Monday, October 28, 2013

50th Anniversary of Faith Lutheran Church, York Nebraska (Psalm 119:90)

“Your faithfulness endures to all generations; you have established the earth, and it stands fast.” Members of Faith, former members of faith, distinguished guests and visitors from near and far: Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and our Savior Jesus Christ, Amen. The text for our sermon on this 50th anniversary of Faith Lutheran Church comes from the theme verse of this celebration, Psalm one hundred nineteen, verse ninety. Dear friends in Christ, in the past eleven years, from the time I left this place to go to college, seminary, and finally service in the parish, I have been involved with a lot of congregations—city congregations, small town congregations, rural congregations, from Nebraska to Indiana to New York and Iowa. And one thing that I’ve learned is that congregations are like people: they each have their own personality. Each and every one of them is different, and I’m not talking about worship or doctrine. Every congregation has distinctive strengths and weaknesses, joys and sins, likes and dislikes. Each is shaped by its history, by the unique people who make up the body of Christ in that place. God doesn’t make congregations with a cookie-cutter, any more than He makes people that way. He has one truth, one Word, but a myriad of different congregations who confess that truth and preach that Word.

And congregations, like people, change; that unique character and personality doesn’t stay the same. Some change is good, some bad, but the simple fact is that change is an ever-present reality. Pastors change; in fifty years of existence, Faith Lutheran Church has been served by a total of three pastors. Three! You have been vacant in those fifty years for only about a year! I don’t know if you realize how abundantly the Lord of the Church has blessed you with stability; but even in that stability, there has been change, from Pastor Hanneman, to Pastor Schauer, to Pastor Bergstrazer, along with many other faithful shepherds who have filled this pulpit during vacancies and vacations.

The people in the pew change; it doesn’t seem like I’ve been gone that long, but when I look out over this sanctuary, I see a lot of faces I know, and a lot that I don’t. People move in, people move out; people leave for a variety of reasons, people come for a variety of reasons, both good and bad. We baptize children, giving them the new birth in Christ; we bury our dead, commending them to the Lord. Each person adds to the personality of the congregation; each one has something new to bring, and we rejoice in those gifts. And with each saint that we lay to rest, we are conscious of what we have lost.

The building changes; Faith Lutheran Church was started in part by refugees from a country parish that had closed (now that building is just down the street); you met in the funeral home until this beautiful sanctuary was built, and now for decades this has been your home. There are some of you here who remember the A-frames going up. I remember a more recent building project, watching the fellowship hall being built. I distinctly remember the fundraising, because even we kids were asked to do our part, and the result was a wonderful facility where we will celebrate later this morning.

The world has also changed. In fifty years, who would expect anything different? When this congregation was founded, our nation was in the midst of an upheaval that we are still feeling today. Christianity was losing its favored place in society, and while in some ways this was a necessary thing, because the Church becomes lazy when she is too closely associated with the culture, the consequences were, and still are, devastating. Whole generations left the church of their parents or were never in the church in the first place. And without a conscience informed by the Scriptures, humanity has suffered terribly: fifty million children dead by abortion, broken families, hurting people, poverty, murder and violence, the destruction of marriage in state after state by divorce and homosexuality, widespread persecution against Christians here and around the world.

The Church is beleaguered, under attack, assaulted by the world. Atheists mock her, terrorists want to destroy her, and apathy chokes her out. We lose the vast majority of the children that we baptize and confirm, a fact that should grieve us deeply. My generation by and large isn’t bringing our children to sit at the feet of Jesus, not from hostility or even atheism, but simply from a deep apathy. And that’s only the outside attacks; inside the Church, false doctrine poisons her, conflicts sap her strength, and so she struggles against the world weakened, maybe even on life support. It isn’t easy being a Christian or a community of Christians in a world that is bent on our destruction.

