Thursday, November 15, 2012

Sermon 2: Something's gotta give

When an irresistible force such as you
Meets an old immovable object like me
You can bet as sure as you live
Something's gotta give, something's gotta give
Something's gotta give

 -"Something's Gotta Give," by Johnny Mercer

Castle Church, Wittenberg

In short, I will preach it, teach it, write it, but I will constrain no man by force, for faith must come freely without compulsion. Take myself as an example. I opposed indulgences and all the papists, but never with force. I simply taught, preached, and wrote God's Word; otherwise I did nothing. And while I slept, or drank Wittenberg beer with my friends Philip and Amsdorf, the Word so greatly weakened the papacy that no prince or emperor ever inflicted such losses upon it. I did nothing; the Word did everything. 
Second Invocavit Sermon

Despite our contemporary fascination with images and visual media of all types, we in today's society still believe strongly in the power of words. Take the recent elections in the United States. In the presidential race alone, a recent report shows that President Obama spent $396 million dollars on political advertising, while the challenger Governor Mitt Romney spent $472 million (source: Washington Post). Though such ads may use visual media outlets such as television, they are designed to make arguments using memorable and effective words to persuade people to choose one candidate over against the other. It is simply mind-boggling how much money political organizations are willing to spend to "get their message across." We believe in the power of words.

When Martin Luther stood in the pulpit in March of 1522 and preached to the people of Wittenberg in an attempt to stem the tide of unrest and confusion that had grown during his forced absence at Wartburg, his tool of choice was verbal communication -- specifically preaching the living Word of God. It is hard for people who live in the 21st century, with all of our sophisticated technology and communication tools, to imagine how Luther and his friends could trust that a series of brief spoken sermons, preached over an eight day period (without even so much as amplification!), could get the attention of an entire community and produce immediate change. And yet this is what happened.

In his second Invocavit sermon, given Monday, March 10, 1522, Pastor Luther states his trust in the living and powerful Word of God to accomplish God's work, and encourages his congregation to have the same faith. In his absence in 1521-22, many had rushed ahead to make changes without considering their sisters and brothers who were not yet ready for change, who had not had enough instruction, whose consciences were still weak and hesitant about a variety of religious practices. They had forced change when, in Luther's view, they should have allowed change to happen naturally over time as people grew in understanding through sound teaching.

Here is an outline of his message:
  • Introduction: Summary of sermon one: the Christian life is faith and love, there are two types of matters: "musts" and "free" things. Both must be handled with love.
  • In all things, we must not attempt to change things by force, but rather trust that when we teach and preach God's Word, it will change hearts, and then things will change.
  • Examples of trusting in the Word to change the hearts of the weak and unconvinced:
    • Paul and the apostles
    • Luther himself
    • The negative example of laws regarding circumcision and how "out of the making of one law grew a thousand laws"
  • Conclusion: "Let us beware lest we lead astray those of weak conscience."

According to Luther, we can change things, but we do not have the power to change people. If people are not ready for the changing of things, we must take that into account and do our best to love them and be patient with them. It will do no good compelling or forcing people to change. We must first win their hearts by teaching what is sound with love and generosity toward all, trusting that "when you have won the heart, you have won the [person]."

As the pastor put it that day: should be left to God, and his Word should be allowed to work alone, without our work or interference. Why? Because it is not in my power or hand to fashion the hearts of men as the potter molds the clay and fashion them at my pleasure. I can get no farther than their ears; their hearts I cannot reach. And since I cannot pour faith into their hearts, I cannot, nor should I, force any one to have faith. That is God's work alone, who causes faith to live in the heart. Therefore we should give free course to the Word and not add our works to it. We have the jus verbi [right to speak] but not the executio [power to accomplish]. We should preach the Word, but the results must be left solely to God's good pleasure.
When we faithfully teach God's Word with love and patience, ultimately somethin's gotta give.

  • Preaching and pastoral ministry is, at its core, a work of faith. In the final analysis, I the pastor do not depend upon my talents, skills, personality traits, education, erudition, my strategies and schemes, or my ability to control people and situations to accomplish God's work. I ultimately rely upon Another working in and through me to provide spiritual care and nourishment to my sisters and brothers in the congregation.
  • Pastors must maintain an imagination that promotes patience and faithful attention. Perhaps it would always be better, even in our high-tech age, to think of pastoral work in terms of pre-technological images like farming and keeping flocks. Organic metaphors of life beginning, growing, developing, and reproducing remind us that there are processes we cannot rush and ultimately cannot control -- only cultivate and tend.
  • If words are so important, it is the pastor's lifelong task to always be growing in the ability to think and speak well. For Luther, God's Word was preeminently the word spoken and used by the Holy Spirit to lead us to Christ. One need not be overly eloquent or a rhetorician to speak powerfully; however, one must understand and clearly communicate sound teaching in a loving and gracious manner. Pastors must not let other parish duties crowd out time for serious study and thinking, prayer and contemplation, and the development of communication skills. These are essential aspects of our craft.

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