We live in a world, in a time that is hostile to the faith. I don’t expect that to be a shocking statement to anyone. Any Christian can look at the world and firmly believe what your grandmother always told you: “It wasn’t this bad when I was your age.” That’s why we prayed “Almighty, everlasting God, make us to always have a devout will toward You and to serve Your Majesty with a pure heart.” There are countless things around us that are trying to pull us away from the faith. That prayer of David we sang in the Introit, “Give me not up to the will of my adversaries” is so important for us today. The opposition faced by Christians isn’t just a problem in Europe or the Middle East, a problem far removed from us. It’s here in America, in Dorr, in your own home. You need the Holy Spirit to keep you steadfast in the faith now more than ever, and that is precisely what God gives to you for the battle.
And if you think there isn’t a battle against Scripture, against people who believe it, and against God Himself, then go into the world and say a few things and see what happens. Go out and say “abortion is murder” and see how many people try to tell you that you have no right to interfere in a woman’s health care decisions, to enter the sacred space between a woman and her doctor. Go out and say “the marriage of two men or two women is a sin” and you’ll be called a bigot. Go out and say “sex is a gift given by God to be enjoyed within holy marriage for the procreation of children” and you’ll be told you have outdated morals and that you’re a prude. Go out and say “Jesus is the Way, the Truth, and the Life and there is no way to heaven apart from Him” and you’ll be called a zealot and a bigot. Go out and say “No, my child will not go to practices, games, meets, or tournaments on a Sunday morning because we go to church” and you’ll be told that you’re denying your child an opportunity to get ahead in life.
But that’s not all. How many of us wouldn’t even be willing to say those things out loud? How many of us would rather maintain the public peace by simply keeping our beliefs to ourselves? We’ve been taught to value peace at all costs, even if it’s a false peace, a cheep veneer. It’s better to talk about the weather and the new restaurant on the other side of town than to engage in a meaningful conversation, to defend the faith, to teach with all gentleness and respect what Scripture says.
We’re trained by so many things around us to keep our Christian ideas to ourselves because they’re not popular. So what happens is that we end up second guessing ourselves. Is it okay to agree with gay marriage? Everyone else is. Is it okay to give a green light to sex outside of marriage? It’s in all the sitcoms and everyone is moving in without getting married. It’s not going to hurt to let the kids play soccer on Sunday mornings. It’s just a few months and we’ll go right back to church as soon as the season is done. Except the concessions never end. The devil’s trick is to slowly erode. He pulls you away little bit by little bit. Just like he did with Adam and Eve in Eden—he gets you to doubt one little bit at a time and eventually he has destroyed the whole foundation of your faith. And why do we let that happen? So the world will like us. So we won’t get blasted on Twitter. So we won’t be labeled as “that bigoted side of the family.” “For what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?”
The uncomfortable truth of today’s Gospel is that Jesus has called us to bear witness to what He has told us. That’s not just the nice stuff like death and resurrection and forgiveness. It’s the hard-hitting, uncomfortable confession of the Law, that there is a right and wrong. There is black and white, not just endless shades of gray and anything goes as long as it makes you happy. And that will not be pleasant. You won’t win friends. In fact, you may lose some. But bearing witness is never easy. The Greek word is marturia, the source of our word martyr. Sometimes confessing the faith will cost you. It may not cost your very life, but it might cost you livelihood or friends or family or standing in the community. It won’t be easy, but doing what’s right is never easy.
And don’t think “Easy for you to say. You’re the Pastor! You get paid to say things other people don’t like!” I’m here to tell you that I’m in the same boat. I may be a Pastor, but I’m just as guilty. There are times I haven’t stood up for the truth. There have been times I could have made a confession and I stayed silent to keep the peace or simply to get out of a situation I thought would be uncomfortable. I’m a sinner, too. I’ve chosen the easy way. So, I’m right here with you. I know how hard it is. This is why God, in His infinite wisdom, has put us Christians together in congregations. We’re not islands. The rugged individualism created by the smartphone world isn’t good. We need one another. I need your support; you need mine. And together we need the Holy Spirit to cause us to make a good confession to all around us, regardless of what it might cost. We need Jesus to forgive us when we take the easy way out.
And that’s the comfort that we have today. Jesus has promised the Holy Spirit will bear witness to us and we will in turn bear witness. He will give us the words to say when we have to make our stand to kings and rulers, to mom and dad, to brothers and sisters and aunts and uncles and grandma and grandpa and sons and daughters and neighbors and bosses and coaches. When we have to put our foot down and say “God says, and I cannot and will not go against it,” God will bless us. People may turn against us, but as we share in Christ’s suffering, we are reminded that we will share in His glory when it is revealed. When we are insulted for the name of Christ, He blesses us by sending His Spirit of glory to rest upon us.
It’s not easy. So hold dear the truth you sang, those Words of Jesus: “I will not leave you as orphans.” He has given you His Holy Spirit to guide, to strengthen, and to cheer. In just a few minutes Jesus will make His home in you as He comes to you in His Body and Blood to forgive your sins, to strengthen your faith in Him, and to strengthen your fervent love for one another. And in the Supper you are also surrounded by the clouds of martyrs bright, those people who have gone before us. Memorable saints like the Apostles and martyrs, bold confessors, and even saints and confessors known only to you, people with whom God blessed you, people who taught you the faith and taught you how to stand up for it even when it is difficult. God has promised to strengthen you, to make your heart brave and your arm strong. He gives you Himself, His Son, and His Spirit, and other Christians who can be examples and encouragement. You are not orphans; you are not alone in the fight. You are God’s people, and He is your God. Confession is hard, and persecution for your confession is even harder. But you have the Holy Spirit and Jesus’ promise: “I have overcome the world.”
Why does the Pastor preach? Scripture explains that the role of preaching the Word of God is how saving faith is created: “How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in Him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!’ … So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the Word of Christ” (Romans 10:14-17). The Augsburg Confession, seeing this connection between the Preaching Office and saving faith, summarizes Scripture on the Office of the Holy Ministry in this way: “To obtain [saving, justifying] faith, God instituted the Office of Preaching, giving the Gospel and the Sacraments. Through these, as through means, He gives the Holy Spirit who produces faith, where and when He wills, in those who hear the Gospel. It teaches that we have a gracious God, not through our merit but through Christ’s merit, when we so believe” (AC V 1-3). The whole reason the Pastor preaches is so saving faith can be created, so we know that “we have a gracious God” who loves us and has saved us from our sin by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.