"Doing the Work of God"
Grace, mercy and peace to you from God the Father and Christ Jesus, our Lord.
Today our message is based on all three of our readings with special attention to these words of our Savior in the Holy Gospel of St. John: "Let not your heart be troubled; you believe in God, believe also in Me.... Most assuredly, I say to you, he who believes in Me, the works that I do he will do also; and greater works than these he will do, because I go to My Father."
The church is bigger than all of us, for it is built on the chief cornerstone, Jesus Christ who alone is the way the truth and the life. This Christ doesn’t just show us the way to our Father who is in heaven. Since He has risen from the dead and ascended to the right hand of the Father, when He comes to reveal Himself and dwell among us, He shows us the Father in heaven Himself and brings us to Him.
Thus brought together in Christ by the very breath of God that is the Holy Spirit, the church that is bigger than all of us, is also built up of each one of us who believes that Jesus is the Christ the Son of the living God, who as the Apostle Paul preached to the Thessalonians, the Bereans and many more, had to suffer and rise again from the dead.
In both our reading from Acts and from 1 Peter we see that the living cornerstone Jesus Christ, is rejected by men as an offense, because wherever Christ crucified and risen is preached, He turns the world upside down. In Acts 17 Luke records how in both Thessalonica and Berea, men arose who stirred up crowds against the preaching of Christ and those who delivered it. In the Epistle of Peter, we heard how men who perceive themselves as the builders of the church, reject the very living stone of Christ, who in spite of their misguided efforts establishes Himself as the chief cornerstone, by which we become the living stones which he builds into His church upon none other than Himself. Even in the Lutheran Church and our own synod it has been suggested that addressing our worship and prayers "to the name of Jesus . . . is unhelpful as Christian witness" with Muslims, and in order to prevent unbelieving Muslim visitors from being offended at our worship, "It would be best simply to avoid the term [Son of God] in our preaching and guide our people also to avoid it in their witnessing." [Rev. Herbert Hoefer, Missions Chair, Concordia University, Portland] Never mind the Apostle Peter’s message to the Jewish leaders in Acts 4:11_12: "This ["Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead,] is the 'stone which was rejected by you builders, which has become the chief cornerstone.' Nor is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved." (NKJ)
Yet in this church, by the power of the Holy Spirit, the very breath of God, Jesus repeats the words by which He prepared His disciples for His imminent departure – first departing from them in His death on the cross and after rising again from the dead departing in His ascension to the right hand of the Father. To the disciples and now to us who await His return amidst the howling of the devil and the raging of the world turned upside down, Jesus says oh so lovingly, "Let not your heart be troubled; you believe in God believe also in me."
By these words, the disciples could not help but recall similar words spoken by the same Christ, who woken by the fearful disciples as they cowered in a little fishing boat on the storm ravaged sea of Galilee said, to the sea, "Peace, be still!" And the wind ceased and there was a great calm. But He said to them, "Why are you so fearful? How is it that you have no faith?" (Mark 4:39_40 NKJ)
And again, this time with the disciples at sea without Jesus, from the land Jesus sees them struggling to row the boat in the wind, Jesus walks out on top of the water to them. When they all saw Him and were troubled. But immediately He talked with them and said to them, "Be of good cheer! It is I; do not be afraid." Then He went up into the boat to them, and the wind ceased. And they were greatly amazed in themselves beyond measure, and marveled. (Mark 6:50_51 NKJ)
Stirred up by the master of deception and temptation known as the devil, the winds and waves of an unbelieving world will always be battering the boat that is the church of Christ. But never forget that Christ is in the boat with us. Even more, the church itself is built upon Him and we are the living stones united with our chief cornerstone, our Savior Jesus Christ.
When those winds and waves rage against the church, we like the disciples become afraid. We worry that Christ is sleeping and has forgotten about us, leaving us to fend for ourselves in unfriendly waters under life threatening skies. We are tempted to give up and abandon ship.
Dear friends in Christ and baptized children of God, you have not been abandoned. Christ is right here in the boat with you. By the waters poured over your head, by the forgiveness spoken to you throughout the Divine Service and even in the flesh at His Holy Supper, Jesus the Christ, our chief cornerstone, rises among us to say
"Let not your heart be troubled; you believe in God, believe also in Me.... Most assuredly, I say to you, he who believes in Me, the works that I do he will do also; and greater works than these he will do, because I go to My Father."
