Proper 18 • Isaiah 35:4–7a • September 9, 2012

By Dale A. Meyer

Is this a great time to be the church? Do you have joy in your pastoral ministry? Do the baptized in your congregation show cheerful confidence in their Christian faith? Isaiah 35:4–7a, the first lesson for September 9, gives us a platform to be “helpers of joy” (2 Cor 1:24).

You Lost Me by David Kinnaman, based on Barna research, lists six reasons why 18 to 29 year-olds are disengaging from the institutional church. 1. Overprotective: “The church is seen as a creativity killer.” 2. Shallow: “Easy platitudes, proof texting, and formulaic slogans have anesthetized many young adults.” 3. Anti-science: “I knew from church that I couldn’t believe in both science and God, so that was it. I didn’t believe in God anymore.” 4. Repressive: “Religious rules—particularly sexual mores—feel stifling to the individualist mindset of young adults.” 5. Exclusive: “They have been shaped by a culture that esteems open-mindedness, tolerance, and acceptance. Thus Christianity’s claims to exclusivity are a hard sell.” 6. Doubtless: “Young Christians (and former Christians too) say the church is not a place that allows them to express doubts.”[1] You Lost Me and other books raise the question: Is this a bad time to be the church?

The text recalls us to the essence of faith, “a trust in the promise and mercy of God.”[2] The text promises that God will come with salvation for his people and vengeance upon our enemies. “Behold, your God will come with vengeance, with the recompense of God. He will come and save you” (4b). The literary style adds to the impact of the promise because Isaiah spent chapter 34 detailing the bloody and total devastation of the nations. The evidence of salvation will be seen in the reversal of nature’s corruption by sin: the blind will see, the deaf will hear, the lame will leap, the mute will speak and the element of life, water, will be abundant in the wilderness (5–7a; cf. Rom 8:21–22; LSB 819). The Gospel for the day shows the fulfillment of these promises as Jesus heals a man deaf and mute. Those who saw it “were astonished beyond measure, saying, ‘He has done all things well. He even makes the deaf hear and the mute speak” (Mk 7:31–37; cf. LSB 394). If your sermon spells out these promises of the saving coming of God, especially focusing on the promises in distinction from what we see, the Spirit of God will work and strengthen faith (2 Cor 5:7). Promise-fulfillment is not limited to the history of Isaiah and Jesus’s visible ministry. The Spirit works through the promises here and now: “The Lord is my strength and my shield; in him my heart trusts, and I am helped” (Introit, Psalm 28:7). And we haven’t done our duty unless 2 Corinthians 1:20 takes shape as the heart of our sermon: “All the promises of God find their yes in him (Jesus Christ). That is why it is through him that we utter our Amen to God for his glory.” It’s a great time to be church and a great time to be in the ministry.

I would write the sermon with five paragraphs. 1. Is it a good time to be the church, citing evidence that seems to say “no.” 2. The sometimes beleaguered life of the church highlights the essence of faith, trust in the promises of God. At times that means trusting the promises against all the evidence. 3. The fantastic promises of the text call for faith, they are certainly not the things of sight. The nature of faith. Where do we center our trust today? In the ministry of Christ and his Spirit among us today. 4. The promises prompt us to radiate confidence and joyful courage. An illustration of faith despite external circumstances. 5. Yes, it’s a great time to be church because we put our confidence in the promises! I’d title the sermon “With Confidence and Cheerful Courage,” taking a quotation from C. F. W. Walther: “I wish to talk the Christian doctrine into your very heart, enabling you to come forward as living witnesses with a demonstration of the Spirit and of power. I do not want you to be standing in your pulpits like lifeless statues, but to speak with confidence and cheerful courage, offering help where help is needed.”[3]

[1] David Kinnaman, You Lost Me: Why Young Christians Are Leaving Church…and Rethinking Faith (Ada, MI: Baker Books, 2011), 92, 93, 131.
[2] Robert Kolb and Timothy Wengert eds., The Book of Concord: The Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2000), 168, 337.
[3] C. F. W. Walther, Law and Gospel: How to Read and Apply the Bible, ed. Charles Schaum (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 2010), 9; cf. 458.

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1 Comment

  1. Karol September 3, 2012

    Thank you. This will help me with the devotion I write each week for the parents of the students in my classroom–focused on the pericopes for the upcoming Sunday.

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