Wednesday, February 6, 2019

The Word is Your Power and Peace. . .

Sermon for Epiphany 4C, preached on Sunday, February 3, 2019, to the people of Faith Lutheran Church, Hopkinsville, on the first Sunday after their Pastor accepted a call to another congregation.

It is a standard joke to poke fun at sermons and those who preach them.  If somebody came to a Christian Church from somewhere out there in space, he might get the impression that God’s people don’t like sermons and those who preach them.  We talk as if we tolerate them but the ones we tolerate best are short, interesting, and funny.  I am sorry that today you got me because I do not preach short sermons nor do I tell jokes but I do try to be interesting.

In the Gospel reading for today people tried to keep Jesus from leaving town and going on to another place.  It was not because they liked sermons any better than you do or because they were so much more pious than you are.  They had heard more than sermons in Jesus.  They had seen demons cast out and the sick healed.  Maybe none of them could remember anything Jesus had said, but they could sure recall His conversation with demons right in the synagogue.

Yet when Jesus insists upon leaving, He does not focus upon the miracles that accompanied His preaching as signs of the Kingdom.  No, Jesus gives full attention to the Gospel, the Good News of the Kingdom, and to the revelation and preaching of this Gospel which was His purpose in being sent from the Father.

It might help to fill the pews if we had a miracle or two each month, a demon cast out or the sick healed or the lame walk.  God knows that there are empty pews throughout the land in search of willing bodies.  But God has not given us the ministry of miracles.  He has given us the ministry of His Word.

Just last week you said farewell and bid Godspeed to Pastor – who over his time here preached hundreds and hundreds of sermons.  Some of you liked his preaching and perhaps some of you did not.  A few of you can remember his sermons but most of you, even though it has only been a week, would have trouble recalling much of what he said from this pulpit.  And sometime soon you will welcome another Pastor and you will sit in these pews keenly interested in what kind of preacher he will be.  Funny how that is that we judge pastors on the basis of their sermons but we often have trouble remembering what those sermons are.

Jesus refused to stay, however.  Capernaum had heard the Word of the Lord from the mouth of its author and now Jesus had to head on to other towns and villages throughout Judea.  He is come to suffer the cross and empty the tomb and this is the Word that went before and after this saving act of mercy.  Jesus was sent to preach.

That ought to tell you something.  Church is more about the Word of God than anything else.  And it is about the visible Word called the Sacraments.  Jesus did many impressive things but His Word heard in the ear, felt in the splash of baptismal water, and eaten and drink in Holy Communion is how He is known and how He is made known to those who do not know Him.  Jesus comes to us, as John says, the Word made flesh.  He preaches His saving work before He dies and rises again and He preaches it for forty days after Easter and He sets apart a Church and a ministry to preach this Gospel to the ends of the earth.

It might seem that preaching is the big thing but we dare not forget that listening is part of preaching.  Faith comes by hearing the Word of God, says St. Paul in Romans 10.  The Spirit is in the Word and works through the Word to enliven the dead hearts of the hearers and bring them to faith.  The Spirit is in the Word that is planted in baptismal water so that this is no symbolic act but the very means of grace through which those dead in trespasses and sins are raised to new and eternal life in Christ.  The Spirit is in the Word that sets apart bread to be Christ’s body and the wine set apart to be His blood so that we might eat and drink His forgiveness, life, and salvation.  All of these expect and anticipate hearers who rejoice to believe what is preached, who rejoice to be raised in Christ as His own brothers and sisters by baptism, and who rejoice to eat here the bread of heaven and the cup of salvation.

You may think that it is in the pulpit where the focus is but if the focus is in the pulpit, it must also be in the pew, where you hear the Word of God and by the grace of the Spirit seek to keep it.  So for now, you are borrowing preachers until that day comes when you will have your own again.  The face and voice of the preacher change.  But the part that does not change is your role as hearers of the Word of God, as the baptized people of God marked with the cross of Christ, and those for whom God has set a place as His table, to eat and drink His salvation.

I say to you now, more than any other time, now is the time to be diligent in hearing God’s Word, in discerning His path, in keeping the faith, and in doing the work God has given YOU to do in this place – the baptismal work of worship, witness, prayer, acts of mercy, and faithful support of the work of the kingdom.  Now is not the time to wait and see.  Now is the time to hear and believe, to believe and live, to live and serve the God who works through His Word.

Isaiah said so long ago that God’s Word will not return to Him empty handed.  It will accomplish His purpose in sending it.

So while the temptation may be on biding your time, waiting for a new shepherd, and slacking off, do not give in.  While the temptation may be to despair and wonder if there is a future or fear the shaped of that future, do not give in.  While the temptation may be to survey your options, do not give in.  Now is the time when this congregation needs you most, when the Lord is in Your midst through His Word, and He will not disappoint you nor will He forsake you.

You have His Word.  This Word is your strength and your foundation, your hope and your promise, your comfort and your encouragement.  The Spirit will work among you through this Gospel still preached and taught and in the hearts of those who hear, believe, rejoice, and keep the faith.  So keep your eyes upon Jesus, your focus upon the promises of His Word, and do not give into temptation or despair. 

The Lord has invested too much in you to abandon you or to leave your future to a whim.  God has prepared you for this moment, He has blessed Your with His Gospel to forgive your sins, He is washed you in the blood of Christ in your baptism, and He continues to feed you the flesh and blood of our Savior from this altar.

When Jesus insisted upon leaving Capernaum and heading to other towns, many of the people did not want to let go.  But this was not out of strength or confidence that they wanted to hold on to Jesus.  They took their comfort from the miracles they saw and from the power that overcame even demons.  Jesus pointed them not to the signs of the Kingdom which would come and go but to the Word that endures forever, to the living voice that speaks forgiveness to the sinner, to the Gospel that will not disappoint them but does what it says, to the Spirit of God who acts through this speaking to accomplish God’s purpose.

So now I point you to the very same thing.  The good news will still be preached and the Gospel will still be the focus and the sacraments still administered in Christ’s name and for His purpose, and the Kingdom of God will not depart from this place.  Be of good cheer.  The Holy One of God is still in this place.  He was sent by the Father for YOU and He will not leave you until He has finished His work and brought to completion that which He began in you and in this place when first His Word was planted here in pulpit, font, and altar.

As once He spoke to Jeremiah, now He speaks to you.  Do you be afraid, I am with you and I have put my words in Your mouth.  Amen.

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