Thursday, October 29, 2015

Sermon for 10/25/15: Festival of the Reformation (observed)

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Abiding in the Word

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

Jesus said, “If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed.” That what the Lutheran Reformation was all about: getting the people back into the Word. Before the Reformation, only the clergy, some of the ruling class, and the intellectual elite could understand what was going on because the Bible, the liturgy, and everything sung during the Mass were all in Latin. Now, just because the common people couldn’t understand what was going on, that doesn’t mean the Word wasn’t able still to work in their hearts. But Luther translated into German the Bible and eventually the liturgy, and he wrote, translated and encouraged others to write and translate hymns, so the people could know and participate and live and abide in the Word of God. With the advent of the Gutenberg’s printing press, the Word of God was put into the hands of everyone who wanted it. What a wonderful blessing it is for everyone in the Church to be able to have access to the whole of Scripture. It is the gift of Pentecost all over again!

But having the Word of God so readily available has brought about problems of its own. I’m sure you’ve heard it from someone who calls himself a Christian, someone who says, “I don’t have to go to church to worship God or to hear His Word.” Usually this is followed by a speech about seeing God in the beauty of nature, about being able to read the Word at home, about not wanting to be around hypocrites who don’t practice what they preach. And much of that is true. One does not have to attend a Sunday service to worship God or to hear His Word. God is certainly present in His creation. Very rarely is a Christian household lacking a Bible. And it is most certainly true that the Church is filled with sinners who cannot perfectly live as we know we should.

But there are two problems with this way of thinking. The first is, while one can worship God and hear His Word in places other than the divine service, it’s very rare that a person who refuses to come to the divine service will actually seek the Word of God in their home—or anywhere else, for that matter. “The Word will always be there. Eventually I’ll find time for it.” But we don’t. The second problem is that the world, the devil, and even our own flesh do everything they can to keep us from the Word. Even with the best of intentions, the television, the Internet, children, phones, books, and other things are distractions for those who would worship at home.

The easiest way to abide in the Word of God is to seek that Word in a place and at a time set apart specifically for the reception of the Word, a place where the faithful gather together to be fed with that Word. If only such a thing were readily available to the Church! But thanks be to God, for He made a promise to be Immanuel—God dwelling with us—when we gather in His name. Christ has set apart men to serve in His stead to deliver His Word to us in faithful preaching and teaching and the word of holy Absolution. He applies that Word to us in the water of Holy Baptism and in His own body and blood in the Sacrament of the Altar. Even in the Church, we must be careful not to take the Word for granted. “Of course going to church once a month is enough.” “Oh, it’s not necessary to offer the Lord’s Supper every Sunday.” “Pastor talks about the Sacraments every Sunday, so I don’t need to pay attention today.” But the Lord continues to give these gifts freely and generously—so much so that, as King David rejoiced, “My cup runneth over.”

It is much easier for us to think of abiding in a town, or in a particular house. Words do not seem like the sort of thing that we can get inside or remain in. Nevertheless, Jesus speaks in today's Gospel as if His Word is a home, a resting place, a shelter. Jesus has placed you into His Word; He has set you inside His Word; He has submerged you in His Word—after all, that is what Baptism is all about. He has put you into His Word. And having given you a place to abide in His Word, He will abide there with you. In His Word you know the truth, “and the truth shall make you free.” In the name of the Father and of the Son (+) and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.                

The peace of God which passes all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus always.  Amen.

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