The Church Is About The Forgiveness Of Sins; The Rest Is Just Details


Text: John 20:19-31

In the name of Jesus. Amen.

If I were Jesus, I would've let those disciples have it that evening when they were all huddled in that upper room with fear. Yes, if I were Jesus, I would've told those disciples that they were a bunch of weak-willed, sleepy, betraying cowards who left me in a time of need. I would have also singled out Peter and called him out for his big talk and puny actions.  

"So, Peter, what's this I hear about you being a rock – a big tough man? Couldn't you even stand by me in front of a servant girl? You sure talk the talk like a big man; however, everyone here knows that you are all talk and not much action."

 Yes, indeed, if I were Jesus, I would've gotten after them for their spineless actions. I would have asked them, 

 "I rose from the dead, and now you are hiding in this upper room with a tiny little lock on the door? Do you feel safe now that the lights are dimmed, and you have a locked door?   

But dear friends, I am not Jesus. You see, three days after Jesus died, He entered that upper room where the disciples had locked themselves. And get this; He did not come into that upper room to rebuke or chastise them. 

So, if Jesus did not rebuke and chastise the disciples in that upper room, what did He do when He came to the disciples right after His resurrection? Well, for starters, He did not come into that upper room to tell His disciples how to fortify the upper room with proper locks and how to wear adequate disguises in public. He also did not give them instructions on how to gather survival food while they stayed off the Jewish leaders' radar. Jesus also did not come up with a strategic plan or action steps. He did not have a military strategy or a clever political policy. Jesus did not have a marketing campaign to sway public opinion, or clever talking points that He gathered from a demographic study to influence public opinion. Jesus did not have any tricks up his sleeves or any deceptive plans to manipulate the general public through mass psychosis. No, He had none of this and did none of this. Instead, Jesus chased away the disciples' fears when He said, 

           "Peace be with you."  

Jesus chased away fear, and then right there in that upper room, He gave the disciples their mission and purpose: to forgive sins. Jesus told the disciples, 

"As the Father has sent me, even so, I am sending you. . . .  Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone's sins, they are forgiven. If you refuse to forgive them, they are unforgiven."

Dear friends, it really is quite that simple. The mission and purpose of the early Apostles was to speak Christ's words of forgiveness. They were to preach Christ crucified and resurrected for the forgiveness of sins. This is the Ministry of the early Apostles, and it is the ministry that God commissions His church and pastors to do today. Just as Jesus called the disciples to stand in the stead of Christ and deliver Jesus' blood – not as a sacrifice unto God but as a gift for all people – the Lord calls His church and pastors to do the same.  

And so, what that means is that St. Paul's Lutheran Church primarily exists to deliver the forgiveness of sins to anyone and everyone who might receive the forgiveness of sins.

But not everyone wants the church to be about the forgiveness of sins.  

Just the other day, a person came to our church and talked to one of our members. The person wanted help from the church to pay their rent. The church member kindly expressed to them that the church gives money to the Homeless Coalition, Food Pantry, and Pregnancy Center as acts of mercy; however, St. Paul's does not give money towards personal rent. The person sighed really loud and then said,

"Well, what do you do around here then?" 

The member responded, 

"We are about the forgiveness of sins."

The person then responded by saying, 

           "Whatever. Have a nice day." 

Dear friends, please be aware that many in our culture and even from inside the parish do not want the church to be about the forgiveness of sins. I am not entirely sure why. It may be that the forgiveness of sins is not flashy enough. Or, perhaps, people might feel as if the forgiveness of sins does not meet up with the popular fads of the day. Maybe the forgiveness of sins hits a little too close to home for other people. Regardless, it is true that not everyone wants the church to be about the forgiveness of sins but something else.   All you have to do is look around at various churches, and you will see all the different things churches are focusing on these days. Some churches focus on being an emotional support group for people – places of fellowship and fun. Other churches focus on being political action groups that work to do social justice. Other churches function as self-help venues – giving pointers on how to live your best life now. The list can go on and on and on.   

And so, are we saying that all of these churches are missing the mark? Yes, that is exactly what we are saying. And we can say this is not because of arrogance but because Jesus clearly lays forth the mission and purpose of the church and its pastors in the Gospel of John. The church and its pastors are to be about the forgiveness of sins.  

I am reminded of the words of a wise pastor who preached at a seminary graduation. He wanted to warn the new pastors about the temptation to forget their mission and their calling. He said to them, 

"What you are stepping into is the Preaching Office. Don't forget that. Your relationship to the congregation is the same as the prophets to Israel. Work on teaching and converting your own people-- which includes scores of folks not on the books. Preach the Gospel to them -- from the pulpit, the podium, the bedside, and behind the desk. They come looking for marital advice? Tell them about Jesus dying for them. They come looking for sympathy and a listening ear? Tell them about Jesus dying for them. They have a new baby, have lost their jobs, and are afraid of retirement? Tell them about Jesus dying for them. No matter what the circumstances, what the situation, you preach Christ crucified. Never compromise the simple Truth that has saved you."

Perhaps a warning is also needed for parishioners about the temptation to forget the mission and calling of the church. Perhaps we could say it this way, 

"Remember, dear parishioners, what you are stepping into on Sundays. Don't forget that this church is about the forgiveness of sins. And so, when you look up front and see that font, do not forget that this is where the guilt of your sins was forgiven through the mighty waters of baptism. And when you look and see a man clothed in white, he is there to pronounce forgiveness into your ears as He reads about forgiveness in the lectern and preaches about forgiveness in the pulpit. And when you look to the table, know that this table is where you get forgiveness laid upon your tongue and lips. What this means is that if the church is struggling with the budget, do not let this distract you from the forgiveness of sins before you in the sanctuary. If there are fights and gossip in the church over the color of the carpet, do not let this divert you from the forgiveness of sins given at the rail. If a church down the street is doing something exciting and innovative, do not let that sidetrack you from hearing about the forgiveness of sin from the pulpit. Never let anything come before the forgiveness of sins. Remember, even if every program of the church fails, if the bulletins don't print and the website crashes, if the coffee is burnt and the donuts do not have enough cream filling, if sidewalks are not perfectly clean of snow, and attendance is lacking at a LWML or LYF event, and even if the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod completely folds, it really doesn't matter in the grand scheme of things.  The reason being, if you have received the forgiveness of sins, all of these other things are secondary – they are just details. Baptized Saints, the church is not founded on all these little things but upon Christ and His forgiveness. The gates of Hades may overcome many things in this life, but will not overcome Christ and His unending forgiveness, which is for you and me. "   

Baptized Saints, at St. Paul's, we are about the forgiveness of sins because we are about Jesus. And we are about Jesus because Jesus is about you and me. We know that Jesus is about you and me because that Good Friday long ago, He bled for your sins and mine.   And He rose for our justification and assurance. And to ensure that we would never lose heart and chase away fear, the Lord constantly gives you and me forgiveness, life, and salvation from His font, table, and holy Word. 

In the stead and by the command of Jesus, you are forgiven of all your sins. Peace be with you.  

It’s all about the forgiveness of sins; the rest is just details.  

In the name of Jesus. Amen.  

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