Senior Vicar Christian Willick - The Sixteenth Sunday After Pentecost - Sunday, September 25, 2022

Text: Romans 10:8-15

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Grace to you and peace from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen. Our sermon text is the second reading, Romans 10:8-15: But what does it say? “The word is near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart,” that is, the message concerning faith that we proclaim: If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved. 11 As Scripture says, “Anyone who believes in him will never be put to shame.” 12 For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile—the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him, 13 for, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”

14 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? 15 And how can anyone preach unless they are sent? As it is written: “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!”

My dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

Just recently I watched a Scooby-Doo movie for the first time since I was a kid. You always get new insights when you do that and pick up on more subtle jokes. The one I picked up on this time was when Scooby and the gang walk up to ring the doorbell at a villain’s house and in so doing they fall into a booby trap, a cage designed to trap all those who would dare come to the door. They’re not the only ones who rang the doorbell. In a cage next to them is a little girl selling girl scout cookies. And in a cage next to her is a pair of men dressed in white button-up shirts each carrying a book, and can you guess the words they say? “Have you heard the good news?” And Scooby says, “Yeah, there’s cookies!”

It’s a scene that makes us take a step back and become more aware of ourselves. The stereotypical door-knocker in our culture, right alongside someone trying to sell you something, is…a missionary. It’s us, or at least who we are to be, though maybe not portrayed in the best way we could be. These guys aren’t taken seriously. The only “good news” Scooby cares about is food. And that’s what makes every word of our sermon text so urgent. This is what matters most. There’s a world full of people who need to know what we know. So the question is, how can we make this the beautiful thing it should be? How do we come across not as pests but instead in the way that our text says, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!” Well, instead of an immediate answer, God gives us a series of questions first.

First question: “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved. How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in?” Everyone in this world is born much like the characters in that movie scene are: trapped. The cage that all are born into is that by nature we cannot believe in our Lord Jesus Christ or come to him. And many continue to live in that way. Think of the people you know: perhaps the coworker who lets money alone dominate their decision making, the student struggling for acceptance from peers at any cost, the neighbor separated from family who can’t conceive of a place to belong, the friend struggling to balance all their schedules and church can’t quite make the list. They cannot call on the one they have not believed in, so how can they be saved? That’s the whole world’s problem.

But at least that’s not our problem anymore, right? We believe. We get it. We get what God says in these verses so well, “If you believe in your heart that God raised Jesus from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified.” By God’s grace, we get that. But that’s only half of what God says. “If you believe in your heart AND if you declare with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ you will be saved. It’s with your heart you believe and are justified AND it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved.” They’re given equal footing. You can’t have one without the other. A living faith speaks.

And it doesn’t just speak within the confines of this building. God’s second question says: “How can they [that is, those outside the church] believe in the one of whom they have not heard?” You see, the world’s problem is our problem, that is to say it is our business. It is our job to make the gospel heard. But our sin makes us just as trapped and cut off as the world, in the cage of our own fear, our own doubt, our own apathy to these urgent words. A faith that does not speak—that’s the furthest thing from beautiful—and if we look to us, Lord, we will let you down every time.

But what does God say? “The Word is near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart.” He says don’t fear, don’t doubt. The purpose behind these words is not to question your certainty or motivate you by guilt to preach the gospel. It preaches the good news to you first, the unchangeable fact that the Word came down for you. You don’t have to work your way up to him to get his attention. You don’t have to beat yourself down to get his sympathy. You don’t have to do anything, because he’s done it all for you. That’s the first step in making gospel work a beautiful thing: it’s realizing it’s not our work to make it beautiful. It is beautiful because it is the good news of him who died and rose for you, it is peace with God now and forever, it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes. As Scripture says, “Anyone who believes in him will never be put to shame.” “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” And that “everyone” includes you.

And that “everyone” includes more than you. The coworker in need of security and the student in need of acceptance, the neighbor in need of a family and the busy friend in need of rest. God’s word is for them. “For there is no difference—the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him.”