It’s overwhelming to look back over the past fifty years and see all that has changed in the world and in this congregation, both good and bad. The path that a congregation walks is never a smooth one; you remember the joys, but you also remember the tensions, the conflicts that have been a part of life together in Faith Lutheran Church for the past fifty years. And outside these walls, the world swirls around the Church like a tornado, threatening to tear us apart. All around us is change, but in the midst of that swirling tempest, there is only one constant: “Your faithfulness endures to all generations; you have established the earth, and it stands fast.” Everything in this world changes, but God’s faithfulness endures. The Lord of heaven and earth stands tall when all else falls.

His faithfulness endures to all generations; He promised a Savior just moments after the first sin, and He remained faithful to that promise. God’s faithfulness is demonstrated by a baby in a manger, by a man on a cross, by a tomb left empty. God’s faithfulness is summed up by the little Word that casts down the devil: Jesus. Jesus came into our world’s whirling tempest of change and decay, and established Himself as the rock of salvation, the pillar we cling to in the midst of the storm. He purchased and won us with His shed blood, with His innocent suffering and death; He won the victory for us, in our place, dying the death we deserved, rising so that we too will rise. In a world of change, the cross stands firm and established, never to be moved. God proves His faithfulness there; because of the cross every other promise He makes is true, despite anything this world says or does to you: your sins are forgiven by Jesus’ shed blood! You have a place in heaven because Christ conquered death! The gates of hell will never prevail against you because the devil has been crushed by the mighty foot of your Savior!

The Lord never abandons His Church! He says to the devil, to the world, “You can’t have her, she is mine! I bought her with my own shed blood, I triumphed over you, and my victory is her victory. You have no power here!” Christ has never been absent from His Church; from generation to generation He has accompanied her. Sometimes she has been strong and mighty, but more often than not she has been weak and harried, persecuted by the world. Congregations may shrink and close, buildings may crumble and steeples topple, but Christ’s Church endures. He has never left her alone. “Your faithfulness endures to all generations; you have established the earth, and it stands fast.” Congregations change, and the world changes, for better or for worse, but Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.

Jesus Christ is the pillar that the Church is built on, the pillar that Faith Lutheran Church is built on, the pillar that stands when everything else falls. The Church lives because Jesus lives; the Church is victorious because Jesus is victorious. Here, in this place, God’s faithfulness is demonstrated each and every week, as Jesus comes into your midst to deliver to you the gifts that He won. That’s what a congregation is: lambs of the Savior gathered together to receive His gracious gifts. Christians built sanctuaries to show themselves and the world that their God is firm and established, to preach His steadfast faithfulness that endures for eternity. This sanctuary, and its furnishings, the font, the altar, the pulpit, proclaim the God who is faithful to His promises. How many of you were baptized, like me, in this very font? It stands today as a testimony of what Christ did for us on that day, claiming us as His own. This massive, mighty altar emphasizes the permanence of our God’s faithfulness shown in the sacrifice of Christ: rock and granite that will stand even when these walls come down. “Your faithfulness endures to all generations.” This building won’t last forever, but while it stands, it preaches, and the children of God, one generation after the next, gather here to receive Christ’s great gifts. Faith Lutheran Church is an embassy in a foreign land, an outpost of grace in a world of sin. She stands to proclaim the faithfulness of the God who keeps His promises in Christ.

So stand faithful in the whirling tempest of this world. Stand faithful on the solid rock, the foundation, the pillar of the Word of your faithful God. This congregation was established on the solid foundation of Jesus Christ, crucified and risen, proclaimed by the Scriptures and confessed in the Book of Concord. For fifty years you have stood as a pillar, proclaiming the truth of God’s Word to the world. Stand faithful to the Word, stand faithful to the One who gave that Word to you. Stand faithful to your Lutheran heritage; never be ashamed to be called ‘Lutheran,’ for our Lutheran Confessions, like nothing else, proclaim Christ, the pillar on which the Church is built. You are a congregation built on Christ; do not despair, do not lose heart, this world has no claim on those who belong to Him, the gates of hell will not triumph over His Church. Do not hide behind these walls; the Church may be an embassy, an outpost, but she is called to take the kingdom of God out into the world, preaching repentance and the forgiveness of sins to a world desperately in need of both. Bring the world to your font, your altar, your pulpit, that here all people may be fed as you have been. In this place, among this congregation, Christ demonstrates God’s faithfulness, forgiving your sins, giving to you life and salvation. Take heart, you have an inheritance that is unchanging, for it is given by the God whose “faithfulness endures to all generations.” In the Name of Jesus, the Lord of the Church, who will bring her to Himself to live forever in the glories of heaven, Amen.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Proper 24 of Series C (2 Timothy 3:14-4:5)

