Sunday, April 11, 2010

Sermon: Quasimodo Geniti (Easter 2)

11 April 2010 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA

Text: John 20:19-31 (Ez 37:1-14, 1 John 5:4-10)

In the name of + Jesus. Amen.

Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!

“Is your church Spirit-filled?”

I was asked that question a couple years ago by someone who was interested in visiting our Wednesday night Divine Service. I don’t think he meant the question the same way that I took it. He was in all likelihood really asking whether or not our services are emotional, if we jump around and make funny noises during worship. But that isn’t what he asked. His question was: “Is your church Spirit-filled?” And so I answered his question: “Absolutely! We are a spirit-filled church.”

The work of the Holy Spirit is as far from its portrayal on TV – by Hollywood and by TV preachers alike – as is the difference between Olympic wrestling and the kind of entertainment wrestling that involves garish outfits and flying chairs. The real and genuine work of the Spirit is dramatic and life-changing, but it is not the stuff of sideshows and circus tents, of marketing and manipulation.

Salem Lutheran Church is, like all congregations around the world in the one holy catholic and apostolic Church, a Spirit-filled church. The Greek word translated as “church” literally means an assembly of those called out. We have been called out by the Spirit of God, summoned forth from the decaying bones of the corrupted and decaying world to join a vast army of the resurrected, filled with the breath of God, to stand together as one vast body, a corps, immortal and incorruptible, linked bone by bone, and joined into a holy assembly, person by person.

“Prophesy to the breath,” says the Lord, and Ezekiel speaks the Word.

Through the preacher, the Lord heals even dead and decaying bones. “Prophesy to the breath,” the Lord reiterates, and the breath enters the reconstructed fleshly bodies of the once-dead skeletons, and the Lord’s breath becomes their breath. They are born again. Death yields to life. They rise. They walk. They serve the Lord. In the Hebrew and the Greek of the Bible, the word “breath” and the word “Spirit” are one and the same. This is why we confess the Holy Spirit as the “Lord and giver of life.” God the Holy Spirit is sent forth by the Father and the Son, and He is the breath of life that makes dead bones walk, putting life-giving words into the mouths of preachers charged with reanimating the fallen.

For we have been born again by water and the Spirit. We have been blessed by the working of the Holy Spirit through the men the Lord has called by His Word and breath: to preach, to baptize, and to forgive sins. For nobody can take this authority unto himself. Rather, this spiritual authority is delegated.

Hear anew what the Spirit says in the Scriptures He has inspired: “Jesus said to them again, ‘Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.’”

Our Lord Jesus calls all believers to life and fills all of them with the Holy Spirit. And the Lord calls some of these Spirit-filled believers to be sent, to be “apostled” and commissioned to “prophesy to the breath.” For “when He had said this, he breathed on them,” these specific ones He has chosen to send forth as preachers, proclaims the holy Evangelist. Our Lord Jesus “breathes on them” – filling their bodies with the breath, the Spirit of God, as well as the authority to proclaim, to form words using that borrowed divine breath. And with this breath, these apostolic proclaimers of the Good News will indeed “prophesy over these bones” and “prophesy to the breath.”

And how is it that this breath, this Spirit, this proclamation can raise the dead and turn dry bones into a vibrant army? Look at what comes with this gift of the Spirit, this delegated authority from the Father, through the Son, and by the Holy Spirit. Our Lord continues: “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.”

The Spirit, the Lord and giver of life, delivers the forgiveness of sins!

For the wages of sin is death. Sin has turned the entire world into a hopeless and hapless valley full of decaying bones. But the breath of God, the Holy Spirit, the proclamation of the Gospel by those to whom Jesus has breathed this authority, transforms rotting bones into thriving fleshly creatures, and changes corruptible flesh into Spirit-filled immortals. For the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

And note that this is all accomplished by the forgiveness of sins!

This is why the risen Jesus greets the fearful disciples with the greeting: “Peace.” Their days of fear of God’s wrath are over. The rift between sinful man and righteous God is ended. In Christ, we are indeed sons and daughters of the King!

Our risen King blesses his beloved followers of every age with this Spirit-filled benediction: “Peace be with you!” And as evidence of being Spirit-filled, Jesus doesn’t do parlor tricks or appeal to their emotions. Rather He “showed them His hands and His side.” Dear friends, this is where we find peace – in the holy wounds of our Lord, in the sacrificial blood shed for us on the cross, in the same body and blood delivered miraculously to us – all in space and time.

We are Spirit-filled because of the fleshly Jesus. We have the Holy Spirit because of the bodily incarnation of our Lord. And we are temples of the Holy Spirit in our bodies, because we are the body of Christ. The Spirit dwells in the body, and just as Jesus rose bodily from the grave, so too we have the promise: “I will put My Spirit within you, and you shall live…. I have spoken, and I will do it, declares the Lord.”

For the Spirit comes through the Son. As St. John also proclaims: “This is He who came by water and blood – Jesus Christ; not by the water only but by water and the blood. And the Spirit is the one who testifies, because the Spirit is the truth. For there are three that testify: the Spirit and the water and the blood; and these three agree.”

The Spirit testifies, dear brothers and sisters. The Lord and giver of life is breathed into you, and you are absolved by the authority of the Father delegated through the Son, and given to you through the life-giving Spirit – who testifies.

In the waters of Baptism, where one name of the Triune God was impressed upon you as a seal, placed upon you with the sign of the cross, seeping into you bodily through water, and resounding through every molecule of your fleshly existence by the proclaimed Word – you became Spirit-filled. And just as the peace-bearing Jesus pointed to His wounds, He continues to point you to His body and blood, where the Spirit continues to fill you “for the forgiveness of sins.”

In spite of our stubborn sinful nature, our nagging weaknesses, our feeble shortcomings; in spite of the fact that our bodies are decaying along with this fallen world – we know that God the Holy Spirit will not fail us. We know that God our Redeemer lives. We have been born again by water and the Spirit in Holy Baptism. We are invited to eat and drink the body and blood in the Holy Eucharist. We are bidden to hear the Holy Gospel and the authoritative words of Holy Absolution. We are called to be a Holy Church, Spirit-filled, redeemed, brought to life by the prophecy of God’s Word. And we have the promise and the fullest benediction of the Risen One Himself: “Peace be with you.”

Like St. Thomas who once doubted, we believe. “My Lord and My God!” we confess right along with the holy apostle and with the whole Spirit-filled Church throughout the world of every time and place, even as the Holy Spirit gives us “the victory that has overcome the world – our faith.”

Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!

In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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