And that brings us to our next question… In the movie scene, Daphne manages to break open their cage lock with items in her make-up kit of all things. Everyone goes free. Scooby gets his cookies. And the two missionaries…disappear from the story. They’ve served their comical purpose. The movie has no more use for them. But God has much more use for us.

Third question: “How can they hear without someone preaching to them?” The world looks at the preaching of the gospel and sees nothing particularly beautiful about it. But you know better. An old Lutheran theologian named C.F.W. Walther put it this way:

“Stop and consider: If you could learn how to prolong the life of those who are entrusted to your care by fifty years or even to raise the dead to a new lease of life here in time, how great and glorious your calling would appear, not only to you, but to all people! In what great demand you would be! What a treasure people would think they had obtained if they had obtained you! And yet, all this would be as nothing compared with the sublimeness and glory of the calling God has given you. You are not to prolong the poor, temporal life of those in your care, but you are to bring them the life that is the sum of all bliss, the life that is eternal, without end. You are not to raise those in your care from temporal death to live once more this poor temporal life, but you are to pluck them out of their spiritual and eternal death and usher them into heaven.”

You know the incredible importance of the gospel for life here and forever. You know the incredible honor he has given in entrusting that gospel message to weak and sinful humans, to you and me no less. You know that a living faith speaks. And I hope you know too that this speaking doesn’t have to be in words only. I told another quote to my 7th grade catechism class just the other day, maybe you’ve heard it too: “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” Pastor Leyrer also has a favorite quote from Francis of Assisi that goes: “Preach the gospel at all times. If necessary, use words.” Even our text doesn’t say “How beautiful the mouths,” but “How beautiful the feet.” The preaching of the gospel doesn’t have to be just what we say, but what we get to do.

How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news. How beautiful are the feet which push down on gas pedals to go visit the lonely and forgotten. How beautiful are the feet which step one after the other down sidewalks and up driveways to bring the eternal gospel to all people. How beautiful are your feet which walk into this building to sit and receive so that they might go out from this building and move to the beat of Christ’s love wherever their callings in life are.

And now God has one final calling for us to consider, one final question: “How can anyone preach unless they are sent?” We are all sent to preach the gospel in our own particular settings. But this passage also makes us consider those who preach the gospel full-time: pastors, teachers and staff ministers, those who are specifically sent and called by God to serve with their lives. It’s as Jesus encouraged us in the Gospel reading: “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.”

And at a time when our synod hopes to start 100 new home missions in 10 years, I can’t think of a better time to pray for more workers, and to encourage more workers. Oftentimes we’re encouraged, if you see a young person with gifts for the ministry, to let them know. But I wonder if maybe we don’t always know what to look for. What are gifts for the ministry? Two things I can think of: Love for God and love for his people. Beyond that, the gospel ministry takes as many different forms as there are people in service.

I think of the young men just starting Seminary, many of whom I’ve had the chance to help and encourage along the way, and what incredible joy I feel at seeing them there training with me. I think of myself and Zach Kopplin, fellow St. John’s brother, both studying at Seminary thanks in no small part to your support and encouragement. There are those who will answer the call. I also think of a young man down in Georgia who had such a heart for service in the church, whom I encouraged to consider being a pastor, and whose plan is to be a faithful architect. There are those who will serve God and his people in other ways as well. The important thing throughout is that we keep praying, we keep encouraging, we keep asking the Lord of the harvest, “Send more workers! While fields are ripe and souls are dying, let your word go out through us and others until the day is done.” That’s the mark of a truly beautiful life!

So finally, brothers and sisters, I do feel a bit like those no-name missionaries from that movie scene. I’m not an illustrious mission festival speaker. I don’t have many concrete mission strategies. I’ve got only one year of practical ministry experience under my belt. But what I can share with you is what I’ve become convinced of myself: I want the goal of everything I do in life to be these last words of a favorite hymn of mine: “the gospel message to proclaim, that all may know his saving name.”

Until then we rest on his promises, that he is with us always to the very ends of the earth and the very end of the age, that he is directing all things for the good of his church, and that he will come to bring all his own to life forever with him. And I can’t think of anything more beautiful than that! Amen.

And the peace of God, which passes all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.