Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Sermon Sixth Sunday of Easter - May 10, 2015

Easter 6B – May 10, 2015
Acts 10:44-48; Psalm 98; 1 John 5:1-6; John 15:9-17
St Stephen Lutheran Church, Pittsburgh, PA
The Rev. Maurice C Frontz III, STS

Alleluia! Christ is risen!               He is risen indeed! Alleluia!

Can you remember the best sermon you ever heard?
It might have been a wedding sermon,
although I would be surprised if it was your wedding sermon.
Most couples are too nervous to listen very closely
to the sermon at their wedding,
although I remember some couples
that hung on my every word,
their faces filled with joy and hope
and awe and reverence for the moment.

Perhaps it was as you buried your loved one,
when you most needed to hear the consoling Word of God
that all the baptized are joined to the death and resurrection of Christ,
that our death becomes his death,
and his eternal life becomes our eternal life;
and so those who have gone before us
are indeed still with us by faith,
and that when Christ is revealed,
we will see them again as well.

Perhaps it was a sermon on Christmas or Easter.
Your parents dragged you to church
or you dragged your kids to church.
You were expecting to sing a few hymns
and take home your flowers
and suddenly the words of a man or a woman standing before you
transported you into a world which was not hustle and bustle
but a world which was full of God.

Or maybe it was a sermon on a ‘normal’ Sunday,
which caught you by surprise,
telling you something about God – or yourself –
that you did not know before,
and which made a difference.

Perhaps it was not a sermon preached by a pastor,
but by your mother.
Not one of those sermons that told you what to do
and how to do it,
although those too can sometimes be valuable.
No, I’m talking about the sermons that a mother preaches
that speak of God and his love,
and maybe not with words.
Maybe it was just that she got you to church every Sunday.
Perhaps it was what happened to her there.

The author Walt Wangerin
writes of the days when children did not commune until their confirmation,
and they were not even invited to the altar rail
to receive a blessing,
but waited in the pew
while the adults went forward to receive the Lord’s Supper.
He began to understand the reality and power of God’s love
as he watched his mother return from the altar
after receiving the Sacrament.
Her face was radiant,
suffused with an otherworldly peace and joy
which he came to understand was God’s Holy Spirit at work in her,
creating faith and love by the body and blood of Jesus Christ.

Today’s first reading picks up in the middle of a sermon.
The whole story is very neat –
I recommend that when you go home this afternoon
you should open your Bibles and read all of Acts chapter 10.
But to summarize: in response to a vision,
Peter has gone to the house of Cornelius, a Roman soldier,
a non-Jew; a Gentile,
and Cornelius invites Peter to speak to him
and the relatives and friends whom Cornelius has invited to hear him.

What does Peter say in his sermon?
He does not preach ‘On Breaking Through to the Blessed Life.’
He does not preach on politics or social issues.
He does not preach on how Cornelius and his family and friends
should become better and more moral people.
He does not even preach on the blessing and vocation of motherhood.

Instead, he tells the story of Jesus Christ.
He tells of his life among the people and his merciful acts.
He tells of his death and his resurrection,
and of the risen Christ’s command that the good news be preached.
‘All the prophets testify about him
that everyone who believes in him
receives forgiveness of sins through his name.’

Well, now.
This was the best sermon that Cornelius
and his relatives and friends had ever heard.
But it wasn’t because Peter preached with beautiful words.
After all, Peter was a working-class guy from Galilee
and he had never taken Preaching 101.
It was the content of the sermon.
Peter said ‘God has done this for you,’
not ‘You must do this for God.’
He said ‘God has done this for you,
and not just for someone else.
He said, ‘God has done this for you;’
dying for you, rising for you, forgiving your sins.


Martin Luther Preaching - Workshop of Lucas Cranach, the Elder - 1547

It is the content of the sermon that makes it worthwhile.
The preacher can preach in simple, untutored words
or with great theological depth and erudition,
with great feeling or without.
But every worthwhile sermon is simply a variation on a theme,
Jesus Christ, crucified and risen,
with the power to forgive, redeem, and save.

Apparently Peter’s hearers
couldn’t even wait for the end of his sermon,
for in the proclamation of the Gospel
the Holy Spirit had so broken open their hearts
that the praise of God welled up from them:
the springs of living water from the hearts of new believers,
the faith in Jesus Christ that conquers the world.
In the words of the hymn we will soon sing,
Their despair he turned to blazing joy.

And though they were Gentiles,
not members of God’s people,
the Holy Spirit which fell upon them
anointed them as members of God’s people.
They were baptized as children of the heavenly Father,
and brothers and sisters of the Lord Jesus Christ.

Chapter 10 concludes with the observation
that after Cornelius and his family and friends were baptized,
they invited Peter to stay with them for several days.
Obviously they couldn’t get enough.
Baptism was not the end of their conversion,
but it was only the beginning.
Once the Holy Spirit comes by the preaching of the Word,
it wants to stay.
It needs to stay.
Over and over again we need to hear it,
this message of the forgiveness of sins,
redemption from death and the devil,
and eternal salvation to all who believe,
so that it roots itself so deeply in our lives
that we can’t imagine ourselves or the world without it.

The year was 1938,
and a young couple, just three weeks married,
went to First Lutheran Church in Leechburg for worship.
The husband had been brought up a Lutheran
and the wife had been brought up in another Protestant church.
It just happened to be Reformation Day,
and Pastor William F. Pfeiffer
preached a standard Reformation sermon:
justification by grace through faith in Christ
apart from all works.
After the service, the husband told his wife
that the next week they would go to a church in her tradition,
to which she responded,
‘Nothin’ doin.’ We’re staying right here!’

When, many years later,
her grown son asked her why she said this,
she told him,
‘First of all, they handed me a worship bulletin
when I walked in the door
and expected me to be bright enough
to figure it out for myself.
And second,
it was the first time I’d ever heard in church
that if I’m at all salvageable
it’s because God is good,
and not because I’m good.’
The best sermon she had ever heard.

And so it was that Pr. Bob Hawk’s mom and dad
began their Christian life together;
a life of hearing the Word of Christ
which broke open their lives
and made room for the Holy Spirit
of love, hope and faith.
And that Word comes to you now,
whether for the first or the thousandth time,
and the Holy Spirit wells up inside of us
and brings forth praise to the Father
who has done great things for us in Jesus Christ.
Come, Holy Spirit, and kindle in us the fire of your love. Amen.

Alleluia! Christ is risen!               He is risen indeed! Alleluia!