Sermon for Pentecost 21, Proper 24C, preached on Sunday, October 17, 2010.
Most of us know that we live in a world where words don't mean much. We expect people to break the promises to us and we are no longer shocked when people deny truth to promote lies. We live in an age of vulgarity when it is hard to find a movie that the whole family can watch without embarrassment. But people justify this all the time by saying that they are just words and words don't mean anything. We don't even argue about it anymore. Word don't mean much – whether you like it or not.
We could leave it at that but this is a big problem for a faith in which God reveals Himself through His Word. Without this Word that makes us wise unto salvation, the Church is but a social club or self-help group. We could offer hints and helps but not the truth that transforms or the forgiveness bigger than sin or the life that is eternal. All of these come to us through the Word of God. Therefore, we need to be people of this strong Word to the world, a Word that speaks life and salvation, that delivers on what it proclaims, and that does what it says... Or, we have nothing at all to offer the world.
So what does Scripture claim for itself? According to the Epistle for today, all Scripture is inspired – literally God breathed. Here is the problem: inspired to us means good idea - like the light bulb that goes off above the head in the cartoon. But that is NOT what it means here. Inspired means its source is in God and not in the ideas or will of man. It is inspired because He gives the Word its life and power just as once, long ago, He reached down to scoop up some soil, breathed into that dust and it became a living being, and God had made man. This is what inspired means.
Scripture speaks a Word which is profitable – it delivers on what it says with something good and beneficial, salutary and blessed. We do not mean a word which can give you something to chew on, some good ideas about life, or something to help you get ahead. It is profitable because it teaches – that means doctrine. It is profitable for teaching because it speaks with authority to sin and its death, not as the guess of a man's mind but the certain truth of God that answers sin with forgiveness and death with life.
Scripture corrects error. It exposes lies. It confronts competing claims. It trains us up in the way we should go. It reveals to us the righteousness of Christ, it clothes us with that righteousness in baptism, and it builds us up in that righteousness. It is not that the dirty person goes down into baptism and comes up clean – but the same old person. No, this Word puts to death the old person and makes it possible for a whole new person to arise – born through the new birth of water and this Word.
It is not some message that Scripture imparts to us but the Christ who is the Word of God, incarnate of the Virgin Mary by the Holy Spirit. The Word imparts the Word. Period. Christ is the voice and Christ is the message. That is why this is a living Word, Christ is speaking it.
Scripture equips God's people. But with what? There are those who say that Scripture is like a psychology textbook to lead us to better self-images, to more positive outlooks, to happier marriages, to better family life, to achieving our hopes and dreams... Baloney. We have a lot more wrong with us than not being happy. We are dead in sin and helpless to save ourselves. Scripture equips us with the remedy for such sin and death. The Word of God equips us to bring forth the fruit of good works in our lives.
You heard it here. A Lutheran speaking positively about good works. Sadly, it does not happen enough. You are sinful. You are dead in your sin. Your works cannot save you; only Christ’s work can save and justify you. But the Word of God has become flesh to save you from your sins and to redeem you to new and everlasting life. And now you can begin to do what you could never do before. You have been remade by the power of the Word to want what was once forced upon you by the threat of the Law. You have been re-created to bear the good fruit of good works in your lives. The works are the same but you are different because of baptism and faith. The Word has accomplished this.
This is WHY we preach the Word of God. And this is WHAT the Word says. This message cannot be allowed to sit on the sidelines of the Church's life or the individual Christian's life. This Word cannot be cast aside when it appears to be out of step with the world or irrelevant to the what the world thinks at any given moment. It is in these moments when the Word is needed most of all. This Word must speak whether it fits the mood of the hearer or is in synch with the times... or not. This Word must be proclaimed in season and out of season.
The Word speaks whether there are who will hear or not. This does not mean that sometimes the Word will seem powerless or impotent, discarded on the side of life’s road. What this means is that people do not make themselves ready to listen to the Word of God. We do not make our ears, minds or hearts ready for the Word of God. God imparts His Spirit through the Word so that ears will hear, hearts will be convicted, and minds enlightened. God works through His Word to make the hearer ready for that Word.
We do not have the option of plan B if it seems that people are not responding to God’s Word. We have no back up plan or bag of tricks. Our job is not to figure out what works but to faithfully speak the Word of God keep the visible Word of the Sacraments. If there is any success for the Church, it will come because we faithfully speak God's Word. If there is any fruit to our labors, that fruit will be born of the seed of the Word as it is spoken and lived out in the Church and in the lives of Christian people like you and me.
As we recall today the noble mission of the Lutheran Women's Missionary League, we are mindful of the fact that this mission flows from the Word of God – not from the will and desire of people. Where God's Word speaks, there will be people called, empowered, and set apart to do His bidding. The first call of the LWML is to be in the Word of God; this is the place where God equips us to do His bidding. That is true not just for the LWML but for everyone in this congregation. Either our mission flows from the Word of God or all we are doing here is busy work that accomplishes nothing at all.
God's Word is truth – He does not lie. This is the foundation of our hope as Christian people and of our life together as His Church. This Word means what it says, does what it says, and says what we need to hear. It is not true because we believe it, we believe it because it is true. It is not faith that gives us this confidence, but God’s faithfulness in the Word that does what it says – this is what beckons us to faith. His faithfulness is the solid ground on which our lives of faith and service are built. His Word is the faithful means that builds us to bear fruit. Today we pray that the Spirit may come to us, open our ears, enlighten our minds, convict our hearts, and equip us to bear good fruit in our lives... and it all comes through the Word and the visible Word of the Sacraments. Amen.