- North Carolina has a license plate that claims, “First in flight.”
- Truly “first in flight” was the gospel, flying to hearts and minds throughout the world.
- It looks like the gospel isn’t flying anymore. Is it?
- John’s Revelation assures us that…
- The Gospel Is Flying
- Through God’s People
- To All People
Part 1: The gospel is flying through God’s people.
- The Wright brothers faced challenges when they invented flight.
- The flight of the gospel faced bigger challenges in John’s Revelation – Satan himself, the secular government and false teachers.
- John had a nightmare in which he saw the saints dying and the church in a terrible fight.
- We are living John’s nightmare:
- Some missionaries are coming home for financial reasons,
- seminary graduates are not all receiving calls on assignment day,
- ”WELS membership statistics show slight declines.”
- “If this isn’t living in a nightmare, I don’t know what is.”
A brief observation: The "nightmarish" vision cast above by the author of the sermon in this paragraph seems awfully contrived in the context of Revelation 14. When compared with the murder and imprisonment of the saints that the Apostle John witnessed, the political and social persecution of the Church and the demonic attacks on the Church's life and doctrine, the three examples mentioned by the author do not seem to have much to do with the "nightmare" John was referring to.
Is the Great Tribulation really to be understood as a slightly declining membership in a visible church organization?
- But Jesus’ promise to John and us is: “Then I saw another angel flying in midair, and he had the eternal gospel to proclaim to those who live on earth – to every nation, tribe, language and people.”
- The word “gospel” is used only here in Revelation. It means that the angel had “good news to proclaim good news to those on earth.”
- John is talking about the good news of salvation. For example, “You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, because you were slain, and with your blood you purchased men for God from every tribe and language and people and nation.” So God says about us in the gospel, “I have written your name in the book of life. I wrote your name in the book with the ink of my Son’s blood. Believe it. You’re mine.”
- Who is the angel? Lutherans think of Luther, through whom the gospel soared.
- The angel is more than just Luther. The gospel flies through all God’s people, like
- Ms. Betty talking to her class,
- the pastor who baptizes in New York City,
- professors at our synodical worker training schools.
- Jimmy witnesses to Jamie in Hong Kong,
- Timmy studying the Bible with Johnny in Times Square,
- Matt praying with Sara in Montana,
- Pastor Bob explaining the gospel to Helen in Japan,
- Jane telling her friend that death for a Christian means eternal life.
So far, the Law has not been mentioned in any of its three uses. In explaining the term "gospel," the sermon does apply the gospel to the hearers briefly, as highlighted in yellow.
Part 2: The gospel is flying to all people.
- (This paragraph given word for word) But let’s get personal for a second. Is the gospel flying through you? I am not talking about the person sitting next to you anymore. I am talking about you. Is the gospel flying through you? To find out, take a little quiz: #1) Do you always look for opportunities to witness to the love of Jesus to others? #2) In your personal budget, what receives the larger share: your offerings or your entertainment? Which number should be bigger? #3) When is the last time you brought someone brand new with you to church? #4) Have you done everything in your power to share the gospel? It is a question of honesty with yourself and God. If the gospel is not flying on all engines in your life, you have sinned against God.
This paragraph is the only Second Use of the Law in the sermon. In fact, as noted in the post regarding the WT Service, this is the only Second Use of the Law in the whole proposed service for WT Sunday.
But of the four "quiz" questions used to apply the Law's bitterness to the hearer, none of them come from the mouth of God, but instead, are arbitrary condemnations by the sermon writer himself.
#1 – If this were intended as a Third Use of the Law - to encourage God's people to always be looking for opportunities to witness, it would be fine. But as a Second Use, it's inappropriate. To "always look for opportunities to witness to the love of Jesus to others" is not one of the Commandments. To "always love your neighbor and be a good neighbor" – that's a commandment, and when it's broken, there is sin. To "never be ashamed of Jesus" – that's a commandment, and when it's broken, there is sin. But when it's phrased as in #1, it reduces a Christian's service to God to his opportunities to "witness." Never once did Jesus command his disciples to "always look for opportunities to witness." We are told to "make the most of every opportunity" (even then, in a Third Use context). There's a difference. God commands preachers to preach. That is their vocation. God commands his people to be faithful in their vocation and to love those around them, and even when they're not "looking" for opportunities, opportunities arise.