“I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by His appearing and His kingdom: preach the Word!” Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and our Savior Jesus Christ, Amen. The text for our sermon this morning comes from the Epistle lesson read a few moments ago from the third and fourth chapters of Paul’s second letter to Saint Timothy. Dear friends in Christ, up here, on this pulpit, I have a Bible. Now, this Bible is a bit worn; the binding is coming apart, some of the maps have fallen out, a few pages are wrinkled. I bought this particular Bible a decade ago in college, when the English Standard Version was brand new, and it has accompanied me into the pulpit for every sermon I have ever preached. You open it up, and it doesn’t seem all that special. It has pages like any other book, chapter headings, and words printed on page after page. Sure, a Bible may have thinner paper, but it’s still just paper; it may have red letters, but they are still just letters, just ink. It was published just like any other book, using the same printing technology. You can go into my office and find literally hundreds of books that, while they may look different, are in essence just the same: binding, cover, pages, and words.

But there is a vast difference between this Bible and every other book in my library, in fact, every other book in all of creation. It isn’t in the binding, the cover, the paper, or the ink. It’s the Author. “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work.” The very words of the Bible are breathed out by God, they are inspired by Him. They are His Words. He caused them to be written exactly as we have them; He is the true Author behind them all. The entire Bible has its origin not in man, but in God. He used human instruments to write down His Words, just as He used paper and binding and ink to covey those words to you today, but make no mistake, He is behind it all. God is like a musician playing a mighty organ. Each of the pipes is an author, from Moses to Matthew, Ezekiel to Paul, and all the rest. The pipes make the sound, but the divine organist is the One playing. He determines the tune, He presses the keys, He tells them what to play. And together they play in harmony, belting out one tune: Jesus. Jesus is the content of the Scriptures, the only song these pipes play; the Scriptures can only be understood through Him, because the Scriptures only exist to convey His salvation. That is why we are to hold onto them.

“But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.” The Scriptures have power because God has power, the power to create faith, the power to deliver salvation itself. The Scriptures give you Jesus, and Jesus gives you salvation. He delivers from death and the devil, He forgives your sin, all through the powerful words of the Bible. No other book in all of creation can deliver salvation to us, only the book authored by God and given to us for that very purpose, to make us “wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.”

For that reason, the Scriptures are clear; they clearly give us Jesus. Many parts of Scripture are mysterious, but the message of Scripture isn’t: Jesus is your Savior from sin and death. The Scriptures are also sufficient; they tell us everything that we need to know about God. No, the Bible doesn’t tell us everything about God, it tells us everything that we need to know, that is, it tells us about Jesus and His salvation. And the Scriptures have authority, the authority of God Himself, the authority to condemn our sin according to His perfect Law, and the authority to forgive that sin through Christ’s death and resurrection. 

The Scriptures are the authority in every area of our lives: where do we turn to know what God would have us do? Not to our own thoughts and opinions, but to Scripture. The God who created all rules over all, and His will is conveyed to us in what He breathed out, what He caused to be written, the words of Scripture. Therefore, we can trust the Bible, as Paul exhorts Timothy to do. The Bible is true because its author is God, and God doesn’t lie, He doesn’t deceive. God never leads us astray. Today it is fashionable to attack the Bible, to see its accounts of a six day creation, wondrous miracles, and a resurrected Jesus as ridiculous. You’ve heard these attacks, you’ve probably even believed some of them. ‘Sure I believe in God and Christ,’ you say, ‘But I can’t believe everything that’s in the Bible.’ Repent! God doesn’t lie, and He is the author of Scripture. Who are we to set ourselves over God’s Word, to call God Himself a liar? He inspired the Scriptures; they are His Words, not man’s, and His words are to be believed.

