“Acts of Witness, Mercy, Life Together” (Acts 4:32-35)

Second Sunday of Easter
April 15, 2012

“Acts of Witness, Mercy, Life Together” (Acts 4:32-35)

As many of you may know, for the last couple of years our Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod has been organizing its work under the banner of “Witness, Mercy, Life Together.” You can see the symbol that is being used for this emphasis on your bulletin insert, encircled by those three terms. But this is more than a slogan in a marketing campaign. No, “Witness, Mercy, Life Together” really describes what the church does, whether on the national and international levels, as our synod operates, or on the local level, as, for instance, here at our own congregation.

“Witness, Mercy, Life Together”: I guess first we should define what we mean by these terms and how they’re being used. “Witness” means the testimony that is given, specifically, telling the good news about Jesus–bearing witness to Christ and the salvation that is found in him. “Mercy” is the term used to cover works of Christian love and service that benefit persons in need in a very practical way. And “Life Together” refers to the church’s common life as brothers and sisters in Christ, our unity as God’s family in the life that we share.

Now turn again to your bulletin insert, to the other side, and you’ll see a symbol for each one of these three terms, along with a corresponding Greek term from the New Testament. For “Witness” you see the Greek word “Martyria,” because “Witness” or “Testimony” is how that word is always translated. Next you see the word “Diakonia,” which is generally translated not as “Mercy” but as “Service.” However, “Diakonia” still is a good word to associate with the church’s works of mercy, since “diaconal” ministry is practical service done for the neighbor in need. Finally, you see the word “Koinonia,” “Fellowship,” the “Common Life,” the “Life Together” that the church shares. “Witness, Mercy, Life Together”: “Martyria, Diakonia, Koinonia.” Whichever way you say it, these words describe what we do and how we live as Christ’s church.

But then this is nothing new. In the Book of Acts, we see a church that can be characterized by those very same words. You know, we refer to that particular book of the New Testament as “The Book of Acts” or “The Acts of the Apostles.” But what kind of “Acts” were they? As we look at our text today, I think we will see that these “Acts” are “Acts of Witness, Mercy, Life Together.”

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Published in: on April 15, 2012 at 6:08 pm  Leave a Comment  
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“Witness, Mercy, Life Together: Our Life as Church” (Acts)

Seventh Sunday of Easter
June 5, 2011

“Witness, Mercy, Life Together: Our Life as Church” (Acts)

“Witness, Mercy, Life Together”: This is the threefold emphasis now being used for our national church body, the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod. “Witness, Mercy, Life Together” has also served well as the basis for our sermon series here at St. Matthew’s this Easter season. We have seen these themes emerge in our readings from the Book of Acts, for “Witness, Mercy, Life Together” can be said to characterize the life of the early church. But not only so, these aspects of the early church’s life are true for us as well. And so our series wrap-up today: “Witness, Mercy, Life Together: Our Life as Church.”

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Published in: on June 4, 2011 at 10:28 pm  Leave a Comment  
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“Making Known the Unknown God: Paul at the Areopagus” (Acts 17:16-31)

Sixth Sunday of Easter
May 29, 2011

“Making Known the Unknown God: Paul at the Areopagus” (Acts 17:16-31)

“Witness” has been a major theme running through the readings from the Book of Acts that we’ve had this Easter season. We’ve heard the church bearing witness to the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ for the salvation of the world: Peter and the apostles speaking boldly before the Sanhedrin. Peter preaching Law and Gospel on the Day of Pentecost. Stephen bearing witness to Christ and becoming the first martyr of the church in the process. The church giving verbal testimony to the crucified and resurrected Lord Jesus Christ, calling people to repentance and faith in his name–this is what we see in these readings from Acts.

But all of those examples that I just cited involved the early Christians bearing witness to their fellow Jews. We have not yet seen how the church bore witness when speaking to Gentiles, that is, to non-Jews, pagans. Today, we do. It is the story of Paul preaching in Athens, moving from the Jewish synagogue to the Gentile, pluralistic marketplace of ideas. And so this has great relevance for us today, for this is the world we live in. Thus our theme this morning: “Making Known the Unknown God: Paul at the Areopagus.”

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Published in: on May 28, 2011 at 5:34 pm  Leave a Comment  
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“Witness, Mercy, Life Together: The Case of Stephen” (Acts 6:1-9; 7:2a, 51-60)

Fifth Sunday of Easter
May 22, 2011

“Witness, Mercy, Life Together: The Case of Stephen” (Acts 6:1-9; 7:2a, 51-60)

“Witness, Mercy, Life Together”: This is an emphasis right now for our Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, since the work of our national church body can be gathered under these three headings. In connection with this, our synod is using the New Testament Greek words associated with these aspects of the church’s life: Martyria, “Witness,” the bold testimony that Christians give to their Savior, often in the face of hostility and persecution. Diakonia, literally “Service,” but especially, service in the form of works of “Mercy.” And third, Koinonia, “Fellowship,” or to put it another way, the church’s “Life Together.” Martyria, Diakonia, Koinonia: “Witness, Mercy, Life Together.”

