Sermon

9.20.20

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

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

“’For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,’ declares the LORD. ‘As the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return to it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish, so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater, so is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.’” Thus far our text.

They say that a picture is worth a thousand words. What this means is that we can use a lot of words to describe something, but to actually convey what it looks like, words cannot substitute for actually seeing the object. Our words are limited, and they are often flippant. Children think of the taunt, “Sticks and stones can break my bones, but names will never hurt me.” We think of the words we use as “just words”, and not anything to give advance consideration to. But, words do hurt, and names can break our spirits. These mean words are not the case with God and His Word, however. His Word is powerful, and accomplishes what He says it will do. When He spoke at the beginning of the heavens and the earth, what He said actually happened. When He commanded light to come out of darkness, it happened immediately. When He created man, Adam immediately came into being, and life was within him. We aren’t normally familiar with this type of Word that always does what it says, but the Scripture tells us that this is the case. The reason that this is possible is because God’s power is unparalleled in the entire spectrum of the universe.

Our text tells us that God’s ways are not our ways, and His thoughts are not our thoughts. Therefore, we shouldn’t be surprised that things work differently with Him than they do with us. His entire purpose and plan for us His creation was for us to be with Him forever. He created us to be here on earth for a while, and then journey to heaven to be with Him. However, the serpent and sin got in the way, and He needed to do more on our behalf to cause His plan to come to fruition. It wasn’t like God didn’t know this was coming, or that He had to come up with a “Plan B”, but His intention from the beginning of the world was to send His Son to save us on the cross of Calvary. In the same way that He created us by His Word, so He redeemed us by that same Word, and sanctifies us today by that same efficacious Word. He has truly done it all for our salvation, and accomplished it all by speaking His Word of salvation.

The Lutheran confessors that were summoned to meet with Emperor Charles V were convinced of the power of this Word of God to do what it said. They had witnessed and fought against the tendencies of the church to rob God’s Word of its power, and substitute human strivings and works in its place. Throughout the Roman church, the teaching that indulgences (or the forgiveness of sins) could be purchased from the church, was gaining currency. People were being taken in left and right by the idea that they could “buy” forgiveness for their dead loved ones, and thereby take them from the fires of hell into heaven. As a result, the focus for the forgiveness of sins was changed from being God’s work on our behalf, and made into man’s work, paid for by the coins of indulgence. But, this is nothing new! This has been a heresy of men ever since the dawn of time. We’d rather think that we can “purchase” God’s grace, rather than believing the truth of His free gift of salvation.

More generally, the entire doctrine of salvation by faith and works, which had grown into full acceptance in the church, was being promulgated as the truth, despite the fact that it was completely un-Biblical. The purported fact that there was a “treasury of merits” that could be doled out to people was the basis for indulgences. The idea that people were going to purgatory to atone for their sins for a while, rather than Christ dying for the full payment of the sins of the whole world, was ludicrous, but believed by the rank and file parishioners. This was the state of affairs that the reformers found themselves in.

Even though the confessors were up against impossible odds, they were confident and knew that as long as they were speaking the truth of God’s Word, and were acting as God’s instruments in this world, He would protect them, and cause His will to be done among them. This was the only way that they could have had the courage to stand up to the authorities in the church, and state that they were wrong, and had been wrong for centuries. The only way for them to succeed with this confession of faith, this Augsburg Confession, which was presented 490 years ago this year, and found and sustain the Lutheran church that we have today, was for God to be working among them. His Word is powerful, and will preserve a remnant of the true Christian church on earth until the end of time, when Jesus comes again. Even though it might not seem possible to us, with God, all things are possible.

It might not make sense to us, either, that God would allow such trial and tribulation to afflict the leaders of His church that were trying to make a change for the better, but that is exactly what He allowed for the strengthening of the faith of His people. His ways are not our ways, and His thoughts are not our thoughts. It would make much more sense to us, and would be much more palatable to us, if the way of the truth of God’s Word were the easy one. But, if things were too easy, we might be lulled into thinking that earthly prosperity was the end-all goal, and end up being complacent and lazy Christians. His will is always best, and the Holy Spirit works in our hearts to cause us to believe this, and to strengthen us even when His will is opposed and persecuted.

We continue to work as God’s instruments to impart His saving Word to all that we have the opportunity to reach, because that Word is precious and powerful. We use the resources that God has given us to reach out to the community, through the evangelistic outreach of the church. Even though it might not make sense to us that this little congregation in this small town, up against such insurmountable odds of secularism and apathy, would be able to do such wonderful things as be God’s hands and lips, He promises us that great things come through His working – miraculous gifts that are only possible through Him. He promises to give us the guidance to use the resources that He has given us in the most fruitful ways, and the knowledge to be good stewards of the blessings that He showers upon us every day. He will lead us and guide us in how to proceed with being His ambassadors, and what endeavors He will lead us to undertake, continue, and begin.

God’s Word works in our midst in the same places that the Holy Spirit has promised to be present – in His Word and His Sacraments. We know that these are His will, because they are His means of grace. When the Word is read during worship services, during Bible studies, during classroom sessions, or at home, the Holy Spirit blesses this reading with understanding, and the creating and sustaining of faith. We learn the things of God, and this impacts our very lives. The Word of Baptism, where the Triune Name of God is applied to a little child or an adult, is the same Word of God in action to accomplish our Lord’s purposes – the salvation of our souls. The Words of Institution, whereby our Lord Jesus gives us His saving Body and Blood for the remission of our sins, in, with, and under the bread and wine, are the same powerful Word of God that causes our sins to be forgiven, and our souls to be strengthened for our earthly pilgrimage. In short, the Word of God is just as powerful today, and does the same thing today, as it did in the time of Jesus, and in the time of our Lutheran confessors. It creates and sustains saving faith, and does God’s will here in time and there in eternity.

The Word of God is powerful, and it is active. Sharper than a double-edged, it penetrates to the point of separating joints and marrow…this is what the writer to the Hebrews records in his epistle. God promises us that He will not leave us adrift in our sinful condition; He will not abandon us to the grave because of our sins. Rather, He works His plan of salvation within us every day, and blesses His Word with His almighty power. Even when it doesn’t seem as if there is any chance that His Word will prevail, we are promised that it will. It might not be according to the timeline that we think is right, but it is in keeping with His sequence of events, which is perfect and timely. Even when the Reformers thought that they had played their last card, and that the changes that were direly necessary in the church couldn’t possibly come about, God worked miraculously in their midst, and caused His Word to be freely preached once more, without the parasites of false doctrine attached to it. God works in mysterious ways, with the sole purpose of His work in this world being to create and sustain faith in our hearts in Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. He works in our midst today to promulgate this Word, through the activities of this church and school that He leads and guides. He gives us the opportunity to reach young minds with the truth of the Gospel, and blesses us with gifted Christians that have been properly instructed and gifted with the ability to impart this knowledge to others. God Word is not dead, but it is alive! Thanks be to God for not giving up on us His children, but blessings us with His powerful Word, His saving Sacraments, and His loving-kindness that has no end. Even though we may not understand how He works, we are promised in Scripture that we don’t need to know. He knows, and that is good enough for us. We are given the faith and the trust to believe that He is looking out for us, and that He has our best interests in mind. He is the most powerful force in the universe, yet He cares for and loves us. What a wonderful blessing we have been given – it is beyond our ability to understand. Amen.

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

Now may the peace of God, which surpasses all human understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, our Savior and Lord. Amen.