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Is It Possible?

John 20:19-23

The Rev. Jon Roberts

19 November


Church of the Redeemer

Sarasota, FL

19 On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jewish leaders, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” 20 After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord. 21 Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” 22 And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive anyone’s sins, their sins are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.”


The Holy Spirit by Danny Hahlbohm, c.1978-1998

How is it possible?

A father and son have a car accident and are both badly hurt. They are both taken to separate hospitals. When the boy is taken in for an operation, the surgeon says, 'I cannot do the surgery because this is my son'. How is this possible? By what we have seen and heard in this post-modern culture, the answer comes easily to most. It was his ‘mother’ who was the surgeon.

About thirty years ago, I heard this riddle and was incredibly perplexed, along with several of those in our youth group. When we went to the mountains of North Carolina, I recall vividly how all the boys could not go to sleep when the lights went off in our cabin and to help us go to sleep, we told jokes and riddles. No one had the answer to this one, mainly because it was very unlikely that anyone heard of a woman surgeon. Even after the answer was given, we felt like this was very unlikely. Who would go to a woman, to open your ribs and take your heart in her hands? That was also the main type of surgery we knew and related in those days. Practices such as that are rare today, as modern medicine allows far less invasive and more beneficial ways in which to treat illness. Yes, much has changed in just my lifetime.

Tonight, we bear witness to the truth on both a genitive and a functional riddle, as we hear two expressions of the faith, passed down from generation to generation in the church. As Creedal Christians we bear this truth in our understanding of who God is, by relation and purpose. We also proclaim our role as part of God’s creation. So here is the riddle. How is it possible? A father and a son have a brief time of separation, due to a great injury; not caused by an accident). One stays at home while the other is taken away. When the son is taken away, a doctor comes to his side and says, “I will save his life, because I conceived him.” How is it possible? By what we have seen and heard in the post-resurrection culture, the answer comes easily to most of those 2nd and 3rd century Christians; So much, they put it in their earliest creed; the Apostles’. In this recited belief they spoke with sure solemnity. They sometimes had to whisper. Very fitting it is, that the children in my own church in Indian Rocks Beach, they speak with gusto in their own chapel every Sunday. “I believe in Jesus Christ, his (the Father’s) only Son our Lord; Who was conceived by the Holy Ghost.” It was the Holy Ghost, the comforter and giver of life who came to his mother at the hard wood of the manger and later with her at the hard wood of the cross. Woman, behold your Son. God’s Holy Spirit, comingled with the flesh of creation and God became flesh and dwelt among us.[2] The riddle was undergoing its own kind of operation, we learn, as Christians wrestled with the idea that the Father and the Son are to be worshiped and glorified. They cussed, fussed, and discussed the mystery. Even St. Basil the Great, who wrote that concise work, “On the Holy Spirit” believed that Jesus could be conceived by the Holy Spirit. He did, until those headstrong Arians, who insisted on Jesus being merely and solely man, but not God, spoke loudly.

How can God really feel our pain, understand our accidents in life, if he can return to being God when times get tough? No, they insisted Jesus must be man alone. The Holy Spirit, seen as a dove, characterized in the aquatic movement seen in water or the purification by fire, moves upon the disciples, upon their disciples and their disciple and their disciples. So much, that they change the Creed…subtlety but certainly.
Flip from p. 53 of the BCP to page 326 (remaining in Rite I of course), and you’ll see the aural belief expanding to accommodate a clearer more articulate reason on who God is.[1] “For us and for our salvation he came down from heaven: By the power of the Holy Spirit, He became incarnate from the Virgin Mary and was made man.” This is how it is possible. We could go on with a genitive rationale that Holy Spirit is feminine in its etymology; Hagia Sophia. We could go on with a functional rationale that the Holy Spirit is like a property of the divine, and so is the Father and the Son, stopping ever so short of the heresy of modalism.

Yes, there is greater mystery to the riddle of the Holy Spirit and the power that exists within that can conceive or by the power of which makes man. We’ll never know, fully, until heaven appears before us, how God precisely conceives life by his life-giving Spirit.[3] Perhaps, as we look into the divine, where the gates of which stand tall and the book is laid out, that Jesus, our advocate, and Jehovah our judge, and the Holy Spirit our comforter, will shed a new light on our existence. Maybe God wished it to remain simplified. By the basic belief that Jesus was sent to die for us; For our sins and not ours only, but for the sins of the whole world; …all things are given life and made possible. God has conceived our spirit for the purpose of return and relationship. Both male and female are fashioned and made in the image of God.

When you manage to look at your own life, giving it a good, close, and full examination, a pre-rehearsal of what it will be like when we die and approach the Father, and the Son and the Holy Ghost, what do you see? Is it a man, a woman, a child? Is it one who has been more right than wrong or more wrong than right? One who holds to pride or one who flees from folly and pleads forgiveness? When the moment of life-ending and life-beginning suddenly happens, who will come to be the surgeon? The one to cut open with truth; the one to anoint with mercy; the one to shed light with wisdom; the one to comfort and rehabilitate? Maybe the Holy Spirit remains a mystery to this post-modern culture. We can’t conceive the thought that God formed them in the mother’s womb. Maybe they think the Holy Spirit is possible and maybe they don’t. This is a riddle, and it keeps us up all night pondering it.

But we, the creedal Christians that we are…we do believe. We believe there is hope and assurance of salvation for all of us, because in our human form. We are made for the divine and with Jesus Christ and through the power of the Holy Spirit, eternal life happens for those who believe. When we believe something is conceived, in some way, by the Holy Ghost. Now you have the answer when others look defeated and have lost hope in relating to God and there is no life in them. Pay careful attention and come to their aid, especially when they ask the question, “How is it possible?” “How do I know God and how does God know me?” Your answer is simple. Because of the love God showed you through his Son, Jesus, who was conceived by the power of the Holy Ghost, he gave me life by making it possible.

[1] 1979 Book of Common Prayer, p.53.
[2] John 1:14
[3] John 20:19-23

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