#2 – Which "number should be bigger"? A Christian's entertainment budget or his/her church offering budget? I don't know. God has never reduced this to an equation, even in the Old Testament. This is another manmade law. The Law condemns me for loving myself more than my neighbor and for not being generous toward God in proportion with what he has given me. The Law does not reduce this percentages of a budget. But what if I answer, "My offering budget is bigger!" Am I then to understand that I am righteous?
#3 – "When is the last time you brought someone brand new with you to church?" How sad that the sermon condemns God's people for something God's Word does not command. What about the member who has invited all his friends and relatives to come to church, and each one has refused? The way this "Law" is worded, that poor saint has failed in the sight of God. And what of those who are in no position to bring anyone to church? Or who have no unchurched friends or relatives? Have they sinned, too? Worse – if I answer, "I brought someone brand new with me just last week!", am I therefore righteous?
#4 – "Have you done everything in your power to share the gospel?" What an unscriptural guilt trip to send God's people on! How does one even know what's in one's power when it comes to sharing the gospel? When phrased this way, the Christian is under constant obligation to be "evangelizing" from dawn till dusk, and even afterwards, if it's "in his power" to stay awake a little later and continue fulfilling the "sharing the gospel" Law.
- (This paragraph given word for word) Yet, see the trouble for what is it. We remain the redeemed of God. Our eternity remains secure. Our names are written in the book of life. Your sins are forgiven. So are your neighbor’s sins. Even more, God has made sure that angel after angel after angel has flown into your life to make sure you remain in Jesus. Our parents, our teachers, our pastors, and even our children are God’s messengers to us, proclaiming “Jesus has forgiven you for all your sins. Yes, he forgives you for the sins of timidity, fear, and selfishness.” He sends to you angels to personally speak the words of the gospel, just like he did for the shepherds. There were just a few shepherds in the field the night of Jesus’ birth, yet God thought, “It is worth it for me to send thousands of angels to proclaim peace on earth.” Your God loves you and comes to you through angels.
I classified this paragraph as Gospel, but parts of it are questionable. First, there is no call to repentance or mention of it (even though no sins have yet been identified, according to the Scriptures). The thought process goes: "You have sinned, but that sin doesn't harm you or your relationship with God, because your sins are already forgiven, so don't worry about it." This is not the proper application of the Gospel. Christ's atoning death on the cross and satisfaction for sin is mentioned nowhere.
Then it goes on to say, "So are your neighbor's sins." What does this mean? To whom is the Gospel being applied? If he means the person sitting next to me in church, for what purpose does he assure me that his sins are forgiven? If he means my atheist neighbor, then he's simply wrong. My atheist neighbor does not have the status of a forgiven child of God, for my atheist neighbor still rejects the Son of God and remains condemned in the devil's kingdom. If he wanted to say that Jesus died for my atheist neighbor and wants him to be saved, too, then he should have said that.
- Now that you have the gospel, God makes you an angel so that the gospel may fly to many others – fly, not sleep or walk or stroll or sprint.
- The angel in Revelation had good visibility, was flying “in midair” so that many people could see him.
- How can we make it so that everyone hears the gospel? You make it happen because you’re part of a synod that makes it happen. We are “Walking Together,” or maybe it should be “Flying together.”
- “Together in the Wisconsin Synod, the gospel really is flying to every nation, tribe, language, and people.” Example: Sure Foundation Lutheran Church.
- Just as the Wright brothers faced many nay-sayers, we face Satan. But the gospel will prevail and it’s ours to proclaim. Let’s fly with it! Amen.
Once the Law paragraph and Gospel paragraph are out of the way, the rest of the sermon preaches neither Law nor Gospel, except for two short, guiding encouragements that "we are angels," so "Let's fly with the gospel!" The rest of this part is spent explaining how we are already carrying out God's will simply by being members of a synod that is practicing evangelism.
In summary, any sermon writer can have a bad day – many of them, in fact, in the course of his ministry. But this sermon was prepared, sent out and promoted by synod headquarters as a model sermon for pastors to emulate and even copy and paste portions into their own sermon (although I doubt any did). I don't know who authored the sermon. I doubt that the synod president saw it. But it must have had the opportunity to be reviewed by any number of pastors. If any sermon should reflect solid exegesis and bold, confessional Lutheran Law/Gospel proclamation, it ought to be one that's sponsored by the synod itself.
As with the service, maybe next year? Then again, maybe a sermon doesn't have to be written and sent out to pastors at all. We have been trained to prepare our own sermons for the people God has entrusted to us.