Real Fruit For Real People
We pray in the Collect for today that "we who have celebrated the mystery of the Lord's resurrection may by the help of God's grace bring forth the fruits thereof in our life and conduct." This prayer has been said by the Church on this Sunday for the last 1,400 years. It has always been the heartfelt desire of the Church that the fruits of the glorious resurrection of Jesus from the dead might be manifest in the lives of Her members. But I find that a switch takes place. The fruits most often pointed too aren't FROM Jesus FOR sinners but FROM people FOR Jesus.
Most people, pastors included, think that the fruits of Easter we are talking about in the Collect are things we do for Jesus. Evangelism, stewardship, and good works. Yes, Jesus rose from the dead to make us evangelists, stewards, and doers of good. The good news of the resurrection last week is to open your mouth, your pocketbook, and your hands.
How does this strike you? It makes me nervous because I never do these enough. If the fruit the Lord wishes to produce in me by His resurrection is evangelism, stewardship and good works, then He has failed or I have failed. I don't have enough of these going on. I could speak more about Jesus to others than I do. I could give more than I do. I could certainly do more than I do. I'm very uneasy about the fruits of my garden. It's more weeds than wheat, more thistles than grapes, more thorns than Easter lilies.
Actually, if the fruits of the risen Lord are really something from me, more evangelism, more stewardship, more good works, then all I can feel is guilt. Because when you get down to it, not only don't I do enough witnessing, giving, and working, I don't do these at all. All of what I ever do for Jesus is tainted, ruined, blackened by my sins. I either complain about all I do, or I feel proud for what little I do. If Easter is suppose to produce more telling about Jesus, more giving to Jesus, and more doing for Jesus, from me then all I can do is kick myself in the butt. I should do this; I ought to do that; I need to do this. Then guilt, shameful serious, real guilt is the actual fruit that Easter produces from me.
And then do you know what I find? Doubt and even despair in my heart. Jesus went to the cross for my sins, but here I am up to my eyeballs in them still. Jesus suffered hell for me, and yet have I cared enough to change my ways and do better? What can I do but doubt if Jesus is really risen for me? What I can do but despair of ever being good enough in Jesus eyes? Every missed or ignored evangelism opportunity, makes me despair all the more. Every extra penny I keep from the offering plate, and I keep many, causes me to despair of His love. Every thing I don't do tells me Jesus should show up and rub my face in all that I am not. Are these the fruits that Jesus wishes to bring forth in my life and conduct?
The Church didn't historically think so. The ancient name for this Sunday is Quasi modo geniti. This comes from the first words of the ancient Introit: "Like newborn babies." On this Sunday, those who were baptized on Easter were confirmed and received their first Communion. With newborns do you load them down with things they ought to be doing? Do mothers and fathers tell newborns all they expect them to do for them? Certainly not and neither does our Jesus. Look at our text. Jesus isn't interested in getting fruit FROM the disciples. He's interested in giving THEM His fruit.
The first fruit He has for them is peace. Jesus had told the women to tell the disciples to go to Galilee and there they would see Him. Actually, He had told them to do this even before He died. But where are the disciples? They are locked in a room in Jerusalem. But when Jesus comes among them what does He say: "Peace to you." And look at this. A whole week goes by in our text, and still not a one of them has made a step toward Galilee as they were commanded to do. Still when the Lord Jesus comes among them again He gives them peace once more.
Peace is one of the fruits the risen Jesus wishes to bring forth in your life and conduct. Ephesians 6: calls the Gospel itself simply Peace. Ephesians 2 says Jesus Himself is our peace and that He came to preach peace to Jews and Gentiles. Acts 10 says that God preached peace through Jesus Christ. Now the peace the risen Jesus brings isn't a mere feeling of tranquility. Being tranquil in the face of real danger can be deadly. Jesus brings the peace of knowing that the hostility between God and man is over.
The risen Jesus wishes to give you the certainty that everything is okay between you and God. Your many sins including failing to witness, failing to give, and failing to do as you should have been taken care of by Jesus on the cross. The risen Jesus comes into your life through Water, Words, Bread and Wine to do away with any uneasy feelings you might have about God. Do you have sins? See them on Christ nailed to the cross. Are you uneasy because you know you could do better than you do? See that Christ comes giving peace even to sinners. The peace is not based on your trying hard, doing better, or promising more. It's based on what Jesus did. That's why Jesus can preach peace to real sinners.
Jesus wants the peace from His resurrection to be in your life and conduct. He doesn't want unrest or uneasiness there. He wants you to know that God has put away His wrath, His weapons, His judgment against you because He spent them all on the cross. Imagine, you can go through life as a newborn baby, totally dependent on your heavenly Father to give you every good thing. Even when you do have feelings of unrest, so what? God has declared Himself to be at peace with you. So what if you feel at times there might be war any second between God and you? God has signed a peace treaty with you in the blood of His Son.
