Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen. This morning we meditate on guarding against wolves in sheep’s clothing.
As we hear the passage from our second reading in Acts, we have this glimpse into Paul’s departure from the town of Ephesus. Now, as Paul makes the point in the lesson, as he was with them he taught them constantly. In fact, as he’s talking, he’s especially talking to the elders of that town. Interestingly, just like it appears the disciples were with Jesus three years, that’s how long Paul was with the Ephesians. And so they learned. They went to seminary, so to speak. And now Paul is departing from them. And we see the love and the care for them as he does this. There are tears, there is sorrow. I’m sure you all can relate to this having had pastors that you loved serve here and then be called to other congregations. That’s Paul and the Ephesian church here. But in that love, what do we see that Paul says to them?
First, he tells them, “Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood.” In other words, he says, “You all are pastors. The Holy Spirit has made you shepherds of the Church of Christ. Watch over them. Over see them.” So, Paul is encouraging these pastors as he leaves Ephesus. He’s telling them, you watch over these people, because they’re Christ’s people. And then he says, “I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them.”
So second, he tells them that there will be these fierce wolves that will come in and not spare the flock. Of course, this we can connect to the Gospel Lesson. Even though we don’t have evidence that Paul listened to much if any of Jesus’ preaching in his earthly ministry, the Lord had made sure that Paul knew somehow that there was a need to watch out for wolves in sheep’s clothing. As He said in the Gospel Lesson, “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves.”
Now, in our day, we hear that, but often when a pastor actually calls another teacher in the church, or calls people outside of the church wolves in sheep’s clothing, it grates against our sensibilities. I was reading a book on vacation that I really appreciated how it spoke about this. It said that in our culture of Christianity, we have the eleventh commandment of “Be Nice.” Now, obviously, he’s using the phrase eleventh commandment to make a point. God didn’t give us this commandment, but we seem to assume that as Christians, we always have to be nice. As I say that, to be clear, I’m not advocating that we be jerks. Love tells us that we shouldn’t intentionally be rude or unnecessarily disrespectful. But often when someone is pointed out as being a false prophet, the finger gets pointed back at the person saying that naming them as someone who is mean and unloving.
But look at Paul. Do you think he didn’t love the Ephesians? Look at the tears he’s shedding as he’s leaving them. Look at how he’s making the point that he loved them and taught them—which that teaching of the Word is really the greatest love we can show. It’s the greatest love we can share with our children and all our neighbors. You know it’s more important that our children grow up to be Christian than well educated. To be clear, those don’t have to be opposed, but we also need to be cognizant of making that point to them. Likewise, the most loving thing we can do for our neighbors is to tell them of the God who loves them and as Paul said, “obtained them with His own blood.”
But I digress. The reality is that as we speak this Word and as we point out how there are those who contradict it, we are called mean. But yet that’s what Paul says to do in his love for the Ephesians. That’s what Jesus tells His disciples. Be on the lookout for these false teachers. That word there to lookout for actually is a nautical term where you talk about holding a ship in a particular direction. Hold on to your to attention to the teachings out there. Watch them and discern their truthfulness. In fact, as a teacher of the Church, I am to watch out for that and correct where it’s wrong.
I may have told you this before, I can’t recall. But I remember when this hit home for me. It was on my vicarage. I was reading my Bible for my daily Bible reading, and I was reading Titus Chapter One. Now Titus Chapter One is about the qualifications of being a pastor. Paul, as a pastor, is writing to Titus, as a pastor about what that means, and encouraging Titus in his work as a pastor, and probably even, in a sense as a bishop, where he was serving. As Paul talks about this, he tells Titus that elders—and that’s not necessarily like elders as we have, but pastors—but Paul tells Titus that an elder “must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it.”
Now that really struck me. Why? Not because as I was training to be a pastor that I realized I would need to hold firm to the Word. Of course, I would need to do that. Nor because I needed to be able to give instruction in sound doctrine. Of course, I need to do that. No, but because I would need to rebuke those who contradict it. That’s what struck me: the rebuke of those who contradict it. The need to say, “No, that is wrong.” We don’t like that in our day, do we? You have your truth, and that’s OK. I have my truth and that’s OK, right? But that’s not what the Scripture shows us. That’s not what Jesus tells His disciples when He tells them to watch our for false prophets, for these wolves in sheep’s clothing. That’s not what Paul told the pastors in Ephesus. That’s not what Paul told Titus.
