13. Now it is the consolation of Christians, and especially of preachers, to be sure and ponder well that when they present and preach Christ, that they must suffer persecution, and nothing can prevent it; and that it is a very good sign of the preaching being truly Christian, when they are thus persecuted, especially by the great, the saintly, the learned and the wise. And on the other hand that their preaching is not right, when it is praised and honored, as Christ says in Lk 6,22-26: ”Woe unto you, when all men shall speak well of you; for in the same manner did their fathers to the false prophets. Blessed are ye, when men shall hate you, and when they shall separate you from their company, and reproach you, and cast out your name as evil, for the Son of man’s sake; in the same manner did their fathers to the prophets.” Behold our preachers, how their teachings are esteemed; the wealth, honor and power of the world have them fully under their control, and still they wish to be Christian teachers, and whosoever praises and preaches their ideas, lives in honor and luxury.
From the Church Postil (Sermon for the 4th Sunday after Epiphany)
54. Prayer before the sermon. Evangelische Lutherischer Gebets-Schatz. Concordia: St. Louis, 1881. (p. 44)
Dear God, through Your beloved Son You have said that those who hear Your Word are blessed. How much more fitting it would be for us to bless You, praise, thank and laud You unceasingly, O eternal and merciful Father, with glad hearts, that You show Yourself so friendly—indeed, so like a father—to us poor little worms, that You speak to us about the greatest and highest of subjects—eternal life. Nevertheless, You don’t stop there, enticing and wooing us to hear Your Word through Your Son. He says: “Blessed are they who hear the Word of God and keep it.” As if You couldn’t get by without our ears—we, who are dust and ashes! Many thousand times more do we need Your Word. O, how unspeakably great is Your goodness and patience! On the other hand, woe! Woe! over the ingratitude and colorblindness of those who not only don’t want to hear Your Word, but even stubbornly despise, persecute, and blaspheme it. Amen. Martin Luther (1483-1546)
- Looks like Luther got one thing right after all, I mean, besides the beer (unsettledchristianity.com)
- Can Christians Talk To Dead Loved Ones? Pray for them? (deprofundisclamaviadtedomine.wordpress.com)
This is the shorter version, something like what I actually preached. It was about 25 minutes. I’m going to post the first draft because even I can’t believe how long it was.
St. Peter Lutheran Church
St. Luke 8:4-15
February 3, 2013
“The seed bears fruit according to its kind”
Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ.
Our kids get their DNA from their mom and dad, so they are different from their parents. But not that different. Look at pictures of your great-grandparents and great-great grandparents and see. Seeds produce fruit according to their kinds. A pine cone never grows into a lemon tree. And human beings conceived in the womb always grow up to be the kind of seed they are—Adam and Eve seed. What we are when we’re full grown is the same as what we were at conception; fallen man. A creature that once had the glorious image of God but exchanged it for shame and a curse, for death and God’s anger.
The world we live in is full of quiet witnesses to the wisdom, power, and goodness of God. He is able to concentrate abundant life into the tiniest of containers, as He does with seeds. And He does it all the time. But the world doesn’t tell us that God who is able to make life will restore life to humankind. It tells us that each new human seed that grows up in the world dies just like the one before it. How could it be different? An unclean seed can only produce seeds like itself. The first man’s nature was hostile to God when he took the fruit God commanded must not be eaten. That was the only kind of life Adam could pass on—life that begins in rebellion against God and ends in death.
The Bible tells how as soon as the first man and woman confessed their sin, God promised that the seed of a woman would come and destroy the one who holds the power of death—the liar, the ancient serpent. God would plant His Son into the midst of the human race, and He would bring forth offspring in His image—seed not hostile to God, but well-pleasing, sharing His life.
Jesus is that seed. He is true man and true God. He is a new man, not corrupt from birth like Adam and his seed. He is innocent and not under judgment.
He comes to bring forth other sons of God. And to do this, He sows the seed of His Word. Jesus sows His life giving, fruitful seed among us—the Word of His death and resurrection. The seed produces fruit according to its kind. Just as a tree brings forth other trees like itself through its seed, Jesus brings forth other sons of God like Himself through the seed of His Word.
