How's Your Reception?
I'd say Christians have studied coronaviruses more in the last 2 months than they have the Bible. I'd day they've received more information about them then they have God's Word. Can you blame them? Covid-19, we're told, is life and death. Well, the receiving of God's Word is eternal life and death. So, how's your reception?
Our text is the well-known comparison of the Thessalonians and the Bereans with the former being the laggards and the latter the heroes. See if you can find a Thessalonica Lutheran Church. You can find plenty Berea's. But the Thessalonians get a bad rap. Their reception of the word was 5 x 5. That's radio jargon for saying you are receiving a radio signal as strong and as understandable as possible. "Loud and clear" means the same. We know that's how the Thessalonians heard God's Word because Paul tells us so in 1 Thess. 2:13. "We also thank God continually because, when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men, but as it actually is, the word of God"
Is that us? I'd say you remember to wash your hands more than you remember your Baptism. I'd say you receive the CDC guidelines more seriously dare I say reverently than anything you've heard from this pulpit since March 22. I'd say that when you hear Covid-19 you think science and undeniable facts, but when you hear of angels, archangels, and all the company of heaven you think, religious opinions. Not the Thessalonians. They received preaching as God's very words. They received, according to our text, 3 truths which are necessary if you are to be saved not from temporal death which no one can avoid but eternal death. Truth 1: It was necessary for God's Christ, to suffer because of your sins to the point of death. Truth 2: It was necessary for Him to rise as proof that His death paid for all your sins. Truth 3: God's Christ is the Man Jesus.
How about you? Do you receive the words out of my mouth that not only your sins but the sins of the world were on the Man Jesus when He was nailed to the cross as the actual words of God? Or do you think I'm merely telling you what the Bible means to me and what it means to you is just as valid? Do you think I'm giving you religious opinions when I preach to you of the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting? Well, if that's what you think don't bother coming back; stop listening; and forget what you heard. Because if what I'm saying is nothing more than the words of a man; if they're not a "thus says the Lord", than there is no forgiveness in them, no life, and no salvation either.
The Thessalonians received the Word of God 5 x 5, but it wasn't optimal reception either. The Bereans was. They received the Word, the insert has "message" but it's logos just as it is in 1 Thess. 2. The Bereans, however, received the Word with "great eagerness." Literally, "with all readiness." The only other places this word is used in the NT is in 2 Cor. 8 & 9 where Paul speaks of readiness to give. Here the readiness to hear is explained by saying they were of "more noble character" than the Thessalonians in that they examined the Scriptures everyday. But that's not what made their reception optimal. The next phrase is: "they examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true." There's a lot of interpreting going on in the insert's translation but they got the point. They're trying to translate a Greek optative which was rare by NT times. Here's my attempt: They examined the Scriptures to see if they could possibly have the freedom from sin, from death, and the power of the Devil that they were hearing from Paul was in them.
Those who've studied Luke with me over the years have reported something like this. They were overjoyed to hear the Parable of the Rich Fool taught the joy of being rich in God rather than you must give to God richly. They thrilled that the Good Samaritan was Jesus and they were the beaten down sinner rescued by Him and carried to the inn of the Church where Jesus pays all the bills. They rejoiced that the Prodigal Son didn't come to himself repenting but was repented by his Father running toward him. They joyed when told the only time Scripture records Jesus raising His hands is as He ascended into heaven; thereby showing those hands pierced by nails for us and our salvation are before the Father forever. They heard these things yet struggled: They thought the Rich Fool was about richly giving toward God; The Good Samaritan about going and doing likewise; the Prodigal Son came to repentance in the far away land by himself; and Jesus raising His ascending hands was just a factoid. Ah, but when they saw these things were so: what joy, what comfort, what hope, what peace.
