Monday, January 28, 2013

Is this a Powerful Sermon?

      This morning I noticed the following at Against Death and For Life!:

This is an incredibly powerful sermon delivered by Pastor Matthew C. Harrison, president of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod, on the subject of our society’s attitude toward life deemed not worthy of being lived. Powerful, powerful stuff here folks. You owe it to yourself to gather your family and watch this together.

      So I viewed it and listened carefully, twice. Then I reviewed several portions a few additional times.

      Is this truly a powerful sermon? Does Pr. Harrison hold to the preaching that his professed quia subscription to the Lutheran Confessions define as a truly powerful sermon? Is this a sermon that rightly distinguishes between the Law and the Gospel and applies each to the hearers so as to move them to be cut to their own hearts and turned to true faith in the Gospel?

      Having viewed it and listened carefully I do not find this to be what this sermon does. I do not hear Pr. Harrison holding me and the other hearers accountable for our own sinfulness. Rather, it sounds to me like a highschool pep rally to inspire school spirit and to pit one school and team against another. “Rah! Rah! Rah! Go Team!! Yes! Our team is the best, to H with the rest! Yea.............Team!”

      In this sermon I only found one very weak attempt at applying God’s Law to the hearers. At 10:20 on the time line Pr. Harrison says:

     Then Jesus began inviting the dregs of society to be His friends, like Levi, the tax collector, Luke 5:27. And He still invites the dregs like YOU, even you in the back. (Audience chuckles.)
     I asked them before this sermon if I could mention a few of their sins up here publically, but nobody was forthcoming. (Audience chuckles.)

      This is the only attempt at application of the Law to the actual hearers. And this was making very light of their own sinful condition, actually making a joke of it. Not one person hearing this would be cut to the heart concerning one’s need for God’s forgiveness and healing. I certainly did not hear myself being confronted with my sinfulness.

      What I did hear was a condemnation of OTHERS! Over and over the Nazis were condemned. There also was a connection made to those who have promoted and performed the more than 53 million abortions in America.

      But no condemning statement was made concerning the hearers and their refusal to love their neighbors. No call to acknowledge any of our own sins and rebellion against God’s holiness was preached at all. Rather, the LC-MS and its membership were praised for their good works and urged to take pride in doing more good works. The presumed good works of fighting abortion from a “loving” and “joyful” disposition were praised and urged. “Go Team!”

      Just as the Law was not applied to the hearers, neither was the Gospel applied. No one hearing this sermon would respond with a broken and contrite heart saying, “God be merciful to me a sinner.” Even a Nazi would laugh at this sermon, without any sense of wanting to turn to God to hear His gracious absolution. Even if a Nazi heard that the millions of murders were wrong, that Nazi would think that at least the six million plus murders are not as bad as the 53 million abortions of the Americans. Both the Nazis and the LC-MS membership hear an excuse to say: “At least we are not as bad as certain others. Besides, Pr. Harrison says that Jesus invites the dregs to be His friends.

      Indeed. Where did Pr. Harrison say anything about members of the LC-MS being in need of repentance? Was it somewhere in this sermon mentioned so subtly that even with several viewings that I did not perceive it?

      On that, what about the many blatant denials of the pure Gospel and Sacraments that the pastors and congregations of the LC-MS have committed for many decades, and with increasing boldness in recent years? The Lutheran Confessions speak of these compromises as the very worst of sins, even calling them soul-murder. Do we Lutherans, regardless of whichever synodical team or congregation we belong, do we not need to hear the call to acknowledge the First Three Commandments and our many sins against them? Do we not need to hear that we daily worship at the feet of the idol of the media and movie industry and the Internet? Do we not need to hear how we have taken the Lord’s name in vain and misused it in connection with false worship practices? Do we not need to hear how nonchalantly we treat daily prayer and devotion? Do we not need to hear how we give “half-cast” prayers toward God? Do we not need to hear, especially those who are of the LC-MS, how unionism has been openly practiced without even a hint of contrition over this violation of the Third Commandment?

      How can Pr. Harrison or any other pastor imagine that anyone from outside their “fellowship” will take their preaching seriously? Why would any nonbeliever be moved to listen to this kind of pep rally drivel? This is not even honest evaluation of their own membership. Why would someone like myself, someone who counts himself as a very desperate and poor, miserable sinner turn to such a works-righteous preacher and church body? I need to hear God’s Law and Gospel carefully and accurately preached to me so that I know that my need for the remission of my sins has been genuinely addressed. I need to know that the merits of Christ crucified are imparted to me through the ordained means of grace. I need to know that my miserable attempts at righteousness are not the basis of my judgment. I need to know that the perfect righteousness of Jesus has been poured out to me so that by His righteousness I am judged.

      Then and only then do I recognize myself as one among those who rejoices to count myself among those “who like Jesus are people of joy over life.” Pr. Harrison proclaims this as a catch phrase, but it is inestimably more. When a person hears this as what God works for us, then the person truly is made to be a person of joy over life. Then a person does not need to be urged to stand up for others, for that is the regenerated motive of the person’s heart. This is what the Holy Spirit produces. It is not something that a person must generate within oneself. The preaching of the necessity of good works in the life of Christians takes true form when preached as St. James says:

     What doth it profit, my brethren, though a man say he hath faith, and have not works? can faith save him? If a brother or sister be naked, and destitute of daily food, And one of you say unto them, Depart in peace, be ye warmed and filled; notwithstanding ye give them not those things which are needful to the body; what doth it profit? Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone. Yea, a man may say, Thou hast faith, and I have works: shew me thy faith without thy works, and I will shew thee my faith by my works. Thou believest that there is one God; thou doest well: the devils also believe, and tremble. But wilt thou know, O vain man, that faith without works is dead? (James 2:14-20)

      St. Paul proclaims the same, saying:

     So, as much as in me is, I am ready to preach the gospel to you that are at Rome also. For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek. For therein is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith: as it is written, The just shall live by faith. (Romans 1:15-17)

      A living faith causes a person to live from that faith. A living faith is not idle. It is like turning the key in a car and hearing no sound of the engine being turned. A person observing this says that the battery is dead. It has no life in it. Thus it produces no action.

      On the other hand no one imagines that a battery is made to be a good battery by turning over the engine. No. Rather, a person observes the innate goodness of the battery when it produces the work of turning over of the engine. Because the battery has life in it, the engine is turned over. The life has already been given to the battery by another source of life or energy. Then, because the battery has been made to be a good battery that is full of life, it then produces that which flows from the life that has been generated within it. Because of the life generated in it, the battery is declared to be a good battery that produces the good work that a live battery produces. If the battery dies and produces no work, it is then declared to be a bad battery and is cast into the pit.

      People in whom the true faith is alive do the works that this living faith produces. This living faith is generated in the person through the pure means of grace, that is, the pure Gospel and Sacraments. Oh that the preachers would preach and administer the pure and unadulterated Word and Sacraments rather than preaching that people should be good Lutherans or good Christians or good Whatevers. For as St. Paul masterfully proclaims, it is the Gospel that is the power of God into salvation. It is the Gospel that is the power that generates the true faith that changes people’s hearts and minds so that they live by faith and live the life of joy that produces the good works of that joy.

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