It has been called our theme song, our mission statement, and even our “battle hymn.” (Although I have to say that last one may be a little dramatic.) Many times I have heard people say things like that about Hymn 293 in our hymnal, “God’s Word is our Great Heritage.” Reflecting on our Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod (WELS) many have said that hymn best describes us and what is important to us. Although I would guess that many of you have it memorized I want you all to open your hymnals to Hymn 293 and read the words with me. “God’s Word is our great heritage / And shall be ours forever; / To spread its light from age to age / Shall be our chief endeavor. / Through life it guides our way; / In death it is our stay. / Lord, grant, while worlds endure, / We keep its teachings pure / Throughout all generations.”
Now before you put your hymnals away I want you to note two themes in this hymn. What do we do with God’s Word? And what purpose does God’s Word serve among us? We “spread its light from age to age” as we share God’s Word with others. And for all the years of grace we are given on this earth “it guides our way.” And finally, when we face death “it is our stay.” Those two thoughts—to hear the Word and share the Word—are part of just about every mission statement in every church in our synod.
As you put your hymnal away I want you to think about how well we are practicing this theme song. Is God’s Word really our great heritage? I think that is still one of our strengths. We are very much a church body that cherishes the Scriptures and clings to its teachings. And what about our “spreading of its light from age to age?” And how clearly does “it guide our way” in every part of our life? Sadly, brothers and sisters in Christ, our walk doesn’t always match our talk, does it? We may sincerely say that God’s Word is our great heritage but then we fail to hear it regularly and we have little passion for sharing it. So again and again we need to hear God’s call to repentance and new life so that we continue to walk in “our great heritage” of God’s Word.
To that end we will now direct our attention to Romans 10:11-17. As I read these verses listen closely for those same two foundational themes of hearing God’s Word and enabling others to hear God’s Word. (Read text.) These verses remind us to:
“LET THE WORD BE HEARD”
I. Among us…so we continue to call upon the name of the Lord
II. Through us…so others can call upon the name of the Lord
I realize that it can be a challenge to jump into the middle of one of the Apostle Paul’s letters and fully understand the point he is making in a handful of verses. When I think of doing what we are attempting to do in our sermon this morning I recall what Peter wrote about Paul’s writing in 2 Peter 3:16, “His letters contain some things that are hard to understand…” And this section of Romans (Chapters 9-11) in particular has some challenging teachings. Here Paul addresses predestination and why some people believe God’s Word while others reject it. But in spite of those difficult doctrines this section reminds us over and over again of how God in his grace uses his Word to call people to faith. Regardless of what we don’t understand about some of these teachings we can understand the importance of letting the Word be heard among us. Through his Word God created faith in our hearts and through his Word he preserves us in the faith. And so too letting the Word be heard is the only way that others will receive faith and call on his name for salvation.
In the first three verses of this reading the Apostle Paul addressed two fundamental truths regarding salvation. First of all, a person is saved by God’s grace alone through faith in Jesus alone. The Old Testament Jews weren’t saved by keeping the laws of Moses. And the New Testament believers weren’t saved by being good people. Additionally, Paul stated that God wants all people to be saved through faith in Christ. Listen again to our text, “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.” This is the sweet Gospel that we are privileged to know and believe. Through the Word and Sacraments the Holy Spirit has made us children of God who call on the name of the Lord. And we will never be disappointed by him! Our sins are forgiven. And we can be confident that God will richly bless us throughout our earthly life and give us eternal life in heaven.
Now when we remember that the faith to believe in God and call on God’s name for salvation was a gift that he gave us through his Word how will we treat his Word in our daily lives? We will not only say that it is our “great heritage” it will really be what “guides our way” in life and in death it will be “our stay.” Yes, we will “keep its teachings pure” because our salvation could be lost if we let the Word become corrupted or confused among us. So today we again say to each other, “Let the Word be heard! Let the Word of God be heard among us clearly, constantly, and confessionally!”
That leads me to the reason I am here at Mount Olive today. I come to you on behalf of your college of ministry, Martin Luther College, located in New Ulm, MN. There we train future pastors and teachers so that the Word can be heard. At MLC we also provide continuing education and training for current pastors, teachers, and lay people. Since God uses the Gospel to call us to faith and preserve us in faith we need well-trained pastors and teachers who will faithfully preach and teach God’s Word. So I ask for your prayers for the college. I invite each of you to take one these prayers cards with you as a reminder to do that. It asks you to give thanks for the gift we have in our system of high schools, college, and seminary where we continue our “great heritage” of training called workers. Then I also ask that you would take every opportunity that you can to encourage the young men and women in your congregation to consider preparing for public ministry. Through our college of ministry we can help ensure that the Word will be heard among us “throughout all generations.”
Speaking of the connection between the Word of God being heard among us and us having faith to call upon the name of the Lord for salvation, the next two verses of our text outline that process. Paul asks four rhetorical questions to make his point. “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!” In a personal way think of how this process played out in your life. Could you call on God for salvation if you didn’t believe in him? No, you couldn’t. And would you believe in God if you hadn’t heard about him? No. And could you have heard about God if no one ever told you about him? No. And if no pastor or teacher, or parent or grandparent, or friend or neighbor had been sent with God’s Word into your life would there have been anyone to share the good news of God’s love with you? Once again, the answer is no. With this reminder about the process through which God brought us to faith we are again encouraged to let the word be heard among us. First we eagerly hear it for ourselves. And then we support the preaching and teaching of the Word through use of our time, talents and treasures. We do that at our local congregation and also as synod. We live out the truth that “God’s Word is our great heritage.”
Although we have some wonderful encouragement in these verses to let the Word be heard among us we also hear a sober warning about how we treat God’s Word. And we also are given an additional reminder about regularly hearing the Word. Our text continues, “But not all the Israelites accepted the good news. For Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed our message?” In unbelief God’s people chose to reject what they heard. And so they lost the salvation that he offered them. But God was not at fault. Paul went on to declare, “Consequently, faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word about Christ.” The only way to answer our sinful nature that is prone to doubting and unbelief is to hear the Word. So once again today we say to each other, “Let the Word be heard! Let the Word be heard among us so that we continue to call upon the Name of the Lord.
Now that we have looked at the need for the Word to be heard among us let’s direct our thoughts to the ways in which the Word can be heard through us. Before we do that though it is good for us to remember that the work of letting the Word be heard through the Gospel ministry is God’s doing. We can’t miss that point in these verses. Bringing people to faith through the Gospel is the work of the Holy Spirit. Yes, God uses human messengers. He gave the Great Commission for all Christians to share the gospel and he also established the public ministry of the Gospel. It is his will that the Word be heard and that it produces faith people’s hearts.
Now with the idea of the Word being heard through us in mind let’s go back to the four questions that the Apostle Paul asked in these verses. Let’s view them from the perspective of those who don’t call on the name of the Lord. “How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? Are there people in the world who don’t believe in Christ? Yes, of course, there are literally billions of people who don’t believe in Christ as their Savior from sin. And what if we look around among our friends, associates, and neighbors, and perhaps even relatives, will we find any who meet that description? Once again we most certainly will. “And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard?” Can the multitudes around the world or those who live much closer to us believe in God if they haven’t heard the truth about him? No, of course they can’t. “And how can they hear without someone preaching to them?” Once again the answer is that people can’t hear about God unless someone shares God’s Word with them. People may be aware that there is a God and even no a few things about God but without the revelation that God gives of himself in his Word they cannot receive salvation. 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!” In that last question and through the Apostle Paul’s quoting of the Old Testament we hear a call to action. We are among those who have “beautiful feet” to bring the good news of Jesus to people where we work, or where we go to school, or where we shop, or where we vacation. We let our let shine through our behavior and when we have the opportunity we also share the hope we have in Christ. As a congregation you gather to hear God’s Word and then you send each other out to bring the good news to those who don’t know it or how have forgotten it. And as a congregation you support mission work around the world through your offerings to WELS. And with those same offerings we train called workers to let the Word be heard through us in even more places.
Once again allow me to tie this back to Martin Luther College—your college of ministry. With approximately 700 students on campus there are 1400 beautiful feet being prepared to go out with the Word of God in pulpits and classrooms around the world. You are supporting them through your offerings as a congregation and as individuals. And I offer you a sincere “thank you” on their behalf. Before you leave today I encourage you to get to know some of them better and your college better by picking up one of these booklets on the table in the entryway. As you pray for us and encourage young people to study for ministry we can then let the Word be heard through us.
“God’s Word is our Great Heritage” whether or not you agree with those who say that hymn is our “anthem” as a synod I pray that what it says always describes us and congregations like Mount Olive. Let’s renew our commitment to the “spreading of its light from age to age.” And what an awesome thing for God’s Word “to guide our way” in every part of our life and in death “be our stay.” With the reminder we have received in this Scripture as encouragement let’s live out “our great heritage.” Yes, let’s make it our life’s goal to “Let the Word be heard!” Let it be heard among us so we continue to call on the name of the Lord for salvation. And let it be heard through us so many others will also call on the name of the Lord for their salvation. Amen.