Monday, August 11, 2014

Proper 14 of Series A (Romans 10:5-17)

“So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the Word of Christ.” 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 tenth chapter of Paul’s letter to the Church of God in Rome. Dear friends in Christ: Do you trust God’s Word? Do you actually believe what it says to you? This is a much different question than, ‘Do you believe the Bible is true?’ I don’t care today about historical evidence, creation vs. evolution, archeology, and all that. You can believe that the Bible is absolutely, one hundred percent true and still not trust God’s Word. Do you trust God’s Word? Is God’s Word enough for you? God’s Word says some pretty amazing things to you, some of them it said to you here today. God’s Word says, “I forgive you all your sins in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” God’s Word says, “Behold, I am coming soon.” God’s Word says, “This is my Body; this is my Blood.” God’s Word says, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die.” God’s Word says, “I baptize you into the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” God’s Word says all these things and more, in the pages of the Bible, from this pulpit, altar, and font—do you trust that Word? Is God’s Word enough for you?

Probably not. God’s Word is rarely enough for us; we want more than words, more than promises we can’t see. Words are never enough, we desire works, we desire miracles, we desire signs. Why else would life-long Lutherans, who have been hearing of the free forgiveness of their sins every single week for decades, come to their deathbeds wondering, ‘Have I done enough’? Why else would we snatch up the latest best-seller, looking for a vision, a personal testimony to tell us that the things we hear in God’s Word are actually true? Why else do we work ourselves into a flurry of anxiety and worry, struggling with doubt? We don’t trust God’s Word; we certainly don’t think that it’s enough; something more must be added.

We think that words are abstract and fleeting; when it comes to human speech, we’ve certainly seen the deceptiveness of words. What we trust is the tangible, what we can see and touch. Words just float out there, works we can grab onto, we can measure. Our trust is then not in the words of Absolution, “I forgive you all your sins in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,” but instead in what we have done, “Tell me I’ve lived a good life.” We want to contribute to our own salvation, we want to build a ladder that reaches up to God. We don’t trust the Word that speaks of God coming to us; we try and try to get to Him. Paul says, ‘fine, go ahead, take that path if you want.’ “Moses writes about the righteousness that is based on the Law, that the person who does the commandments shall live by them.” If you don’t want to trust the Word, if the Word isn’t enough for you, then take the path of works. Just know that the Law is never satisfied, and only the one who does the commandments—all of them—will live by them.

Do you trust God’s Word? Is His Word really enough for you? Or do you need something more? Do you need miracles, signs, visions from others, or is the testimony of God’s Word enough? We want to ascend to heaven, to see if it’s really there; or at least we want someone else to, and then tell us about it. We flock to hear about these visions and experiences because the words of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ just aren’t enough. We ask for miracles, signs, something tangible to confirm the Word, to show us that it is actually true. It isn’t enough that God’s Word tells us about angels; we have to see them. We make deals with God, challenging Him to prove His existence by intervening miraculously in our lives. This is little different than trusting in our obedience; we want God to show us something, something tangible, something seen, something we can hold.

Do you trust God’s Word? Is His Word really enough for you? Certainly not. “The righteousness based on faith says, ‘Do not say in your heart, “Who will ascend into heaven?” (that is, to bring Christ down) or “Who will descend into the abyss?” (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead).’” The person who doesn’t trust the Word, who doesn’t find its promises to be enough, will never be satisfied. You will never be satisfied with your obedience because the Law is never satisfied with it; you will never do enough to outweigh your sin. You will never be content with miracles, with signs; once you start, you can’t stop, you’re always searching for the next ‘high.’ You will be constantly looking for someone new to ascend into heaven or descend into the abyss. The one who is not satisfied with the Word will not be satisfied with anything, no matter how much obedience they pile up, no matter how many signs they see.

The righteousness based on the Law always wants more; more obedience, more signs, more visions, more miracles. The righteousness based on the Law asks for what is impossible. Who will ascend into heaven to bring Christ down? No one can do it. Many have claimed to have seen heaven, including a few prophets and Saint Paul himself, but none of them came back with Jesus. Only God brought Jesus out of heaven and into our world, and He did that great sign and wonder in the womb of a Jewish girl two thousand years ago. Who will descend into the abyss to bring Christ up? No one can do it. Many have claimed to travel from the grave back to the land of the living, including Lazarus and Dorcas, but none of them came back with Jesus. Only God brought Jesus out of the grave and back into our world, and He did that great sign and wonder in a Jerusalem tomb two thousand years ago.

God did what we could not do. Our works could not bring us to Him, because His perfect and holy Law is never satisfied by the miserable, sin-stained deeds of fallen humans. Visions and miracles couldn’t save us; even if we know that heaven is real, we still don’t know how to get there. We couldn’t bring God down to us, but God could, and He did; we couldn’t bring anyone back from the grave, but God could, and He did. He sent us Jesus, who lived, died, and rose again to do what the Law could never do, to bring us back to our God. “The person who does the commandments shall live by them,” the Law says. Jesus did the commandments, but He still died under them, for He died in your place; His perfect life in the place of those who could never do enough; His death paying your penalty.

Christ doesn’t just tell us that heaven is real, He opens the way for us, and He takes us through it. How? Through His Word. Salvation was won centuries ago in a place far away; it can only come to you by the message proclaimed by the apostles, Christ’s Word, clung to by the faith of the heart, the confession of the lips. “If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.” It is not up to us to run ourselves ragged trying to pile up obedience, it is not up to us to search the world for signs, visions, and miracles. The righteousness based on faith doesn’t attempt to climb to heaven, instead, it says, “The Word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart (that is, the Word of faith that we proclaim).” Trust in works keeps us far from God, it will only bring shame on the Last Day, for we can never do enough to satisfy the Law. But you will not be put to shame, for Christ has done it all for you, and He has delivered that salvation to you through the Word.

That is the great work that God does through His Word, and only through His Word: He creates faith, faith which clings to Christ, faith which calls on Him in trouble. Who do you call upon when you sin, when you are confronted with death? You call upon Christ in faith, the faith that God has worked within you through His Word; His Word read, His Word preached, His Word attached to water, His Word attached to bread and wine. Do you want something tangible? Look at the living, breathing human being God has sent to preach to you, to absolve your sins. Feel the real, wet water that was poured over your head. Touch and taste the bread and wine which are His Body and Blood. God’s Word is more real than anything in this world, because His Word gives you Jesus.

Do you trust that Word? Is that Word enough for you? By faith, the very faith worked by that same Word, the answer is yes. God’s Word is enough because it gives you everything you need, now and for eternity: forgiveness, life, salvation. You don’t need to pile up obedience to impress God, living under the never-satisfied burden of the Law; Christ has fulfilled the Law, He has done it all for you. You do not need to search this earth for proofs that Christ’s promises are true; He gives you the assurance that heaven is real and that it’s your destination through the forgiveness of sins by the Word that is brought near to you. That is why God established the preaching office, to proclaim to sinners that Word which brings you Jesus.

“But how are they to call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in Him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!’” How beautiful indeed, not because of who they are, but because of the Word they bear. Jesus gives you His Word to assure you, to comfort you in distress, and it is enough, because through the Word you are given everything. Your sins are forgiven, heaven is unlocked, the victory is yours! Jesus died for you, Jesus rose for you, Jesus lives for you! On the Last Day, you will not be put to shame, for your Lord has taken away all your shame and covered you with Himself. The Word is near you, to comfort you, to assure you, to bring you Jesus during your pilgrimage through this world of sin. “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the Word of Christ.” In the Name of Jesus, who gives us His Word, the Word which gives us everything, Amen.

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