Messiah Lutheran Church 6201 W Patterson Av
Chicago IL 60634

July 2018

The Priority of the Means of Grace

The last command of our Lord before He ascended into heaven, that His people would be His witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, must have seemed humanly impossible by the early Church.

Yet, in spite of all their weaknesses, history tells us that the early Christians were transformed from being scared, defeated, and powerless weaklings into bold, victorious, and powerful witnesses of the crucified and risen Savior.

And they literally turned this world upside down -or more accurately turned this world right side up - by the Good News of the Gospel. But what made the difference?

Well, certainly the resurrection of Jesus contributed to their boldness, as they confidently confessed to the world that "Christ is Risen! He is Risen indeed! Alleluia!"

But along with the Resurrection of our Lord, was the event known as Pentecost, where the Holy Spirit was given to the Church to counsel, empower, and embolden them in their witness.

The same Holy Spirit we received when we were born again through the water and the Spirit in our Baptism, who empowers us to confidently confess before others that Jesus is Lord not just in our creeds, but in our deeds, as well.

As the Lord declares in Zechariah 4:6: "You won't succeed by might nor by power, but by my Spirit"

In the Old Testament, the people looked to the Tabernacle and later on the Temple to assure them of God's presence and that He was for them, and ultimately served to point them to the promised Messiah, also known as Immanuel, meaning God with us.

However, after His ascension into heaven, how can we be sure that God is with us and for us, today?

The answer can be found in what are known as the means of grace, God's Word and Sacraments, through which the Holy Spirit is able to connect us to our Savior, Jesus Christ and receive the forgiveness of sins and salvation that He won for us on the cross.

And so the power source of the early Church continues to be same power source of the Church of today, in the proclamation of the Good News of the Gospel from God's inspired Word, and as that same Gospel promise of forgiveness is attached to the elements of water, bread and wine, that takes place every Sunday at Messiah in our seemingly ordinary worship services, as Jesus serves us through Word and Sacrament, and by which the Holy Spirit is able to transform us from sinners into saints, and make us bold witnesses of the Gospel message.

And so the questions we should be asking are, as a local church are:

"How can we be even more faithful in plugging ourselves and others into these means of grace?"

"How can we be more faithful in worship and the regular study of God's Word?"

"How we can it make it a practice, in the midst of all our fellowship activities and acts of mercy, to be more deliberate in inviting others to our worship services, as well as being involved in regular Bible Study?"

"What can we do to plug our children into these means of grace by cultivating an active Sunday School and affirm and nourish their baptismal faith?"

"How can we connect people to the same power source of the early Church that remains the remains the power source of the Church today?", namely God's Word and Sacraments through which the dynamite power of the Holy Spirit is able to do His transforming work?

For the devil will get us so distracted with secondary matters, that we forget the one thing needful: "Of holding God's Word sacred and gladly he aring and learning it.", much like Martha who was busy with so many other things, rather than sitting at the feet of Jesus, as He serves us through Word and Sacrament, and in turn inviting others to join us in doing the same.

As St. Paul, who put at least one person to sleep by his preaching that he fell from a window to his death, wasn't as powerful an orator as Apollos, and whose appearance wasn't all that impressive, was able to say in Romans 1:16:

"For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile."

Through God's means of grace, the Holy Spirit is able to convey the life changing message of the Gospel message, that God so loved sinners like you and me that He sent his only begotten Son that whomsoever believes in Him shall not perish but have everlasting life.

And consequently, we can be assured of God's love for us in Christ Jesus that is so wide and high and deep that it is beyond our human comprehension, and that he is no longer against us because of our past sins, but is for us, as His forgiven children.

The story is told of a shoes salesman was sent to a certain community to sell shoes somewhere overseas, and he noticed right away that none of the people there wore shoes!

And so he called up his boss all discouraged, "I'm sorry, but you have to assign me somewhere else. This is an impossible situation! Why nobody even here even wears shoes! How can I possibly get them to buy shoes!"

And so another salesman was sent to this same community, and he also noted all these people without any shoes on, but this salesman excitedly called up his boss, saying, "Hey, send me some more shoes! Why, nobody here even has any shoes, yet! Just think of how many people are in need of shoes! That are just waiting for me to sell them to."

We can read all the books, attend all the seminars, listen to the DVD' s, chase after programs, and bring in outside consultants, and they may indeed have some common sense things to share that may be worth considering and implementing in the life of this church and in our own lives, as well.

But as one of our members said to me a few years ago, after we had a guest speaker trying to sell his program and books to us, "Pastor, we already know what to do. We just aren't doing it."

Admittedly, there's always room to grow and learn as disciples of Christ, but, like Paul said to the Christians in Corinth, when he decided to be concerned about nothing among them e~cept Jesus Christ, and him crucified, our chief concern should be with the one thing we already do know, the means of grace that God has given us to fulfill the Great Commission as a church and as individuals!

The precious gifts of God's Word and Sacraments through which the Holy Spirit is able to do His saving and sanctifying work by conveying the Gospel message.

Therefore, let us resolve with the help of the Holy Spirit to make God's means of . grace the priority of this church, our lives, and in our witness to others!

Otherwise, I'm afraid the results will be similar to what is described in 2 Timothy 3:5 in the New Living Translation"

"They will act religious, but they will reject the power that could make them godly. Stay away from people like that!"

As Luther's Large Catechism tells us: "For where Christ is not preached, there is no Holy Spirit who creates, calls, and gathers the Christian Church, without which no one can come to Christ the Lord"

In Christ's Mission, Pastor Wendt

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