“Be Ready to Confess Jesus”
2017 LWML Sunday Sermon
Text: 2 Timothy 4:1-4
“Be Ready to Confess Jesus”
2017 is kind of a big year. First off, of course, it is the 500th anniversary of Luther’s posting of the 95 Theses. The whole world is paying attention to Luther this year. Lots of movies and books and services remembering the start of the Reformation. This is a big deal!
But there is even more to 2017. This year marks the 75th anniversary of the Lutheran Women’s Missionary League. LWML has done so much to help and support the sharing of the Gospel within our Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod and around the world. This, too, is a big deal!
In the 500 years since the Reformation began and the 75 years since the LWML was organized, confessing the faith has not gotten any easier. In fact, it may be even more difficult for us to speak and to live as Christians today. And who knows what the future might hold for us, our children, and our grandchildren? Yet God is faithful and has promised that His church will survive all the challenges that the devil, the world, and our own sinful flesh can throw at us.
Remembering God’s promises, we know that this is our time to be distinctly Lutheran. As confessing Lutherans in a rapidly changing world and in an increasingly hostile culture, we need to Be Ready to Confess the Gospel of Jesus Christ to a world that desperately needs to hear it.
As God’s people, telling others the message of salvation by Jesus’ death and resurrection is central, it’s a foundational thing. Assuming we are real Christians, we can’t just keep this Good News to ourselves. We can’t knowingly let someone go to hell. As your pastor, I remind you of your duty to share the word. Here is how Paul put it to Timothy; “be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching” (2 Timothy 4:1-2). When Saint Paul wrote these words to Timothy, he did so as one writing to a fellow pastor, a man specifically called to carry out the office of the public ministry. And he did so also knowing full well the challenges that faced preachers of the Gospel in the days of the early church. But he did so also knowing that Timothy had come to the faith through the Holy Spirit working through the faithful teaching of a committed mother and grandmother. “I am reminded of your sincere faith, a faith that dwelt first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice and now, I am sure, dwells in you as well” (2 Timothy 1:5).
These words were not just for Timothy. The good news of the Gospel is given to each of us to share with those whom God places in our sphere of influence regardless of who we are, or where we live, or where we work. Proclaiming the salvation won by Jesus is not just “the pastor’s job.” Every single one of us is called to be ready to confess Jesus Christ as God opens the doors for us to do so. Jesus calls you, wants you, to be ready to confess!
The need for sharing Jesus Christ is as big today as it has ever been. While it is true that somewhere around 90 percent of Americans claim that they believe in “God,” their understanding of the one, true, Triune God is often less than biblical. Add to that the fact that upwards of 60 percent of Evangelical Christians think there may be other ways to salvation outside of faith in Jesus, and the need to be ready to confess the message of salvation by grace alone, through faith alone, because of Christ alone, is as important today as ever.
Add to that Paul’s assessment of where people were at his time. “For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths” (2 Timothy 4:3-4). This was not just true 2000 years ago. It sounds like he is talking about our country in 2017!
But not just 2017 – also 1517. The setting in which God called Martin Luther to confess Jesus Christ was easily as confused as our own day. People were worshipping saints in addition to Jesus; people were preaching that your works were necessary to salvation in addition to faith in Jesus; purgatory, images, relics, indulgences (the selling of forgiveness) and other stuff not in the Bible had gotten in the way of the Gospel of salvation in Jesus Christ alone.
This context, of course, led to the unique character of the Lutheran Reformation. For Luther, as he read the New Testament and particularly read Paul’s Letter to the Romans, Luther was confronted by the question of righteousness: What does it mean to be right in God’s eyes? And the Scriptures were clear to him: keep God’s law perfectly. However, he knew that he did not keep God’s law perfectly; and therefore, he knew that he did not keep God’s law enough.