And if that’s not enough, we see it in the Old Testament Lesson too. Now, to give some context to this, when Jeremiah is speaking—or when he is prophesying, really, speaking as the mouthpiece of God—this is in the time of the kingdom of Israel when God is telling them they need to repent because they are being unfaithful, and due to that unfaithfulness He’s going to bring judgment upon them. Namely, He’s going to bring other kingdoms in that will overtake them and conquer them. But what do you see there? Jeremiah speaks this word from the Lord: “Do not listen to the words of the prophets who prophesy to you, filling you with vain hopes. They speak visions of their own minds, not from the mouth of the LORD. They say continually to those who despise the word of the LORD, ‘It shall be well with you’; and to everyone who stubbornly follows his own heart, they say, ‘No disaster shall come upon you.’” Now, I hear people somewhat regularly talk about how Christians—and I would argue this accusation is especially directed at Lutherans even by other Christians—that we talk too much about sin. In our day and place we want a “more positive message.” That sounds a lot like people want a message that says “Even if you despise God’s Word, it shall be well with you. No disaster shall come upon you.” But that’s not the message the Lord speaks. What message does He speak?
Think about what Jesus says in the Gospel of Luke. I know you’re probably thinking, “Pastor, I can’t remember whether He says something in Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John, let alone to know what you’re thinking of specifically in Luke.” I know. So, at the end of the Gospel of Luke, Jesus is talking to His disciples. It’s after the resurrection, and He’s teaching them about His fulfillment of the Old Testament Scriptures, then He tells them “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance for the forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations.” What’s the message? Repentance for the forgiveness of sins! Not “it shall be well with you, No disaster shall come upon you.”
Now we hear that, and we might say, why? Why does it have to be so—how should we say it?—negative? Heavy? Well, that’s fair to ask I suppose. But let’s take a step back and consider what this deals with, Who were talking about. What is this? Who are we talking about? We’re talking about the eternal God! And we’re talking about how our sin has offended Him and created a rift between us that apart from repentance results in an eternity in hell. That’s a very serious thing. And so when we’re talking about God we don’t want to say false things about Him. That’s what the Second Commandment that tells us not to misuse His name tells us. That’s what our petition that His Name be hallowed means. It means that we would speak of Him rightly, that we would live faithfully according to His Word. It means that we would call upon Him in prayer, praise, and thanksgiving, not just willy-nilly or throw around His Name as an exclamation or even a curse. So that’s part of it.
The other part of it is love. The other part of it is the care of souls. Christians, there is a real danger in unrepentance. There is a real harm that will come to those who don’t repent. And out of love we don’t want that. When people don’t hear that, that’s a problem. When a teacher is telling them publicly that repentance is a non-issue or shouldn’t be preached much, if at all, so that the message can be more positive, that’s a false prophet. That’s telling people what they want to hear. That’s why we preach the commandments to their fullest demand, and why we don’t shy away from describing the full consequence of falling away from them.
But we also include in that preaching of repentance, the faith that clings to Jesus. And that’s what we really want people to know. We want people to know the Christ who is the second person of the Trinity, God made man in the flesh of Jesus of Nazareth. And we want people to know that this Christ was crucified on the cross of Calvary that people’s sins would be atoned for, completely covered by His blood that they would have eternal life with this Lord who created them and loves them, this Good Shepherd Who laid down His life for the sheep. We also want them to know how He promises to be with them that they can have certainty; how He promises to meet with them in His Word, His preaching, and in the waters of baptism and how He promises to come to them in His body and blood. We want them to have that assurance even over against Churches who get it right that Jesus died for their sins and saves by faith alone but don’t get that presence in Word and Sacrament right, because that promise of His presence gives assurance and comfort when that Hammer of God’s Law crushes us. And we want this out of love for them. We want it that way just as Paul wanted the Ephesians protected from wolves, just as Jesus calls us to watch out for wolves in sheep’s clothing. And we want this for ourselves because our Lord wants this for us out of His great love for us. His love that caused Him to die for our sins that we could be with Him forever. Amen.