Now on these Sundays of the Easter season, we’re reading the lessons from the Book of Acts, and we’re seeing running through them these three themes, Witness, Mercy, and Life Together. Many of these readings show the church bearing witness to Christ’s death and resurrection–Martyria. In some of the readings, we see the church’s service of mercy to those in need–Diakonia. And some of the readings give us a picture of the church’s life together–Koinonia. Now the interesting thing about today’s reading, from Acts 6 and 7, is that in this one lesson, all three themes come together. They come together specifically in and around a man by the name of Stephen. And so today’s message, “Witness, Mercy, Life Together: The Case of Stephen.”

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Published in: on May 22, 2011 at 1:09 am  Leave a Comment  
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“Witnesses Preach Law and Gospel” (Acts 2:14a, 36-41)

Third Sunday of Easter
May 8, 2011

“Witnesses Preach Law and Gospel” (Acts 2:14a, 36-41)

Maybe you noticed, maybe you didn’t: The hymn we just sang, “He’s Risen, He’s Risen,” was written by C. F. W. Walther. Carl Ferdinand Wilhelm Walther was, of course, the first president of our Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod and really the leading figure in our synod’s history. This year we are celebrating the 200th anniversary of Walther’s birth in October of 1811. Yesterday, May 7, was the commemoration of his death, and so it is very appropriate that we sing his Easter hymn today. “Oh, where is your sting, death? We fear you no more; Christ rose, and now open is fair Eden’s door. For all our transgressions His blood does atone; redeemed and forgiven, we now are His own.” Walther loved nothing better than to preach Christ’s victory over, sin, death, and the devil, so that troubled sinners could find comfort for their consciences and salvation for their souls.

One of Walther’s greatest contributions to the life of the church was his series of lectures on “The Proper Distinction between Law and Gospel.” Generations of Missouri Synod pastors have been taught Walther’s theses on this subject, and it continues to shape our preaching. Walther’s great concern was that the preachers of our church would understand and be able to apply both the Law and the Gospel without confusing the two. Law: God’s message that we all are sinners, guilty of breaking God’s commandments and unable to save ourselves. Gospel: God’s sweet word of forgiveness and everlasting life, freely given to us for the sake of Christ and received by faith apart from any contribution on our side. To properly distinguish the demanding, condemning word of the Law from the freeing, forgiving word of the Gospel, to preach the Law in its full severity and the Gospel in all its sweetness–this is the highest art of the preacher. Those who bear witness to Christ–“Witnesses Preach Law and Gospel.”

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Published in: on May 7, 2011 at 11:02 pm  Leave a Comment  
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“Witnesses Worthy of the Name” (Acts 5:29-42)

Second Sunday of Easter
May 1, 2011

“Witnesses Worthy of the Name” (Acts 5:29-42)

Today we begin a series of sermons based on readings from the Book of Acts. Recently many of you went through a several-month-long Bible study on the Book of Acts, and hopefully that will still be somewhat fresh in your mind. In any case, I think it will be timely and helpful for us to reflect on these glimpses of life in the early church, for in many ways the time of the early church, the conditions they faced, parallels the situation of the church in our day. They lived in a world that was either hostile toward, or ignorant of, the Christian faith. And so do we. Most importantly, the church in the first century and the church in the twenty-first also have this in common: We have the same mighty Lord, the same Savior, the same power and blessing from on high, to give us life and to guide our mission.

We will gather these sermons under the theme, “Witness, Mercy, Life Together.” If those words sound familiar, that is because they are an emphasis for the church that is being raised by our synod’s president. But “Witness, Mercy, Life Together”–those words are not merely a catchy slogan or a slick program. No, rather, witness, mercy, and life together are living realities for the church in any century, in any place. These are perennially relevant aspects of the church’s life and work, because the church is connected to Christ, and thus these truths will never change. Witness, Mercy, Life Together–we will see these themes emerge throughout this whole series on the Book of Acts.

In today’s text, the aspect of “Witness” comes out the strongest: the apostles bearing witness to the name of Christ, even in the face of strong opposition and hostility. And so our theme this morning: “Witnesses Worthy of the Name.”

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Published in: on May 1, 2011 at 12:07 am  Leave a Comment  
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