“Seeing the World through the Word”
2. Advent, December 4, 2016 i Gratiakirken i Aarhus. Pastor Brandt Klawitter, Oslo.
Romans 15:4: For whatever things were written before were written for our learning, that we through the patience and comfort of the Scriptures might have hope.
There’s a challenge that faces each of us as Christians. Perhaps it’s the biggest single challenge of our lives. You see, this difficulty is in some way or another connected with every aspect of our faith. And: as our world grows older and our Lord’s return grows steadily nearer, I don’t think it’s getting any easier for any of us. What is this I’m talking about? We might describe it as the challenge of seeing the world through the word. It’s the challenge of letting the words of Scripture carry their full divine weight and authority. It’s the challenge of letting them speak as the Spirit desires them to talk. It’s the challenge of letting Scripture norm and shape our lives instead of us norming and shaping it.
In today’s epistle lesson, we find the basis for us talking about this difficulty. St. Paul writes: For whatever things were written before were written for our learning… Here we see that God desires for each of us to be students of His word—each and every word. Here we see that God did not give these words as cute stories, Jewish folklore, or some sort of spiritual myth—but He gave us these writings to us and for us. Just think, when Moses recorded the events of the old world and the history of the Jewish people, when David’s songs and psalms were committed to writing, when the sermons and actions of the prophets were recorded, this was done according to God’s purposes for us, even us here today. It was done for our learning amidst darkness and ignorance. They were written for our comfort in the face of grief, suffering, guilt and despair. They were recorded that we might have patience in difficulty. They were inspired that we would have hope in a world geared towards death and destruction. As Paul wrote elsewhere to Timothy, it is written to make us wise unto salvation through faith in Christ Jesus—and also for teaching, reproof, correction. In short, Scripture is given to us as a light to shine upon the entirety of our lives. It is given as a lens through which we are to view the world, our own lives and God.
Before we go with this theme too far away from our text, though, let’s first observe how St. Paul speaks to the Romans: We then who are strong ought to bear with the scruples of the weak, and not to please ourselves. Let each of us please his neighbor for his good, leading to edification. For even Christ did not please Himself; but as it is written, “The reproaches of those who reproached You fell on Me.” (Rm 15:1-3)
These are the three verses immediately prior to our sermon text. Here we see St. Paul holding up Christ’s love as the example, par excellence, for the Christian’s love towards the neighbor. Here Paul reminds the Roman Christians and us that Christ Himself didn’t come to earth with a condescending attitude thinking that He was too good to help out the lowly, to noble to clean up the messes of the down and out, to righteous and holy to dirty Himself with the problems of the world. In fact, He wasn’t like us at all—at least how we are by nature.
For us, after all, when there’s a mess in the house, at work, or somewhere around us, our first instinct is generally to take a step back and hope that someone else will roll up their sleeves. We want somebody else to take responsibility for the problem. We want someone else to get dirty, sweaty, and to exert the time and energy. This is true for the diapers of babies and it’s generally true for every other problem in church, family, and society. Who really wants to take responsibility for problems? Who wants to be the first to roll up their sleeves when it comes to the mess in someone else’s life and own it, love the person despite the mess, and help them back to their feet?
Yet, St. Paul reminds us: this is exactly what Christ has done for you and me. When there was no one else to pick up the mess of sin in our lives, He rolled up His sleeves. When no man was found who could rescue from the jaws of death, He offered Himself on our behalf. When there was nobody else who could or would say, “This one is mine. I will help.” Jesus claimed each of us—our sins, our mess, the death and punishment we deserved. He took full responsibility for it, for us—and thus, bearing our sins, covered with our shame, He saved us. And: He suffered all of the hate and animosity of the world towards God in the process. Thus, St. Paul quotes from Psalm 69: “The reproaches of those who reproached You fell on Me,” reminding us of Christ’s trials, humiliation, and sacrifice in fulfilling the Father’s will for our salvation. Incidentally, in wonderful Scriptural fashion, the bit of Scripture quoted from Psalm 69 is really only part of what St. Paul is referring to. If you were to read the verse before and after the quotation, an even clearer picture is painted of the suffering Servant through the words of David, first sung nearly 1000 years prior to Christ’s birth.