But His Words are not only to be believed, they are to be proclaimed, they are to be preached. “I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by His appearing and His kingdom: preach the Word!” It’s wonderful and God-pleasing if we believe the Scriptures, if we hold them to be inspired by God, clear in showing us Jesus, sufficient for our salvation, authoritative in our lives, and completely true and trustworthy. We are certainly to believe all those things, but the inspired, inerrant Scriptures aren’t intended to be simply a museum piece, a relic that we admire, something that we Christians enjoy, but keep to ourselves. The Scriptures have all of those characteristics to serve one purpose: to make many “wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.” And they can only do that if they are preached.

“Preach the Word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching.” The Scriptures are to be preached in season, when the time is ripe, when the harvest is plentiful. The Scriptures are to be preached to those are desperately in need of grace, who know their sins and are sorrowful over them, who see their chains and want to be rid of them. The Scriptures are to be preached to the one struggling with addiction, to the one fighting against homosexual urges, to the one bullied, to the one without hope. Yes, they need to be told of their sin, but when they see that sin and are sorrowful over it, they need the comfort that the Scriptures give in abundance. It is a poor surgeon who points out the malady but does nothing to heal it. They need to hear of a Savior who loves them, who is desperate to wrap His arms around them, who forgives their sin and loves them despite their brokenness. You need to hear of that Savior. I need to hear of that Savior.

The Scriptures preach Jesus to you; Jesus, who takes your brokenness upon Himself, Jesus, who loves you even while you are still a sinner, Jesus, who loves you enough to point out your sin so that you are turned from it to His forgiveness. The Scriptures preach the Jesus to you who died your death in your place, the Jesus who rose from the grave to proclaim His victory over all that held you captive, even death itself. That is the Jesus you need, and it is the Jesus that the Scriptures preach, to make you “wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.”

That is the Jesus that the Church is commanded to preach, whether you or anyone else wants to hear it or not. “Preach the Word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching.” The Scriptures are to be preached out of season, when the timing isn’t perfect, when hearers refuse to listen, when they reject all that the Word says to them. The Scriptures are to be preached to rebuke the secure sinner, the one who wallows in his or her sin, refusing to hear correction. God’s Law is to be preached in all of its sternness to rebuke your sin, to make you uncomfortable, to drive you to repentance. The Scriptures are to be preached to you, whether or not you want to hear what it says.

“The time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths.” There is no shortage of preachers in the church and in the world who say what we want to hear, who affirm our sin, who make few demands, who promise great things in this world. A preacher who says what people want to hear will be adored and celebrated; his pews will be full, and his bank account bursting. We heap up these false teachers, those who scratch our itching ears, and we eat up what they have to say. We don’t want to hear our sin condemned, we don’t want to hear about the cross or suffering. We want to hear that our sins aren’t a big deal, we want to hear about living a more comfortable, prosperous life; in short, we don’t want to hear the truth, because the myth sounds so much better.

Repent. The Scriptures preach God’s truth to destroy the lie. The Scriptures preach that you are a sinner, poor and miserable, lost and condemned. Not only do you do certain sins (and each of you knows which one is your favorite), you are sinful. But that isn’t the only message of Scripture. The Scriptures preach that Christ died for you, bearing your sin to the cross. He died in your place, destroying death, and His resurrection is God’s pledge and guarantee that you will live with Him forever. Your sins, which are many, are all forgiven—each and every one of them! You have life through Christ’s redemption for your sake. You have been made “wise for salvation!”