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen. This morning we meditate on the Gospel Lesson which was previously read.
As Lutherans I’m guessing you all know Ephesians 2:8-9. Some of you might not know the reference, but I’m guessing you know the verse, “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” That’s at the heart of our message, isn’t it? You can’t get to heaven by being good enough, so you are saved by God’s grace. In other words, your sin is always more than you can overcome, even your good works don’t earn God’s favor and so He sent Jesus to die for your sins, so that you go heaven by trusting in that work that He did and not in your own works, at all. In light of that, then, what is always the accusation that people make? “Well if you don’t have to earn your way to heaven, then you can do whatever you want and still get there? That’s horrible!” Or to put it another way, people will say, “if you tell people they can’t and won’t earn their way to heaven, then you’re just encouraging them to sin!” Is that true? Do I get up in this pulpit and encourage you to sin because I tell you week in and week out that Jesus died for your sins? Or as Paul put it in the Epistle Lesson, “What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound?” That’s the logic here isn’t it?
In fact, I remember a friend and I talking about this once, and he jokingly went on this whole monologue about how he had decided that since Christ had died for the sin of every man, woman, and child throughout time, then it would be logical to “maximize the grace efficiency,” and sin all the more. Now, he was clearly joking, but, again, that’s the logic people assume goes with this, isn’t it? Isn’t that how we think as people? “If I am guaranteed the benefit from x, then I should maximize that benefit.” “If someone is willing to give me money, I should maximize my benefit of that.” The reality is that we see how this falls short eventually in an earthly context, but our sinful brains often assume that this is how it must work with God too. And as I keep asking if that’s true, I am expecting that in your head you keep thinking, “No, Pastor, that’s not how it works! We don’t just keep sinning to maximize the benefit of God’s grace!” Or as Paul says it in the Epistle Lesson, “Should we continue sinning that grace may abound? Mē genoito! May it not be!”
So then why do we continually act as though that’s what we’re trying to do? Why do we continually live as though this doesn’t matter? Well, from a theological perspective the answer is easy. Because we are still sinners. And that can sound overly simple, but it’s true. Just after our passage in the Epistle in Romans six, Paul has a whole discussion about God’s commands, about the Law, and its relationship to the Christian. He says things like that we were held captive to the Law, to God’s commands. That these held us prisoner to sin, to death. And how these commands even aroused sinful desires in him. Which this is what my pastor who confirmed me always called cookie jar theology. You know, if you make cookies, put them in a jar, and set the jar on the fridge, the little kids probably aren’t going to think a whole lot about them. But if you explicitly say to them, “I’m putting the cookies here, don’t eat them,” where do their brains go? Thinking about how to get some cookies, right? That’s what the Law does to us, it provokes our sinful desires. So, then, are those commands bad? Is the problem in the command? No! Paul says it’s good, it’s righteous. So, what’s the problem? Us, right? We are the problem. Our sinful nature is the problem.
In light of that, then, we see what Jesus tells us about this Law. He says that “whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven.” He says that you need to hear the Law to the fullest extent, and He explains that right after this verse. As an example, He looks at the command not to murder. He connects this to what the rabbis and teachers at the time taught, that they would tell you a murder is liable to judgment. But what does Jesus say? He makes the point, this isn’t just about the action of murdering, even if you call your neighbor, “Raca, fool!” you’re liable to hell. And why? Why does He do this? Because your righteousness has to exceed the Scribes and Pharisees if you want to get into heaven. He’s saying, “look at the best person you know. If you want to get to heaven, you have to be better than them.” And what’s He really saying? He’s really saying is that when God gives these commands—these commands that are good!, these commands that you heard in the Old Testament lesson—when you hear those, you better be trying to do them. In fact, you better be trying to keep them to the fullest extent. If not, your righteousness has failed. And what’s the point of that? Your righteousness has failed. It’s failed and you’re liable to hell for it. That’s what the Law brings. There is a promise to the Law. If you keep the Law perfectly you’ll live. But we don’t keep it perfectly and we see this because we die, and the wages of sin is death. We’re bound to it, we can’t help it, it’s like a prison for us.
