Posts tagged Preaching
The following was preached by the Rev. Dr. Raymond Hartwig, secretary of Synod, on Monday, Feb. 23, 2015, at the LCMS International Center. The text for the day was Heb. 4:14-16.
On this day on the Church calendar, we remember the Early Church father Polycarp, bishop of Smyrna.
Polycarp lived during the first and second centuries after Christ. He may have had, in his younger years, opportunity to spend time with John, the last surviving apostle; he may actually have been a disciple of John and he may have been ordained bishop of Smyrna by none other than John. In any case, he lived to an old age as the bishop of Smyrna, the location of one of the congregations of Asia Minor addressed by Jesus in the Book of the Revelation of St. John, chapter 3. Jesus had this to say to the congregation at Smyrna:
I know thy works, and tribulation, and poverty (but thou art rich) and I know the blasphemy of them which say they are Jews, and are not, but are the synagogue of Satan. Fear none of those things which thou shalt suffer: behold the devil shall cast some of you into prison, that you may be tried; and you shall have tribulation ten days: be thou faithful unto death, and I will give you a crown of life.
The congregation at Smyrna did suffer, and so did Polycarp, culminating in him being burned at the stake for not offering incense to the Roman emperor. He is recorded as saying — on the day of his martyrdom — when asked to deny Jesus Christ:
“Eighty and six years I have served Him, and He has done me no wrong. How then can I blaspheme my King and Savior? Bring forth what thou wilt.”
And then there is one other thing: History and tradition also suggest that he may have been involved with assembling the books of the New Testament, one of which is the Book of Hebrews, the source of our text for this morning, the second of our subjects to consider together.
This brings us to our text for our meditation this morning: Heb. 4:14–16.
Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.
Could it be that Polycarp was familiar with this text? If so:
- He certainly would have appreciated its imagery more than we. “Since then we havea great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God” (Heb. 4:14a). Even as the high priest in Old Testament times killed the bullock and the goat and delivered their blood through the veil into the Holy of Holies to sprinkle it on the mercy seat to remove the sins of the whole people, so Jesus, the great High Priest, delivered His blood, passing through the heavens to deliver the forgiveness of sins for all people. Polycarp could certainly have said, “How then can I blaspheme my King and Savior?”
- He certainly also would have appreciated, especially when tempted on the day of his martyrdom to deny Christ, the words of verse 15: “For we do not have a high priestwho is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.” Polycarp was in good company, in company with his Savior and His Savior’s far greater sufferings. He could certainly have said, “Eighty and six years I have served Him, and He has done me no wrong.”
- And he certainly would have found courage in the words of vv. 14b and 16: “Let us hold fast our confession. . . . Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” Polycarp found that “grace to help in time of need” and the courage to say, “Bring forth what thou wilt.”
That leaves us to consider the importance of this text also for our day.
Ordinarily texts like this, especially from the Book of Hebrews, might strike us as rather obtuse, not commanding our interest. But in the context of this day on the church calendar and the things going on in the world in which we live, we may see otherwise. Here in this text, first of all, is the heart and core of our Christian faith — that Jesus has become one of us:
- to face temptations to sin that we often cannot withstand;
- to suffer far more severely than we ever will;
- to shed and then deliver to His Father in heaven the only blood that could suffice for our forgiveness of our sins.
Already in its first verses there is plenty in this text to cause us to sit up and take notice.
But it is also the encouragements to “hold fast our profession,” to “come boldly” and “find grace to help in time of need” that are taking on greater urgency and significance now every day. How rapidly things are changing for us as the bright conditions that we have been privileged to enjoy most of our lives begins to grow dim. In my childhood, the words “let us hold fast our profession” predominantly meant, “Beware of what they teach in that church down the street from our parochial school.” Or it meant, “Keep the faith while diving under our school desks for the latest nuclear bomb drill.” Now we are beginning to recognize that possibilities for personal suffering we once thought preposterous are no longer so; that we, too, might have to “find grace to help in time of need” because our Christian way of life and faith or even our lives might at some point be direly threatened.
I expect I will never get out of my mind the recent picture of the 21 Coptic Christians, young men dressed in orange, waiting to be martyred on the seashore. I felt I owed it to them, my brothers in Christ, to watch the video disseminated by their executors. I was disgusted, of course, but more so I was amazed — at their calm demeanor as they kneeled with knives at their throats and at the last word on their lips: the name of Jesus. I wondered how they could do that. But they, like Polycarp, had the encouragement of God’s Word. And they clearly had the last word: the name of Jesus clearly the last word on their lips. They are the best commentary of our text this morning: “Let us hold fast our confession,” to which the only thing more for us to say is, “Amen.”