- How the seed works
If you lived two thousand years ago and wanted to grow wheat, you had to sow. This was not a scientific process. You just threw handfuls of seed around your field as you walked through it. Then some would land in the dirt and start growing.
Jesus’ Word works the same way. The Word is the Word of Christ—it is the Word that tells about Jesus. More than that, Jesus Himself is in the Word, like the future plant is “in” the seed.
Where Jesus’ word is received in faith, the seed of Christ’s Word is growing. Wherever it is growing, Christ’s kingdom is present. The person who believes in Jesus is a son of God in the image of Jesus, a co-worker and co-ruler with Jesus.
- Fruit—Christ does His work in us
Usually when a sower goes out to sow seeds in a field, he doesn’t want these plants to just produce a stalk and leaves. He wants fruit—tomatoes, or cucumbers, or corn, or grain.
Jesus is the same when He scatters His seed. He’s not satisfied just to have the Word fall on your ears, or even to have it take root in your heart and begin to grow. He wants it to come to maturity, to completion. He wants it to bear fruit.
i. Fruits of the Spirit
The seed of His Word begins to grow when it is heard and believed. “You are justified by Christ alone,” the Gospel says, and immediately in the one who hears and believes new life begins. It is the new life that is in the seed—the new creature that you are in Christ instead of the old creature born from Adam’s seed.
A seed that has germinated starts living and growing immediately. But you don’t see it. It takes several days before the little green shoot pushes through the dirt. And it takes a long time for that little shoot to grow to the point where you can be reasonably sure it’s going to survive. Even after that, a lot of things can happen that might keep it from successfully bringing forth fruit.
That’s the way it is with the life of Christ in us. When faith begins, immediately His life starts to grow in us. Virtue, knowledge of God, self-control, joy, peace, patience, steadfastness, godliness, kindness, gentleness, goodness, love—they begin to grow the way a seed grows into roots and a stem—all aiming toward the mature plant that bears fruit.
- ii. Co-rulers and co-workers with Jesus
The seed of the Word reaches maturity when we are completely new and nothing remains of the nature of Adam. We are our new selves in Christ. We have died and risen again. In the meantime we grow. We grow in Christ. But that means our old nature dies. “Even though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day,” St. Paul says in 2 Corinthians (4:16).
That dying of the old and rising of the new is a process. But Christians don’t live hoping that the process will continue to its completion; we live by faith in Jesus. In His death and resurrection we are already complete. We don’t simply live hoping that we will one day become fully grown sons of God. We are already “Sons of God through faith in Jesus Christ, for all of [us] who have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ” [Galatians 3]. We already call God “Father” as though we were already completely renewed in Christ.
“If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come,” St. Paul tells us [2 Corinthians 5:17]. We are justified. Our sins are not counted to us. They were accounted to Jesus on the
cross. Now His righteousness is counted to us. So we pray to the Father as sons together with Jesus.
“The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ…” [Romans 8:16-17]. We are co-heirs with Christ and also co-rulers and co-workers with Him. He does His work in us and through us.
- iii. Whatever you ask in my name…
“If you abide in Me and My words abide in you, ask whatever you wish and it will be done for you. By this My Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be My disciples.” Jesus says this to His disciples in John 15 [:7-8].
We bear much fruit when, as children of God, we pray with the access Jesus have given to the Father. Those prayers that come from faith in Christ’s Word receive whatever they request from the Father. Because we know the Father and are His children, He hears us. Because the Holy Spirit teaches us through the Word of Christ, we not only are changed into the image of Christ, but we learn to pray according to God’s will. We learn what God has promised and what He has commanded, and we pray for the things He has promised.
In this way we bear “much fruit.” We don’t merely do human work. We are working together with Christ. He works in us to pray for what He sees is needed by the Church, the world, and our neighbors. The faith in Jesus that starts to grow when the seed of His Word in our hearts makes us participants in Jesus’ work as priest and king. The fruit that comes from this prayer is fruit that endures to eternal life, because it is the fruit of Jesus Himself coming forth in us.
- Failed sowing
Yet according to Jesus, in 3 out of 4 types of hearers, His Word does not result in fruit. Why is that? It’s not because there was something wrong with the seed. The seed of the Gospel says “Your sins are forgiven through Jesus’ blood.” It is not an uncertain word. It is a word of salvation. In every case where the seed of the Gospel does not result in a person coming to maturity in Christ and reaching eternal life, it is because the hearer does not allow it to do its work.
The Gospel is not received. Or it is received, but only as long as things feel good and look good. Or it is received by faith but is stunted and choked by all the other concerns of this world.
It’s not that Jesus doesn’t earnestly desire the full salvation of everyone who hears the Word. He sows it everywhere; He lets the good news of the forgiveness of sins fall on hard hearts that don’t listen, and on those who are unwilling to keep His word unless everything is nice, and on those who refuse to trust His Word alone, but divide their loyalty between Jesus and the wisdom of this world.
I was thinking of a story I wanted to use in a sermon maybe, and I wanted to see when the last time was that I told it, because I was pretty sure I had told it before. Lo! Apparently the last time was in August, 2007! That was when I had been a pastor a whole year. That was a lifetime ago.
The sermon was not bad. Actually, technically it could well be better than my sermons now. It was certainly shorter. On the other hand it seems to stick closely to the pattern of sermon I heard preached at seminary. That may be why it is better technically, but it also seems derivative.
Yet I can see that I was trying to (even then) communicate with the congregation, not preach over everyone’s head. I’m not sure how successful that’s been over the years.
Anyway, I look at this and think that I haven’t changed much technically or theologically. If anything I’ve gotten worse technically. On the other hand I feel when reading it that it was a different man who wrote and preached it. I hadn’t yet experienced very much tentatio or suffering. The theology is orthodox, but the preacher had not yet suffered much of anything in the ministry. I thought I had though. It will be interesting to see what I think in another decade if the Lord sees fit to have me preaching then still.
I know what it is that strikes me as off about this sermon. Even though it is probably better technically than my sermons now, the difference is that I can tell that when I wrote it I still was naive and thought that all I would have to do is preach it a couple of times and then people would get it. You can also see me banging the drum about “Lutheranism”; that was back when I thought that I could convince people that they should care about being a Lutheran. You can also see me subtly (or not so subtly) rag on the congregation for thinking they know everything and being unwilling to learn, a theme that I have undoubtedly returned to again and again. And it has seemingly had little effect beyond making many people angry.
I post it mainly for myself. But any other pastor who reads this and still feels like he just left seminary but really has been at it over five years may be inspired to go look at a really old sermon.
When you come out of seminary you don’t know that it costs you to preach. I mean, the cost we pay is really nothing if we look at it correctly and don’t whine, considering the exceedingly great glory of the Word that we are allowed to speak.
But I think I didn’t really understand that it was God’s Word then, so I thought my performance in writing or speaking would do something. That was a very painful lesson that I don’t know if I’m done learning–the lesson of running into a ten feet thick titanium wall for years–that it is God’s Word, and He has it work in spite of me (thanks be to God), and not how I want it to work. I knew this theological concept but it was a painful lesson to learn, or begin to learn, in experience.
I didn’t understand that cost associated with preaching the Word of God. And I also didn’t understand a different kind of cost– that it was necessary to experience pain and weakness and failure and utter inability to see anything, to know whether you were doing it right or wrong. Of course I knew, theologically, that if the sermon was Scriptural and the law and gospel rightly divided then you were doing it right. I hadn’t felt what it was like to have the Word rejected and agonize about your failures, to blame your lack of preparation and so forth, and to see your clumsiness in handling God’s Word. I knew theologically that preaching and suffering went together, but I hadn’t experienced it yet. And I am sure that that remains true. Dr. Kleinig said something to us at the Ft. Wayne class about Exodus. He asked whether we had suffered as a result of preaching, whether we had had major conflicts and faced opposition. Then he said, We assume that as we get older, we’ll have fewer problems like that because we’ll gain experience. But, he said, the hardest trials come as you have been in the ministry a long time, and as you approach the end of your years of service.