That, dear friends in Christ, is what the Bible is all about. In many ways, this is a book like any other, composed of ink on paper, binding and a cover. But within these pages is life itself, within these pages is forgiveness; between these two covers you meet Jesus, and the encounter leaves you changed forever. No longer a sinner, but a saint. No longer condemned to death, but an inheritor of eternal life. The Bible gives you Jesus, with His power to forgive and to save; no other book can do that. In that Name of Jesus, the center and core of Scripture, the Bible’s only message, Amen.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Proper 23 of Series C (2 Timothy 2:1-13)

“Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, the offspring of David, as preached in my Gospel, for which I am suffering, bound with chains as a criminal. But the Word of God is not bound!” Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and our Savior Jesus Christ, Amen. The text for our sermon this morning come from the Epistle lesson read a few moments ago from the second chapter of Paul’s second letter to Saint Timothy. Dear friends in Christ, Paul writes the words of our text as a dying man. We know him as Saint Paul, but to the Roman authorities, he is simply Paul the prisoner, Paul the troublemaker, Paul the one condemned to die. When Ananias was sent to baptize Paul, the Lord said, “I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.” Paul has seen it, he now knows. The great apostle, the preacher of the Gospel throughout the Mediterranean world, who traveled from city to city, establishing congregations and preaching Christ, now languishes in chains. He is bound, confined, imprisoned, and this time, there is no getting out. Paul the apostle will become Paul the martyr. His companions see it, they understand, and they take offense, as he recounts to Timothy: “You are aware that all who are in Asia turned away from me.” Paul has been abandoned, left alone, in this his greatest trial, and by the end of the letter, he is literally begging Timothy to come see him. The greatest preacher in the history of the Church is bound, confined by chains he cannot break.

The man, the preacher, is bound, but is his message? Is God’s Word bound when the preacher of that Word is shackled with chains? Can God’s Word be confined by the evils of this world? People are certainly bound, bound by suffering, bound by disease, bound by sin and death. Naomi, a believer in the true God, who had heard His Word and believed, traveled to another land to escape suffering, but instead, suffering was all that she found. At the end, she had suffered the death of a husband and two sons, and the abandonment of a daughter-in-law. God’s Word didn’t spare her life from the scourge of death, it didn’t keep her from being left alone. Is God’s Word bound? It certainly seems to have no power over death. She laments: “It is exceedingly bitter to me for your sake that the hand of the Lord has gone out against me.” 

Ten lepers dwelled outside a village between Samaria and Galilee. Through no fault of their own, these men were outcasts, unclean, unable to interact with their families or with their people. Like Paul, like Naomi and Ruth, these men are alone. They are believers, that much is clear. They have heard God’s Word and have believed. But this Word seems to have no power over their disease. If they believe, why do they suffer so? Is God’s Word bound? It certainly seems to have no power over leprosy. All they can do is cry at a distance, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us.”

Is God’s Word bound? Death seems to hold it in shackles, disease has covered it in chains, suffering puts it in prison. God’s Word seems to have no power over such things, no ability to break through the chains that this world’s sin have placed around it and us. God’s Word seems bound when we gather around a deathbed, it seems bound when we hear a diagnosis of cancer or any other disease. God’s Word seems bound when we get the phone call that we all dread, bringing news of tragedy. God’s Word seems bound when we struggle with our sin, when we see clearly the looming threat of death. God’s Word seems bound when the preacher of that Word suffers in prison, awaiting the sentence of death. The world laughs at the weakness of the Word, declaring, “You want to conquer me with mere words?” The world knows of no words that can bring an end to suffering, no words that can reverse death.

And we Christians, whether we do this consciously or not, agree. God’s Word seems to have little power against this world of sin and death, and so we don’t speak it. We bind God’s Word by our silence. That was Timothy’s temptation, and it is ours even today: to doubt God’s Word, to see it as a weak, powerless proclamation. Christians are tempted to keep it from the world because we are afraid it has no power there. This is easy to do when we are faced with suffering, when we experience death, when we see the Church assaulted and persecuted, when preachers are put into jail and even killed for proclaiming that Word. The Word of God seems to have no power over such afflictions, and so in fear we keep it bound. We don’t speak it to unbelieving neighbors, to those who suffer, we keep it in shackles, but Paul will have no such thing:

“Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, the offspring of David, as preached in my Gospel, for which I am suffering, bound with chains as a criminal. But the Word of God is not bound!” Is God’s Word bound? ‘No!’ God’s Word isn’t bound when its preachers are thrown into prison, God’s Word isn’t bound when those who believe this Word suffer and even die. In the midst of Naomi and Ruth’s sufferings, as they were surrounded by death, God’s Word bore its fruit. Ruth, the Moabite woman, born among idol-worshippers, confessed boldly, “Your people shall be my people, and your God my God.” And this foreigner received salvation through faith, becoming an ancestor of Jesus Himself. The Word of God is not bound! The ten lepers lifted up their voices to Jesus, the descendent of Ruth according to the flesh, and cried out for mercy. And Jesus responded, with a Word: “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” Luke tells us, “As they went, they were cleansed.” The Word of God is not bound! It has power over even the uncleanness of leprosy, it has the power to create faith even in the hearts of foreigners: “Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice; and he fell on his face at Jesus’ feet, giving Him thanks.”

The Word of God is not bound, it sets free! It breaks chains, it is not confined by them. This world may laugh at the weakness of the Word, but it does so in foolish ignorance. Despite all its seeming weakness, it is this Word that overcomes the world. Why? Because this Word proclaims Christ. “Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, the offspring of David, as preached in my Gospel.” Jesus was raised from death to set all people free, to break the bonds of death, to destroy sin’s chains. Jesus is the Word of God; He is the proclamation that goes forth to set all people free, for He is the One, the only One, who has defeated death through His own death for our sake, who bore the sin of the world to the cross and paid the price for it there. He has conquered this world’s power, He has destroyed the tyranny of death, He has defeated all disease and suffering, and this victory is trumpeted forth by those who proclaim the Word of God. The only true end to all suffering, death and disease, is found in Christ. The Church proclaims the Word which sets free, and though the world may laugh, it may scoff at it, on the Last Day only that Word will endure, with all those whom it has claimed.

“The saying is trustworthy, for: If we have died with Him, we will also live with Him; if we endure, we will also reign with Him; if we deny Him, He also will deny us; if we are faithless, He remains faithful—for He cannot deny Himself.” Those who die with Christ will live with Him, those who endure sufferings will reign with Him. We were put to death in our baptism, drowned in those waters, with the sure and certain promise that those who die with Christ will also live with Him.  Those who have died with Him in Baptism have the sure and certain confidence that when they die with Him in faith, they will live forever in eternal glory. The opposite is also true: those who deny Him will be denied, but unbelievers can deny Him all that they want: His Word is not bound, and it overcomes the world. His victory over sin and death is true, whether you or anyone else believes it. The Word doesn’t seem like much: spoken at a bedside, proclaimed from a pulpit, joined to water, bread and wine. But it is this Word that overcomes death itself, for those who die with Jesus will live with Him.

The Word of God is not bound! Saint Paul’s suffering for the sake of the Word, his chains, were for the good of many. “Therefore, I endure everything for the elect, that they also may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory.” He was bound, but the Word was not, and through that Word, Christ would bring many to faith. The Word of God is not bound, but is freely confessed by the Church, for it is the Word that sets all people free. Paul gave this charge to Timothy, which is the charge given to the entire Church: “You then, my child, be strengthened by the grace that is in Christ Jesus, and what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others.” The Word that sets free, the Word that makes alive, has been passed from generation to generation, from pulpit to pulpit, and it has gone throughout the world to set many free from sin, free from death.  The Word of God is certainly not bound! In the name of Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, the offspring of David, preached by Paul in chains and by the Church to set all people free, Amen.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Proper 22 of Series C (2 Timothy 1:1-14)

“Fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands, for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.” Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and our Savior Jesus Christ, Amen. The text for our sermon this morning comes from the Epistle lesson read a few moments ago, from the first chapter of Paul’s second letter to Saint Timothy. Dear friends in Christ: we eagerly spring into action when a person is in physical danger, even if that person is a stranger. We stop for car accidents, we don’t walk by on the other side of the street if someone collapses; if we see a robbery or fire, we don’t ignore it, but instead we call the authorities. Some of you even do this officially as part of a volunteer fire department. Of course, this desire to help is heightened when the person threatened is a good friend or a member of our family. We drive them to the hospital, we check on them, we make sure they are getting the help that they need. If we saw even our neighbor’s cat or dog trapped or in danger, we would do our best to help. When the occasion arises, we are quick to help and protect our neighbor’s body and possessions.

