I don’t often talk about the national church body this church belongs to. Some of you know it’s called the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod. You can probably guess why I don’t mention it. How many people in Florida really care about something in Wisconsin? Evangelical is a big church word that means gospel-centered. Lutheran connects us with the history of the Reformation going back to the 15th and 16th centuries. The last word, synod, is maybe least known of all. Synod is really just the English form of a Greek word meaning walking together.
There are certain things we can do as a church, and do each week. We gather for worship, Bible study, have fellowship. We pay the bills, upkeep the building, and work to make ourselves known to the community. We try really hard to be a part of this community and this region. But there are some things we can’t do that well. It would be hard for us to send missionaries overseas. Training pastors would be hard by ourselves. That’s where synod comes in, walking together with other churches like our own. Our national church body collectively numbers 1,280 churches with 363,997 baptized members. We’ve walked together to support four schools for ministerial education to train pastors, teachers, and staff ministers. We walk together with 313 Lutheran elementary schools and 403 early childhood centers together teaching 35,611 students. That’s one of the largest private school systems in the United States. Walking together we’re involved in 26 international mission fields serving 107,850 souls. We might only be the third-largest Lutheran church in America, but we’re getting things done.
And you’re part of all of it. Your prayers and offerings support that. Our congregation has pledged to give over $7,000 as an offering to this work being done. Yet a huge network of churches, missions, and schools spread across the country, all with varying circumstances and ministry settings, how can anything get accomplished? Our numbers are falling like almost all church bodies. So shouldn’t we limit ourselves so we don’t fail? This morning Isaiah is going to speak against that notion. Instead, we proclaim …
Jesus is the light of all we do
He shines through his Word
He shines to the ends of the earth
Who is Isaiah talking about in the first lesson? Himself? Israel the nation? Not likely. Is he talking about the Christ? “You are my servant, Israel, in whom I will display my splendor.” The servant the Lord calls is promised but not sent right away. Prepared for use, but only at the right time. Concealed, hidden, reserved for the proper moment. “In the shadow of his hand he hid me; he made me into a polished arrow and concealed me in his quiver.” Consider Jesus, during his time on earth his work seemed in vain. He was killed. But Jesus was a secret weapon. He was God’s Word in the flesh, the favorite weapon deployed at the right moment for the right purpose.
We’ve heard it before, how the Bible is so confusing or it’s all in how its interpreted. The creation account could mean different things to different people. The passages about marriage or morality are difficult to understand. Is that really true? Does that make us Wisconsin Synod Lutherans just one group among many interpreting the Bible our own specific way? Consider what Paul says in 2 Timothy, “This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time, but it has now been revealed through the appearing of our Savior, Christ Jesus, who has destroyed death and has brought life and immortality to light through the gospel.” Nothing confusing about that! God’s Word, the message about Jesus, is clear. Its God’s Word, and through that Word shines Christ Jesus your Savior.
We walk together in a big, spread-out group. We might think tools used in New York City at Sure Foundation Lutheran Church would not be the same as in Yakima Washington at Grace Lutheran Church. The cultures are different. The people have different gifts. We might think something working there would never work here. We’ve got our own ideas on what should work and make people want to come. Worship by the Water, our own way of Sunday school, our own postcard invitations. Each designed to appeal to someone, get someone through the doors, and then we claim success.
Whether it’s New York, Washington, or Florida, the tool is exactly the same. “Before I was born the Lord called me; from my birth he has made mention of my name. He made my mouth like a sharpened sword.” That sword is the Word of God. Everywhere in our church body, no matter what church you walk into, you will hear that Word of God. Every pastor, teacher, and world missionary uses the message of grace revealed in God’s Word. It’s all about Jesus shining through that Word. The Word made flesh is God’s not-so-secret weapon to bring you back from the brink of death. God sent Christ at just the right time and revealed him to you for full forgiveness. Careful, God didn’t throw his plan together. Jesus was prepared, called, and shines through the Word.
We must work to keep Jesus shining through the Word the center of what we do. We can never rest. We must maintain dedication to teaching, pointing to Christ, baptizing and celebrating the sacraments. The next generation must hear, because if they don’t God’s truth could be lost. At the synod level, new materials are being produced to help congregations in their ministry. The C18 program aims to serve 1 million souls with the message of a newborn King at Christmas. Simple helps to share that message are available, worship planning has been done, education aids have come out, advertising for social media and print media have been produced. All of this to let Christ shine into the world. All of it produced with your help and for your use as we walk together as the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod.
God is big, and his plan to save people is big. “It is too small a thing for you to be my servant to restore the tribes of Jacob and bring back those of Israel I have kept. I will also make you a light for the Gentiles …” Failures and setbacks keep our efforts small in sharing the gospel. Routinely we send out 6000 postcards at Christmas and Easter and few respond if any. The return on investment doesn’t seem great. We invite people who have newly moved to the area to come check us out. Each time no one comes we might get more impatient, thinking our efforts have failed. Think of how Christ looked. What if Jesus had limited himself because of poor return on investment or impatience? But the Messiah wasn’t just for Israel. He wasn’t counting ROI. He wasn’t a failure. Jesus won a new future for all people including Gentiles. That’s you and me! Christ’s cross penetrates the darkest corners of your heart with light. Your sinful desires are destroyed in that penetrating light. Jesus shines into your lives but he wants to shine even further. He wants the gospel to be shared to the ends of the earth.
The mission is simple. In Isaiah, it sounds like, “that you may bring my salvation to the ends of the earth.” In Matthew’s gospel, Jesus says, “Go and make disciples of all nations …” That’s the work Christ wants us to do. This world is big. But we’ve got a big Savior. Our church body supports over 1 million people from central and south America connecting to a Facebook page that regularly shares gospel messages. 4000 of them have reached out and asked for online classes to learn more about Jesus. We serve people in Vietnam, Nepal, and Russia. God might not call you around the world to share his name, but he might just send you down the block, or the doubting cynic at work. He will use you to encourage with your prayers and dollars future pastors, teachers, and missionaries. He may even use you as one of them. Or work through you to encourage someone else to consider being a pastor or teacher. This is all work our Savior wants to be done and he promises to bless it.
The work of the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod is simple, proclaim Christ crucified. The Word of God is the tool given to all to accomplish that work. The gospel isn’t limited in scope or power. It’s meant for all people to the ends of the earth. The Word of God centers on Christ who is salvation for everyone who believes. He’s the light of all we do as a congregation here in Navarre, as a church walking together with other churches in the United States, and walking together to touch the ends of the earth.