So, I haven’t experienced anything yet! Quit whining! is the moral of the story.
I wish that I could help someone else escape the pain that comes from preaching God’s Word and having to learn the hard way that it is not your Word, and therefore you can’t make it do anything, and it’s necessary for you to be afflicted by the devil so that you do not “become too elated at the surpassing greatness” of the Lord who is pleased to raise the dead through your lips. But I suspect that I cannot help anyone escape it, except maybe to comfort someone else who is in the middle of it and let them know that it is the Lord’s work when you fail.
The beautiful thing is that it is really the Lord’s Word, even if it is despised and seems to bear no fruit. Even if you have no talent as a preacher or a pastor or an administrator, and you appear to ruin more than you build up, it is Jesus Christ’s word that you have to preach. And He preaches it to us as well as to the congregation.
One of the most shocking things about preaching is when, after years of everyone esentially telling you your sermons are “all right” and everyone else saying they are garbage behind your back, and when even your wife doesn’t like your sermons, somebody in the congregation was edified–maybe even comforted–and it was a person who doesn’t like you.
So it is really the Lord’s Word, and He has to keep us aware of the fact that the treasure is from Him and not from us, and therefore it is driven home again and again that we are jars of clay. In my case more like a potsherd or a broken vessel.
Dr. Heidenreich has done me the honor of debating me about the place of prayer in the salvation of unbaptized infants. This has been helpful to me in helping me not to go too far in what I’m saying and in helping me to think about the issue. Earlier this week I started another post in response to some of his comments on this blog, but didn’t finish it. Below is a comment of his from my facebook page, where Dr. Heidenreich is responding to me after I asked him, “Does it matter whether an infant in the womb hears God’s Word preached in English or Japanese [or Latin]?” I was trying to make a point that I spell out below.
What matters when we are speaking of the faith of infants is not what language the Word is spoken in. What matters is what the speaker means by the words. Does a baby “understand” or “comprehend” the words “I baptize you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost”? Is it a valid baptism if the infant does not yet speak the language the words are being spoken in? Is it a valid baptism if it is done by a Roman Catholic priest in Latin? You know the answers to these questions. The Word, in and with the water, does great things. It does seemingly impossible things. God gives any necessary “understanding” to the hearer. However, even if the baptism uses English words for English speaking persons, yet the English words are spoken with the intended meaning a Mormon gives them, it is not a valid baptism and does not give the hearer faith and salvation. What matters is the fact that God works through the external Word and grants the hearer the supernatural gift of faith through such simple and virtually inexplicable means. The fact that a few words can instil faith in the hearer is, indeed, an extraordinary event. It defies all academic, linguistic, scientific, and neurological explanations. It is a supernatural event, and we simply place our faith in the power of the Word that is so clearly testified to by so many miraculous events in Scripture. The natural workings of the means of grace don’t have to make sense to our doubting minds. “If they have not heard the Word, by which faith comes, as adults hear it, they nevertheless hear it like little children. Adults take it up with their ears and reason, often without faith; but they hear it with their ears, without reason and with faith. And faith is nearer in proportion as reason is less, and he is stronger who brings them than the will of adults who come of themselves.” [Luther’s Sermon for the Third Sunday after the Epiphany; Matthew 8:1-13; from his Church Postil of 1525, as translated in The Sermons of Martin Luther, volume II, page 90,¶42, Baker Book House, Grand Rapids, MI] As for things Luther taught repeatedly and publicly that might conflict with the way I have applied the Confessional statements I have quoted, it is only right and proper to interpret the Confessions in light of the orthodox doctrine confessed by the subscribers and later orthodox dogmaticians. Lutheranism does not agree with Luther on every point, including on things he repeatedly and publicly taught. The most public and well-known source material for your contention is Luther’s Baptismal Booklet. As I already pointed out on your blog, that booklet is definitely NOT part of the Book of Concord to which our pastors and churches subscribe. Despite pleas from Jakob Andreae, several princes (including Ludwig VI of the Palatinate) and their theologians specifically objected to its inclusion in the Book of Concord. [Kolb p 346-347]
Why is it different for a baby to hear the Word in the womb—so that they can hear it in any language—yet it is necessary for adults to hear it and understand it?