Believing in this Christ who is here among us, we will do the work of Christ because the Holy Spirit is here at work among us by the power of the Word uniting us with the Son of God. "For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them." (Eph 2:10, NKJ)
Rather than shrink from the wind and cower at the waves, this Christ raises His people up to do great things for the spreading of the Gospel. In the face of the greatest of adversity, the Word of God persuades many to believe and join those who have spoken that Word to them in studying and receiving the Word with all readiness. "And they continued steadfastly in the apostles' doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers. . . . And the Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved." (Acts 2:42, 47b NKJ)
Thus, joined to each other, and most importantly to the chief cornerstone Jesus Christ, His living stones work together to see to it that the Gospel of Jesus Christ always has a home in their midst and that from this home it is carried out to the world around them. The documents and Divine Service upon which we are founded as a congregation -- and as such the documents to which each confirmed/communicant member in general and each called and elected officer in particular is pledged to abide by and uphold in our congregation – these documents have been drafted and handed down to us by our ancestors of the faith, as has our Divine Service, to ensure that just this happens among us. Now it is up to us to abide in, execute according to, and financially support what we have been given -- but hear again, and examine for yourself how the One True God, particularly as He presents Himself in His Word and that Word made flesh to dwell among us supplies us with the work that we are to abide in:
"For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them." (Eph 2:10, NKJ)
"And they continued steadfastly in the apostles' doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers. . . . And the Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved." (Acts 2:42, 47b NKJ)
Notice how both this congregation in particular, and the Lutheran Church in general, were formed based upon these words of our Lord in order that we faithfully would always abide in them:
Whereas the Word of God demands that a Christian congregation not only conform to the Word of God in doctrine and practice (Psalms 119:105, Galatians 1:6-8, 2 Timothy 4:1-5), but that also things be done decently and in order (1 Corinthians 14:40); therefore we, the members of Trinity Lutheran Church, Layton, Utah, set forth by this present document, signed by ourselves, the Constitution and the By-Laws in accordance with which our congregation affairs, spiritual and material, shall be conducted. [Trinity, Layton Constitution]
ARTICLE II - PURPOSE
The purpose of this body shall be that of a religious organization, more specifically that of a Christian congregation established and maintained for the expressed purpose of disseminating the Gospel truth according to the confessional standards of the Lutheran Church, the Book of Concord of the year 1580, and for the purpose of Christian training of the youth. [Trinity, Layton Constitution]
The central article of the confessions contained in the Book of Concord states, "Also [our churches] teach that men cannot be justified before God by their own strength, merits, or works, but are freely justified for 2] Christ's sake, through faith, when they believe that they are received into favor, and that their sins are forgiven for Christ's sake, who, by His death, has made satisfaction for our sins. God will regard and reckon this faith as for righteousness in His sight. Rom. 3 and 4.
In the liturgy and sacrament of our Divine Service, Christ Himself delivers forgiveness of sins to us just as he has to generations of believers through the centuries.
As long as we abide in these things, we are in fact abiding in His Word and are being built upon the foundation of our Chief cornerstone that has been delivered and entrusted to us as a congregation.
Here at Trinity, we will soon elect officers who will pledge and be entrusted by God and this congregation to carry out our Constitution, our confessions, the very Word of God, and to see to it that the Divine Service always has a home here in Layton.
Right now, many spots remain to be filled, largely because of a fear of the storm and the rabble rousers like those in Thessalonica and Berea.
Luther makes it clear that those upright messengers of the Gospel will be maligned as heretics, apostates and even scoundrels. He says, "These critics that bear false witness against Christians seriously transgress the eighth commandment. Wherever there are upright preachers and Christians, they must endure having the world call them heretics, apostates, even seditious and desperate scoundrels. Moreover, the Word of God must undergo the most shameful and spiteful persecution and blasphemy; it is contradicted, perverted, misused, and misinterpreted. But let this pass; it is the blind world's nature to condemn and persecute the truth and the children of God and yet consider this no sin." [LC, 8th Com., Luther]
Dearly beloved and chosen of God, now is not time to cower in the boat or to be silenced by those who dissent from what we are called to be and do. Now is time to step forward as we hear and trust the words of our Chief cornerstone and Savior, Jesus Christ, "Let not your heart be troubled; you believe in God, believe also in Me.... Most assuredly, I say to you, he who believes in Me, the works that I do he will do also; and greater works than these he will do, because I go to My Father."
As we step forward and heed His call, times will be tough as we see from today’s reading in Acts, as we saw last week in the stoning of Stephen as he also proclaimed and staked his claim on the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and as we see and are warned about throughout Scripture so that we will be prepared and not surprised when the storms rise against us.
Through it all, at times, because of the sinfulness in our hearts we are troubled and grow weary. Yet our hearts of faith look to the Word and to the Sacraments of Baptism and The Lord’s Supper where the one and only true God is with us to give us strength -- to pick us up when we fall short, to forgive us all our sins, and to go forth as the body of Christ to do many great things -- in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen