Sermon for Midweek Lenten Service
Dear possessors of the holy Word of God: grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.
The most important mark of the Christian church is that it possesses the holy Word of God. Without God’s Word, there is no Christian church. What would be taught and preached in the church if we didn’t have God’s Word? We have nothing without it: nothing to say, nothing to hear, nothing to believe. God’s holy people cannot be without God’s Word and God’s Word cannot be without God’s people.
Jesus’ parable of the sower tells us that His Word will produce thirtyfold, sixtyfold, and hundredfold (Matt. 13:23). The Holy Spirit tells us through the prophet Isaiah that God’s Word will not return to Him empty or void, but will accomplish God’s purpose and succeed in the thing for which He sent it (Is. 55:11). So where God’s Word is, there the Holy Spirit is working through the Word to create faith; to make people holy.
We also know from Jesus’ parable of the sower that even though God’s Word will produce faith, it will also be rejected. Three quarters of the places where the Word was sown produced nothing. The devil comes and snatches it away. Tribulation and persecution cause some to fall away. The cares of this world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the Word, and it proves unfruitful.
Fault is not to be found with the Word, however. We know that the Word works. The Word produces faith. The Word produces thirtyfold, sixtyfold, and hundredfold. Where God’s Word is, there His holy people are, even if intermingled among them are those who do not believe. Even if God’s holy people are small in number, where His Word is preached, heard, and believed, there God’s holy people are; there is the Christian church.
What happens if we have God’s Word but we neglect it? What if God has given His Word to us but we take it for granted, it ceases to be preached and heard, and it is not read or studied?
Luther gives a warning concerning this to his countrymen: “Beloved Germans, buy while the market is close at hand! Gather while the sun is shining and while there is good weather! Make use of God’s grace and Word while it is here! For you should know this: God’s Word and grace is a passing downpour, which does not return to where it has already been. It has been with the Jews; but what’s lost is lost, and they now have nothing. Paul brought it to Greece; what’s lost is lost, and they now have the Turks. Rome and Latin-speaking regions have also had it; what’s lost is lost, and they now have the pope. And you Germans dare not think that you will have it forever, for the ingratitude and disdain will not let it remain. Therefore take hold and hang on tightly, while you are able to grab and to hold. Lazy hands are bound to have a hard year” (Letter to the Town-Councilmen, AE:45, 351-352).
Written roughly five hundred years ago, Luther warned and predicted what in fact has happened in Germany. Their ingratitude and contempt for the Word of God has produced a society that is secular and godless. The state church in Germany, although Lutheran in name, has rejected the Word of God and they follow the world, their sinful flesh, and the devil. Like Greece, they also now have the Turk, as Muslims have overrun Germany and increased by 22% over the past couple years with mosques popping up left right and centre.
This warning is also for us here in Canada. We have received the downpour of God’s Word and grace. Will ingratitude and contempt for God’s Word let it remain? The membership in our own church body is dropping significantly every year. We see among us in this congregation the membership dropping as people stop attending, and as we have many funerals every year and almost no Baptisms. Our country is also starting to get overrun with Muslims and their mosques as they come here and have children while we Canadians prefer money, careers, and pets to children, and either have them contracepted or murdered.
Is this a call to take hold of God’s Word and hang on tightly, while we are able to grab and to hold? Yes, it is. Is this a call to repent over our ingratitude and contempt for the Word of God? Yes, it is. Is this a call to panic, fear, and despair? No, it is absolutely not!
We have God’s holy Word, and where His Word is, there His people are. Small in number? Maybe so. Increasing in age? Maybe so. Decreasing in number? Maybe so. But God’s Word cannot be without His people. Where His Word is preached, heard, and believed, there God’s holy people are; there is the Christian church.
God’s Word is so powerful, that even in heterodox church bodies where they do not teach God’s Word in its truth and purity, God can and does still have holy people. Even under the pope, who denies the Gospel and raises himself above the Word of God, even there, wherever God’s Word is believed, God works through His Word and saves people in spite of the pope’s best efforts to lead them to hell.
The Word, the Word, the Word is what has the power to save. The Word has the power to save because in the Word and only in the Word do we know of God’s love for us in Christ Jesus. Only in the Word do we hear the Gospel that our sins are remitted for the sake of Christ’s death for us. The Gospel is God’s power to save (Rom. 1:16) and we know the Gospel only from God’s Word.
The Christian church does not exist apart from the Word of God. Faith comes from hearing the Word of God (Rom. 10:17). Those who do not hear cannot believe (Rom. 10:14).
Yet, in those who hear and believe, God’s Word produces thirtyfold, sixtyfold, and hundredfold. The Word of God is so powerful that it has wrenched you away from hell and its prince, the devil. The Word of God has produced faith in your heart so that you know all of your sins are forgiven. The Word of God is so powerful that on the Last Day it will raise you to eternal life as surely as it raised our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ from the dead.
The most important mark of the Christian church is that it possesses the holy Word of God. Without God’s Word, there is no Christian church. God’s holy people cannot be without God’s Word and God’s holy Word cannot be without God’s people, so where God’s Word is, there His people are. Where God’s Word is, there is the Christian church. Amen.
The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.
*Our midweek Lenten series is based on Martin Luther’s On the Councils and the Church, as found in the primer A Christian Holy People, which is available from Lutheran Press both affordably in print and free electronically (lutheranpress.com).