[Note: This sermon was preached in Chapel at the International Center Tuesday, Oct. 22, 2013, by Rev. Steven Schave, Associate Executive Director of the Office of International Mission – An excellent example of a sermon that spoke stinging law and comforting Gospel to me – Herbert Mueller, First VP.]
Text: Genesis 1:1-2:3
And God said it was good. And God said: it-was-good. Not sorta good, not kinda good, but when God saw His creation with its crown jewel of humanity… He said it was good, through and through. We had it all, paradise; well cared for, in want for nothing. Sickness, what is that? Pain, wow, sounds awful! I hope that never happens to me. Death, that would be a completely unnatural part of God’s creation. Loneliness, no way, God wouldn’t allow it, only perfect communion with Him and a soul mate to be united to for eternity. Perfect love, perfect joy, and perfect peace…just plain perfect, we didn’t know anything else.
But it wasn’t enough: surely God is holding out on us. Give us an orchard, and if there is one tree that God says stay clear of, it will seem the sweetest. And after all, let’s not kid ourselves, we weren’t so concerned with being like God in some holy sense, we want to be God and have our every desire. No, when the crafty serpent comes on to the scene, it doesn’t take a whole lot of convincing before the juices of forbidden fruit are dripping from our sin stained lips. And so covered only in our guilt and shame, with our tails between our legs, we find ourselves evicted from a paradise lost. All of creation now corrupted by our rebellion and disobedience and death will begin its reign. The tree of life in the garden – forever in the rear view mirror.
But that was so long ago. Now we say, “life stinks and then you die.” We don’t even bother with “did God really say?” anymore, because our tingling ears tuned out the voice of God long ago. It’s about creating our own paradise now. We build our towers to reach the heavens, we fashion together our golden calves to worship, we feverishly reduce, reuse, recycle and plant our gardens to try to recreate a paradise lost. We mask the pain, we turn our face from truly looking at death, we try to clothe ourselves in our own righteousness and justify our disobedience. But it is all a fleeting breath; because in the end we must still weep at the grave of a murdered son, the soil is still infested with thorns, the labor of bearing a child remains, and the flaming swords of God’s justice still bar the door to the tree of life in an Eden that is but a ghost town.
And so it is that poor miserable sinners fall to their knees on this very day and must confess that we are by nature sinful and unclean…we sinners have no business in a holy place in the presence of God, ashes to ashes and dust to dust of a fallen world. And yet God, God who is faithful and just, still loves His creation. Never doubt that in all of creation, of heavens and earth, you are the crown jewel, you are the apple of His eye. For the creator becomes a creature to redeem his creation and to make it good. And so when Christ puts himself into the Jordan and the Spirit is hovering over the water, God says it is good. When Christ fulfills the Law on your behalf and conquers your every temptation from the serpent, God says it is good. When Christ bears your sins in His own flesh, the seed of the offspring crushing the head of the serpent by being obedient to the Father, even unto death: God the Father says, “IT-IS-GOOD!”
And so when you doubt your worth, when you doubt God’s love for you, when you are convinced that your passport will never be stamped for Eden…you will look to the perfect sacrifice made on your behalf, hanging from this wretched tree planted in the barren soil of Golgotha, and you will hear those words from the very voice of God who says, yes my child, it is good – it is your tree of life! Come and eat from the fruit of this tree and drink it’s wine: filled with forgiveness, life and salvation. Put the bread on your tongue and the chalice to your lips made holy, for it is good. Come and be cleansed in this river of life that flows from a riven side and be made a new creation, for God looks upon you remade in the image of His Son, clothed in His righteousness, and says, “IT-IS-GOOD!”
So make no mistake you sons of Adam and you daughters of Eve, the new Adam has come to conquer death; and to bring you forgiveness, salvation, and eternal life. The tomb has burst forth, the trumpets declare that that victory is won, and God says, “IT-IS-GOOD!” The seed of the woman is but the first fruit of those raised from the dead. For from your rest in the tomb, you too, dear child of God, will be awakened. From out of your slumber, the angel will come to show you the waters of the river of life; bright as a crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb. And beside the river you will see the tree of life, with fruit that gives life and leaves that bring healing to the nations. No curse here, only the throne of God and the Lamb to be worshiped. And all those who have His name upon their foreheads will see His face, and live in His light, where He reigns forever. And so the day is coming soon, when we will dwell in this new paradise, this new creation, this Eden restored. And until then the bride will wait in great anticipation for her bridegroom who says He is coming soon. And we will call out day and night, Amen, Come Lord Jesus! Come Lord Jesus, for “IT-IS-GOOD!”
