The Growing Evangelical Lutheran Church

Sermon 1788 Romans 10.12-17 January 30, 2022

Growth. We want things to grow. We want our nation to grow. We want our children to grow. We want the equity in our home to grow. Growth is so built into our thinking that if things don’t grow, heads will roll!

Let’s accept that premise, growth is good. The question now is, how do we achieve that growth? There’s lots to think about. Are we willing to sacrifice long-term growth for the sake of short-term growth? Should we gobble up competitors like a real-life version of Pac-Man, to grow? Should we expand and get into other ventures to grow, even if it risks our core business model? You know, start off as a company that makes light bulbs and get into construction finance. How to achieve real and lasting growth? That’s the question.

That’s also the question for our congregation. As we come out of the COVID-19 muck and as we look forward to a new pastor, how do we grow? Fortunately, we don’t have to spend gobs of money hiring consultants and commissioning feasibility studies. The Apostle Paul gives all the guidance we need.

The Growing Evangelical Lutheran Church

1. Sees its field (12-13).

2. Sends its force (14-15).

3. Trusts Jesus’ Gospel (16-17).

“For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile--the Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him, for ‘Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved (12-13).’”

The growing Evangelical Lutheran Church sees its field. That field is the whole world.

“No difference,” Paul says. That’s saying a lot. There were lots of differences between the Jew and Gentile, too many to go into in a sermon. Let’s just say they were worlds apart and, in general, happy to stay worlds apart. But none of that mattered when it came to the Lord. He was the Lord of all. He had made all mankind. He had put together the billions of pieces of the puzzle that make up each individual when he brought us into the world. Not content to give us our eyes, ears and all our members, our minds and all our abilities, he gave us an eternal soul. Every person, from rich to poor, from young to old, has that eternal soul. The Lord is happy to bless every soul that believes in him. He blesses them with eternal life in heaven. He blesses them richly already in this world.

The growing Evangelical Lutheran Church sees its field. Its field is everyone.

I can’t remember why, but I had to call up Warm Springs Baptist Church one day. (They’ve changed their name to Living Springs Christian Church since then.) The pastor said, “Oh, you’re the preschool church.” I guess already at that time we were becoming noted for having a terrific preschool. After the phone conversation, I thought, “But we’re more than that.”

Who are we trying to reach? Jew and Gentile, Paul says. Everybody. Well, what does that mean? I think it has to start with worship. God explicitly commands us to worship him. Is our worship open, accessible, to everybody?

Young families should feel welcome here. We don’t have a squadron of purple-haired grandmas giving a young mother the stink eye if her child squawks. We did, B.C. (Before COVID), have an adult staffed nursery for little ones so the parents could participate in the service and listen to the sermon, though we definitely tried to sell them on the idea that little ones can get a lot out of worship, too. I still remember how proud I was when I was little to sit next to my dad and sing the songs with him as he pointed to the words in the hymnal. B.C. we had Good News for Kids so that the lesson of the sermon could be boiled down for them. We even have more leg room in the back pews for little ones to move around without bumping their heads!

Oldsters should feel welcome here. People who know you by name, people who listen to you, that means a lot. Familiar faces, familiar patterns. Believe it or not, the world isn’t recreated every day with a new set of rules. The pattern of life, the seasons of life, they keep repeating. The church year, as Advent gives way to Christmas and Epiphany, spring always coming during Lent, Easter’s joy and then the long summer, our place in God’s world, our spot in his plan, these patterns reaffirm it. We’ve been around the block a few times. The Lord is no stranger to us and we are no stranger to him. Come before him with thanksgiving and praise. Trust him on to the end. Abide with me, oh, Lord, abide with me.

Every race and nationality should feel welcome here. Those who come through our doors have roots in countries across the world, first generation Americans. There is probably someone in the pew who hails from the same country as they, maybe even speaks the same first language as they. We don’t look the same, we don’t think the same. It doesn’t matter. The same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him. The growing Evangelical Lutheran Church does not put obstacles where God does not. The entire world, and that starts with every person on our street, is our field.

I am not going to get into the current discussions on what it means to be American. I was taught “with liberty and justice for all.” Even democracies can change their rules if enough people decide to do it. But God’s kingdom is not a democracy. Its constitution is the Bible. We go by it. It says the Kingdom of God is open to all, so our church has to be open to all. If we think there should be a black church for blacks and an Asian church for Asians, a Hispanic church for Hispanics, and those churches are not our church, shame on us! We are pretending our God is not the God of all people and he isn’t strong enough to bring all people together with something so wonderful, so amazing, that politics and economics and sociology don’t matter when compared to it. We didn’t have a lot of money to spend when we built this church. There’s only room for two here, so each one of us will have to decide what it will be, me, prejudice or Jesus. But you can only pick two.

The growing Evangelical Lutheran Church sends its forces.

“How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? And how can they preach unless they are sent? As it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news (14-15)!’”