I certainly grant that God works faith through the spoken word in infants, who as far as we can tell, do not understand or have the capacity of using language. Luther says that very thing in the sermon from the Church postil you quoted, where he explains how prayer for the infant gains for them the gift of faith. He says, “The church prays, and God grants faith to the child through the Word in Baptism.” It may well be that it is by means of the external word which the baby hears that God gives the Holy Spirit to them while still in the womb. I’m not denying that. I don’t think that Luther was saying dogmatically that God has to give faith apart from means to unbaptized babies.
I have several problems with the theory that God gives faith to babies in the womb through the preached or read word. This is what I used to believe. I think my pastor taught it to me when I was a kid.
The first is that we don’t make the external word cease to be words, performing a sort of Lutheran transubstantiation on preaching. The divine Word comes in human words, just as the Son came in human flesh. When Christ appeared in human flesh, he did not swallow up his humanity in his divinity, nor did He display the splendor of His majesty; and when the Word of the Lord comes to us on Sunday morning, it comes in human language, and therefore we receive it like other human words, in that we hear it in our own language and we read it so that it can be heard. Then the pastor comes and preaches it, explaining it, applying it. But if the word and faith have nothing to do with understanding all of that is a waste of energy. The pastor could mumble the words inaudibly and as quickly as possible, skip the sermon, and everyone could be home in 45 minutes.
Understanding and faith are not to be divorced so radically. Otherwise we eliminate the means from the means of grace, which is where Rome developed the practice of adoring the sacrament more than eating and drinking it. Bread normally is to be eaten and words are normally to be heard and understood. This is the teaching of Scripture:
This is why I speak to them in parables, because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand. Indeed, in their case the prophecy of Isaiah is fulfilled that says, ‘You will indeed hear but never understand, and you will indeed see but never perceive…lest they should see with their eyes and hear with their ears and understand with their heart, and turn, and I would heal them.’…Hear then the parable of the sower: when anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what has been sown in his heart… Matthew 13:13-15, 18-19
…Earnestly desire the spiritual gifts, especially that you may prophesy. For one who speaks in a tongue speaks not to
men but to God; for no one understands him, but he utters mysteries in the Spirit. On the other hand, the one who prophesies speaks to people for their upbuilding and encouragement and consolation…the one who prophesies is greater than the one who speaks in tongues, so that the church may be built up. Now, brothers, if I come to you speaking in tongues, how will I benefit you unless I bring you some revelation or knowledge or prophecy or teaching? If even lifeless instruments, such as the flute or the harp, do not give distinct notes, how will anyone know what is being played? And if the bugle gives an indistinct sound, who will get ready for battle? So with yourselves, if with your tongue you utter speech that is not intelligible, how will anyone know what is said? For you will be speaking into the air. There are doubtless many different languages in the world, and none is without meaning, but if I do not know the meaning of the language, I will be a foreigner to the speaker and the speaker a foreigner to me. So with yourselves, since you are eager for manifestations of the Spirit, strive to excel in building up the church. Therefore one who speaks in a tongue should pray for the power to interpret. For if I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays, but my mind is unfruitful…You may be giving thanks well enough, but the other person is not being built up. I thank God that I speak in tongues more than all of you. Nevertheless, I would rather speak five words with my mind in order to instruct others, then ten thousand words in a tongue. 1 Cor. 14:1-3, 5-14, 17-19
Paul is making this point: one can speak by the Holy Spirit in language that is unintelligible to others, but others are not edified by it. Why? Because they can’t understand it. He writes in Romans 8 that the Spirit groans to the Father with sighs that words cannot express. That is truly prayer, but it edifies no one else, because they can’t understand it.
Which teaches two things: normally the Holy Spirit is given through the Word together with understanding of the word. Secondly it teaches that the Holy Spirit can be present or operative where the understanding is not engaged. Apparently when people speak in tongues they themselves did not necessarily know what they were saying, which is why it was necessary for them to “pray for the power to interpret.” Paul does not condemn them for praying in tongues without understanding, but says that that does not build up the church.