In Jesus name, Amen.
From 21-25 October 2013, the Luther Academy held continuing education for pastors from six Latin American countries: Colombia, Dominican Republic, Guatemala, Nicaragua, Panama, Venezuela. This was the first time the Nicaraguan Lutheran Church attended a Luther Academy conference. They would like to host two Luther Academy conferences in Nicaragua over the coming year. The Nicaraguan Lutheran Church is a mission of the Lutheran Church Canada (LCC).
Dr. David Scaer, Professor at Concordia Theological Seminary in Fort Wayne, lectured on “Law and Gospel.” Rev. Roberto Bustamante, New Testament Professor at Concordia Seminary Buenos Aires Argentina, lectured on “Confessional Lutheran Identity.”
A subgroup of the Luther Academy conference met to discuss theological education in Latin America. The churches represented discussed the unique challenges of theological education and the specific needs of Latin American Churches.
Location:La Antigua Guatemala,Guatemala
The Malagasy Lutheran Church (FLM — Fiangonana Loterana Malagasy) is remarkably similar to the Missouri Synod (LCMS) and at the same time different. The Malagasy Lutheran Church originates in the mission work done by the Norwegian Mission Society (NMS) begun in 1866 (The Malagasy Lutheran Church is only about 20 years younger than the Missouri Synod.) The Norwegian mission work began a couple of years after Queen Ranavalona I, a great persecutor of Christians, died in 1863. Her son, King Radama II, opened the door to more mission work. The northern part of Madagascar became Protestant under the influence of the London Mission Society (LMS), while the southern part of Madagascar became predominately Lutheran. Roman Catholicism made inroads into Madagascar by the French, who eventually succeeded in colonizing Madagascar in 1895, some 253 years after the first Frenchman landed in Madagascar in 1642.
Many of the Norwegian missionaries died within two years of arriving in Madagascar due to malaria and other tropical fevers. The cemetery above is from the first Lutheran church established in Antananarivo in 1871. Buried there are Lutheran missionaries from South Africa. In many cases, the church has become risk averse focusing on relatively risk free mission endeavors, while forgetting the sacrifices that the saints and martyrs of the church made to bring the Gospel to the nations.
The church in Antananarivo was established near the place Queen Ranavalona I executed so many Christian. The king of Madagascar desired a Lutheran church be established so that he could keep a better eye on them — to ensure that the Lutherans were not promoting foreign political ideas that might threaten his reign. Today this congregation (“The Rock”) has at least 3,000 people in worship on Sunday. Many of the city parishes of the Malagasy Lutheran Church worship between 3,000 and 10,000 people on any given Sunday.
Pictured above is a new congregation built within the past couple of years in Antsirabe. The sanctuary seats about 3,000. Total worshipped number right around 9,000 on a Sunday. Attendance numbering in the thousands is virtually unheard of in America and Europe.
The Malagasy Lutheran Church uses a hymnal for Sunday worship. The liturgy is very similar to what is found in the Lutheran Service Book. A good portion of their hymnody is the same as found in the Missouri Synod’s hymnal — translations of German and Scandinavian hymns. There also are a number of original Malagasy hymns that are Christ-centered. Some of their hymns are based on their unique context, for instance that a number of the Malagasy have engaged in ancestor worship:
1. “O children who are gone astray, come back!” Your Father calls you; We will respond freely without any constraint. “Here we are. We confess that we are not good, and we are wounded by the enemy; Heal us because our way of living is corrupted.”
2. “Oh, we have sinned and deserved to die and to be condemned forever! Our ancestors have worshiped the dead and we have followed them. O Father look at us and save us so that we may become Your children. We, who now now down our head before You.”
