a third-party news report about what God has done for us. God has instituted the Office of the Holy Ministry so that you can hear with your own ears that yes, you are forgiven.

This principle that faith comes by hearing and not by seeing is not only true of Holy Absolution, however. It is also true of the preaching of the Word and most especially of the Sacraments. All that the eye sees in Baptism is water. All that the eye sees in Holy Communion is bread and wine. It doesn’t see the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Ghost that takes place in Baptism, nor does the eye see or the fingers feel or the mouth taste the body and blood of Christ in the Lord’s Supper. But we know that they are there because the ear hears the words, “In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost” in Baptism, and “This is My body, this is My blood” in the Lord’s Supper. There too we hear and believe what Christ gives us even though we cannot see these things.

Today’s Gospel records for us God’s institution of the Office of the Holy Ministry. God has given pastors to His Church so that they can proclaim the forgiveness of sins, for the eternal salvation of God’s people. As Jesus says to Thomas, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” You have heard the message, and you have believed, though you have not yet seen the risen Christ with your own eyes. Blessed are you. Amen.

+ Soli Deo Gloria +