22 August 2010 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA
Text: Rom 10:9-16
In the name of + Jesus. Amen.
We are a self-serve people.
There used to be “full service” gas stations in which a guy would not only pump your gas, he would check your oil, clean your windshield, and make conversation with you. But now, we do it ourselves. We often use U-Haul to move, take out library books by swiping a card, and check ourselves out of the grocery store. Often even the restaurants we go to have no waiter or waitress to serve us.
We Americans like to be self-sufficient do-it-yourselfers. Some people even think the Bible says: “God helps those who help themselves.”
In fact, the Christian faith is just the opposite.
One of the last things Martin Luther wrote was the theologically profound statement: “We are beggars.” The Christian faith is a faith in which we are served and we serve; meaning God serves us (as beggars, as poor miserable sinners with no worth or merit in ourselves), giving us forgiveness, life, and salvation. We, in turn, live our lives as servants – offering ourselves, our lives, and our possessions as thank offerings to God, offering service to our neighbors in need, out of love. Whereas the motivation for being a do-it-yourselfer is money and independence, the motivation to be a servant in God’s kingdom is to receive out of love, and as a result, to be mutually dependent upon, and with, one-another.
And this is where God’s kingdom clashes with the kingdom of the world – especially the self-starter, free-market, individualist culture we live in.
The holy Christian faith is not self-serve, but full serve. Jesus came to us as a humble servant. He gave of himself fully and completely. He pronounced His saving and serving work for us with His triumphant cry: “It is finished.” He serves us with His Word and His Sacraments, His absolution, His baptism, His body and blood, and His eternal and merciful Gospel.
St. Paul proves the futility of a self-serve faith, when he begins with a citation from the prophet Joel: “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved,” and then asks a few rhetorical questions as a result: “How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent?”
St. Paul is telling us that we need more than a self-serve faith to be saved. The Christian faith is not something you can teach yourself intellectually with a book or an iPod. Rather it is a faith that is miraculously appropriated through the Word and lived out – however imperfectly – in deed and in truth. And as Paul later tells us: “Faith comes by hearing” the Word of Christ.
But how are we to hear this Word today? The holy apostle tells us that the Word of Christ is proclaimed by the Lord’s servants. For we call on Him when we believe. And that belief, that faith, is given to us when we hear the Gospel. And that Gospel is heard when it is preached. It is preached when there is a preacher preaching. And there is a preacher when a preacher is sent.
And so the Church sends preachers.
St. Paul does not tell the Church to bring people to salvation by handing out Bibles. Handing out Bibles is not a bad thing. In fact, it is a good thing. But God’s Word is not meant to be figured out in isolation, but rather lived out in community. It is taught and preached by preachers. It is learned and internalized by hearers. The Word of God finds its real power in the church, that is, the assembly of the redeemed, of the forgiven. We are served by the Lord’s servants who serve in the name of the Lord who Himself took the form of a servant.
This is why the pastor forgives our sins with the following preamble: “By virtue of my office as a called and ordained servant of the Word…” You are not left to forgive your own sins the way you pump your own gas. You are not left to preach to yourself the way you use the self-checkout line at the store. You are not given to consecrate bread and wine into the Lord’s Supper on your own the way you withdraw money from an ATM. For even the word “Communion” shows the communal nature of the most holy sacrament of the altar.
No, indeed, the Lord has given us a kingdom that is a full-service realm, a glorious faith of forgiveness, life, and salvation, preached by preachers, heard by hearers, and shared by all of us sinner/saints who serve and are served, both by the Lord and by our neighbor.
For though we believe quietly in our heart, we confess aloud with our mouths. We do so in order that someone might hear it. We confess with our mouths because we are not alone, nor are we left to serve ourselves. For God helps those who cannot help themselves. As Blessed Mary sang: “He has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich He has sent away empty.” And as her Blessed Son proclaimed: “I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.” If the Word that saves us could have come to us only in a book, the Word would not have been made flesh and dwelt among us. We would have a mere Word of information instead of the atoning Word of the cross. Nor would that same Word ordain and consecrate servants into a holy ministry to preach, teach, baptize, absolve, administer the Supper, and serve you with the eternal gifts of the kingdom – if the Word were administered in a self-serve manner.
The Christian faith is not a self-serve faith. Rather it is a servant faith. And thanks be to God that our mighty Lord is also a humble servant, one who is not ashamed to serve us poor miserable sinners who cannot help ourselves.
In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.