Jesus didn't rise from the dead to bring unrest to your life over all that you don't do, but to bring peace into your life based on all that He did. Likewise, Jesus didn't rise from the dead to bring guilt over all the ways you have let Him down. He rose to put forgiveness for you in the mouths of men. This addresses an ever present problem with sinners. How can I be sure that my sins are really forgiven? How do I know for sure that my very real sins are really put away? Yes, the resurrection of Jesus announces peace to me, but I sin daily. How can I be sure the peace treaty is still in effect? Do I have to climb up into the high heavens so I can see if God is still smiling at me? Do I have to go into the depths of my heart to see if I can find there the certainty that God is happy with me even though I still sin?
Friends, Jesus so dearly wanted the fruit of forgiveness He won on the cross to be in your life and conduct that He placed it in the mouths of men. Luther said about this text: "If you desire forgiveness of your sins, you must seek it from the word, out of the mouth of the apostles, or the pastor, or a fellow Christian. If it is not sought from the mouth of the apostles, the pastor, or another Christian, you will not obtain forgiveness of sins."
At first this might seem foolish or scary. Why must I get forgiveness from the mouth of a human being? Why would God give to humans the power to forgive sins against Him? The same reason He puts forgiveness in the Waters of Baptism and puts His Body and Blood in the Bread and Wine of Communion. The Holy God desires to use earthly, lowly, ordinary things to deal with sinners: Water, Bread and Wine and Words from the mouth of a man. But it seems scary to confess sins to other people rather than God. After all God seems much more willing to forgive sins then most people.
Ah but think about what happened when your conscience was tore up over your sins, real or imagined. Don't you remember how you felt? You felt sorry, didn't you? You felt very bad over what you had done, right? You went to the mouth of an apostle as Luther said. You kept telling yourself that Bible passage if we confess our sins God is faithful and just and will forgive them. What a glorious promise your head would say. But your heart could find no comfort at all in it, could it? How could you know? How could you be sure? That's why Christ puts the forgiveness He won on the cross into the mouths of human beings, and He binds Himself to what they say. "If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven." You don't have to try to climb up to heaven or descend into your tortured heart to find God's forgiveness. God has put it in the mouths of men.
Not just men, but women and children too. Any Christian can and should forgive sins confessed to them. But Christ, in our text, is instituting a particular office on earth to forgive your sins. The purpose of this office is not to teach you about succeeding in business, healthy living, happy marriages, or the raising of children. This office concerns the spiritual realm alone. You remind yourself of this each Sunday in the liturgy. At least in the old hymnal. There we have the exchange where I say, "The Lord be with you," and you say, "And with thy spirit." The new hymnal has changed this to be nothing more than an exchange of greetings: "The Lord be with you," I still say, but you respond with, "And also with you."
The spirit is important. It is an ancient reference to what Jesus did in the text. He breathed on them and said, "Receive the Holy Spirit, whosoever sins you forgive they are forgiven." "And with your spirit" is short-hand for acknowledging that Christ is speaking and doing in and through the pastor. These words recognize him as the Lord's man on the scene to do what He wants done. St. John Chrysostom explained these words in the 4th century saying that if the Holy Spirit were not in the pastor the congregation would not cry out "And with thy spirit." The congregation testifies that it is God who acts through him. Each Sunday, three times in fact, the liturgy has the reminder that when the pastor prays for you, celebrates communion, or gives you peace, it is really the Lord Jesus doing so through the pastor.
By rising from the dead the Lord Jesus brought God's peace to the life and conduct of sinners. He brought forgiveness to the mouths of humans. And He brought faith in what is not seen. Thomas prolonged the miserable state he was in without the peace of God and forgiveness of sins by not believing the mouths of 10 apostles. Jesus comes and tells Thomas that true faith is only based on the word not on seeing. He tells Thomas that only as long as he sees will he go on believing. That is not a blessing is it? Because no one sees all the time. For all Christians Christ hides Himself in Water, Words, Bread and Wine, and sometimes He hides Himself behind sickness, sadness and even death. True blessedness is believing without seeing.
You my dear friends are blessed. Though you've never seen a risen Jesus except hidden in Water, Words, Bread and Wine, you nevertheless believe. The peace of God does rise in your heart as you hear Christ giving it. The forgiveness of sins in my mouth is a comfort to you. The fruits from a risen Jesus, peace, forgiveness, and faith, are in your life and conduct. And these fruits do indeed cause you to produce fruits: evangelism, stewardship, and good works. But get the proper order. Christ's resurrection produces the fruits of peace, forgiveness, and faith. When you partake of these they root in your life, and they produce witnessing, giving and doing. These fruits are from you for others. But the fruits Jesus first wishes you to have from Him are peace, forgiveness, and faith. These are real fruits FOR real people. Amen.
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Easter II (4-30-00) John 20: 19-31