Why do we need theologically trained pastors? Why do we need biblically trained teachers? Other faith groups mock “the clergy.” Anybody from the pew, they reason, can give you the same insights into the Lord’s will for you. Well, that’s simply not true. Common sense is not common when it comes to the Word of God. Remember, God himself says in the Bible, “My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways (Isaiah 55.8).” And Paul said “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him (1 Corinthians 2.9).” So if we are relying on common sense or groupthink to make the Evangelical Lutheran Church grow, it’s not going to happen. We need the Word of God. We need the revelation of the Holy Spirit. We need a humility that says, “Speak, Lord, your servant is listening.” If we think back to some of the earthly authorities in our life, be they high school teachers or city planners, that humility is often in short supply. It takes training to overcome those instincts. That training comes from the Bible and the only ones who can afford to spend that much time studying the Bible are going to become your pastors and teachers.

That’s why one day we (and it may not be that far in the future) are going to call a pastor to replace me. We are not going to call a social worker or a CEO, an administrator or a coach. We need a pastor. And when it comes to our school, when we need another teacher, either for expansion or replacement, we are going to look within our own fellowship, our own church, to call an individual. An ability to teach and a shared faith is the most important thing. If they only have training from me or, in the past, Pastors Kolander or Pfeifer, well, we’ll get them in touch with New Ulm and work on the extra training our synod can give. But these are our shock troops. These are our leaders. These are the ones who will publicly preach and teach the Gospel on our behalf, to young and old. We will assist them. We will multiply their efforts. We will be trained, in turn, by them and some of us may be inspired by them to become pastors and teachers in our own right. But we cannot replace them. That’s not how the Evangelical Lutheran Church grows. Trained, called and sent. That’s the foundation for confidence, both in the heart of the called worker and in the the people they serve. We have the best the Lord has decided to give us.

When all is said and done, the growing Evangelical Lutheran Church trusts Jesus’ Gospel.

“But not all the Israelites accepted the good news. For Isaiah says, ‘Lord, who has believed our message?’ Consequently, faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ (16-17).”

So, if we set our sights on everyone and we work night and day to get lots of young men and women inspired and trained for the public ministry, our growth will be off the charts, right? Well, when the Evangelical Lutheran Church has not been hobbled by a snobbishness of false members, when the Evangelical Lutheran Church has been blessed with too many workers, she has grown, remarkably! But not every citizen of Henderson is a member of our congregation. What gives?

Faith comes from hearing the message, Paul says. But remember. There are two messages in the Bible, Law, God’s holy will for our lives and the punishment that is certainly ours because we haven’t obeyed his will, summarized by the Ten Commandments given to Moses, and Gospel, the message of God’s free and full forgiveness of sin through faith in Jesus Christ. Which one does the Holy Spirit use to create faith in the hearts of people? The Law of Moses or the Gospel of Jesus? Faith comes from hearing the message of Christ, Paul says. It’s the Gospel. Through the Gospel the Holy Spirit wins hearts over to God, creates new spiritual life and works forgiveness of sins and salvation. That explains why, although all the earth is our field, all the earth is not saved. They refuse the Gospel. They want to earn their way to heaven. They want something to boast about before God.

Thank God the Evangelical Lutheran Church isn’t big enough to be that proud! Luther said we are all beggars before God. In what we proclaim, we are beggars before God. We have no message of our own to proclaim. We carry his message, his Gospel, the Good News of his forgiveness of sins through faith in Christ. Even in our church name we carry the Gospel. That’s what “Evangelical” means. It is a word taken directly from the Greek. It means Gospel. The Evangelical Lutheran Church is the Gospel Lutheran Church. Let the scientists make new discoveries. Let poets and painters come up with new ways of expressing the human spirit. We are stick-in-the-muds, happily stuck with the Gospel as our only message.

Far from limiting us, the Gospel inspires us. How can we get more people to hear the Gospel? Can we build a preschool so little ones can hear the Gospel every day in chapel and carry it home in word and deed to Mom and Dad? Can we have a Sunday School, even during the dark days of COVID, to tell the children about Jesus? Can we free up the pastor’s time so he is the one who teaches the Catechism class so our junior high students know what they believe and why they believe it? Can we all make a commitment to attend worship so visitors see lots of people doing the work of the Lord and feel compelled by the Gospel in word and song and service to participate and learn more? And whatever we decide to do, have church picnics, softball leagues, youth groups, whatever we decide to do, the first question we will ask is, “How will this help people hear the Gospel?” That’s what we are here for. That has powered, not only our growth, but the entire growth of the Evangelical Lutheran Church.

The Growing Evangelical Lutheran Church

1. Sees its field (12-13).

2. Sends its force (14-15).

3. Trusts Jesus’ Gospel (16-17).

All of the things I have said may, at present, look pretty pie in the sky. Half our older members have not yet ventured out to public worship because of their fears of catching COVID. Many of our younger members have not yet ventured out to public worship because of their fears of spreading COVID to those more vulnerable. But already the seeds of the future are starting to germinate. Things are going to change and already are. Visitors are starting to come to worship. Our school registrations are at record levels. A huge number of our membership is benefitting from the worship services online. We’ve got a Congregational Assistant for the first time ever who is even more busy taking courses from New Ulm. We have a man who is poised to enter our Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary this fall. And the Lord, the Lord is still Lord of all who richly blesses all who call on his name.

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