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Sermon for October 1, 2017

2 Timothy 4:1-4 (LWML Sunday)

“Hear the Word & Confess the Gospel”

Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield, CT

October 1, 2017

 

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

Our text is the Epistle Reading for LWML Sunday recorded in 2 Timothy 4:

1I solemnly charge you before God and before Christ Jesus who is about to judge the living and the dead, and by His appearing and His kingdom: 2preach the word. Be ready in season and out of season. Reprove, rebuke, and exhort with complete patience and teaching. 3For there will be a time when sound teaching will not be put up with, but according to their own deep desires which they itch to hear, they will accumulate teachers for themselves. 4On the one hand, they will turn away from the hearing of the truth, and on the other, they will be turned aside to myths.

 

            2017 is really a rather amazing year. First off, of course, it is the 500th anniversary of Luther’s posting of the 95 Theses. The whole world is paying attention to Luther this year. In fact, it seems like 2017 is all Luther all the time—24/7/365! But there is even more to 2017. This year marks the 75th anniversary of the Lutheran Women’s Missionary League, our LWML, which has done so much to encourage and support the sharing of Christ’s Gospel within our Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod and among partners and friends throughout the world.

In the half millennium since the Reformation began and the 75 years since the LWML formally organized itself, confessing the faith has not gotten any easier. In fact, it may be even more difficult for us to speak and to live as Christians today. And who knows what the future might hold for us, our children, and our grandchildren? Yet God is faithful and has promised that His Church will survive all the challenges that the devil, the world, and our own sinful flesh can throw at us. Building on God’s promises, we know that this is our time to be distinctly Lutheran. As confessing Lutherans in a rapidly changing world and in an increasingly hostile culture, we need to be ready to confess the Gospel of Christ to a world that desperately needs to hear it. But first, we need to hear the Gospel.

What are some hindrances to hearing the Gospel that you and I face? In the Small Catechism, Luther cites in the explanation to the Third Petition that it is the devil, the world, and our own sinful flesh that will not let us hallow God’s name nor let God’s kingdom come. In his 1527 treatise, That These Words of Christ, “This Is My Body,” Still Stand Firm Against the Fanatics, the Reformer summarizes, “In short, the devil is too clever and too mighty for us. He resists and hinders us at every point. When we wish to deal with Scripture, he stirs up so much dissension and quarreling over it that we lose our interest in it and become reluctant to trust it. We must forever be scuffling and wrestling with him. . . . He is Satan, and Satan is his name, i.e. an adversary. He must obstruct and cause misfortune; he cannot do otherwise. . . . Since he is able and determined to do all this, we must not imagine that we shall have peace from him. He takes no vacation and he does not sleep. Choose, then, whether you prefer to wrestle with the devil or whether you prefer to belong to him. If you consent to be his, you will receive his guarantee to leave you in peace with the Scriptures. If you refuse to be his, defend yourself, go at him! He will not pass you by; he will create such dissension and sectarianism over the Scriptures that you will not know where Scriptures, faith, Christ, and you yourself stand.”[1]

The devil, then, constantly seeks to hamper God’s Word of truth in the Holy Bible. He seeks to cause people to doubt whether or not it is indeed the inspired and inerrant Word of God, or whether, perhaps, it simply contains parts that may be God’s Word along with the words of other people just like us. After all, who wants to hear, “Thou shalt not,” when your desire and feeling is clearly, “Thou shalt”? A contemporary example that we face in our world is sexual immorality. Scripture is very clear in both the Old and New Testaments that all forms of sexual immorality—any lustful desire or sexual activity that occurs outside of marriage between husband and wife, including heterosexual, homosexual, and bisexual—are sinful. Oh, how the devil twists the Word and lies to people; oh how the world goes along with popular feelings and emotions; oh how our sinful flesh lusts for pleasure simply for its own temporary happiness!

And so the devil, the world, and the sinful flesh lure people to surround themselves with just the very things that they wish to hear, whether they are actually true or not. Heed Paul’s warning today in God’s Word! There are so many unhealthy and unsound teachings and teachers out there today, so many wolves in sheep’s clothing, that you must be on your guard constantly. For when the devil, the world, and the flesh begin to turn you away from hearing the truth of God’s holy Word, you are in grave danger. When you, then, turn aside from the Word to myths, you are in great peril. Your eternal salvation becomes jeopardized by the lies and half-truths, lusts and desires that you begin to hold onto as truth when they are not. How does Jesus, the true God incarnate, say it in the Gospel lesson today? “Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell” (Matthew 10:28).

Between the Winter of 1541 and the Spring of 1542, Luther penned his hymn, “Lord, Keep Us Steadfast in Thy Word.” It is the Christian’s prayer against the devil, the world, and the flesh. “Lord, keep us steadfast in Your Word; Curb those who by deceit or sword Would wrest the kingdom from Your Son And bring to naught all He has done” (LSB 655). This must also be your prayer and mine as we face all those things, those myths, those lusts and desires that would hinder our hearing of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. “Dear Father, Your will be done, not the devil’s will or our enemies’ or anything that would persecute and suppress Your holy Word or hinder Your kingdom. Grant that we may bear with patience and overcome whatever is to be endured because of Your Word and kingdom, so that our poor flesh may not yield or fall away because of weakness or sluggishness” (Large Catechism).[2]

Remember, dear saints, that the Gospel is truly the “power of God unto salvation for all who believe” (Rom. 1:16). Hearing the Gospel creates saving faith in our hearts (Rom. 10:17) to trust in Jesus Christ as the only Lord and Savior from sin, death, and the power of the devil. It is Jesus Christ who earned the right to judge the living and the dead by His own death on a cross and His bodily resurrection from the dead.