To come back to Paul, he even acknowledges this problem again in Romans seven. He talks about wanting to do good. “For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate…. I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing.” He says, “I’m trying to do the right thing, and I keep messing it up.” And maybe you can identify with that. Hopefully, you can identify with that. Hopefully I tell you to keep these commandments, and your brain says, “Pastor, I’m trying! I’m trying but I keep messing it up!” Or maybe you’re thinking, “I know Pastor, I know I should try to be better about the commandments.” But hopefully, you’re not thinking, “that’s true, but we’re all human.” You see, as true as it is that as fallen humans we can’t keep it, that’s not our justification. We don’t just make that excuse. The commands come and tell us, “You might be right, but that doesn’t excuse you from it.” Yeah it’s true that you can’t do it, but I can’t loosen the Law and tell you, “by golly that’s just OK.” That’s not in my call to do that. No, but I can tell you exactly what Paul says to finish his thought about not doing the good he wants and doing the evil he doesn’t want. And what’s that? Hopefully you know. Maybe not word for word, but hopefully you know. That said, word for word what Paul says, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death.” You are not condemned by this Law because of Jesus. You have freedom from that Law because Jesus set you free from it.
I was reading this week about what Luther said about this letter to the Romans. And I don’t know if you know, but Luther wrote all these prefaces to the books of the Bible; little explanations that tell about what’s in each book, and that sort of thing. And his preface to Paul’s letter to the Romans is famous because he talks in it about how salvation by grace through faith isn’t this thing that excludes good works, because faith does good works without thinking about them, and that sort of thing. It’s great stuff. Hopefully you’ve heard it. But he also says this great thing about being set free from the Law, as Paul put it here, the “law of sin and death.” He says, “To be without the law is not the same thing as to have no laws and to be able to do what one pleases. Rather we are under the law when, without grace, we occupy ourselves with the works of the law. Then sin certainly rules [us] through the law, for no one loves the law by nature; and that is great sin. Grace, however, makes the law dear to us; then sin is no longer present, and the law is no longer against us but one with us.”
In other words, when we are in Christ, then we can actually love the Law, we can actually love the Commands that God gives us. Now, without Christ we can pretend that we like to be good, and we like to do what the Law says and all that. But the reality, he points out, is that we don’t love the Law by nature. We might like to do things that appear to keep it. We might like to not actually murder people. We might like to not actually steal their stuff. But the reality is that we like these things because we feel bad when we do them, or because we like to feel good about how well we do those things. But then when Jesus tells us that if we are angry we deserve hell, when we hear that the whole world, from the tiniest unborn child to the oldest and sweetest old lady, that one and all deserve hell, especially ourselves. That sets something off. We don’t like it. It’s unfair, it’s unjust and too demanding. Who could be saved?
But that’s where Jesus comes in and tells us, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.” No, He didn’t come that we’d throw these commands out. Instead, He came that they wouldn’t be that burden that we couldn’t carry. He came to carry that burden to the cross, having kept the commands perfectly. He came to be crucified for them and raised for the forgiveness of them. And this is why I’m always harping about being in Church week in and week out, because this is where that life is in Him, that forgiveness is in Him, that fulfillment is in Him. Our faith is in this work of Jesus, not our own, and here is where He gives that work to us. Here is where He speaks that sin forgiven, speaks that fulfillment into our ears. Here is where He feeds us with its perfection. And here is where He has baptized us into that death, that we could be raised in His resurrection.
Christians, as we wrestle with how this salvation by grace through faith thing works in conjunction with these commands of God, I think this imagery Paul gives about baptism is the best way to understand it: “We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life…. We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. For one who has died has been set free from sin…. For the death [Christ] died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.” You are alive in Christ, so you love God’s commandments. Love them, do them, keep them. Do so because they aren’t what gets you to heaven. No Jesus takes care of that. He has come not to abolish, but to fulfill. And in that fulfillment you truly are saved by grace through faith, not by works so that you can’t boast, but you can be God’s workmanship made anew in Christ doing what He has given for you to do. Amen.
