Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Shake and Bake Evangelism

Sermon preached for Pentecost 4, Proper 10A, on July 10, 2011.

    More than anything, we want to smell the sweet, sweet smell of success.  It is what parents long for with their children, what entrepreneurs long for in a new business, what scientists long for in the lab, what astronauts long for in the pursuit of space.  It is also what we long for in the Church.  We want to be successful.  We long to see victories and accomplishments as affirmations that we have done it right, accomplished our goals, and been faithful.  The only problem is that in the Church we do not always get to see our success.
    We fought the Battle for the Bible to insist that God's Word is literal truth.  We stood up to those who deny the Word of God is God's Word.  We answered the critics who attempt to chip away at the truth of Scripture.  We cling to the Bible but I wonder if we have not misunderstood how the Word of God works.  We insist that the Bible is true but the bigger question we must face is whether we believe the Bible does just what it says?  Will God's Word keeps its promise and accomplish its purpose – that is the BIG issue facing us today.
    We gain nothing if we affirm a Word that is true but powerless.  God's Word is not powerless but is efficacious.  It does what it promises.  God works through His Word and wherever that Word is faithfully spoken or acted in mercy and service, we can have every confidence that God is working there – whether we see it or not.  God's Word is not a text to be read like a book of facts or truths but the living voice of truth.  God's Word is alive – a means of grace.  God's Word accomplishes exactly what it says.
    God's Word does what it promises – it does not speak about forgiveness but is the voice that actually forgives our sins... it does not speak about restoring the lost but calls to the lost with the living voice of their Shepherd... it does talk about life or faith but delivers the very life Christ won on the cross and equips the hearer to believe in Christ the resurrection and the life.
    God's Word does this all without us adding anything to it.  Ours may be the voice but His is the power.  We do not add to it to make it work.  We simply speak His Word and it becomes the fruitful seed that calls, gathers, and enlightens the elect into His Church.  We may not ever see the fruits of the seeds sown – as St. Paul reminds us: one plants, another waters, another tends, and another sees the harvest.  God gives the life to the seed and makes the growth.  The sower does not make the seed grow but merely spreads the seed.  God gives it life and makes it grow according to His purpose.  God’s Word is no dud.  It has no misfires.
    I fear that in our time we face a crisis of confidence about God’s Word – not whether it is true but whether or not His Word is efficacious – that it does what it promises.  We have come to think that we need to do something, we need to add something, or we need to work something in order for God's purpose to be accomplished and His Word fulfilled.  We have turned His Word into mere marching orders and left the strategy, means, and success up to human reason, wisdom, choice, and accomplishment.  We have deliberately or inadvertently begun to believe that we must add something to make God’s Word work.  We are in a crisis of faith.
    Do we believe that the Word of God does what it promises?  If we do, then we need to stop our foolish attempts to add to His Word and simply spread the seed in the confidence that God will grant it success and make it accomplish His purpose.  We need to keep the focus upon the Word and not on ourselves, our feelings, or our desires.  We need to give up the gimmicks to get people to listen and let go of the need to constantly check up on its success.  We have become like the child who plants the seed and then continuously digs it up in order to see if anything is happening there.
    Do we believe that the Word of God does what it promises?  If we do, then we need to expect it to be successful.  Like children scurrying around to find the hidden Christmas presents, we are busybodies trying to evaluate what works, what will appeal to people, and what will be acceptable by them. Instead of spending all our time deconstructing God's Word trying to figure out how and what works best, we simply trust it enough to sow it in faithful words and works.  Instead of modeling our witness after Wal-Marts business methods, we need to live captive to that Word of God and in confidence that when we speak it and show it forth in mercy and service, God will bring the fruit according to His timetable and as He wills it.  No one gets well by taking your temperature every minute.  Neither will the Church smell the sweet, sweet smell of success by testing what works and what does not.  Instead, we speak and boldly live out the Word of Christ in confidence that God will accomplish His purpose and give His success to that Word.
    We do not lack for Bibles to do God's work; we have tons of them that lie unused and unopened.  We do not lack for resources to do God's work; we have technology and access more than ever before.  We do not lack for money to do God's work; we have all that God has entrusted to us.  We do not lack for people to do God's work; we have those whom God has already called and gathered by His Word and Spirit.  What we lack is confidence in that Word.  If God's Word does what it promises, then let us trust in that Word, wait upon its success and fruits as God brings them.  Instead, we have become consumed with the idea that our efforts are what makes the Word work.
    You may remember the old commercials for Shake and Bake.  The kids assisted in putting the chicken in the bag of seasoning, shaking it up, and laying it out on the pan.  When dad got home, they proudly showed him their efforts.  "It's shake and bake," they say proudly, "n I helped." We treat God's Word in the same way.  It is God's Word but I helped.  God does not need our help but He expects our trust.  He does not need suggestions from the peanut gallery but confidence that He who sends it forth will make it successful.  On the last day when the elect sit down to the marriage supper of the Lamb, we will not turn to God and point to all those sitting at the heavenly banquet saying, "an I helped."  Instead, we will echo the joyous affirmation of all the saints of all the ages:  "Truly You [Christ] haves done all things well."  Success smells like trust.
    Today we pray that God will give us this confidence, that this confidence will inspire our boldness, and that this boldness will encourage us to sow the seed of His Word in faithful words and actions, for this witness is never in vain and will always result in the success God has appointed for it.  Even though we do not see it, we trust: God’s Word will not return to Him empty handed but will accomplish the purpose for which He sends it.  Amen and Amen.


Anonymous said...

The PROMISES of God's Word are what
sustain Christians on their earthly

Isaiah 41:10 "Fear not for I am with
you, be not dismayed for I am your
God. I will strengthen you, I will
help you, I will uphold you with my
righteous right hand." (ESV)

Compare Jeremiah 29:11, Proverbs 3:5,
6, Romans 8:28, Philippians 4:6,7

Anonymous said...

"I fear that in our time we face a crisis of confidence about God’s Word"

We face a crisis of confidence period.

We are afraid of everything, even small risks. We want cradle to grave security.