Read This Page in My Language
Sermon: Isaiah 55:10, 11
Pentecost 8 – July 26, 2020 – Rev. Steven J. Radunzel
The Christian Church has struggled in this world against opposition, persecution, and the damaging results of sin for 2000 years. As a matter of fact opposition to God’s people and God’s kingdom goes all the way back into the Old Testament involving the struggles of the people of Israel. Jesus warned that there would be opposition to God’s kingdom and that individual Christians would endure crosses.
So there have been times in history when Christian churches have been forced to close by enemies or just the circumstances surrounding it. For example, hostile governments have closed down churches. Or wars or other calamities have forced them to close at least for a time.
But as difficult as things have become for the Christian church there never were times when the closing of churches was universal, that is, all the churches around the world forced to close. That’s why we’re living in a completely unprecedented time with this Coronavirus. It has caused and shutdown of churches around the world. Except for some churches in areas of the world where the virus was not so serious there were no worship services around the world, not even on Easter this year.
And as churches begin to open up again things are clearly not back to normal. We wear masks. We have to try to socially distance. And it’s very clear that many people who regularly worshiped on Sunday are not feeling real secure about returning and being in crowds of people.
Is the Christian church going to survive? Is it going to survive not only this virus but the opposition that’s increasing against it in our nation and the world? Is it going to survive the current social and political unrest in our country? Are we individual Christians going to survive?
The prophet Isaiah has some very encouraging words for us in our text today as we ask these questions
IS THE CHRISTIAN CHURCH GOING TO SURVIVE . . .
ARE WE GOING TO SURVIVE?
Isaiah wrote his prophecy about 700 years before Jesus lived in this world. He writes some of the most vivid, detailed, and profound prophecies of Jesus. Our text is in chapter 55, but Isaiah introduces the promised Savior, the Servant of the LORD, in chapter 49. In chapter 53 he looks ahead in time and tells us that the Servant of the LORD will be “pierced for our transgressions and crushed for our iniquities.” Isaiah is clearly writing about our Savior Jesus Christ.
In chapter 55 Isaiah goes on to invite his readers to put their faith in, to believe in, this promised Savior, this Servant of the LORD. And then in our text the LORD promises that his powerful word will go out into the world. It will accomplish what God intends. It will proclaim salvation in the name of the LORD. It will forgive sins. It will save people.
The LORD compares the preaching of his word to the rain and snow that falls to the earth and causes the crops to grow. “As the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return to it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish, so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater, so is my word that goes out from my mouth.”
Is the Christian church going to survive? Are we going to survive as believers in this world? These words from Isaiah are a clear certainty to us that the Christian church is going to survive, God’s people, you and I, are going to survive. We will endure in our faith all the way to eternal life.
God’s people, you and I, are going to survive spiritually in this world and in the next because God’s word will save us and cause us to endure. For as long as this world endures the saving gospel message of Jesus Christ is going to go out to the world, save people from their sins, and strengthen them to endure in their faith. That’s what Isaiah’s words promise. As regularly and faithfully as the rain and snow fall so God’s word is going to fall gently on this world and on the hearts and minds of people.
And it will produce the results that God intends. “It yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater.” Think of the familiar parable in our gospel reading today, the sower and the seed. A farmer sows seed in the ground, and inspite of the weeds and the opposition there will always be that wheat that grows and produces grain. There will always be those who hear and believe the word, lead others to hear and believe the word, and ultimately to be saved eternally.
Has this Coronavirus been frustrating to you? I’m sure it has for any number of reasons – worry about getting sick, having to wear a mask, not being able to go to a restaurant, not being able to visit those you want to see, not being able to go to church. Everyone’s going to have different levels of frustration during a pandemic like this, but I can guarantee you that pastors and preachers and teachers of God’s word have felt a significant amount of frustration during this time.