Oh, he tried to make things right. He went to his priest repeatedly and confessed his sins. He brought up every thought, word, deed from a lifetime of sin, confessed it, was absolved, and then went and did good works as a satisfaction. But as he worked, he remembered other sins. His mind recalled other things that he had done, and he realized that his confession of sin was insufficient. And that meant his works were not enough. Finally, his priest confronted him: “Luther, it is not that God hates you; it is that you hate God.”
The light bulb, or in this case, the candle finally went on over his head when Luther understood, through the Scriptures, that the righteousness of God is not about us being good enough. The righteousness of God is about Jesus Christ who is perfect. It’s about Jesus, the God-man, who has completed salvation for Luther, for you, and for me, perfectly, once and for all. There is a great exchange that occurs. The garbage of our sinfulness and rebellion towards God, Jesus took it all upon Himself, carried it to the cross, and crucified it once and for all, and defeated it by rising again. The perfect righteousness that is His, He now clothes us in and through the waters of Holy Baptism. Where before there was a sinner, God now sees His perfectly saved and forgiven child through Jesus; where before the person was far from God, there is now a child of God. God’s work is for us and is applied to us freely and completely because of Jesus.
This—the biblical Gospel—is what we must be ready to confess!
Luther didn’t see all of this clearly in 1517. It took a few years for him to work out all of the scriptural implications. But once he did he was ready to confess—and he did so to the end of his life in 1546.
Which poses a question for us: How do we, like Luther, prepare ourselves to be ready to confess? We need to worship. We need to be in the Word. We need to be willing to speak up. The LWML has been an example of that. Today in particular, as we’ve already noted, we want to recall the work of the Lutheran Women’s Missionary League, which is celebrating its diamond anniversary this year.
The LWML has had such an impact on the mission efforts of the congregations, districts, seminaries, and other groups in our Synod. And it has done so always by carrying out faithfully its mission “to assist each woman of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod in affirming her relationship with the Triune God so that she is enabled to use her gifts in ministry to the people of the world.”
There is never a perfect time to start an organization like the LWML, but could we have chosen a time more challenging than 1942? The world had been at war for three years and the United States had entered the war in 1941. Rations were short, many young—and older!—men were preparing to fight overseas. Women were entering the workforce to fill the vacancies left by the new soldiers. The circumstances were challenging, to say the least! And the war news then was not too good for the U.S.A. in 1942.
Yet, on July 7-8, 1942, over 100 women—among them twenty-eight formal delegates—met in Chicago and established the LWML. Its purpose was to encourage women for “missionary education, missionary inspiration, and missionary service.” It also decided to gather funds for mission projects above and beyond the Synod’s budget. From this humble beginning— and through the use of the now familiar “Mite Boxes”—the League has blessed the mission efforts of congregations, districts, and synod in many ways!
But there is more, as LWML historian Marlys Taege Moburg has captured it so well: “…the blessing of the LWML, now also known as Lutheran Women in Mission, goes far beyond the millions raised for missions. Its benefits can be seen in faith deepened through Bible studies, in confidence built through leadership training, in the befriending of career missionaries, in blankets and clothing gathered for the impoverished, in food shared with the hungry and, above all, in the friendships nurtured and the lives changed by sharing the love of Jesus Christ.”
“Time marches on,” as we all know so well, and it seems that as we age it marches faster. Hard to believe there have been Lutherans for almost 500 years. God willing, we will be around for many, many more. The Lutheran confession has always struggled against folks who have tried to bring in false teaching. But the Lord has been faithful and has raised up faithful pastors who have preached the pure Gospel of Jesus Christ crucified for our sins and raised for our justification. And the Lord has gathered faithful men, women, and children who have carried out the work of the Lord eagerly, ready to reach out to those who need to hear the Gospel. Today we remember Paul, we remember Timothy, we remember Martin, we remember the LWML, and we remember how important it is for us to be ready to tell someone about Jesus. Simply put, our faithful God keeps His promises and we pray this Sunday and always that He will always enable us to be ready to confess.
In Jesus’ Name.
Adapted from a sermon by Dr. Lawrence R. Rast Jr.- President of Concordia Theological Seminary, Fort Wayne, Indiana