I have some good news for you. An eccentric billionaire has given our congregation a large monetary gift, along with the following instructions: the first hundred people to show up for this Sunday's Divine Service will each leave with a check for a million dollars.
I look forward to seeing you this Sunday.
Assuming that you are not travelling or working, and are physically healthy enough, what you do this Sunday morning is going to be determined by what you believe about this good news. Indeed, it is an offer that sounds too good to be true. There is reason to disbelieve this message. There are several links along the chain that must individually be true for there to be reason to come to this church's services in expectation of receiving riches. First, the "eccentric" must actually be a "billionaire" and not some random guy off the street who believes he's a tycoon. He must not be a con-man. Second, he must actually have the money to back up the claim. Third, he must keep his promise. Fourth, the pastor and congregation entrusted with this treasure must be able to carry out the charge given them by the eccentric billionaire. Fifth, the hearer of this message must believe he is capable of receiving such a gift.
If any of the above cannot be believed, the story is indeed too good to be true, and the hearer will go about his business on Sunday morning, sleeping in, drinking coffee, golfing, hunting, fishing, reading, watching TV, or any number of other things that don't require faith in an extraordinary claim. There is also the consideration that the message may actually be true over and against what logic and reason would favor. For don't illogical and unreasonable things happen every day? So even though one's confidence in the announcement may be weak, it may be there nonetheless. Even a small amount of faith could incite one to take the risk and make one's way to the church building at the given time. And in fact, one might make sure the entire family is there. One might invite one's friends as well.
But of course, Christian churches aren't in the business of handing out money. Churches are not involved in such trivial matters.
Instead of an eccentric billionaire instructing churches and pastors to confess and proclaim good news about free money, rather they are commanded by God Himself (Matt 28:19-20) to proclaim the good news of salvation through the death of Jesus, God Incarnate, on the cross: His blood atoning for the sins of the world, freely by grace (Eph 2:8-9). The good news is the forgiveness of sin, the abolition of death itself, and the eternal participation in a restored paradise: a heaven and earth that will be devoid of sin, suffering, and death. And we, the Church, present this good news every Sunday in the Divine Service. We hand out the instrument of the blessed exchange, signed in blood, and drawn upon the infinite store of divine promise. We preach the good news of Jesus in the assembly gathered in His name. We participate in the Holy Supper of His true body and blood, which is received physically and in faith bearing the promise of the Word: "for the forgiveness of sins" (Matt 26:28). We administer Holy Absolution according to the instructions (John 20:21-23) of the God of unlimited riches (Ps 24:1) whose ways seem eccentric in the eyes of the world (Isa 55:8-9). We mark poor miserable sinners with the seal of water and the Spirit (John 3:5) in Holy Baptism, making them heirs of the kingdom (Gal 3:26-29). And all of these gifts are offered to the entire world (John 3:16) - not limited to a hundred or even a billion people - although we have not, nor ever could, deserve it.
And how you respond to this good news is a measure of your faith. God doesn't force anyone to believe or to accept His gifts. You can refuse them. Maybe you think they are too good to be true. Maybe your treasure is elsewhere. Maybe you don't believe yourself worthy. It truly boils down to faith, to belief.
If you don't believe, then you will not come to the Divine Service. You will make excuses. You will find other things to do. If you lack faith, then indeed, you will go about your business on Sunday morning, sleeping in, drinking coffee, golfing, hunting, fishing, reading, watching TV, or any number of other things that don't require faith in an extraordinary claim.
But if you actually believe that the Church's good news originates with the true God, that God has the resources to back up His promises, that God will keep His Word, that the preacher and parish are trustworthy and are accurately conveying the good news, and that this good news is offered collectively to the whole world through His only begotten Son, and in fact this offer is made and given "for you" (1 Cor 11:24), then you will show up to claim your treasure on Sunday, receiving gifts far more lavish than mere money. And even a small amount of faith (Matt 17:20) could incite one to take the risk and make one's way to the open doors of the church building for the Divine Service. And in fact, one might make sure the entire family is there. One might invite one's friends as well.
But what if one lacks faith, how does he receive it?
"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? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!” But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, 'Lord, who has believed what he has heard from us?' So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ" (Rom 10:15-17).
I look forward to seeing you this Sunday.