From today’s Gradual: “Behold, I have put my words in your mouth.” In other words, not your own ideas and thoughts, but His. And His Words are not one, but two. There is His Word that kills and there is His Word that makes alive. So Paul in the second reading: “He has made us competent to be ministers of a new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit, for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.” There is Law and there is Gospel. Both precious, both God’s Word that He would put in your mouth, but not equal by any stretch. The Gospel word is the final and the proper Word that would come from God’s mouth and fill yours. The Word of life in His Son. And so onto the Gospel reading for today.
Jesus risen from the dead, in a body made incorruptible, never to die or fall apart again, the promise of the resurrection of all flesh, He is suddenly there on the evening of the First Day, that is the Lord’s Day, Sunday. He is there and His disciples are gathered. “Where two or three.” And appearing, He speaks peace: “Peace be with you.” And their hearts fill with joy. Then again: “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.”
That is, as I came into the world not to speak my own words, but the words my Father gave me. Words that kill, to be sure, but above all words that give life, life everlasting to all who will believe them, even so I send you. I send you forth with my words which I have given to you. Words that are Spirit and life. Words that come from the very heart of the Father himself. Words that reveal what no one on earth would ever be able to figure out on their own, no, not able to guess in their wildest dreams. Words about Me, words that testify to the love that is the heart of the Father that moved Him to send Me, His Son, into the flesh and so into death, to destroy death, to forgive sins, to open the kingdom of heaven to all believers. You will speak these my words. That is your worth, your value, your service and ministry to Me. You will speak my words.
All that is in: As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.
But who is competent for this? And so: “He breathed on them and said: Receive the Holy Spirit.” The Spirit of whom He had said earlier: He will bring to your mind all that I have said. The Spirit who runs with the Words of Jesus, the Spirit is the life in His Words. That’s the Spirit He breathes on them. What about you? For you, it is the way of those who are sent mediately, not immediately, and so the laying on of the hands of the presbytery. Paul reminded Pastor Timothy: “Do not neglect the gift you have, which was given you by prophesy (that is, by words!) when the council of presbyters laid their hands upon you.” (1 Tim 4:14). And so with the laying on of hands, first of our District President, our bishop, then of his fellow presbyters and with words and with prayer, there is given you the gift of the Spirit for this work of the ministry that none of us is competent for on our own.
All that is in: And he breathed on them and said to them, Receive the Holy Spirit.
And this Spirit is given you not for your own glory, but for the competence to give out the gift above all gifts which the Words of Jesus bestow: the forgiveness of sins. “If you forgive the sins of anyone, they are forgiven; if you withhold forgiveness, they are not forgiven.” That is NOT some juridical power that is laid on you here. That is rather the commission of Christ to speak His Gospel which does the forgiving when it is believed, but when it is rejected, retains sins. As our Lord said: “If anyone hears my words and does not keep them, I do not judge him; for I did not come into the world to judge the world but to save the world. The one who rejects me and does not receive my words has a judge: the word that I have spoken will judge him on the last day.” Jn 12:46ff.
These Words Jesus would put upon your lips in all your dealings with the flock He entrusts to you: when you hear the confession of a broken sinner and absolve him, being nothing but the mouth of the Lord; when you must warn those who reject the Gospel, being nothing but the mouth of the Lord; when you stand at the sickbed or at the deathbed, and bring words of hope to the despairing and life to the dying, being nothing but the mouth of the Lord; when you stand in His pulpit and pray “O Lord, open my lips and my mouth will declare Your praise” you are asking to be nothing but a mouth for the speaking of His words. His words are what do the forgiving and retaining job. Your task is but to give them voice.
All this is in: “If you forgive the sins of anyone, they are forgiven; if you withhold forgiveness, they are not forgiven.”
Thus today He sends you through His holy Church to the most important task there is in this world: the task of being His mouth, to speak His words, to bring life to the dying world, to bring the gift of forgiveness of sins which is found nowhere else but in the Holy Church. That the Church may assure herself that you will be speaking HIS Words and none other, she asks of you the promise that you will speak those Words faithfully, not according to the understanding of Richard Rikli, but according to the understanding of the Holy Apostolic and Catholic Church. Thus, the pledge to speak those words in all your dealings with your people in accord with the Symbols of the Church – her Creeds, her Confessions. When you say “yes and I make them my own,” you are saying nothing less than that it will be God’s Words in your mouth and not your own wisdom and ideas.
And there you have it all: sent by the Lord, empowered by the Spirit through the laying on of hands, commissioned to speak faithfully that word which remits or retains sin – to be nothing less and nothing more than a mouth of the Lord. And so today the Church rejoices with great joy to cry out: “How beautiful are the feet of him who brings good news, who publishes peace, who declares to Zion ‘Your God reigns.’” For today she receive from the Lord’s own hands yet another servant of the Gospel, yet another sent by Christ, standing in the long line of the apostles and prophets, and for that she shouts her alleluias to her gracious and ever-faithful God! Amen.