Jesus died so that we might have forgiveness of sins and a brand new life of faith and holy living. “For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received,” St. Paul writes, “that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures” (1 Cor. 15:3-4 ESV). God’s Word is true . . . all of it! He died for our sins. Christ bled and died for our failures to hear His Word faithfully, for all the times we have or will trust in the cleverly devised myths that turn us away from Christ and His Word of truth. (2 Peter 1:16).

We read in Ephesians 1 that, “In [Christ] you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory” (Eph. 1:13-14 ESV). The gift of the Holy Spirit has given you faith in Jesus, a receiving faith that clings to the promises of Christ’s Word and holds fast to the free gifts of forgiveness, life, and salvation. It is a faith that is able to resist the devil so that he must flee (James 4:7). Jesus prayed for you on the very night in which He was betrayed, “Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. And for their sake I consecrate myself, that they also may be sanctified in truth. I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word” (Jn. 17:17-20 ESV). You have been given a faith that makes you holy in the truth of God’s Word. You have the ability to discern between the truth and the lie by the power of the Spirit who dwells in you. “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect” (Rom. 12:2 ESV). And so St. John proclaims, “Test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world. By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God” (1 Jn. 4:1-3 ESV).

We who hear the Word of God in the Gospel, who have received the Holy Spirit by means of that Gospel, are the recipients of God’s grace through faith. Do not doubt that forgiveness of sins is yours through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross and His glorious resurrection—all in accordance with the Holy Scriptures. We are those who now live by faith in the Son of God. You and I are empowered by the Spirit through the Gospel not to turn from the truth and not to turn aside into myths. Rather, we publicly confess the Gospel. We acknowledge Jesus Christ as Lord and God and Savior. This Biblical Gospel is what you and I must be ready to confess—in season and out of season, when it is convenient for us and especially when it is not convenient for us!

How do we prepare ourselves to be ready to confess? We hear the Word and then confess the Word! Consider the work of the Lutheran Women’s Missionary League. The LWML has had a marvelous impact on the mission efforts of the congregations, districts, seminaries, and other entities of our Synod. And it has done so always by carrying out faithfully its mission “to assist each woman of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod in affirming her relationship with the Triune God so that she is enabled to use her gifts in ministry to the people of the world.”

There is never a perfect time to start an organization like the LWML, but could we have chosen a time more challenging than 1942? The world had been at war for three years and the United States had joined the effort in 1941. Rations were short, many young—and older!—men were preparing to fight overseas. Women were entering the workforce to fill the vacancies left by the new soldiers. The circumstances were challenging, to say the least! Yet, on July 7-8, 1942, over 100 women—among them twenty-eight formal delegates—met in Chicago and established the LWML. Its purpose was to encourage a greater consciousness among women for “missionary education, missionary inspiration, and missionary service.” It also decided to gather funds for mission projects above and beyond the Synod’s budget. From this humble beginning—and through the use of the now familiar “Mite Boxes”—the League has blessed the mission efforts of congregations, districts, and synod in amazingly powerful ways supporting these efforts so that people can hear the Good News of Jesus’ death and resurrection which is for them!  So “. . . the blessing of the LWML, . . . goes far beyond the millions raised for missions. Its benefits can be seen in faith deepened through Bible studies, in confidence built through leadership training, in the befriending of career missionaries, in blankets and clothing gathered for the impoverished, in food shared with the hungry and, above all, in the friendships nurtured and the lives changed by sharing the love of Jesus Christ.”[3]

The confession of the Gospel has always struggled against the intrusion of false teaching. But the Lord has been faithful and has raised up faithful pastors like Timothy who have preached the pure Gospel of Jesus Christ crucified for our sins and raised for our justification. And the Lord has gathered faithful men, women, and children who have carried out the work of the Lord with zeal and devotion, meeting the challenges and opportunities to reach out to those who need to hear the Gospel—men, women, and children just like you. In fact, each one of you! Simply put, our faithful God keeps His promises. He enables us to hear the Gospel, to receive His gifts, and to confess the Gospel with our lives and our lips. We continue to trust that the Lord will always enable us to be ready to hear His Gospel and be empowered to confess the Gospel that Jesus Christ is Lord. Amen.

 

[1] Martin Luther, Luther’s Works, Vol. 37: Word and Sacrament III, ed. Jaroslav Jan Pelikan, Hilton C. Oswald, and Helmut T. Lehmann, vol. 37 (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1999), 17.

[2] Paul Timothy McCain, ed., Concordia: The Lutheran Confessions (St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House, 2005), 416.

[3]Marlys Taege Moberg, “History of the LWML,” https://unite-production.s3.amazonaws.com/tenants /lwml/attachments/21814/lutheran-women-mission-history- rev.pdf, accessed April 3, 2017.

 

Introduction and Conclusion material taken from 2017 LWML Sunday Sermon provided by the LWML. Reverend Dr. Lawrence R. Rast Jr. President of Concordia Theological Seminary, Fort Wayne, Indiana.

 

 


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