The job description of every true preacher of the gospel is to preach the gospel and administer the sacraments. We do that most notably here in our Sunday worship service. This is where we read the scripture readings, where we preach the sermon, where we expound on the word of God, where we baptize people, where we distribute Holy Communion. We do that work when we visit people in the hospital or nursing homes or when we visit shut-ins.
But do you notice that during this pandemic, especially when we couldn’t have church, pastors and preachers of the word couldn’t do the very work they were called to do, the very work that is our responsibility, our very purpose? We could do virtual services online, but it’s not the same as a real worship service, and you can’t administer Holy Communion or baptize a baby through a computer screen. And even now when church services have resumed it’s still very difficult, really not possible, to visit in hospitals or nursing homes, and a pastor has to take some precautions in visiting an elderly person at home.
These circumstances are really frustrating for a pastor, but it’s more than just frustrating. It feels very strange. It’s a feeling of helplessness, almost uselessness. Throughout this virus we’ve asked what God’s purpose in this is. And we make some guesses at what God is doing. I know he’s getting our attention. I think he’s calling on the whole world to repent before the judgment comes. But he’s also getting the attention of pastors and teachers of the word. He’s reminding preachers of the word and those who listen to the word where the real power is. The word comes from God. The power to convert and save is in the word. And any results that come from the proclamation of the gospel are caused by God himself. All glory goes to him.
It’s as if God is saying to every pastor, “It is true that I’ve called you to preach the gospel, but the truth is I would not have to. I could do it all myself. I bring about all the results myself. This virus and the closing of churches, and not being able to visit the sick and shut-ins is my way of taking the proclamation of the word out of your hands for a time. And guess what? The church is still going to survive. My people are going to survive. I will still send my word. It will get to my people. And I will continue to bring people to faith, strengthen them in their faith, and bring them to heaven. “As the rain and the snow come down from heaven, . . . so is my word that goes out from my mouth.”
Retirement from the ministry forces a pastor, probably like any person in any profession, to look back on their career and do an assessment. It’s very easy to be critical of oneself. I know I’m critical of myself. I tell myself that if I had it all to do over again I would do so many things differently. I would have emphasized other more important things. I would not have been so concerned about and spent so much time and energy on certain endeavors. Most of all I tell myself that I would have done things better. The shortcomings and sins of omission are probably the most discouraging.
But it’s those kind of self-critical thoughts that force us to turn to the second verse of our text for reassurance and comfort: “[My word] will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.” Yes, God has graciously put his gospel message into the hands and mouths of weak, sinful human beings, but it will always accomplish the purpose that God desires. Any honest or humble pastor will ultimately know that any good, any forgiveness, any salvation that was accomplished in his work was accomplished by God and will be for his glory.
Is the Christian church going to survive? Are we going to survive? Is the Christian church going to survive this virus and the current social and political upheaval of our nation? Are you and I going to survive this virus and the social and political unrest that we see? I think God smiles on us a bit as we ask these questions and wonder about the answers. God could say to us, “You think this is bad. I’ve witnessed the entire history of the world. I’ve seen what’s really bad. I’ve seen all the sin. I’ve seen all the pandemics, all the wars, all the hate, all the brutality, all the rejection of a thousand generations. But guess what. I’m still here. I always will be. I’m stronger than all of it. And my word is more powerful than all of it. And my word will always be proclaimed no matter what. And my word will always accomplish the purpose for which I send it.”
Jesus once told the Apostle Peter and the disciples, “I tell you that you are Peter and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell will not over come it.”
Listen to these words of the LORD from Isaiah. Look at the facts. You’re sitting here. You’re worshiping God. You’re sitting here and worshiping God because at some time and in some way in your life God caused his word to descend on you like the snow and rain from heaven. And he gave it the power to produce the results he desired. That word forgave your sins. That word brought you to faith. That word will keep you in faith until you get to heaven.
The Christian church is going to survive. God’s people are going to survive. You and I are going to survive. Amen.