The point of this, St. Paul is teaching us, through the lens of God’s Word, not only about who our Savior is, but how we are to view suffering, the cross we often bear when doing God’s will in our vocations. Did Christ give up in following His Father’s will because people cursed Him? Of course not. Did He shy away from the sufferings and shame when threatened? Not at all. Rather, He owned—fully and completely—our burdens no matter what the cost was. Thus also St. Paul is teaching those who are stronger in faith, to bear the burdens of the weak, even should they incur difficulty, ridicule, or suffering. That is how he wanted the Christians in Rome—and us today—to view loving service. These Old Testament verses were written for our learning! And: as we see how they directly point to our loving Savior, we are comforted, we find patience in our difficulties, and we have hope. How much there is to see in this little verse!
Furthermore, this isn’t the only time we see in Scripture such reminders and encouragement that God’s Word is to be the lens through which we, first and foremost, view ourselves, our faith, and the world. In 1 Corinthians 10, for example, St. Paul writes about the punishments of disobedience to God that the Israelites experienced. And: what does he conclude? He writes: Now all these things happened to them as examples, and they were written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the ages have come. Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall. The point? Also here Scripture would teach us of the dangers of sin, of God’s just wrath and punishment over sins, of our great need for God’s lavish mercy and grace on account of the evil of our transgressions.
In short, God’s Word is quite clear. It is written for us. It is written for our warning. It is written for our learning. It is written to correct false teachings. It is written to give us patience, comfort, and to instill hope. Indeed, it is God’s gift to sinful man, that we might become wise, even wise unto salvation, even as St. Paul writes to the young pastor, Timothy. But you must continue in the things which you have learned and been assured of, knowing from whom you have learned them, and that from childhood you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work. (2 Tm 3:14-17)
And that brings us back to our theme and to today’s blessed occasion. Today indeed is a day fit for grateful celebration. God has blessed this congregation with such a wonderful structure. It is a building dedicated to singing our Maker’s praises. Here, Christ’s wonderful work for our salvation is proclaimed week in and week out. Here also, the fruits of His bitter death and glorious resurrection are offered to sinners—declaring us free from the guilt of our sins and strengthening each of us for a life of faith in His service. Thus we thank our God and Lord this day that you might call on the name of the Lord in such a place where God’s glory and praise might also be somewhat reflected, even if only in the most veiled form of an earthly sanctuary built by human hands. Even if we are still far removed from the heavenly Jerusalem where the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple, where we shall dwell in the presence of our God forever. As John’s vision reminds us of that place: Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people. God Himself will be with them and be their God. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away.
For now, though, we are here and fight on in the ranks of the church militant. Here, as I said at the beginning, the challenge for both this congregation as well as for the church at large remains: to see the world through the word and not the word through the world. And here, each of us has our work cut out for us. Our work, incidentally which we must think of as the good work, already begun by the Holy Spirit and which will be brought to completion at the return of our Lord Jesus. This return we heard so clearly proclaimed in our Gospel lesson this morning. Indeed, it is a return so certain that our Lord Jesus added to this promise words quoted from Isaiah: Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will by no means pass away. (Lk 21:33)
How then, do we go about this task given to us by God’s Word? How do we put on the glasses of Scripture each and every day—so that we might see all things properly? We hear in Colossians: Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual song, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord. Here we are reminded that the word of Christ is to dwell, collectively, amongst us. By this our Lord’s apostle is calling you, first and foremost, to continue to gather faithfully here in this place where God’s word is proclaimed. If this building is to have a future in accord with its glorious purpose, then more than anything else, it must continue to be a place where God’s Word is sounded forth. From this pulpit, then, it must also sound forth in our homes and families, in our daily lives. And from there? It must resonate in our minds and hearts throughout the week? Indeed, in order for us to see the world through the word, we must first have the word. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly!
