No Gimmicks Or Programs - Just The Word, Please

Text: Isaiah 55:10-13

In the name of Jesus. Amen. 

I’m getting old enough now, as a pastor, that I have been able to witness all the silly and worthless things we do in the name of God.  Please know that I am not saying this as a curmudgeon.  I also am not saying that to vent to you.  I am quite serious. Hear me out.  

It seems as if every 2-5 years, a movement, book, program, sermon series, conference, or marketing campaign comes along that will supposedly revolutionize the church.  For example, in the 1970s, all the hype was around an evangelistic ministry called “Evangelism Explosion.”  Later, in the late 80s, all the hype was around the Church Growth Movement.  In the early 2000s, it was the Emergent Church Movement.  In recent years, we heard from our Synodical Leadership about the Ablaze Campaign or demographic studies that aid in outreach.  Recently, here in Minot, there was a focus put on a community tent revival meeting, as well as churches binding together for a joint service in the local park.  In the bookstores, we have heard a lot over the years as well about books such as The Prayer of Jabez, Purpose Driven Life, Radical Love, The Jesus Calling, and Red Letter Challenge.   

Now, the point that I am making is that all of these – let’s call them things – all of these things are being done to help save and revitalize the church.  

While it could be argued that many of these things are not entirely heretical and may contain good theology, the point remains: what all of these things have in common is that they are supposed tools that will help grow and sustain the church.  They are efforts made by well-intentioned Christians to energize Christians to help in the mission of God.  Frankly stated, the majority of these movements, books, programs, sermon series, conferences, or marketing campaigns are complex in how they are to be administered, expensive in the money needed to acquire them, and timely in the number of hours needed to implement them.   Furthermore, whether intentional or not, these movements, books, programs, sermon series, conferences, and marketing campaigns take more than they give – they become a heavy burden on Christians, forcing them to live under the Law while turning the mission of God into a man-centered endeavor.  

So, is this an excuse for us Christians to be lazy? Are we saying that we all become a bunch of curmudgeons to all the Christian gimmicks in the marketplace?  No, that is not the point.  The Church does have the call to be active and busy in the world.  But that is the key question - active and busy how?  

In the reading from the Old Testament book of Isaiah, we read about God’s Word that goes out from His mouth.  God says that His Holy Word goes out through His prophet Isaiah and that it will accomplish what God wants it to accomplish.  That is to say, as the Word is proclaimed, preached, and shared, that Word sets out into the world to melt ice, as it were, and to heal and to save.  The Word of God goes forth to soften human hearts, create faith, refresh parched souls, and sanctify the ungodly.  Just as rain and snow fall from the ski and do their work of making things grow and blossom, the Word of God accomplishes the purposes of God – it is the Word of God and only the Word of God that converts the heathen, justifies the ungodly, strengthens the baptized, and sustains His church.    

And so, we cannot help the Word of God, as if we can make the Word of God better or more powerful or more effective.  

Did you ever wonder why Jesus sent His disciples out with nothing but a staff?  They were instructed not to bring any bread, no bag, no money on their belt, and no tunic.  But why?  He obviously told them to do this so that they could depend on the provisions of God and the kindness of those they encountered.  Furthermore, Jesus did not want the disciples to rake in the doe for preaching the Gospel; he didn’t want them to abuse their office for financial gain.  However, there is another aspect to this, too – they didn’t need to take anything else to proclaim the Gospel.  

Can you imagine Jesus saying to the disciples, 

“Peter, as you go out to proclaim this Gospel, remember what you have been taught and take this demographic study with you.”

Or, can you imagine Jesus saying to John, 

“John, as you go out, confess the Holy Word of God, according to this hot new book called, ‘Purpose Driven Life.’”

Can you picture Jesus saying to James, 

“James, as you go out, I want you to implement this 10-step challenge to everyone you meet by preaching this pre-printed sermon series.”

Is this being a bit harsh towards today’s American Church?  I sure hope so!  The reason is that it is God’s Word and only God’s Word that stands first in the Church.  It is God’s Word and only God’s Word that should receive prime attention in the church.  The simple proclamation of the Word of God is that which is to be given proper emphasis in the church – everything else is just details.  

Tragically, though, not only does the world and devil attack the Word of God, but many Christian churches and pastors have abandoned the Word of God in exchange for a thing that they believe will revitalize, energize, and fix their local church. Failing to simply deliver Christ’s Word and Sacraments, many have either exchanged or piled on top of the Word and Sacraments a laundry list of movements, books, programs, sermon series, conferences, and marketing campaigns.  Lord have mercy.  No wonder why so many American churches are Christless venues of nothingness and not the Holy Ark of the Christian Church.  

Now, to make this very practical, I am going to ask that we do something very different.  I am going to ask each of you to take a hymnal and turn to page 184.  Please do that right now.  I would like you to follow along with me.  If you notice, in small italicized print on the right side, there are Bible verses.  These verses show where the parts of the liturgy come from.  As you will see: 

The Invocation comes from Matthew 28:19.    

The invitation to Confess comes from Hebrew 10, Psalm 124, and Psalm 32.

Turning to page 185, 

The Absolution comes from John 20:19-23

Turning to page 186, 

When we sing the Introit, we are generally singing a song.  Furthermore, the Kyrie comes from Mark 10.

Turning to the top of page 187,

The Gloria comes from Luke 2 and John 1. 

Turning to page 189,

The Salutation comes from 2 Timothy 4. 

On page 190, 

The scriptures from the Old Testament, Epistle, and Gospel are read to you.  And the gradual is scripture sun as well. 

On pages 191 and 192, 

We say the creeds, which are based on approximately 50 different Bible passages. 

Let’s keep going; turn to the bottom of 192, 

The Offertory is from Psalm 51. 

Turn to pages 194 and 195, 

The Communion Preface is from 2 Timothy 4, Colossians 3, and Psalm 136. The Sanctus is from Isaiah 6 and Matthew 21.  

Pages 196 and 197, 

The Lord’s Prayer is from Matthew 6:9-13, and the words of Communion are from Matthew 26, Mark 14, Luke 22, and 1 Corinthians 11. 

On 198 and 199, 

The Agnus Dei is from John 1, and the Nunc Dimittis is from Luke 2:29-32.  

On pages 200 and 201, 

The Thanksgiving is from Psalm 107, and the Salutation on 201 is from 2 Timothy 4. 

And finally, on page 202, 

The Benediction is from Numbers 6. 

And so, every Sunday that you come to this church, you sing and hear approximately 150 verses from the liturgy, not to mention all the scripture you sing from the hymns and scripture you hear from the sermon.  Do not let anyone tell you that the liturgy is not Biblical.  

But to the point, the reason for this little exercise is to stress the reason why we uphold and cherish the liturgy here at St. Paul’s – we cherish and uphold the liturgy because it is the Word of God spoken, sung, chanted, and prayed every single Divine Service.  We uphold the liturgy because it is God's effectual and powerful Word; it keeps the Word of God front and center.  

Baptized Saints, only the Word of God is sufficient for our instruction and edification.  It is only the Word of God that strengthens us day by day.  It is only the Word of God that delivers to us divine truth, keeps us steadfast in God’s grace, and gives us strength to fight the good fight.  

And so, here at St. Paul’s, we will continue to abide in this simple Word, knowing that we do not need these other things.  By God’s grace, the Word will continue to be sown into our hearts.  By God’s grace, we will continually receive this Word by faith.  By God’s grace, we will remain steadfast to the Word.  May God help us, sustain us, and keep us in His Word.  

In the name of Jesus. Amen.

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