John 20:19-31

Today I’d like to begin a series of sermons which look closely at the Apostle’s Creed.  We’re going to start today by looking at the 3rd Article of the creed.  Now for those of you who haven’t opened up a catechism in years, the 3rd article is the one that comes at the end of the creed and it goes like this, “I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Holy catholic church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting.  Amen.”

Because this is the end of the creed we might find ourselves rattling it off and not consciously hearing and understanding it, let alone thinking about it.  So it won’t hurt us to spend a few minutes talking about it in a little more detail.

We’ll focus this week on what the Holy Spirit gets up to.  You may have noticed that in our gospel reading today Jesus breathed on his disciples and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit.  If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any they are retained.”

This event is pre-Pentecost, we haven’t had the dramatic event where the Spirit descends as tongues of fire on the disciples, but yet the Spirit is present, and is received through the breath of Jesus.  The Spirit was there for the disciples and remains with us today.  So what does the Spirit do for us?

Luther’s explains it in his Small Catechism;
[T]he Holy Spirit called me to Jesus by the good news about him.  The Spirit has led me to know and trust Jesus, made me holy, and kept me in the Christian faith.

So we can interpret this as meaning that the Holy Spirit came to us through God’s Word (his good news), and in doing so has led us to trust in Jesus, through his Word we now believe in him.  As we read in Romans 10,”Faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ”.

The Spirit has also made US holy, and has kept us in the faith, once again we turn to Scripture and read from Philippians 1, “He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus” and from Romans 8,”You, however, are controlled not by the sinful nature but by the Spirit, if the Spirit of God lives in you.”

Now sometimes all of this is a bit hard to believe because, just like Thomas we want evidence.  We want to put our fingers in the wounds and feel and see what we only hope to be true.  I guess that’s why many people want proof of Jesus existence, or proof that Noah’s ark existed.  We want tangible things to touch, taste and see, so that we know for a FACT that something is true and real.

But have you ever SEEN the Holy Spirit?  Have you ever touched the Holy Spirit, or even smelled the Holy Spirit?  I’m going to hazard a guess and say that your answer is probably no.  Wouldn’t it be great to actually see the Spirit?  I read a book called The Shack a couple of weeks ago and the author has done a marvellous job of portraying the Holy Spirit, sort of an elusive hologram, that suddenly appears and that you can’t really focus on.  I’ve loaned out my copy of it, so I can’t quote from the book itself, but I like the way that all three persons of the Trinity were portrayed, but I digress!

All we can do is see where the work of the Holy Spirit has been done and believe that it exists; I guess that’s what makes it faith. 

We know that the Holy Spirit acts on Christians and has done to create the church around the world, one person at a time.  There are still those who have rejected what they have heard, and resist the work of the Holy Spirit, and want that hard evidence that I was talking about before.  But we can see by the number of Christians around the world that the Holy Spirit is still active around the world today.

According to Luther and I tend to agree, the Spirit keeps on forgiving all of our sins and the sins of everyone who believes in Jesus.  Forgiveness isn’t just a one off thing, it happens over and over again.  The Spirit gives us the power to forgive others their sins and to receive the forgiveness that Christ has won for us!  If we forgive, they are forgiven, if we don’t they are not!  There’s an awful lot of power in those words.  There are eternal consequences to them.

We are called to forgive others just as Christ has forgiven us.  It works both ways, we are forgiven by Christ and then we are called to forgive others.  It starts with Christ, through the Spirit and then comes through us to others.  We shouldn’t be waiting for others to forgive us, we should do the forgiving.  Jesus didn’t wait for us to forgive him before he forgave us did he?  And it works the same for us; we sometimes call this grace, a free gift given without expectation of anything in return.  Sometimes I think we need to allow the Spirit the chance to guide us to lead by example and offer forgiveness to others but too often we ignore it. Along the way though, your own sins are constantly being forgiven by God through the Spirit and also by others.

Then at the end of time the Spirit will raise us to life, together with those who have died and give us and all others who believe in Christ eternal life.  This is what we believe and confess every time we say the Apostle’s Creed.  The Spirit not only gives us faith and brings us into the church, but will also call to us on the last day and raise us bodily to be with Jesus in the room that he has prepared for us in heaven and we will have eternal life with him forever.

All of this is really just a starting point of what we confess together as we say the Apostle’s Creed.  Hopefully over the next few weeks we will have our eyes, minds and hearts opened up to hear the Word of God spoken to us, through the Holy Spirit and be reminded that this is our confession, spoken first at our Baptism and then continually used by the church around the world as a confession of common belief in the Triune God.