3. “I will heal your going astray O my children! I will not also make my face sad for you.” That what we want to hear in our heart is that You are our Father who comforts Your people.”
The Malagasy Lutheran Church is one of the fastest growing Lutheran Churches in the world. More than one new congregation opens each week, most of these new congregations quickly are worshipping in the thousands. Yet they use the liturgy and the hymnal. This demonstrates that the traditional liturgy and hymns can be used in a rapidly growing church and is not a deterrent to church attendance.
The church also has radio stations around the country. The Lutheran radio station in Antananarivo is one of the most popular in the city. They would like to partner with KFUO to exchange programs and resources.
Seventeen of twenty-one Malagasy Lutheran Church bishops met with Drs. Collver and Quill to develop closer relations between their church and the Missouri Synod this past week. The Malagasy Lutheran Church desires that the Missouri Synod assist in areas such as theological education and mercy projects. The church does not ordain woman and is vociferously opposed to the sexuality decisions made by the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America (ELCA) and the Church of Sweden (CoS).
There is much that the Missouri Synod could learn from the Malagasy Lutheran Church. Some Malagasy Lutheran pastors even said they could teach the Missouri Synod how to revitalize their congregations.
As the Malagasy Lutheran Church approaches 4 million members in one of the poorest countries of the world (the average Malagasy lives on $2 a day), we see a vibrant church that faces many challenges. Both the Missouri Synod and Malagasy Lutheran Church have much to offer each other. May The Lord bless this growing relationship.
- Posted by Rev. Dr. Albert Collver on 19 October 2013 using BlogPress from my iPhone
“The seven Christians stood together in the bright sunlight, bound with strong ropes, singing a hymn to their foreign Saviour as the spearmen advanced. Around them a crowd of jostling men, women and children, more than 60,000 strong and dressed in togas of various hues, yelled and jeered at the forlorn expression of faith by the condemned. Hucksters moved through the crowd, calling out their wares, selling snacks and drinks for the entertainment, and noting too a distinct sense of disappointment in their customers. The mob was angry. They felt cheated: they had come to enjoy the destruction of the hated sect, to see its adherents run screaming and panic-stricken from the spears, not watch them taking their slaughter meekly like so many placid sheep. There was little entertainment.
It had been the same just moments before, when a score of the Christians had been burned alive, the same calm acceptance of their fate, the same hateful hymn singing. Nevertheless, they cheered enthusiastically as the spears were driven home and, one by one, the men and women fell and writhed on the sandy ground, their hymn fading slowly into silence, replaced by the groans and shrieks of the dying. Above the still-squirming bodies, on a ridge, a score of crosses stood in mute witness, carrying their ghastly burdens, some of whom still lived despite the day and a half they had hung upon the wood. The stench of the charnel house pervaded the natural amphitheater where the grotesque show was taking place, and the baying, blood drunk crowd, the massed ranks of soldiery and the crucifixions, silhouetted along the skyline, gave the unmistakable impression of Rome at its worst.”
So suffered the first Christians in Madagascar — about 150 years ago. In 1866, the Norwegians arrived and planted the first Lutheran church in Antsirabe (230km south of Antananarivo). The first Lutheran church was planted in Antananarivo (pictured above — no far from where the Christians were martyred) in 1871.
- Posted by Rev. Dr. Albert Collver on 18 October 2013 using BlogPress from my iPhone
The blind boy pictured above is working on arithmetic. The girl in the lower corner when asked the question, “When asked who is Jesus?” She answered, “Jesus is the Son of God.” The school makes a point of teaching the Small Catechism to the children.
One problem the Antsirabe Blind School is the lack of resources. Formerly the school was supported by the Norwegians, but recently the Norwegian government cut the aid to the school because it teaches Christianity. If the school agrees to stop reaching religion, they could continue to receive aid. Pictured above is maize, which is the food eaten by the poorest of the poor in Madagascar. The children are frequently hungry.
Both Drs. Collver and Quill were moved by seeing the children at the blind school. It was wonderful to see the Malagasy Lutheran Church engaged in caring for children in need. The greatest gift the blind school provides is not the life skills but faith in Jesus!
- Posted by Rev. Dr. Albert Collver on 17 October 2013 using BlogPress from my iPhone