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen. This morning we meditate on the Gospel Lesson previously read.
As I read Scripture, I often think something that is helpful is to try to put ourselves in the shoes of the people in the story, to humanize the people in these stories. I obviously spent a fair amount of time doing that last week with Joseph and his brothers, and this is another good to time to consider that as well. I think about the response of these fishermen and the call where they left everything to follow Jesus. What do you think their thoughts were when Jesus said, “from now on you will be catching men?” I can imagine they wondered what this meant. Of course, they had just seen a miracle. Peter all the more had seen his mother-in-law healed just before this in Luke, so we can understand how they would pick up and go. And there they were, called to be fishers of men. And what does that even mean? Well, I think you know. And if you don’t I’m sure you can make the connection with the imagery here. They were called to cast the net of the Gospel of Christ to gather fish into the boat of the Church out of the depths of sin, death, and the power of the devil.
Now as I describe that, I think we all know that I’m describing what we would call the mission of the Church, right? That is what the Church is here for. The Church is here for the rescuing of drowning humanity to be brought into the safety and refuge of the Ark of the Church from the sea of sin, death, and the devil. How does the Church do this? By the forgiveness of sins. That’s why I talk about Christ’s death for you every week, that’s why I tell you your sin is forgiven every week, because that’s the only thing the Church does that no other organization in the world can do. Yes, we’re supposed to be moral and upright people in the Church, and we’re going to talk more about that next week, but this is the mission of the Church: the forgiveness of sins. Why? Because as Luther says in the Catechism on the Lord’s Supper, “where there is the forgiveness of sins, there is life and salvation.” Because that forgiveness brings the people into the boat. That’s the mission. That’s the calling to which the disciples were called.
Now as I say that, I’d like for us to meditate on that mission a bit today, and to do so in view of this passage by applying it to three areas: that mission of the Church broadly for the individual Christian; that mission of the Church in light of the Office of the Ministry; and that mission in light of this Word of God.
So first, the mission of the Church broadly for the individual Christian. I already made the point the Church’s mission is this forgiveness of sins and the bringing of people into the Ark of the Church by that forgiveness, but what does this mean for you? There has been a strong push for individual missions over the past couple of centuries in such a way as to make you the individual Christian the one responsible for the perpetuation of the Church. It’s your job to go out there and get people in here. Is that a right understanding? When Jesus calls Peter to become a fisher of men, is He saying that you, Christian, are also that fisher? I think we have to be nuanced about how we understand that. Why? Well, I think when we misunderstand this call it can lead to us feeling so much pressure to bring people in that we are misled to think that the Church then must accommodate whatever perceived changes are needed to make the Church more appealing.
So, how should we begin with thinking about this? First, who brings people into the fellowship of Christ’s Church? Do you? Do I as the pastor? Do those people do it on their own? Well, we could get into all kinds of language about instrumental causes and efficient causes and that sort of thing, but let’s keep it simple. Who brings people into the Church? The Holy Spirit does. It’s His job, right? He’s the One who creates faith, He’s the One who sustains it. He’s the One who does the work. Now, how does He do that? How is faith created? Where does He promise to create faith? By the Word and Sacraments, right? By the Word in the Scriptures, by the Word proclaimed, by the Word attached to the waters of baptism. As I always say, you want to be sure you have the Holy Spirit, you look there.
So what does that mean for you in terms of the mission of the Church? It means that you certainly have a duty to live faithfully as a Christian. It means that you have the call to live according to God’s commands—which we’ll talk more about next week as well. But you have that duty, not in light of the mission of the Church per se, but because you’re a Christian. However, those commands include the Second Commandment. Which one’s that? Do not misuse the Name of the Lord Your God. That means, in part, that you are called to know what the Word says so that you can speak rightly about who this God is. As Peter says it, always be prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you. You don’t have to be a professional theologian, but you should be a theologian and confess that faith, know why you believe what you believe. And love your neighbor as the last seven commandments tell you, first of all just because God has loved you, but also so that in that love you might have the chance to give the greatest gift of all, the hearing of the forgiveness of their sins in Christ. That’s your job. That’s it. You don’t have to make it super fancy. Like I said, you don’t have to be as articulate about it as a theology professor, but know it so you can speak it.
