The theme at Higher Things this year was “Forgiven.” The conference was a focus on the Office of the Keys. What is the Office of the Keys? “The Office of the Keys is that special authority which Christ has given to His church on earth to forgive the sins of repentant sinners, but to withhold forgiveness from the unrepentant as long as they do not repent.”

Where do we get this? This is what St. John the Evangelist writes in chapter twenty: The Lord Jesus breathed on His disciples and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.” John 20:22–23

What do you believe according to these words?

I believe that when the called ministers of Christ deal with us by His divine command, in particular when they exclude openly unrepentant sinners from the Christian congregation and absolve those who repent of their sins and want to do better, this is just as valid and certain, even in heaven, as if Christ our dear Lord dealt with us Himself.

So often we forget the joy that it is to forgive people. Imagine how the soldiers who freed the prisoners from the concentration camps in Nazi Germany felt when they were able to open the gates and allow the people to return home. People who were as good as dead. Starved. Humiliated. Lonely and with no hope of rescue. This is our condition in unrepentant sin. We may not think it and we certainly don’t always feel it but indeed sin is a prison. Unrepentant sin is a prison.

When the Small Catechism says “to withhold forgiveness from the unrepentant” it isn’t as if WE are holding back forgiveness. We are only stating what God says about that person’s spiritual condition. When we do not repent and live a life of sin we are voluntarily walking into a prison. God warns us through his church and other Christians that sin is no laughing matter.

Sure a person may not at first feel it nor see it, just like the Jews didn’t think they were going to be exterminated as they were taken by train but the process was there. The devil is worse than Nazi soldiers. The devil doesn’t give any mercy. In fact, the devil is so tricky and wise that he can be imprisoning you and lead you to believe you are free. That is what many people falsely believe when they are unrepentant. They say, “I will do what I

“Doing what I want” is the worst prison of all. Being chained to your own desires, your own wants and your own thoughts is a prison of selfishness. A prison where you think you are free but the reality is your sinful nature has deceived you.

The devil has tricked humanity to think that we must look at what we want instead of seeking God in his word and hearing that word from his authorized messengers.

If you were in prison could you just decide, “Well I think today I will walk out.” ? No, of course not. So too with the sins you have committed and weigh on your conscience. The Office of the Keys is a blessing to Christians because it is the authorized use of Christ’s gift of forgiveness. Your pastor and other brothers and sisters in the faith are given an authority to free you from any sin that bothers you. Sometimes the sin is a surprise but often it is not. Many times its thatold repetitive sin that keeps bothering you.

Don’t become numb to your sin in the way the soldiers became numb to killing or rounding prisoners up. Confess it. Be freed. Not by your own opinion nor thoughts. Truly hear from God himself, “Your sins are forgiven you are free.”

At Higher Things the opportunity for Confession and Absolution was offered at all times. From 7am to 11pm. Of course this is one reason they encourage pastors to join their youth groups in attendance. The ones teaching the classes are the called and ordained representatives of God. Jesus told his disciples, “When someone hears you, they hear me.”

So don’t neglect the gift of The Office of the Keys. Not only for yourself but also make an effort to speak those forgiving words to your friends, family and even those who may have hurt you in a deep way. Sometimes people don’t realize they’ve offended a fellow Christian. When relationships go bad, don’t forget about the joy that it is to free one another in Christ. He is a freedom fighter who himself took on the devil. He battled death. He won for us eternal freedom from our sins. Even the sin of neglecting this gift of The Office of the Keys. All sins in Christ forgiven.

So carry your “Keys” with you and don’t be afraid to use them. Also don’t neglect repentance and the fruits of repentance that spring from hearing the Gospel. Rejoice for you are a freed people, only don’t desire the prison of sin.

See you Sunday!

In Christ,

Pastor Ottmers