Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Sermon: St. Jerome

30 Sept 2009 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA

Text: Luke 24:44-48 (Joshua 24:14-27, 2 Tim 3:14-17)

In the name of + Jesus. Amen.

Today the Church honors St. Jerome, a doctor of the Church. And like all saints, Jerome’s greatness is not of himself, but of the Lord he served with his life and work.

For thanks to St. Jerome, a priest and monk, the churches and the people had Bibles in their own common language. Jerome’s translation of the Old and New Testaments from Hebrew and Greek into the common, popular Latin restored the Bible to the Western Church for a thousand years, when another doctor of the church, also a priest and monk, named Martin Luther, gave the German people a Bible in their own common, popular language.

Without the miracle of tongues, the Lord, in His grace and mercy, provided doctors of the Church and scholars of Scripture who have made the Word of God available in nearly every one of the world’s languages and dialects spoken today.

And this is indeed part of the Great Commission to “make disciples of all nations,” building up the Church into the beautiful picture in the Book of Revelation of myriads from every tribe and tongue singing praises to the Lamb.

For that is the point of Scripture.

The Lamb Himself opens His mouth to give us His Word in the Scriptures, saying: “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.”

The Word of Jesus testifies to the Word of God, and even the Lord’s Words about Scripture are the Word of God. This is the Word who was with God, and who yet was God, the Word by whom all things were made. This is the Word of the Lord, the very same that endureth forever.

Jerome’s work was not just a scholarly triumph. It was rather the tool by which the very Gospel spread across the known world, in what was at the time the closest thing to a universal language that there was. And even after the Roman Empire was nothing but a faded memory, the Word of God in Jerome’s simple Latin was being preached, sung, chanted, memorized, read, and shouted from the rooftops all across Europe, Asia, and Africa. And as the New World was being discovered, Christian pastors equipped with Jerome’s Latin Bible made their way to the Americas, with the Church being spread to places St. Jerome never even knew existed.

For the Scriptures are not merely read, but are absorbed by the believer’s heart by the power of the Holy Spirit. Understanding of things by faith and not merely by sight comes through the hearing of the Word. Even as the Word teaches us: “Then He opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, and said to them, ‘Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in His name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things.’”

The Holy Word opens our unholy minds to the reality, the good news that Jesus has died and has risen. The Scriptures proclaim both “repentance” – that is the Law – and “forgiveness” – that is the Gospel. The Scriptures are effective not because preachers preach it, but rather because it is God’s Word that preachers preach. And that Word works miracles on us, as “faith comes by hearing.”

Our Lord “opens our minds” and shows Himself in the written Word. And that Word gives us life.

And the Lord tells the apostles that they shall be witnesses, testifiers of the Gospel recorded in Holy Scripture, as their proclamation would begin in Jerusalem, and extend throughout the ends of the earth.

And what a tragedy it is that we treat this gift of God so shabbily. How often we neglect reading, studying, praying, and teaching the Word of God. Too often, the “family Bible” is a pristine decoration in the living room or a cluttered place to keep family records. Even churches that uphold the inerrancy of the Bible and have multiple Bible studies each week struggle with a lack of zeal for God’s Word and a failure to apply Holy Scripture in our lives – as our actions often reflect a knowledge about Scripture while our sinful nature causes us to ignore God’s Word as we live out our everyday lives.

This is why our blessed Lord points us to “repentance.” For as St. Paul points out to the well-versed Timothy, whose mother and grandmother taught him the Bible from his own childhood: “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness.”

The beauty of God’s Word lies not only in its poetry, its explanations of our origin, in the historical records of ancient peoples, and in its literature, but much more deeply as the very means by which the living God speaks to us, calling us to repent, delivering to us the very forgiveness of sin, and encouraging us in our lifelong war with Satan.

St. Paul tells the younger pastor Timothy, that through the Word of God, “the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work.”

The Bible is “equipment.” It is gear. It is a weapon. It is our defense. And it endures forever – for it is the Word of the Lord.

We give thanks for Jerome, for Martin Luther, for the many who translated the Bible into English, for all doctors of the Church, and for the countless chain of scribes and monks who copied the Lord’s Word with no acclaim or thanks from the world. We give thanks for the men and women who have risked their lives to preserve the Scriptures. But most of all, we give thanks to our Blessed Lord, whose Word is our very life, who calls us to repentance as well as proclaims the forgiveness of sins – all through the Word of God and its preaching.

And we, like the people who submitted to Joshua, have been made free by the gospel to confess with the people of Israel: “The Lord our God we will serve, and His voice we will obey.”

Thanks be to God. Amen.

In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen


Past Elder said...

Well OK, you know I've got a Clementine Vulgate around and all, but, two things --

Maybe it should also be pointed out that Jerome was quite controversial in his time, not about the translation thing, but his pathological asceticism (there's another kind?) which resulted in the death within four months of getting her to do it of the daughter of the wealthy Roman woman whose money he lived off of for years. Plus his constant dissing of parish clergy for not being monks. For which once his patron Pope Damasus died Rome launched an investigation of his associations with a group of wealthy Roman women and pretty much ran him out of town. For also which reason Martin Luther had a rather low opinion of him.

The other thing being, when did it happen that Christianity got into translating, unlike Judaism before and Islam after, where the expectation is the believer will put himself into the language of the respective holy books to read them as written, rather than put the holy books into the language of the believer leaving the study of the original to the blackbirds who then argue about whether the translation is good or not?

drjmarkh said...

Regardless of Jerome, that was a great message. Thanks for sharing.