Then the Office of the Ministry, how does that connect? Did you hear where the Holy Spirit was promised to be? Preaching, Scriptures, Baptism? That’s the Office of the Ministry. When Jesus tells Peter he’ll be a fisher of men, He’s calling Peter into the Office of the Ministry, into the public work of that office. In other words, Jesus is calling Peter to be a pastor. Now to be clear, Peter was an apostle too. He was a whole lot more than I am as a pastor. He had apostolic authority in that call and in His eyewitness experience with the life of Jesus. My call is mediated through the Church. Peter, his call was immediate. There was no mediator. That call came from the mouth of Jesus Himself. But the authority’s the same: the keys to the kingdom of heaven, the keys to bind and forgive sins. That’s my call, right? As the Church has this mission to bring people into it by forgiveness, that’s what I do on behalf of the Church, publicly. And through that, through that gathering of the Holy Spirit as He comes to us in Word and Sacrament, here you are: the Church. Those here in the Ark of the Church, rescued from sin, death, and the devil. That’s the public Office of the Ministry. And God has given it for the Church.
And how does all of this come together? That Word of Jesus. That Word that we as Lutheran Theologians call efficacious. That Word that is capable to do and does exactly what it says. I love that how you see this in this lesson. As I spoke about the human aspect here, think about being Peter. He’s been out fishing all night and caught nothing. He’s exhausted and ready for rest. But here Jesus says, “throw out the nets again.” “But Lord, we haven’t caught anything, really?” Then he thinks about this Jesus and how Jesus healed his mother-in-law. “But at your word I will let down the nets.” And that Word did what it said. It worked in Peter the action of putting the nets in the water, and it worked in creation that action of the fish being caught in the net. Peter wasn’t thinking it was going to happen, but it did. It did because this is the Word that carries the authority of the creator Himself.
I point this out with regularity, but think about creation. In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth, then He spoke. He said, “Let there be light.” And what happened? There was light. That Word did what it said. And so for you as well in this Church. “As called and ordained servant of the Word I forgive you all of your sins, in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” And what happens? Your sin is forgiven. “Our Lord Jesus Christ, on the night when He was betrayed took bread, and when He had given thanks broke it and gave it to His disciples, and said, ‘take eat, this is my body given for you for the forgiveness of sin… take drink, this cup is the New Testament in my blood, shed for you for the forgiveness of your sins.” And what happens? There is the body, there is the blood, given for you, shed for you in wafer and in chalice. To what end? The forgiveness of your sins! The Word does what it says.
But we forget it, don’t we? We doubt it like Peter, don’t we? We forget what Paul says that this Word is folly to those who are perishing. We forget that of course this Word seems powerless because the world around us thinks it’s moronic. I was reading a part of a book this week that was talking about the New Atheists. I don’t know if you know about that movement, but it was big in the 2000’s. Especially it was centered around Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens among a couple of others. And these guys were rabid atheists. They would say things about how religion is the greatest harm, that it’s the most dangerous thing out there. Why? Because it causes people to go on crusades and blow up buildings—of course ignoring the multitude of great things the Church actually has done. But still, the mindset is that this faith is moronic. It’s dumb. It’s foolish.
And that can discourage us. It can make us think the Word won’t work. We look at the culture around us and how churches are shrinking all over the place, and that can discourage us and make us think that the Word won’t work. It can make us think that the Word needs our help to be more palatable. But this Word carries the authority of the Creator. It carries the authority to do what it says, and it brings that forgiveness, it brings that salvation. In that God Himself comes to you. He comes to you through His Word, through this jar of clay in front of you that the Holy Spirit has called to you. And He comes to you and strengthens you in Him that you can carry His love into the world around you. And He has promised the gates of hell will not prevail against Him, His Church, His word. And just as those disciples, just as Peter was a broken and fallen human, He comes to you broken and fallen as you are, and He makes you anew in Him just the same. He does this in this Christian Church, doing the work of the mission for which He sends her. Amen.