But when the soul of our neighbor is threatened by unbelief and ensnaring sin, we are silent. We pass by on the other side, as if they were of less value than a cat or a dog. If they are trapped in a fire, we risk our lives to save them; if they are in danger of the fires of hell through unbelief, we do nothing. If they are in a car accident, we stop and do what we can; if they have shipwrecked their faith by falling away from the church, we do nothing. If they are sick, we bring them to the hospital; if they are sickened by falling into a sinful habit, we do nothing. Jesus gives us clear instructions on how to deal with sin in the lives of our neighbors in our Gospel lesson: “If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him.” If a stranger, much less a friend or family member, or even a cat or dog is in physical danger, we speak up, we try to help. But when our neighbor is trapped in sin, we don’t rebuke, and so we don’t give an opportunity for forgiveness.

Why don’t we speak, why don’t we act? When we see sin, why don’t we rebuke and forgive? When we see unbelief, why don’t we proclaim Christ? The answer is one word: fear. Our actions are motivated by fear, fear of what others might say, fear of what they might do. Fear paralyzes us, it keeps us from doing what is right. Fear of ridicule keeps us from calling our unbelieving neighbor to faith in Christ. Fear of driving people away from the church keeps us from calling a couple living together to repentance. Fear of losing our family keeps us from speaking to them about coming back to worship. Fear of retaliation keeps us from rebuking the gossiper. Fear drives us, it controls us, it keeps us from doing what we know is the right thing to do.

Saint Paul calls on young Timothy and on us to extinguish that fear: “I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands, for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.” Do not fear! Christ has not given you the gift of faith, along with many and various other gifts, that you should let them smolder and finally burn out through fear. Those gifts are unique to each and every one of you, and they are gifts that can be used to rebuke sin and proclaim Christ in every relationship you have, every vocation you have been placed into. Do not fear! Fan those gifts back into flame, use them for the sake of the Gospel. Do not let your faith become a dead, inactive gift, but a gift in full flame, living in service of the Kingdom of God. Live in faith, not fear!

Do not fear! Know that right thing to say and to do, and do it, regardless of the consequences that come. “God gave us a spirit not of fear, but of power and love and self-control.” Christ has not called on us to be cowards, afraid to challenge this world’s sin and unbelief. Christ has not called on us to be timid, avoiding controversy and offense at all costs. He has not given us a spirit of fear! He has given us a spirit of power: the power of the Law and the Gospel, the two words from God that convict humanity of sin and proclaim Christ’s gracious remedy, two words that change the world. He has given us a spirit of love: the love that speaks God’s Word not as a hammer, to put someone in their place, but in loving concern for our neighbor’s salvation. He has given us a spirit of self-control: the kind of self-control that exercises good judgment in determining how to speak God’s Law and Gospel to individual situations, but then acts without hesitation, doing the right thing no matter what consequences come.

Do not fear those consequences; do not fear what comes from doing what Christ has called on you to do. “Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord, nor of me His prisoner, but share in suffering for the Gospel by the power of God.” Do not be ashamed of suffering, do not fear! Yes, you will suffer for calling sinners to repentance and faith, you will suffer many of those things that you fear. But do not be ashamed, do not take offense at suffering. God has not given to you a spirit of timidity. Paul suffered the affliction of chains and eventually death for his proclamation of the Gospel. He did not abandon Christ, but instead boldly declared, “I am not ashamed, for I know in whom I have believed.” The One in whom He believed, Jesus Christ, suffered the scourge and cross for His proclamation of the Gospel. Our Lord was not ashamed of His sufferings. And if Jesus wasn’t ashamed of the cross, if Paul wasn’t ashamed of his chains, then we should not be ashamed of our sufferings in this world for His sake. Do not be ashamed of suffering—neither yours, not Paul’s, nor Christ’s—because it was through suffering that salvation came to this world, the end to all fear. Through suffering life was brought to this world, through suffering heaven and earth were reconciled, through suffering death lost its hold upon us.

