The Office of the Keys

“God’s gift to the Church”

John 20:22-23

January 31st & February 1st, 2009


            Allow me to share two general statements toward that will frame the message today.   .  The first has to do with this relationship (point up to God), because of Christ Forgiveness is a reality.  The second statement is about our relationship with those people around us  and in these relationships  Forgiveness is not an option.   This is the second of a two part series on Confession, and the Office of the Keys.   Last week we heard that confession is great for the soul.  Confession as we heard is more than just figuring out our sins, but also believing the reality of God’s forgiveness.  Luther would say things like, don’t worry so much about the confession part of sin,  but rather believe and take head the second part which talks about  forgiveness.  Confession is great for the soul because it is honest living.  It is living by God’s  understanding that we are people in need of forgiveness and that through Christ Jesus he has brought us just that.      

             At this time let us go ahead and read the together the catechism statement on the Confessions of sins (read statement together).  This statement from John 20 occurs right after he appears to his disciples after Jesus is raised from the dead. One moment they are defeated men worried for their lives, and then the living Jesus appears,  and he gives them their primary task.  That is to forgive sins.   As if to say “the reality of my crucifixion, and resurrection, and now my conquering presence, will first and primarily make an impact on people’s lives through being forgiven.    He is in a sense giving the church that is believers in Christ their primary task.  To dispense God’s forgiveness, and to say to let the unrepentant know that forgiveness is not theirs.   This first part we like, the second part we are more uncomfortable with.

            So why did Christ do this.   Let say you were invited to a seminar on cooking.  At this seminar you saw demonstrations on how to cook, you heard from great chefs, and as you left you were even given a how to manual on how to be a better cook.    All good but to make it happen you’ve got to heed the advice you learned, and follow the cookbook.  Let’s assume you attend another seminar on cooking which not only shows you what is to be done, but at the end it feeds all those who are hungry.  Which seminar is like the office of the keys?  The second one, of course.  

            You see God is so rich in his grace; he wants to actually feed us forgiveness in a personal, tangible way.    While this may sound a bit self serving, I do think it is faithful, that as long as the person up here is faithful to the scriptures, God is filling our tank with his words, delivering into our ears, that message of Christ not leaving us.      God knows we also need foundations stones in our life, things we can turn back to, and that is baptism here God’s covenant claim on our lives.  This is not merely a past event, but an ever present reality that says “I am God’s child” over against anything else  may ultimately try to defines us.   Our Lord feeds us through our mouths, in the sacrament of the altar, as his forgiveness is literally received into our bodies.  He publicly brings Christ forgiving work, as the minister or another Christians speaks the gospel in our lives.  Sometime this is public, at other times in private.  Then finally you have what is called “mutual conversation.”  This is the opportunity to speak of our Christian faith with one another.  We often talk about speaking the faith to non Christians, but it is also a building up of our lives when we get to do this with one another.  Now mind you, we can come to the seminar already full, not needing food,    and that is where God’s people have the God given job of “tough love” (withholding forgiveness).   To declare that without the food of Christ’s forgiveness, we are doomed.  Now some people worry that forgiveness is not remission of sins, but rather permission to sin.   Not at all, forgiveness from God is not toleration or even encouragement to further sin, but rather the reality that the Savior Jesus has more forgiveness than we have sins to commit.   That Jesus cleansing blood is more than enough to make up for our shortcomings. 

            The second point here is forgiveness toward our neighbor is not an option.  C. S. Lewis once said “forgiveness is a good idea, unless you have someone to forgive”.   We cry out, not fair, why should I have to make the effort, and what if my neighbor is not repentant. Forgiveness is not an option.   Colossians 3:13 says “Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another.  Forgive as the Lord forgave you”.    Ephesians 4 says “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each others, just as in Christ God forgave you.”   Now this is where the office of the keys, comes down into   every day of  life.   This forgiveness from one Christian to another, from one Christian to a non Christian happens all the time.    A lot of times it is informal, and maybe worded in a phrase “ah forget about it, or water under the bridge”.    As a forgiven, loved person, how can I be any different?  I’m reminded of the story Jesus told of the unmerciful servant.  Here he was forgiven this great debt, this impossible debt, by his master.  Yet, he had some one that owed him a much smaller amount, and he would not begin to forgive him.    Jesus had some choice words about this unforgiving servant.   A fellow pastor once said that God forgives once for all, however we struggle with this in terms of our neighbor.  God’s forgiveness is completes, ours is an ongoing battle.  Which is why we pray over and over again “Forgive us our trespasses”, and why we receive Christ’s forgiveness in so many various ways, so that we can be strengthened for the task of loving those around us. 

            Again, some might say, but wait you just can’t forgive everything, aren’t there some consequences.  Obviously yes, there on the cross was forgiven by Jesus, but he still was crucified for his crime.   Rod Blogovich you’ve heard about him has seemingly wronged a lot of people, and while forgiveness, real forgiveness should flow his direction from all Christian folks, yet his behavior still has consequences in this realm.   Some of which we saw this week.  I asked a fellow pastor what is the difference between a Christian forgiving his neighbor, and maybe an unbeliever who forgives.  He said that for the unbeliever, it maybe simply an act of dropping ones anger.  This can be good and helpful, yet, for the Christian we can’t speak of forgiveness without putting Jesus, and his cross, in the picture.   It is not so much putting him in the picture, he is already in our picture, and we pray that he will continue to work in us a forgiving Spirit. 

            Corrie Ten boom and her sister Betsy were interned at the Nazi camp at Ravensbruck. Betsy died there and Corrie dreaded the day when, after the war, she might encounter one of their captors. It happened one day in Munich, where Corrie was giving her testimony at a rally. A former S.S. officer was there who had stood guard at the showers in the camp. Corrie looked up and suddenly he was facing her. "How grateful I am for your message, Freulein," he said. "To think that, as you say, He has washed my sins away!"

The man thrust out his hand to Corrie, but she could not take it. She felt shame and guilt coursing through her body. "Lord Jesus," she prayed, "forgive me and help me to forgive him." But nothing happened. There was no warmth or forgiveness in her. Again she prayed, "Jesus, I cannot forgive him. Give me Your forgiveness."

Struggling with herself, she took the man's hand. And as she did, she said, "The most incredible thing happened. From my shoulder along my arm and through my hand a current seemed to pass from me to him, while into my heart sprang a love for this stranger that overwhelmed me."

Now you and I may not experience that sort of current coursing through us, when forgiveness is delivered to  others, but the office of the keys shows that this forgiveness of God and of neighbor is divine.  In her story as in our story the forgiveness shown to us by Jesus is a reality, and for her it was not an option.   Help us Lord, continue to grow in both of these truths.  Amen.