The Thessalonians didn't do this. Go home and read the two letters Paul writes them. Not examining the Scriptures they nevertheless received as God's Word led to their having problems with the end of the world, the resurrection of the dead, doing daily work, and even married sexuality. [I mention the latter to tempt you to go home and read those two short letters. Examine them. And as I tell Confirmation kids, if I gave bonus points, I would give them to the first person who could tell me the chapter and verse where Paul addresses the marriage issue.] How about you? Do you examine the Scriptures to see if what I'm saying they say, they really do say? If not, you have what Luther called "coal miner's faith." When asked what he believed, the coal miner said he believed what the church believed, and what asked what the church believed, he said it believed what he did. Luther said, "'God preserve us from such a faith as this'" (Christian Dogmatics, II, 459). Why? Because it's faith in faith, not faith in what God says, does, promises.
Though the Thessalonians reception was 5 x 5, it wasn't optimal. The Bereans was, but what does that look like? It looks like the Energizer Bunny empowered to go on and on and on especially where the Bunny kept popping up in spots you didn't think were about Energizer batteries. You know that the pink bunny is not the power. The batteries are the power. And while the Bereans reception of Scripture was optimal, we go back to the Thessalonians for what that looks like. I quoted to you only the first part of 1 Thess. 2:13. Here's the whole verse: "We also thank God continually because, when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men, but as it actually is, the word of God, which is at work in you who believe." The phrase "at work in" is the Greek word energeo from which we get our word energy and energize. So Paul tells the Thessalonians that the Word of God they received through his mouth was energizing those who believe. That's a present participle which means it's ongoing. Like the bunny it goes on and on and even when you think it must be done by now, it keeps going.
However, we want to be clear here. Paul does say "which is energizing you who believe". but don't put the emphasis, the power on that last word "believe." If you do that, when the Energizer Bunny turns to show the batteries that keep him going and going one of them would be labeled Faith' or Believing' and that would be fatal for that makes your faith, your believing a power source. Then you're Dorothy. As long as you can believe all you need to do is click your heels together saying, "There is no place like home", you'll get there. Then you're The Little Engine that Could. As long as you can go from "I think I can, I think I can" to believing, "I know I can; I know I can", you'll get up that mountain.
Believing doesn't give God's Word it's power. Believing receives the power of the Word. Likewise, your extension cord doesn't produce power, it receives it from the outlet and transmits it to your lamp. An extension cord plugged into an outlet without power, no matter how thick, heavy, or new that extension cord might be, receives no power, transmits no power. All the faith in the world, faith the size of coconuts not mustard seeds, in what is not God's Word can't move even a dust bunny let alone mountain. Faith in what God has not said, has never promised, doesn't energize anyone. You see where the rubber hits the road, don't you? Not in how much faith I have or don't have; not in how big or thick my extension cord is, but to what is it plugged into? Is my faith plugged into the Word of God, what He has said, what He promises or something else?
See that pink Energizer Bunny. See him boldly, forcefully pounding away on his drum as he goes on and on and on and then some. He twirls around to expose the batteries that power Him. Quick what words are printed on those batteries? Word' and Sacrament'. There's where all that Jesus did for a world of sinners is found for sinners. There's where the Holy Life Jesus lived in your place is. There's where the guilty, damned death Jesus died in your place is. There's where the fruit of what Jesus did and suffered for all mankind is found for you. There in Word and Sacrament is where it is delivered to you. To the Jerusalem crowd who realized their guilt, Peter said, "Receive Baptism for the forgiveness of your sins." To David who confessed the guilt of his adultery and murder, Pastor Nathan said, "The Lord has put away your sin." To countless sinners confessing their sins of deeds, words, and thoughts, Jesus has said in Holy Communion, "Take eat; take drink; this is My Body given for you; this is My Blood shed for you."
You want strength for daily living; for the daily dying to fear, to sin, to worry, to death itself that Paul calls us to? It's in Word and Sacrament. Be like the giant Antaeus of mythology. Born of the earth, to keep alive he had to touch the earth as often as every 5 minutes. Each time he did, however, he became twice as strong. All children of Adam are born of earth; children of the Second Adam are reborn of Word and Sacrament. That's where they receive strength from, and it's more than double. It's eternal. Amen
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Fifth Sunday of Easter (moved), (20200510); Acts 17: 1-15