Do not fear! You have the very treasures of heaven, all the gifts won by suffering and death. Do not fear! You were chosen from before the world began by the One who would take your human flesh, suffer and die for you. Your God is the One “who saved us and called us to a holy calling, not because of our works but because of His own purpose and grace, which He gave us in Christ Jesus before the ages began.” Before you did anything, before you acted in fear or in faith, before you served your neighbor in love or sinned, God called you to a holy calling. The Creator of the universe ordered all things in all of history toward your salvation. Everything He does in this world has your salvation as its goal. He elected you in Christ, in view of His cross, the fulcrum on which all history turns, the moment that defines all eternity. Do not fear! You were in the mind of God even before this world began, and He sent forth Christ to shed His blood in fulfillment of those promises, to save you from all that your enemies threaten.

It is this blood-bought salvation that Paul speaks of, “which now has been manifested through the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus, who abolished death and brought life and immorality to light through the Gospel.” Do not fear! Christ died for you, to promise you an end to all suffering, to drive away your fear. He has abolished death itself through His death, He has revealed life to the entire world. His empty tomb is the promise that your tomb will be empty one day, that you will be raised up bodily to live before Him forever. Do not fear! Death has been abolished, crushed, destroyed; it has no more power, it is an empty shell.

Do not fear anything that this world threatens you with! You have certainty that this world can do nothing to you. The reason why Paul could suffer his chains, even death, was because He held to the one who conquered death. “I am not ashamed, for I know in whom I have believed, and I am convinced that He is able to guard until that Day what has been entrusted to me.” You belong to the One who has abolished death; what can this world do to you? Jesus guards your deposit, the deposit of your faith, the treasure you have been given by His death and resurrection: forgiveness, life, and salvation. You cannot guard this deposit of faith on your own, as Paul reminds Timothy: “By the Holy Spirit who dwells within us, guard the good deposit entrusted to you.” Hold onto the faith which has been given to you, but only through the power of the Holy Spirit, who dwells within you. Do not fear! Your certainty is not in yourself, but only in Christ. Because the Triune God guards your deposit, the world cannot take it, no one else can have it, no matter what suffering they inflict upon you. Do not fear! The world cannot touch the deposit given to you, and on the Last Day, the world will pass away, with all sin, and that deposit, kept safe by Christ, will be opened in glory everlasting.

Therefore we live our lives motivated by faith, not fear. In our Old Testament lesson, Habakkuk utters some of the most important words in all of Scripture: “The righteous shall live by His faith.” Those made righteous by the blood of Christ live by faith, faith in the promised redemption, faith in the defeat of death, faith that gives us boldness and confidence as we live out our lives in this world of sin. In faith, we speak when we are called on to speak, condemning sin and proclaiming Christ. In faith, we spring into action when our loved ones, or even a stranger, is threatened by the assaults of Satan, speaking to others the words that brought us salvation. By faith we know that we need not fear the consequences of speaking the truth of God’s word, for Christ has given us victory even over death, and He Himself guards that deposit. No one in this world can take away our salvation. By faith, we are not ashamed of suffering, for it was through suffering that we were given the victory over sin, death, and the power of the devil. The righteous, the baptized, live only by faith, and this faith gives us boldness and confidence in a world that wants us to fear. Only through faith can we confess with Saint Paul: “I am not ashamed, for I know in whom I have believed, and I am convinced that He is able to guard until that Day what has been entrusted to me.” In the name of Jesus, who has destroyed fear by abolishing death and bringing life and immortality to light, Amen.