Receive the Holy Spirit

Text: John 20:19-23
Date: 7/31/11
Occasion: Ordination/Installation of David Herald
Trinity Lutheran Church, Appleton City, MO

“Receive the Holy Spirit.” So said our risen Lord and Savior when He first appeared to His disciples on the evening of that first Easter Day. He stood among them and showed them the wounds in His hands and His side, the signs of His work completed, death and the devil defeated, and now He equips His disciples, His apostles to go and distribute the benefits of His most glorious and victorious death and resurrection for the life of the world: the forgiveness of sins for all, and eternal life in the kingdom of heaven. The strife is over, the battle done. All that remains is for people to receive these eternal gifts.

For this task He called, taught, prepared, “certified” and was about to send His earliest candidates for the Holy Ministry. For, as the Apostle Paul said, “How will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent?” (Rom 10:14-15).

“As the Father has sent me,” Jesus said, “even so I am sending you.” They had been prepared…the hard way! For they had seen and heard it all, everything from His early preaching and healing in Galilee, His growing popularity with the people, His impressive authority when He spoke, His amazing power over everything from wind and wave to a few loaves and fish to who knows how many sufferers from various illnesses and diseases, even demon possession, to even raising some from death back to life. But then they had also seen the other side, the growing opposition, first from the official religious establishment, then even from His own family and kin, including even one of His own chosen disciples and finally when the whole world came crashing down around them, their hopes dashed, there laid their Master silent in a cold, dark tomb. But now! Now their Lord is risen from the dead. “Peace be with you” was His greeting. Then, before anything else, ready or not, He sends them forth even as the Father had sent Him. Breathing on them he says, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.”

He had equipped them for just this task, equipped them to proclaim and distribute the Gospel of repentance and the forgiveness of sins. They were to preach, to call people to repent of sin and turn to Christ. “As you go,” He said, “make disciples of all nations, baptizing them and teaching them.” Holy Baptism was to be and is the sacramental foundation of the Gospel of forgiveness. Then also, for them as for all who would join them, they remembered that night when Jesus instituted the sacrament of His body and blood and said, “Do this often.” Holy Communion was to be and is the sacramental center of their life and worship. Preaching the Gospel and administering the sacraments is what the ministry is all about, for “Through the Word and Sacraments, as through instruments, the Holy Spirit is given. He works faith, when and where it pleases God, in those who hear the good news that God justifies those who believe that they are received into grace for Christ’s sake. This happens not through our own merits, but for Christ’s sake” (AC V).

All this began with the initial gift, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” And receiving the Holy Spirit is all about the forgiveness of sins, life and salvation. And as faith itself cannot be conceived or produced except it be created in the heart by God the Holy Spirit through the Word, so the bringing of that Word is done by otherwise weak and sinful men, their only power that God-given Word and Spirit. They all, except for St. John, would suffer martyrdom for the sake of the Lord they were to represent and the gifts they were sent to dispense. And so it is for all in the apostolic ministry who follow in their train. For, even though we are already declared victors, “more than conquerors through Him who loved us” (Rom 8:37), still we are called to deny self, take up our cross, follow Christ, and engage in battle “against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (Eph 6:12). Nevertheless we do so and “endure everything for the sake of the elect, that they also may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory” (2 Tim 2:10), knowing that in the end “when the chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory” (1 Peter 5:4).

Dear David, today we celebrate the fact that you have been called by God to serve in this line of soldiers of the Cross, in the apostolic ministry of the Word and Sacraments of Christ. Through the laying on of hands and prayer you receive that same command and promise of our Lord, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” You receive Him because the work is beyond your ability to perform except as you lend your voice, your hands and feet, your life to the Voice and service of Christ to His people in this particular place and time.

“Receive the Holy Spirit” means it’s all and always about the grace of God and the forgiveness of sins. For the Holy Spirit brings Jesus, the same One with the same signs of His love complete, still in His hands and feet and side and saying to all, “Peace be with you.” It is the peace of forgiveness, reconciliation with God and the love of God. “Receive the Holy Spirit,” means to possess and express His gifts, the first of which is love. Oh, I pray that these gifts may be given to you every day that you may be “one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth” (2 Tim 2:15).

And now also to you dear members of Trinity Lutheran Church. Congratulations! For the Lord has sent you one approved, equipped and sent by the Lord to give out and distribute the gifts of the grace of God. With Pastor Herald, the Lord says to you, “Receive the Holy Spirit,” and “Peace be with you.” For you also are called in the words of the apostle Paul to the Colossians, to:

Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. (Col 3:12-15).

May all today receive the Holy Spirit of Christ’s love, the grace of His forgiveness, and the peace and power to live that love and forgiveness.

“Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Phil 4:4-7).