Monday, August 11, 2014

Proclaiming the Word of Faith

This sermon was preached in Spearfish South Dakota, at St. Paul Lutheran Church, where I visited yesterday as we continue building a network of supporters and prepare to head to Spain to be missionaries in Sevilla.  If you would like to know more about our adventure, visit

Ninth Sunday after Pentecost - August 10th, Year of Our + Lord 2014
St Paul Lutheran Church, Spearfish, South Dakota
Proclaiming the Word of Faith – Job 38, Romans 10, Matthew 14

     There’s too much.  Whenever I have had a guest preacher, I always kinda hoped they’d preach a bit longer than I do, so that my sermons would seem short by comparison.  I don’t know if Pastor Bauman feels this way, but I could easily go way long this morning, because today’s three readings from the Word of God are all very interesting, and all very fitting to my goal of telling you a little about God’s mission work in the Kingdom of Spain. 

     In our Old Testament reading, we hear the beginning of the LORD’s response to Job’s demand to know why, why things are as they are, why he is suffering, even though he trusts in the LORD, ultimately, why is there evil in the world.  God starts His response with what seems like sarcasm:  "Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?  Tell me, if you have understanding.  Who determined its measurements—surely you know!  Or who stretched the line upon it?  On what were its bases sunk, or who laid its cornerstone… Have you comprehended the expanse of the earth?  Declare, if you know all this.” 

     The LORD is going to break through Job’s blindness, in order to restore his faith with the Word of promise and blessing.  To do this, God starts out speaking of the creation, of the wonder of the physical world we live in, reminding Job of the fact that God is God, and Job is a man, a creature of God, lacking wisdom and knowledge, at least when compared to the mind of the Almighty. 

     This can still be a good place to start when we are trying to proclaim the Word of Faith to our friends and neighbors.  With 3,500 or so years of scientific endeavor since Job, we have a more detailed understanding of the universe, right down to electrons and quarks and neutrinos, subatomic particles which, we think at least, are the smallest building blocks of everything.  But where did all this stuff come from?  What is electrical charge and magnetism?  What is gravity?  And why does everything work in such amazing order? 

     Well, if you press a physicist, he or she will have to admit, “We don’t know why, it just is.”  Where did it come from, and how did things get the way they are?  Physicists who follow the politically correct model of refusing to discuss a Creator can only say “there was this Big Bang, see, and then it all just randomly came together, following a set of rules that  came from… well, we don’t know where the rules came from.”  Into this mystery missionaries, and Christians in their everyday lives, can insert the Word of Faith, the truth that God, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, has in His infinite power and wisdom made things just the way they are.  And that is a conversation that may go places.   

     From Paul’s proclamation to the Romans we hear of the daisy chain of God’s Word of Faith mission work:  "Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved." But how are they to call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching?   And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, "How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!"  But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, "Lord, who has believed what he has heard from us?"  So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ. 

     The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod is sending me to be a missionary to Spain, which means I am to go there and proclaim the Word of Faith.  I have been instructed to take the Bible, and the Catechism, the Book of Concord and the Hymnal, and using these basic tools, to proclaim the Word of Faith to whomever I can in Sevilla, Spain.  Now, I will be doing this in Spanish,  in a country where there are only one hundred or so Spanish Lutherans.  And, as far as I know, they do not make craft beer in Spain.  So the context of my work will be quite different.  But the work at its core will not be different: proclaim the Word of Faith, preach and teach Christ crucified for the forgiveness of sins, lead the liturgy, baptize and administer the Supper, comfort the hurting, counsel the erring, pray without ceasing. 

     This sounds a lot like what I was called to do in Sidney and Fairview, Montana, and a lot like what Pastor Bauman does here in Spearfish.  Preach Christ and count on the Holy Spirit to build the Church as He sees fit. 

     It’s not that God’s Mission is easy.  Many people, as Paul’s quotation from Isaiah reminds us, will reject the Word.  The proclamation of Christ goes out, “But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, "Lord, who has believed what he has heard from us?”  I talked about starting conversations with unbelievers through discussing the Creator’s Creation, and this can be a fruitful beginning.  But we need to remember that when we dare to contradict the Voice of Science, as often as not, we will join Job in suffering.  For many people take the very unscientific position that science is not to be questioned.  For many, the current theories of origins and evolution are the ultimate authority that must not be questioned.  So Christian confessors who ask difficult questions must be shouted down, or silenced.  

     Being involved in the Mission of God, whether in South Dakota or Sevilla, Spain, will at times be very hard, for satan hates the Good News that robs him of all his power.  The devil will stir up opposition, opposition that will be convinced it is doing good when it persecutes the Church of Christ.  Mission work is difficult, but we dare because we know the peace that passes all understanding.  We know the joy of sins forgiven and righteousness restored.  We know that Christ is risen, never to die again, and so in Him, we too will conquer death, and persecution.  We are called to rest in the promises of Christ, and pursue the tasks He has set before each of us, and to trust that, even when all seems lost, God is still taking care of us. 

     Which was a lesson that Peter learned in a fairly frightful way this morning.  The Word of Faith we proclaim is just that, a Word of Faith.  Neither Peter nor Job received the humanly comprehensible, humanly logical explanations of Christ and His salvation that they demanded.  From them, especially from Peter, we can learn a critical lesson about being involved in God’s Mission.  Namely, the Mission is God’s.  Mission belongs to Him, is enacted by Him, and we are simply called to trust in Him and do the things He has told us to do, not the things that we think should be done. 