Secondly, if we are to see the world through the word and not the word through the world, we must be on guard against the attacks of the devil. The devil, as we hear in our Lord’s parable, is the wicked one who comes and snatches away what was sown in the hearers’ hearts. (Mt. 13:19) Until we are brought to rest in the Lord, the attacks and assaults on God’s Word will never cease in our lives. And this attack is on every front!
In your marriages and families—the very nursery of the church—you will experience this. Where Christ’s Word establishes and sanctifies marriage, one man and one woman joined together to be fruitful and multiply, to support one another through mutual love and respect, and to join together in prayer and raising up godly offspring, Satan will never cease to wreak havoc. Only Christ’s word of guidance, only His protection, only His blessing can help. The advice of the world will destroy the very notion of man and woman. It will advise against children and then teach them disobedience. It will tell you that everything else is important for your kids than that most embarrassing “one thing needful—their precious Savior.” Thus, we must always go back to God’s word on marriage and family, man and woman. We must depend on it to guide us and lead us. We must lean on His promises to be faithful—even as He teaches us to view the trials and blessings of marriage not as difficulties, but even as a wonderful picture of Christ and His precious church.
Likewise, we must go back to viewing our own lives through the lense of Christ’s word. Here, Satan will try to tell us that we have all the answers, that we need not trouble about spiritual questions. He will try to tell us that we’re reasonably good people—or else so bad that we could never hope for salvation. He will try to tell us that we’re anything and everything other than what God’s word says. Yet, through the lens of Scripture, by God’s grace, we actually discover who we are. We see ever so clearly that we are sinful to the core, a perfect wreck, a mess that couldn’t be cleaned up. Yet, we also see that we are the objects of unfathomable divine love. We were declared to be worth living and dying for—by the very Son of God. This is true for those here. This is true for those who aren’t here this morning. This is true of those not yet born as well as for those who are nearing death. No, every person is an object of God’s majestic creation and sacrificial love. With this lens we must see ourselves—and those in our lives.
Additionally, and most importantly, we must view God, His gifts, and His people through the lens which Scripture gives us. This is especially important as Scripture, the works of God and the church most often take on the figure of our Savior. What figure is that? In about three weeks we will once again celebrate His humble birth. Here we will remember the birth of the most exalted King in the poorest of stables and the most primitive of conditions. Scripture is much the same—most often looked upon by the world as a tattered book of scraps. myths, tales, imperfect accounts of history and the divine. That’s what Satan and the world would have us believe. And the church? That foolish and out-of-touch group of people grasping at wishful thinking, seeking hope when there is none to be had in this cold world.
Yet, God’s Word teaches us, shows us true reality. Here we see the truth of Christmas. We see the fact that we welcome none other than the Son of God Himself, the Lamb of God who came to take away the sin of the world into our midst. In the same way, when we receive the word of the Gospel, the teachings of Scripture—it is not foolish words we are hearing, but the precious, truthful, and powerful words of our King who alone has the words of eternal life! Let us rejoice in them and embrace them with grateful love and faithfulness! Let Your tender mercies come to me that I may live; For Your law (i.e. teachings) is my delight. (Ps. 119:77) And the church? Nothing other than a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, called to proclaim the praises of Him who has called us out of darkness into His marvelous light. No, human eyes would never see any of these unseen realities. These are the realities, though, which will one day be made manifest for every eye to see. Nevertheless, through faith, through the lens that God has given us in His precious word, we are able to see these things already and so much more.
Thus we conclude, hearing St. Paul’s words once again: For whatever things were written before were written for our learning, that we through the patience and comfort of the Scriptures might have hope. And as we hear these words, remembering the Spirit’s call to see the world through the word and not the word through the world. Amen.
Den evangelisk-lutherske Frikirke. Lagt på www.vivit.dk 10.12.2016. firstname.lastname@example.org