Mission Festival Ebeneezer, Manheim 9/11/11
"The Church's Glorious Confidence"
+ In Nomine Jesu +
Grace and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. The message this morning is based on God's Word given to us in Romans 1:16. "The Gospel is the power of God unto salvation to all those who believe,
Please pray with me…
"Stay with us, Lord, and keep us true;
Preserve our faith our whole life through—
Your Word alone our heart's defense,
The Church's glorious confidence."
In Jesus' name. Amen.
A number of years ago a pastor by the name of Klemet Preus wrote a book titled The Fire and the Staff. The book was an examination of Lutheran theology and practice, how the two are, or, how they should be, intertwined. In the opening segment of the book Pastor Preus gave a very personal look into his pastoral life, how he dealt with the ups and downs of ministry to God's people. At one point in his pastoral career he served as the chaplain of the student ministry at The University of North Dakota. Because many of the congregations in the district contributed to the program he was asked to speak at an upcoming pastor's conference. He accepted the invitation, but, he wasn't sure what he was going to say because the ministry at The University of North Dakota was suffering with a lack of funds, as well as with a lack of students.
When he took the podium at the convention, Pastor Preus said, "during my whole ministry I have been listening to the glowing success stories of other pastors. I have felt intimidated by those who obviously knew an awful lot more than me about growing their churches. Out of sheer self-doubt I have shirked the daunting task of saving the world. I have felt guilty because my Gospel presentation is apparently not winsome enough. I have lost sheep and lost sleep. My joy has taken a vacation and my natural optimism has deserted me, all because I have not done what the experts said. And I refuse to tell you gentlemen how great my current ministry is. It's bad. All the numerical indicators are down. I'm losing members. I'm losing leaders. I have no five year plan. I just barely have a five-day plan. Yet, gentlemen, despite this terrible news I still think that God is doing just fine in my church, and I think I am too. Here I stand. I cannot do otherwise. God help me." When Pastor Preus finished his little speech all of the other pastors in the room stood up and applauded his candor.
I'm honored to be here today for your mission festival, but, I have to say, I feel a bit like Pastor Preus. The congregation I pastor is small. Most of the numerical growth of the church militant over the years has been offset by growth in the church triumphant. In other words, I've buried about as many folks as I've received by confirmation or by transfer over the years. I'm sure St. John's, Galveston isn't counted among the 10% of the fastest growing congregations in the Synod, or, even in the district for that matter. If you subscribe to the notion that techniques and methods are the cause of growth in God's Kingdom then you'll be disappointed with what I have to say this morning.
Fortunately I know your pastor pretty well, and therefore, I know that you have been taught well. The Church grows, as our Lutheran confessions say, "when and where it pleases Almighty God" when His Word is preached and the Sacraments are administered as they are given in His Word. The worst thing we can do therefore in the Church, when it comes to our call to mission, our call to take the Gospel to the ends of the earth, is to give up any part of God's Word, whether it seems great or small, significant or insignificant. The second worst thing we could do, if we were to rank such things, is to assume that the Gospel of Jesus' life, death and resurrection is no longer sufficient to appeal to and to convert the souls of men and women in a sophisticated and complex culture such as our own.
The fact is, while cultures change, while they achieve great goals, uncovering the secrets of the universe and reaching for the stars, people cracking the complex structure of DNA and positing different ways to extend life, still, the heart of man remains the same. "All have sinned (the Bible says) and fallen short of the glory of God." Human achievement, while it too can fulfill a kind of righteousness among men, does nothing to advance the sinner in terms of God's favor.
Cultures achieve great goals. Some achieve lesser ones. Regardless, the world needs God's favor, His mercy and forgiveness. The world needs to know that God is a God of love, who did, in time, demonstrate His love for His fallen creation by giving His only-begotten Son in death for the world's sin.
Sometime back your pastor and I had the opportunity to visit Southeast Asia, although at different times. We both met people from Thailand and Cambodia. These are nations that are 90+ percent Buddhist, whose Christian population is less than 5%. I also traveled to Indonesia, parts of which are 90%, and more, Muslim. We went to these places to teach the people the love of Christ. But, there were plenty of impediments to the Gospel. In Thailand and Cambodia the people put up spirit houses to appease the spirits. They trudge along in what we would call a pretty meager existence, hoping someday to reach nirvana, the state of perfect peace. In Indonesia, at least in Madan where I stayed, the people are awakened early in the morning to a loudspeaker and the chant of Muslim prayer. For them, God is exacting and they must prove themselves obedient to his will and his laws. Elaborate Muslim mosques dot the countryside and the people stand in the street and beg for funds to support their local mosque. Seven times a day they must abandon even their begging in order to fall prostrate toward Mecca in prayer.
And yet, even in those places where impediments to the Gospel seem insurmountable, some, by the power of God's Word, call out to Christ in trust and faith. Even the people of Cambodia, who endured the atrocities perpetrated on them by Pohl Pot's regime, who during that time must have wondered why God didn't save them, why He didn't deliver them from the hands of such a ruthless man, sing the praise of God because the seed of His Word was planted, it took root, and it blossoms. Luther's "theology of the cross," his understanding that God works His greatest work through seemingly unredeemable circumstances, is demonstrated so beautifully in many of the people of Cambodia, in their hopes and dreams, even in their sufferings and hardships, all because the Gospel of Jesus' life, death and resurrection was preached to them.
Sad to say, in America, sometimes even in our Synod, there is a reluctance to trust in the power of the Gospel to save the souls of men. Oh, we would never admit such a thing, but our actions often speak louder than our words. We wring our hands and try to devise techniques to make the Gospel a more effective tool of conversion. We wonder what kind of worship, what kind of presentation of the Gospel is needed in a particular area to make it "more effective." We offer "seeker services" and we take certain phrases out of our liturgy, phrases, by the way that are based solely on the word of God. We take them out of the Divine Service lest we "offend" the uninstructed. When our congregations don't grow numerically we fault the pastor because he isn't winsome enough, or engaging enough, or persuasive enough.
We would never say it, but we wonder about the power of God's Word to do what it promises. Hopefully, in time, we'll be brought to our senses, confess our sin, deny our ingenuity and lean firmly on God's Word. "The Gospel is the power of God unto salvation for all those who believe."
All of us here this morning were brought to faith in Christ by the power of God's Word and in no other way. Chances are it was in the water of our baptisms, whereby all of the blessings of the cross were laid upon us in Water and the Word. Now, we crave that Word that our sins might we continually washed away and that we might know it. Jesus body and blood touch our sin parched lips and, though we don't see it, perhaps even perceive it, we are strengthened by the Gospel. Regardless of the means, the point is, God's Word is sufficient to accomplish the purpose for which it is sent, consequently, it is the Church's glorious confidence and we dare not trust anything else in our mission efforts. Indeed…
"To hope grown dim, to hearts turned cold
Speak tongues of fire and make us bold
To shine Your Word of saving grace
Into each dark and loveless place."
In Jesus' name. Amen.
The peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus unto life everlasting. Amen.
+ Soli Deo Gloria +
Send Rev. Alan Taylor an email.