     As our Gospel this morning begins, Jesus has just fed 5,000 men and their families from five loaves and two fishes, and the disciples were put to work in this miraculous meal, distributing the bread and fish to the assembled people, who had grown hungry while they brought their sick and lame to be healed by Jesus.  Through Word and Sign, Jesus had been caring for the crowds, and then He also met their immediate physical need, filling their stomachs, with 12 baskets of bread left over for the disciples to gather up.  If ever the Twelve were going to be convinced of Jesus’ divine power and authority, if ever they would have confidence in Him, it would seem to be now. 

     But their faith fades quickly.  Jesus tells the Twelve to cross the lake in the boat, while He dismisses the crowds and retreats to the mountainside alone to pray.  Struggling to make headway on the stormy lake, a nighttime of harassment by the creation leaves the Twelve weak and full of fear.  Then,  in the fourth watch of the night Jesus comes to them, walking on the sea. The disciples see  Jesus walking on the sea, and they are terrified.  "It’s a ghost!" they cried out in fear.  But immediately Jesus speaks to them, saying, "Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid." They hear the same voice, the same Word of Faith, that Jesus had already spoken to them many times, including during another storm in a boat on the same lake.   Jesus’ Word should have been enough to make them rejoice.  But no.  Peter answers Jesus, "Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water."         

     If?  Oh, Peter.  You know Jesus.  He just spoke to you – “Fear not, it is I,” much like He once said to you, “Fear not, from now on you will be catching men.”  Jesus had already, many times, spoken the Word of Faith and Forgiveness to Peter.  But in this scary moment, Peter starts His prayer, Lord, if it is You.  This is not a prayer of faith. 

     I’m so  glad you and I don’t pray like this.  I’m so glad we never try to bargain with God.  I’m so glad we never say to Jesus – Lord, if you’ll help me, then I will be faithful.  Lord, if you get me out of this mess I’ve made, then I’ll clean up my act.  Lord, if you keep Grandpa alive, then I’ll go back to church.  Lord, if… 

     Peter’s prayer, like too many of ours, flows from unbelief.  And, on top of that, Peter challenges Jesus to prove Himself by allowing Peter to complete a self-chosen work!  "Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water."  Let me do a miracle too, Jesus, then I’ll believe in You.  Let me decide what is the right way for me to serve in Your Mission, let me be impressive and special, then I’ll be all in for You, Jesus. 

     We may have not served at the feeding of the 5,000 like Peter, but we have the Word of God recorded in Scripture, we have the blessings God has poured out on His Church through 2,000 years, we have Christ with us in Word and Sacrament.  And yet, how often do our prayers start out with “If you prove Yourself to me Lord…” and finish with “then I’ll do this thing that I want to do.”? 
    Peter’s prayer was faithless and his self-chosen work was all about puffing himself up.  And yet, because He had a plan for Peter, Jesus humors him.  O.k., Pete, I’ll give you just enough rope to hang yourself.  “Come.”  Jesus needs to cut through Peter’s pride and unbelief, so He gives the command that Peter demands, “Come to me, walk on water, let’s see it.”  Be careful what you ask for in your misguided prayers; Peter got more than he bargained for.  And the result of self-chosen works flowing from unbelief?  The wind and the waves of life quickly overcome us puny creatures, and we sink.  God will allow our foolish pride to get us into big trouble, so that we repent.  Fearing for his life and finally realizing his foolishness, Peter repents of his self-chosen works and his doubt, and cries out in desperation – Lord, save me! 

     He who calls on the Name of the Lord will be saved.  Jesus immediately rescues Peter from danger, and rebukes his unbelief.  The Son of God made man is rightly to be worshiped. 

     But Peter wasn’t done messing up his part of God’s Mission, and neither are you and I.  Our pattern of doubt and self-chosen works has not ended yet.  Miraculous meals and water rescues were not enough to make Peter useful in God’s Mission, not enough to give him enduring faith.  Likewise, all the blessings we receive in this life, despite our sins, are still not enough to make us truly faithful.  We need more.  So Jesus did all that was necessary. 

     At the feeding of 5,000, Jesus took bread and blessed it and broke it and gave it to the disciples, a foreshadowing of the night when He was betrayed and did the same, only this time adding the Word of Faith – this is my Body, given for you.  And this Cup is the New Testament in my Blood, shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.  And as He always does, Jesus fulfilled the promise of that Word, in this case the very next afternoon, on a Cross outside Jerusalem, where He paid for the sins of the whole world, where He died our death, and made our way into God’s eternal favor.   

     The Word of Faith which we proclaim is not about miraculous meals of bread and fish, or about spectacular miracles like water-walking.  The Word of Faith is the Word of the Cross, the Word of sins forgiven for the sake of the holy, innocent suffering and death of God’s Son, Jesus Christ, given into death for our sins, and raised for our justification.  The Mission of God is not about the Church being powerful or impressive or full of earthly miracles.  No, the Mission of God is all about the proclamation of free forgiveness delivered to sinners from the Cross and Empty Tomb, delivered to us, and all who will hear, through the Gospel in Word, Water, Wheat and Wine. 

     Every time you pick up the Word of Christ, every time you hear Scripture read, every time you kneel at this altar and feast on the Body and Blood of Jesus, your resurrected Savior is with you, speaking to you: Fear not, it is I.  Rest in His peace, and God will use you in His Mission, in just the way He knows best, whether in Spain, or in Spearfish, or wherever our gracious LORD leads us,

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.  

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