Preaching to the saints of the Lutheran Church at Christ-Elkhart and Faith-Hugoton in Kansas since February 8, 2015. All sermons prior to that date were preached either at Trinity Lutheran Church-Layton or First Lutheran Church-Tooele, Utah.
We have been spoiled and grown soft. Any hint of hardship in the church or her congregations is treated as an indication of something wrong with her ministry and ministers.
Scripture and the history of the Church tell a different story. A story of the growth of the church and the spread of Christianity through suffering and, yes, even death. And we would do well to take a lesson and be emboldened by this story, for it is the story of our Lord Jesus Himself, the story into which we have been baptized, and the story which cup of suffering we partake with Him unto eternal life and are joined with the saints who have gone before us from ashes to ashes and await the day when they, with us, will be raised from the ashes.
To hear the entire sermon preached for Ash Wednesday, "Up from the Ashes," click on the MP3 audio link provided above.
The audio begins with the Old Testament Reading, Joel 2:12-19. The sermon begins at the 10:53 point of the mp3 file.
A servant of the Word and His folk,
For those of you who prefer to read or read along while listening, the full preaching transcript follows below.
TEXT: Behold, now is the favorable time; behold, now is the day of salvation. 3We put no obstacle in anyone’s way, so that no fault may be found with our ministry, 4but as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way: by great endurance, in afflictions, hardships, calamities, 5beatings, imprisonments, riots, labors, sleepless nights, hunger; 6by purity, knowledge, patience, kindness, the Holy Spirit, genuine love; 7by truthful speech, and the power of God; with the weapons of righteousness for the right hand and for the left; 8through honor and dishonor, through slander and praise. We are treated as impostors, and yet are true; 9as unknown, and yet well known; as dying, and behold, we live; as punished, and yet not killed; 10as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, yet possessing everything. 1 Corinthians 6:2-10
Dear Baptized People of God,
Such treatment of the ministers and followers of Christ did not cease with the martyrdom of the apostles, of which Paul was one, and all of Jesus’ disciples but John and of course Judas were martyred for The Faith, for Christ, for His Church. No, not even after the fall of the Roman Empire or the passing of Medieval times has this treatment ended. The things of which Paul speaks continue even today—particularly in those countries that have come to be dominated by Islamic regimes. And we see persecution by lawsuit beginning to work its way into our own nation and culture.
We have been spoiled and grown soft with all of this yet happening around us. We have been mostly insulated from it. And any hint of hardship in the church or her congregations is treated as an indication of something wrong with her ministry and ministers.
And yet as we hear in today’s Epistle, and throughout Scripture and the history of the Church, they tell a different story, don’t they? It is a story of the growth of the church and the spread of Christianity through suffering and, yes, even death. Oh, Paul says that we are “punished and yet not killed,” but what he means is for those who believe in Christ and His salvation, though we die yet we live. We do not truly die, though it appears as though we do to the world.
We would do well to take a lesson and be emboldened by this story, this story of suffering, and yes even death for the sake of the Gospel, death in Christ Jesus and The Faith. We would do well to take a lesson and be emboldened by this story, for it is the story of our Lord Jesus Himself, the story into which we have been baptized, and the story which cup of suffering we partake with Him unto eternal life and are joined with the saints who have gone before us from ashes to ashes and await the day when they, with us, will be raised from the ashes.
Though we do not invoke the saints or pray to them for anything, yet
4] Our Confession approves honors to the saints. For here a threefold honor is to be approved. The first is thanksgiving. For we ought to give thanks to God because He has shown examples of mercy; because He has shown that He wishes to save men; because He has given teachers or other gifts to the Church. And these gifts, as they are the greatest, should be amplified, and the saints themselves should be praised, who have faithfully used these gifts, just as Christ praises faithful business-men, 5] Matt. 25:21, 23. The second service (in honoring the saints, as we confess from The Apology of the Augsburg Confession) is the strengthening of our (own) faith; when we see the denial forgiven Peter, we also are encouraged to believe the more that grace 6] truly superabounds over sin, Rom. 5:20. The third honor is the imitation, first, of faith, then of the other virtues, which every one should imitate according to his calling. [Apology, Article XXI (IX): Of the Invocation of Saints.]
So in that spirit, in our Confession of The Faith, we are going to take a look at one of the early Church fathers, Polycarp, a student of the apostle John, during our Lenten midweek services as we go forward to Holy Week. And tonight we are going to give thanks, be strengthened in the faith, and take a lesson for our lives from one Johann Hus. For every Christian is baptized into a life and death of martyrdom—that is, a witness to our crucified and risen Savior, Jesus Christ. That is something we all have in common.
On July 6, 1415, after over a half year of imprisonment, a Bohemian pastor by the name of Johan/Jan/John Hus, aka “The Goose of Bohemia”--for that is what “Hus” means in Czech—this man stepped from the wooden platform in the Cathedral of Constance. Thousands of anxious eyes followed him. He had just heard a sermon preached by the one who had called him a heretic and sentenced him to death from Romans 6:6 “that the body of sin might be done away with.” Hus according to this bishop was the “body of sin [that must] be done away with.” So this July 5, 1415 was the day of his condemnation and execution. [“Jan Hus:* The Goose of Bohemia,” by William P. Farley]
Hus spoke out against the power of the pope and such things as
• the selling of indulgences for the forgiveness of sins;
• for saying that the power of the Church and her bishops and ministry was only that of the Word and not of the sword, which ironically was being raised against him that day—a sword in the form of flames;
• and he also spoke out against Communion in only one kind, saying that it is given by our Lord for us to receive both the body and blood of Christ in the bread and the wine of Holy Communion.
