Sermon for 1st Sunday In Lent Yr C 29/02/2004
Based on Rom 10:8b-13
By Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson,
Pastor of Grace Lutheran Church, &
Chaplain of the Good Samaritan Societyís
South Ridge Village, Medicine Hat, Alberta
We have all, at one time or another, probably heard or even spoken ourselves, the old adage: "Sticks and stones will break my bones, but names and words can never hurt me." In real life however, this popular expression has repeatedly been proven false. The apostle Paul, in todayís second lesson, tells us that the spoken word is very powerful. According to Paul, the preached word gives us faith to believe and confess Jesus is Lord. Or put another way, for Paul preaching Godís Word gives birth to faith, which makes it possible for us to confess that Jesus is Lord.
One of the central themes running through nearly every letter of Paul is the absolute necessity of Godís preached word. Preaching for Paul is one of the most important gifts of the Church. For Paul, preaching is not only equated with faith, it is also the means by which God works salvation. That is why the preached word is very powerful and must never be underestimated or ignored.
Unfortunately people do underestimate and ignore the power of the preached word. Lay people who hear the preached word regularly may come to view preaching as so ordinary that they fail to realize the extraordinary power of preaching. Most of us donít make much out of taking a glass of water to drink almost any time we want to. But if we were stranded out in a desert with only one quart of water; we would be very quick to realize how important that water was for us. Pastors who preach the word also may fail to realize the extraordinary power of preaching. Seeds of doubt may try to convince them that preaching is a useless task, which produces no tangible results. They may be left with the false impression that the preached word is not being heard and has little or no influence upon peopleís lives. However, both lay people and pastors need to be reminded that God has chosen the very ordinary means of preaching to work in a very extraordinary, powerful way. In speaking the preached word through a common, ordinary human being, God gives and strengthens faith and works salvation--that is truly a miracle!
Someone has said, "There are two kinds of preachers--those who have to say something, and those who have something to say!" The call to be Godís witnesses is grounded in the gift of something significant to say. That something centers in the life-giving gospel of Godís grace revealed and promised in Jesus Christ. We preachers are in the business of proclaiming a message creative of the full and abundant Life Christ came to give! 1
Martin Luther was keenly aware of this very important point--he had an extremely high, sacramental-like view of the preached word. That is why in his explanation to the Third Commandment: (for us Lutherans who order the commandments differently than others) Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy, he has this to say in The Small Catechism: "We are to fear and love God so that we do not neglect his Word and the preaching of it, but regard it as holy and gladly hear and learn it."
According to Paul, HEARING the preached word not only helps us to believe and have faith; it also leads us to CONFESS our faith that JESUS IS LORD. This confession that Jesus is Lord is very likely the earliest creedal statement of the Christian Church.
The Greek word for Lord is KURIOS. This word has four stages of meaning. First, it is the normal title of respect like the English sir or German herr. Second, it is the normal title of the Roman Emperors. Third, it is the normal title of the Greek gods, prefaced before the godís name. Kurios Serapis is Lord Serapis. Fourth, in the Greek translation of the Hebrew scriptures it is the regular translation of the divine name, YHWH. When the early Christians called Jesus KURIOS they were ranking him with the Emperor and with God; they were giving Jesus the supreme place in their lives; they were pledging Jesus implicit obedience and reverent worship over and above everyone else. 2
Loyalty to Jesus and his authority took precedent over loyalty and authority toward anyone else. This early Christian confession was viewed by the Roman authorities as treasonous and thus led many Christians to death by martyrdom.
In almost every century of the Churchís history, Christians have boldly confessed their faith. In his book The Great Invitation, Emil Brunner tells about a Russian Easter service held near Odessa in 1940. A crowd of 40,000 Christians gathered for worship, but instead they were harassed by communist agitators and forced to listen to four hours of atheistic propaganda. Finally one member of the congregation begged to say four words to the assembled group and was granted that privilege. He stood before them and gave the traditional Russian Easter greeting: "Brothers and sisters, Christ is risen." From 40,000 mouths came the reply, "He is risen indeed." 3
This story reveals the necessity and power of confessing Christ, which results in salvation. The ideology of atheistic communism threatened to replace these Christiansí belief in Jesus as Lord. Whatever and whoever threatens to destroy or pervert the Christian loyalty to Jesus as Lord must be resisted with this very confession. Otherwise Christians may very well be in danger of losing their faith in Christ altogether. By confessing Christ, these Russian Christians were saying to the communist propaganda agitators that their greatest loyalty and highest authority was to Jesus Christ--he is more powerful than anything or anyone. Jesus Christ is Lord, not communism (or for that matter capitalism!) or any other ideology, power or authority.
What about us? How often do we confess the Christian faith with our mouths when we are required to compromise or even give up our faith in Jesus as Lord? Would we--given the circumstances--be willing to die if that were necessary for confessing that Jesus is Lord? Even today this is still happening in some countries which are hostile to the Christian faith.
May God help us to gladly come to hear the preached word; that we may be blessed with a deeper, more vibrant faith to confess the Lordship of Jesus Christ over us and all creation. Amen.
1 From a quote by Lowell Erdahl, in John S. McClure, editor, Best Advice For Preaching (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1998), p. 6.
2 Cited from: Wm. Barclay, The Letter to the Romans (Burlington, ON: G.R. Welch Co., Ltd., 1975), p. 139.
3 Cited from: W.A. Poovey, The Days Before Easter (Minneapolis: Augsburg Publishing House, 1977), p. 48.