From this past Sunday, Quasimodo Geniti (30 March 2008), and hopefully better late than never. :-)
Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!
It was a TV show some 40 years ago. In recent years we’ve had three movies with Tom Cruise in the leading role. I’m talking about “Mission: Impossible.” The story always has some mission of incredible danger and risk, undercover spies and international intrigue. The Mission: Impossible team is assembled and briefed. They need to infiltrate a foreign regime to protect a diplomat from assassination. Or they need to work with one underground mob to keep sensitive secrets from falling into the hands of another underground mob. Whatever the mission, it always seems impossible. But the crack team somehow always pulls it off. And, as everyone knows, if anyone from the IM team is captured or killed, their superiors will deny all knowledge of the mission. Then the tape self-destructs in 30 seconds.
“Mission: Impossible” is a tempting description of Jesus’ mission on the evening of His resurrection. There sat the disciples, huddled in fear. The Jewish leaders had killed Jesus; and they were afraid those leaders would hunt them down. And one thing is certain. When you’re scared, you sweat. And when you sweat you stink. And another thing is certain. No doubt, these fearful disciples were at each other’s throats. “Peter, how could you deny the Lord?” “Well, you ran away when they arrested Him in the garden!” You can imagine the nitpicking and the gossip. “Yeah, those women who said He’s risen must be deluded in their grief.” You can imagine the self-justification. “Well, at least I didn’t betray the Lord for thirty pieces of silver!”
And yet Jesus still comes to this huddled, frightened, stinky, bickering bunch of disciples. You see, that’s all Jesus has on this earth—a company of frightened, unbelieving, unbelievable sinners! And He came and stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” Wow! No rebuke. No chastising. Just forgiveness, absolution, the very peace of God! Jesus’ mission is not impossible. His is “Mission: Forgiveness.” So He showed them His hands and His side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord.
This is exactly what we need to hear. We too are a frightened, huddled little bunch of stinky disciples. What frightens us? Everything from conflict in the Middle East to confronting a loved one about a sin. Everything from filing our taxes to balancing the family budget or the church budget. Everything from passing the test in school to getting the promotion at work to how the neighborhood is going from bad to worse. Yes, we are frightened. And what frightens us most is talking about our loving, forgiving Lord Jesus to other people!
And along with the fear goes the bickering. “Johnny, how could you call Susie that dirty name?” “Well, she started it; she insulted me.” And with the bickering go the gossip and the reputation shredding. “Martha just doesn’t care about me or my project.” “Well, I heard that Joe took a little money under the table, but don’t tell anyone.” “And did you notice the way she turned her nose up at you?” “And did you notice the way he just blew you off?” And so it goes. But what do you expect from fearful, stinky, unbelieving, unbelievable sinners?
Judging from what you and I see, it might seem like “Mission: Impossible” to keep our family going, to do our jobs, or even to get along in our church and school. And yet Jesus still comes into our midst. The risen Lord still comes to proclaim His peace, and forgiveness, and new life. For Jesus, it’s not “Mission: Impossible;” it’s “Mission: Forgiveness.” Peace be with you! You see, we are all Jesus has in this world. And it’s only with His peace—His forgiveness—that we can amount to anything. So He gives us His forgiving peace in water, words, and meal.
But what is forgiveness? A few years ago the St. Louis Post-Dispatch ran an article on forgiveness. I for one was delighted to see a secular newspaper run an article on forgiveness. Why was I glad? Because they got it all wrong! One psychologist said that forgiveness is “the ‘feeling of peace that emerges as you take your hurt less personally, take responsibility for how you feel and become a hero instead of a victim in the story you tell.’” Huh? Another person said that he had to forgive himself for his son’s suicide! Yes, the suicide is tragic, but so is the view of forgiveness. And another person said that she “had to forgive” to ensure her own salvation. Yikes!
Luther was quite right when he described sin. He described sin as being curved in on yourself. We love to curve everything in on ourselves. Each one of us has that not so subtle desire to be the center of the universe. And each one of us curves everything in life in on ourselves. We even take a good gift from God—forgiveness—and turn it into something we do for ourselves, to make ourselves feel better. But that’s what’s wrong with us in the first place. We are too consumed with ourselves!
So what is forgiveness? Let’s listen to Jesus. [Jesus] breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of anyone, they are forgiven; if you withhold forgiveness from anyone, it is withheld.” Forgiveness is not how you treat yourself. Forgiveness is how you treat someone else. Let me illustrate.
Let’s pretend – and, yes, this is only pretend – that I love to play with big knives. So, one day, in your presence, I try to show off my knife twirling skills. As I twirl my big knife, it slips and I accidentally cut you on the cheek. It’s a long and deep cut, so I apologize profusely, and we rush to the Emergency Room and get you stitched up. As the wound heals, you notice you’ll have a scar. It won’t be easy to forget what happened! But the real question is this: will you forgive me? Will you look on that scar as forgiven or not? Forgiveness is not a feeling; it is a decision. It is a decision for how you will treat another person.
You see, that’s how God forgives. God’s forgiveness is not about a feeling that He has. It’s a decision that He makes concerning you. God’s forgiveness is God’s decision not to hold your sin against you. Psalm 32 captures this: Blessed is the man against whom the LORD counts no iniquity. That is, Blessed is the person whom the Lord God does not charge with his or her sin. And how does God choose to do that? Because of His beloved Son, Jesus. When Jesus dies on the cross and rises on the third day, He pays the debt of sin that you incurred. So, your account is wiped clean. That’s forgiveness.
That forgiveness was for the huddled, frightened, stinky bunch of disciples on that first Easter evening. That forgiveness is for you, the 21st century huddled, frightened, stinky bunch of disciples. Forgiveness is what the Church is all about. As Jesus said, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent Me, even so I am sending you…. If you forgive the sins of anyone, they are forgiven….” There is only one institution on earth that can truly talk about and really deliver God’s forgiveness. That’s the Church. There is only one place on earth where you can receive Jesus’ cross-won, resurrection forgiveness. That’s the Church.
And Jesus’ forgiveness is the simple, single-minded mission of the Church. The mission of Jesus’ Church is “Mission: Forgiveness.” Notice that Jesus doesn’t say, “I send you to be a religious club.” He doesn’t say, “I send you to imitate the world’s ways of business and entertainment.” He doesn’t say, “I send you out to take a poll and find out what people want in a church.” No, Jesus is too smart and too gracious for that. He simply says, “I send you out—you, My fearful little disciples—to promote and deliver My forgiveness.”
We receive that forgiveness in Baptism, in Gospel preaching, in words of Absolution, and in the Lord’s Supper. In turn, Jesus authorizes all of us to speak His forgiveness to one another. So, next time someone says, “I’m sorry” for something, try saying, “I forgive you.” And also decide to not hold the offense against that person. Do what God has done with you—decide not to hold the matter against your fellow Christian. That’s the mission you have from Jesus.
Many times our mission seems impossible. What can forgiveness do? But that is the mission Jesus gives to you, His Church. So, while many can talk a good game of forgiveness, you are the only ones in the world with the real thing from God. Yes, you—despite your fears and sins! You see, where there is forgiveness of sins going on, there is also life and salvation. Amen.