Do those things sound just a little bit familiar?
Seven bishops stepped forward and removed his filthy, lice-infested prison garments. They clothed him in clean priestly garments. They placed a chalice of wine in his right hand. Then, to symbolize his degradation from the priesthood, they stripped the priest’s robes from his back and the chalice from his hand. They chained his gaunt, withered hands behind his back and led him away to receive the dreaded punishment of the day for heresy—burning alive at the stake.
The crowds that had followed him and listened to him preach, watched him pass in silence. They were disillusioned. To them it seemed that whenever God raised up a leader of truth and integrity, the authorities broke him. Although they were used to it, there was nothing they could do, and they felt bitter and cynical. Many wondered if he was really guilty. Maybe those authorities were right.
The chains cut into Hus’s wrists, and with his little remaining strength he struggled to carry his gaunt body. Burning at the stake was a grisly business—(a business we truly ought not forget anymore than we ought forget the suffering of our Lord. For the suffering of His people, His ministers, His baptized is Jesus’ suffering too.) The fortunate that were put to death in this way died quickly. But for some, it could take up to an hour, or longer. How would it be for this one?
Perhaps Paul’s words from 2 Corinthians 4, may have encouraged him: “For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen” (NIV). He had written to a friend that God would either douse the flames or fortify him with courage to endure the fiery ordeal. He would trust God, not himself or any ways or any rescue of man.
There are a number of different versions of the end to this story. One says that Hus was first tied round the middle with cords. A chain was passed over these, and chains were fastened to his left leg and his neck. Thus securely bound to the stake, the burning torches provided for the occasion were piled to the chin; straw was placed beneath and between them where it was thought likely most effectually to contribute to the fierceness of the blaze.
A moment of awful expectation followed. The executioner approached with a lighted torch. And the Duke of Bavaria rode up gloriously to Huss, and loudly called to him, demanding that he should now renounce his errors; at the same time reminding him that in a few moments it would be out of his power to do so.
According to one account Huss confidently replied, "I thought the danger already passed. But happily, I am nothing tempted to gainsay what I have advanced. I have taught the truth, and am now ready to seal it with my blood. Ultimately it shall prevail, though I may not see it. This day you kindle the flames of persecution about a poor and worthless sinner; but the spirit which animates me, shall, phoenix-like, ascend from my ashes, soar majestically on high through many succeeding ages, and prove to all the Christian world, how vain this persecution, how impotent your rage." [Biographical material on the martyrdom of Huss fromLogos Resource Pages, Compiled & Edited David L. Brown, Ph.D.]
Another account says that Huss had received a promise from God in a vision or dream. “They will silence the goose (Hus). But in 100 years I will raise a swan from your ashes that no one will be able to silence.” “God, give me strength,” Hus prayed, “My hope is in You. I have no strength of my own.”
Said promise of God now to us looks to be very true. For 102 years later is when Luther arose to nail those theses to the church door in Wittenberg, and a reformation was begun that never indeed was quenched.
That day, with all the certainty of one with the promise of God, Hus sang: "Christ, thou Son of the living God, have mercy upon me." Among his dying words he proclaimed those prophetic words that “In 100 years, God will raise up a man whose calls for reform cannot be suppressed.”
Hus’s ashes were gathered and cast into the nearby Rhine River. The authorities—the pope and his bishop did not want any relics to remain to embolden his followers.
Louis of Bavaria, the marshal, approached and begged Hus to renounce his errors and preserve his life that day. By as we have heard, Hus would have none of it. “What errors shall I renounce?” asked Hus. “I know myself guilty of none. I call God to witness that all that I have written and preached has been with the view of rescuing souls from sin and perdition; and, therefore, most joyfully will I confirm with my blood that truth which I have written and preached.”
By another account, the he marshal ordered the flames lit, and as they rose, Hus began to sing, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me.” After three verses of his singing. the flames scorched and muffled Hus’ voice. Finally, the singing stopped. Fortified by God’s grace, Johan Hus—pastor and reformer--perished in the furnace of affliction for the glory of God.
Of such men this world is not worthy, it is true. But we look, and we are encouraged and emboldened by this one sent by God.
Remember, dear baptized of God, you are dust—ashes. And to dust you shall return—to ashes. Hopefully not—Lord, have mercy—burnt at the stake. But we certainly will return to the dust of the ground. And equally as certain, though, dear people: thanks be to God in His crucified and risen Christ Jesus our Savior, from dust we will rise to everlasting life. Because we who are but dust have come on bended knee to be forgiven all of our sins--in the name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit.
Let us pray.
O Almighty God, who didst give to thy servant Jan Huss Boldness to confess the Name of our Savior Jesus Christ before the rulers of this world, and courage to die for this faith: Grant that we may always be ready to give a reason for the hope that is in us, and to suffer gladly for the sake of the same our Lord Jesus Christ—knowing that just as He is risen from the dead we too shall one day rise from the dust and ashes of the earth; who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever.
Insofar as this sermon is a true proclamation of the Holy Gospel of Jesus Christ, it belongs to Him and His Church. Therefore its use is free to all who deem it worthy and beneficial.
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