The application of this to the present discussion is that the preached word normally works through the understanding. A second application is that the Holy Spirit is able to speak within and through a person without that person or anyone else understanding him, but we should not expect that the Holy Spirit will edify the Church through words that are not understood.
Verbum Dei in utero part 2: https://deprofundisclamaviadtedomine.wordpress.com/2012/10/30/verbum-dei-in-utero-part-2/
Verbum Dei in utero part 3:https://deprofundisclamaviadtedomine.wordpress.com/2012/10/30/verbum-dei-in-utero-part-3/
- Baptism: God stakes His honor, power, and might on it. Lenten Vespers Sermon Feb. 20 2013 (deprofundisclamaviadtedomine.wordpress.com)
- “The Secret Place of the Most High”. Lent Midweek Sermon. “What Benefits Does Baptism Give?” (deprofundisclamaviadtedomine.wordpress.com)
- Do Babies Believe the Gospel When They Are Baptized? Martin Luther (1524) (deprofundisclamaviadtedomine.wordpress.com)
- The Monster of Uncertainty Invocabit Sermon 2013. Matthew 4 (deprofundisclamaviadtedomine.wordpress.com)
- Babyâs First Bites Begin In Utero (plumorganics.com)
Franz Pieper, Christian Dogmatics, vol 1. (p. 433-434)
The entire Scriptures are in reality nothing else than an elaboration of God’s name (“ein ausgebreiteter Name Gottes”). By denying that Scripture is God’s Word, men reject the only principle or source from which they can derive an understanding of God’s name. This fact prompted Luther to remind us again and again that only the true Scripture doctrine honors God’s name and builds his Church, while false doctrine, springing from the heart of men, profanes God’s name and destroys His Church. In his commentary on Ex. 20:7 Luther says of the Second Commandment: “In this Commandment the name of God is used correctly when the Word of God is rightly preached and rightly believed. And, again, God’s name is blasphemed when preachers under the cloak of God’s Word and name mislead the people.” (St. L. III: 1074.) For this reason faithful preachers are a blessing, while false teachers are a curse to their country and to the world. Of course, in teaching God’s Word in its truth and purity, teachers run the risk of incurring opposition. Luther points to this: “The greatest and most difficult part of this Commandment is to defend this name against those who not only misuse it in spiritual matters, but also spread it [their false definition of God’s name] among men. It is not enough that I praise the divine name in prosperity and call upon it in adversity for myself and my own heart. I must also step into the open and for the sake of God’s honor and name incur the enmity of all men according to Christ’s word: ‘Ye shall be hated of all men for My name’s sake’ (Matt. 10:22). Here we must provoke to anger even father, mother, and our best friends….Here we must bear the charge of resisting the spiritual and civil government and of being disobedient. Here we must incense the learned, the saints, the wealthy, the mighty, and all who count for something in the world. That is what it means to be ‘God’s friend and all the world’s enemy.’ Though this is primarily the duty of preachers, every Christian is in duty bound to do this as time and occasion demand. When a person accepts God’s Word, the Gospel, he must by all means keep in mind that he is running the risk of losing all his goods, home, real estate, business, farm, wife, children, father, mother, yes, his very life. Should danger and misfortune overtake him, he can bear it more readily, realizing from the outset that matters would take this course. Here such passages apply as Matt. 10:24: ‘The disciple is not above his master.’” (St. L. III: 1078 ff.)
- Pruefungsfragen: Self-proving questions on the 2nd Commandment (deprofundisclamaviadtedomine.wordpress.com)
- Luther on How to Break and Keep The 10 Commandments – Help for TableTalkRadio.org Fans (heidelberg26.wordpress.com)
- De Profundis Clamavi Ad Te, Domine. (deprofundisclamaviadtedomine.wordpress.com)
- Luther: How False Prophets Overthrow Faith in Christ (deprofundisclamaviadtedomine.wordpress.com)