In the upper room on Easter evening, when Christ told the disciples to wait in Jerusalem until God had “clothed them with power from on high,” Jesus also “opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, and said to them, ‘Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be preached in His name to all nations…’” (Luke 24:45-47).
In the same vein, Paul wrote to the Corinthians, “For what I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, 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 Corinthians 15:3-4).
The core of apostolic ministry and the mission of Christ’s Church is the preaching of repentance and forgiveness of sins in Jesus’ name.
The matter of first importance is the delivery to others of what we have received – Christ’s death and resurrection for us.
One of the basic questions I ask of any sermon, especially my own, is this: “Does the preacher deliver the goods?” In other words, what is the real goal of the sermon? Did it clearly deliver what God promises? Or simply talk about the Gospel?
I believe that whatever the goal of the sermon or lesson, whether it is a “faith goal” (that the hearers/learners might grow in faith in Christ) or a life goal (that the hearers might grow in living the Christian life), nothing good will happen unless you truly “deliver the goods.” What do I mean?
The Gospel is more than happy talk about Jesus and God. The Gospel is preaching and teaching that actually brings forgiveness of sins, life and salvation in Jesus’ name. It is the death and resurrection of Jesus personally applied to dying sinners.
Where the Law has exposed the cuts and wounds from living in a sinful world, “delivering the goods” means applying the healing medicine of forgiveness in a personal way: “Your sin is forgiven!” Indeed, when the Law has killed us by exposing the fact that sin and its brokenness are not only “out there” but also “in here” – in my heart, my life, my being – “delivering the goods” means bringing to dead ones the living Word of the God who raises the dead. Jesus is alive! In water, in Word, in Body and Blood, He makes you and me alive.
You and I are called to speak the Word of Christ, and His Word does what it says. “Peace be with you!” said Jesus (John 20:19), and His Word actually brings peace. “Because I live you will live also” (John 14:19b), Jesus told His disciples. And His promise brings what it says – life! When you have prepared to preach or teach – go back, look it all over and ask, “how do these words bring life, the life of Christ, to those who will hear?”
Just think of it! You and I have the privilege of actually delivering God’s life-giving promises to people when they need it most. You are the delivery person in your pulpit, your classroom, your vocation, wherever God takes you. Let every word then serve this goal – to bring life, to “deliver the goods!”
LCMS First Vice President
…And looking upon Jesus as he walked, he saith, Behold the Lamb of God! Jn. 1:36
Other prophets have also foretold how Christ would come and how He would free the world from sins. But neither Isaiah nor Jeremiah would have been able to say: This is the one whom you must accept. John is the only one whose voice was the first to announce Christ and whose fingers pointed to the person where the forgiveness of sins is actually to be found. No human being had ever had or seen fingers like those of John, with which he pointed to the Lamb of God. Therefore, when we are oppressed by sin, or terrified by the Devil or by Death, what we need to do is to look at the mouth and fingers of the preacher, who will give us the correct teaching and show us how to come to the forgiveness of our sins and how to make our peace with God. This is the joy that the whole world, not just Elizabeth and Zechariah, should have in John.
Martin Luther in Luther’s Breviary: A Meditation for Each Day of the Year (Wartburg Verlag 2007), p. 192
Here’s a brief sermon preached by Rev. Dan Torkelson this week past. Marvelous. MH
HOMILY SWD Pastors Conf.
Acts 2:14a,36-41 Appleton, WI
“Preach YOU The Word” May 11, 2011
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. AMEN.
Dear brothers in the ministry and those gathered here at this conference who love them,
I struggle. (pause)
Yes, brothers, I struggle. I struggle because I see what Peter is doing. I get it. I understand. Peter is “preaching you the Word” and what’s more is that he’s “planting it home.” He’s pushing the seeds of Law and Gospel deep into the soil of the hearts of those listening…and he’s punctuating it with the homiletical 2nd person plural. You. Or if Peter was from down south, Y’all.
But make no mistake about it, he’s preaching you the Word and he’s not letting you off the hook.
