Sermon, Augsburg Confession Day
AC V and Isaiah 55:10-11
6 Seek the Lord while he may be found; call on him while he is near. 7 Let the wicked forsake their ways and the unrighteous their thoughts. Let them turn to the Lord, and he will have mercy on them, and to our God, for he will freely pardon.
8 ‘For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,’ declares the Lord. 9 ‘As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts. 10 As the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return to it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish, so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater, 11 so is my word that goes out from my mouth: it will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.
Augsburg Confession, Part V: The Office of the Ministry
1 To obtain such faith God instituted the office of the ministry, that is, provided the Gospel and the sacraments.
2 Through these, as through means, he gives the Holy Spirit, who works faith, when and where he pleases, in those who hear the Gospel.
3 And the Gospel teaches that we have a gracious God, not by our own merits but by the merit of Christ, when we believe this.
4 Condemned are the Anabaptists and others who teach that the Holy Spirit comes to us through our own preparations, thoughts, and works without the external word of the Gospel.
Sometimes something needs to be said about what you believe. You find yourself in situations where you just know that people are either looking to you as the nearest representative of the Christian Faith to say something on an issue or about how God sees things, or, you feel in your conscience that you need to offer a word of truth into a conversation.
I suspect you might get this kind of invitation now and again. You just sort of get to fill in a pregnant pause in the conversation or you just get a direct question from a person about ‘God kind’ of things. That is the moment on offer from the Holy Spirit to speak God’s words of hope and truth so that his Word can do its work and never return to him empty, as Isaiah says.
Problem is we seem to break out in a sweat, get very nervous, and try and switch the subject as quickly as possible! Why so?
I guess that is because we know from the word, history and from experience that saying something about God and who he is an how he works can cost us – friends, family members, colleagues, status, even livelihood and maybe in extreme situations – our life.
As a result of this fear of saying something when needed, someone suggested that
“In the midst of a generation screaming for answers, Christians are stuttering” (Howard Henricks).
The deeper issue is lack of faith. We struggle to believe Isaiah – that when God speaks, things happen. God’s word is like the rain. It falls to the ground and life grows. It does not return to the sky before achieving the purposes for which it fell.
We struggle with that. I think we believe that we have to get it all right or never get anything wrong or that we have to be some bible expert to be able to be the rain of peace for a thirsty hearted person.
I have learnt that I don’t need to be an expert in anything much when it comes to saying something about faith and God and hope when the moment allows.
I have learnt that whatever I can say is a Holy Spirit moment. He is always at work in people and I get to join in with what He is already doing. The pressure on me is off me, and the joy is joining in with him in the moment.
I have learnt that there are two things that help me more freely take the opportunity the Spirit often gives to say something when needed and appropriate;
Hope I have: I speak of the hope that is in me as a result of the relationship I have with Jesus
I speak of what I know, not what I don’t: I speak what I remember of Jesus’ words – his actions, his stories, his parables, his sayings.
I don’t need to be scared of getting it wrong or failing at being some bible expert.
I do need to simply trust Isaiah when he says that God’s word does what it says and I get to be the mouth through which he speaks that word and does his things in a person and in me.
So, I speak of my hope, as Peter says;
Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect…. (1 Peter 3:15)
And I speak of what the Spirit has already planted in me – those parables, those sayings, those actions, those stories from the whole Bible that have been poured into me by the Sprit. Use them!
And I do need to actually use words, not only actions.
I know it has been a good thing that we have believed that ‘actions speak louder than words’ and so, that we serve and give and help as witness to the good news in us. Of course, ‘faith without any works is dead’, as James says (James 2:20).
On the other hand, we are to use words – God’s words, as we participate with the Spirit to ‘make disciples by teaching and baptising’. Words are the means by which faith is born. We need to do AND SPEAK and the two match. Saying something is important. It is how church is born, how faith comes to a person, how faith stays with us.
We are here because someone said something, and in a big way.
On June 25th, 1530, in the southern German city of Augsburg, the newly gathered ‘gospel centred’ (evangelical) community forming from within the Catholic church said something about who they had become.
The tone of the Augsburg Confession is quite invitational. It is not speaking stuff about some new extremist cult rising up. Neither are we.
It is founded faithfully on the bible and the three great universal creeds (Athanasian, Nicene and Apostle’s Creed). This is the faith of ALL Christians. So is our faith here.
Its gift is that it is centred around that golden light at the heart of our relationships with God– we have peace with God only by God’s gracious act of love in Jesus Christ, only received by faith in Jesus by the power of the Spirit working through the Word. May this be us forever!
We are speaking in ways we have never spoken before at the moment. We are now speaking digitally to a very large audience. We can’t know exactly who is listening and we may never know many of the people listening, but people are listening.
We can know some of the people now listening to God’s Word through us in two ways
We can share what is being said with others.
We can talk about what is being said with others.
We are sharing what God is saying through digital means. I hear stories of DVD’s going all over the place – from to the neighbour over the back fence to friends interstate by post! I see people forwarding on emails and Facebook and You Tube links…. Let’s keep sharing because God’s word does things in people – people we may never know, but he does.
We are talking about what God is saying through us. I hear stories of so called ‘chance meetings and conversations’ at the CoOp or at school or at the coffee shop or at home with people who you are surprised to discover are listening to us.
It seems right and good for us to keep speaking in this new digital space that has been opened up in this COVID time.
We are trying to figure out how we can continue to say something of God’s grace, as those Reformers did in their day by public confession of their hope and understanding of God and by the newly invented printing press.
We have a new ‘printing press’. It is called the internet! We should find ways to use it for God’s Word to rain down into people’s hearts.
Our front door is now very large. There are listening people and God is speaking into their lives and doing what he intends – to speak truth, to confront sin, to invite repentance, to forgive and restore, to create new life and new love or us all until he finally completes all things in his way and his time.
Of course, our exciting challenge now, is to participate with the Holy Spirit in helping the many people listening at the front door into the kitchen and even give them rights to go to the fridge and find a snack.
The Lord is calling us to offer contact and community and belonging in our homes and in these streets; to turn at least some of the largely unknown listening community into a real, person-to-person community of faith, hope and love in Jesus.
We need to say something. We don’t need to be perfect or to be an expert. We simply need to trust Isaiah – that the Word the Spirit sends do their work as we speak them.
Long may you be spoken to by the Lord as he gives you hope for these times and long may we use our words with our actions to speak his words so they fall and life grows here.