Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Sermon, Second Sunday of Easter

St Stephen Lutheran Church
The Rev. Maurice C. Frontz III
Easter 2
April 27, 2014

What think ye of Christ?
This is the question evangelist Dwight L. Moody put to his hearers
in New York City on February 27, 1876.
The sermon became world-famous,
and I certainly don’t make a claim to be able to equal the Rev. Dwight L. Moody.
But with boldness I would call this sermon,
‘What think ye of Christ?’
especially because we have the testimony of the apostles and St Thomas with us today.
In the footsteps of Dwight L. Moody, then,
we ask, ‘What think ye of Christ?’

What think ye of Christ?
Some may think he was a great moral teacher,
in the line of Moses and Amos and Micah,
or even Socrates.
Perhaps he was a great prophet himself, second only to Muhammad.
This is of course what Islam believes.
Some may think he was an itinerant miracle-worker,
or a failed political revolutionary,
and some doubt that he ever existed at all.
All of these are ways people think about Jesus.
And some of the ways to think about Jesus have more to say for them than others.

But Christians have typically thought more than this of Jesus of Nazareth.
Do we think that he is raised from the dead?
Do we think that he has the power to forgive sins?
Do we think that he is true God and true human being?
Our texts today put these questions to us,
especially our Gospel text from St John.
Let us then examine the text.

Jesus appeared to his disciples on the night of the Resurrection.
He appeared not as an avenging angel,
a ghost that would haunt those who had abandoned him,
but as one who brought peace.
It was his body, raised from the dead,
evidenced by the wounds in his side,
and yet it was more than that –
he was able to enter a locked room,
able to make himself present even though the disciples had hid themselves away.

Jesus, in his life, had authority from his Father to forgive sins.
After his resurrection, he passed on this authority to his church.
‘If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them;
if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.’
The one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church
has authority to declare the forgiveness of sins in Jesus’ name.
In addition, it has the authority to declare that those who are unrepentant,
not simply the ignorant,
not those who sincerely wish to resist sin and live according to God’s will
but those who are brazenly unrepentant,
that they are in danger of their sins being judged by God.
This is an interesting point,
for this is not simply ‘What think ye of Christ?’
but also, ‘What think ye of the Church?’
As we may learn, the two points are not so unrelated as we might think.

Christ is raised from the dead,
Christ gives authority to his Church to forgive sins,
and Christ is true man and true God.
This is the confession of St Thomas,
no full-blown Trinitarian doctrine,
but the Trinitarian doctrine in embryo,
the acknowledgement of what Jesus said to Philip on the night before he was crucified:
‘Whoever has seen me has seen the Father.’
This confession is adoration.
Those who simply ‘think’ about Jesus may admire him,
but they do not adore him.
They cannot put their trust in him.
Thomas’s confession is worship and adoration.
And since God alone is to be worshiped and adored,
this Jesus, the Christ, is truly divine.

What think ye of Christ?
Is he God and man in one person?
Does he still forgive sins today?
Is he risen from the dead?
And does he deserve our worship and adoration?
How are we to decide?
Because we are here, we may feel that we have already answered the question,
but the question is put to us day after day.
And perhaps we have never thought deeply about it at all.

One asks, how did the apostles come to faith in Christ?
How did Thomas?
We call Thomas ‘doubting Thomas,’ as if he was somehow deficient
in a way that the other apostles were not.
But the only difference between Thomas and the other apostles was that he skipped church.
The first Sunday, Thomas was not there when Jesus appeared.
The next Sunday, he was.
And in the community of believers, Jesus appeared,
and Thomas was able to experience the Resurrection,
in a way that he could not other than in the worshiping community.
Those who put their faith and trust in Jesus,
as Son of God and truly human,
as he who may forgive their sins,
and as he who laid down his life in order to take it up again
are those who have encountered him.
Jesus does not say, ‘Blessed are those who do not encounter me and yet believe,’
but ‘blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.’

Although I would never put down someone’s visions,
I am not saying that we have to have visions.
If we do, I am no Christian!
Nor am I demanding a certain experience,
perhaps of being ‘born-again.’
But there is an experience of God’s love in Christ
which occurs in the body of believers,
the gift of the Spirit
which brings us to faith that the Jesus who died long ago
is the Christ who is alive forever,
that his Word of forgiveness through the church is valid,
and that he is worthy of adoration and praise as true God.
What think ye of Christ?
With the disciples, let us rejoice in the presence of the Lord,
let us receive the Spirit of forgiveness,
and with St Thomas, let us cry out, ‘My Lord and my God!’

Alleluia! Christ is risen!