And this is why I struggle. He’s not letting me off the hook either. This One whom God has made both Lord and Christ, He’s the One YOU crucified.
I struggle to do the same thing, week in and week out. To preach to all the yous out there. But the inclination is to soften the blow. We crucified Him. Somehow, the mutualizing of the Law, we reckon, sounds better to the ears of those in the pew. After all, who are we to punctuate our sermons with yous? Aren’t we pastors sinners too? Isn’t it equally true that we all are guilty of the Son of God’s blood?
It’s almost as if the prophet Nathan had said to David: “We are the men!” Surely Nathan’s eyes had wandered. Surely he had sinned. But that wasn’t the point. Nathan was God’s man at that point and it wasn’t Nathan’s sins that were the main concern. Nathan’s 2nd person singular You was absolutely necessary. David had sinned and this dilly of a sin had called into question his own faith in the promise of a Messiah. Does the forebear of the Messiah behave like this? YOU, Nathan proclaimed at the risk of his own life. No mutualizing, no sympathizing, no reducing. YOU are the man. The one who sinned. The one who besmirched the family name of the Son of God Himself.
And so I struggle. Because I am tasked today to preach this Law to you.
Twice Peter told the crowd, “YOU crucified the Son of God.” What’s funny is that our text ends with 3000 people being baptized! In Waukesha county we have a growing number of non-denominational mega churches which I am quite sure are not preaching the way Peter preaches. They pull in big numbers, but with not quite the same message. And this is why I struggle. I don’t think they are preaching the accusing YOU to all the Yous in the pews. By all rights, I have no reason to think that if I preach like Peter I will have such success. I’m still looking for the sermon which leads me to baptize 3000. And surely I must be crazy to think I’m going to get it by preaching that all those yous had crucified Christ.
Brothers, you hold this same office. Christ has called you, sinners that you are, to broadcast His message, to publish the fact that all the yous to whom you preach are guilty, guilty of crucifying Christ.
The irony here is that you are just as guilty. You are guilty, brother. You are guilty, John. You are guilty, Matt. You are guilty, Dan. You crucified Him. Your sins nailed Him to His tree.
Whatever shall we do? What have we done? How can we go on? Should we struggle through and just preach it anyway, not paying attention to the tremendous credibility problem we have? Should we just live with the feeling at the bottom of our stomachs that we are hypocrites, preaching the damning YOU, knowing full well that we are guilty too?
No. YOU hold this same office and it should not be limited by YOU at all. Indeed, the accusing YOU may be true, but the forgiving YOU is also true. The promise is for YOU and your children. Did you hear that? It is for YOU. It’s a gift for y’all, because it’s marked off as FOR YOU.
We may fear the damning, accusing YOU. We may fail to hold this office firmly and preach it. But ask yourself, which sounds better to you? Christ forgives us? Or Christ forgives you? And which do you think makes a better impression on the YOUs of your congregations? The Law which accuses YOU makes the Gospel which saves YOU so much sweeter. Don’t confuse the 1st and 2nd persons. This isn’t about US or WE. It’s about YOU AND Y’ALL. The Gospel never sounded sweeter than when it’s preached to YOU, or shall I say, FOR YOU precisely because the Law was preached TO YOU. Indeed, AT YOU.
Brothers, you are guilty. Yet for the sake of Him who died, who received God’s accusing YOU, you are declared not guilty. God’s accusing YOU was spoken to Him and the blood required to repay was shed. That blood is FOR YOU. Though your sins be as scarlet, they are white as snow. Christ’s Baptism is FOR YOU. His Body and Blood are FOR YOU. God’s promise to save is FOR YOU, the same YOUs who crucified Him in YOUR sins. Brothers, repent and be saved, all of YOU. In repentance, YOU are made clean again by Christ. Repentance is all about YOU, YOU accused by God’s righteous Law; YOU saved by God’s amazing grace for sinners.
Peter might have looked on his life to that point, all the gaffes, the denials, the contradictions, and he never would have gotten to the YOUs of the Christian message. This message is all about YOU, condemned by the Law, and YOU, saved by the sweet, sweet Gospel.
Brothers, YOU hold this office, this shepherding, guiding office. And I would submit that you have not really preached to the sheep until you have preached to the YOUS. ☺
Brothers, the promise is for you and your children and all the YOUs to whom you preach. God strengthen you to preach to the YOUs as ones set free by the Gospel for YOU. AMEN.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. AMEN.