The following sermon was preached by Rev. Esko Murto in the seminary’s Martin Luther Chapel for a divine service on the occasion of the Festival of St Luke, Evangelist, Tuesday, 18 October 2016. The text was Luke 10:1-9.
Christ said to his disciples: Whatever house you enter, first say, ‘Peace be to this house!’ And if a son of peace is there, your peace will rest upon him. But if not, it will return to you.
What would you think of an optimistic mechanic who, when asked to do a check-up with your car, would always tell you “Everything is fine”, no matter what goes on under the hood? Or what would you think of a friendly teller in a bank, always giving you a nice, reassuringly high number when you inquire how much money you have on your account? We could come up with a lot of examples like this – situations where people who should give us accurate information even if it makes us worried, out of kindness lie to us. I assume we can all agree that these people are not doing a very good job. Actually they are downright harmful to others despite their friendly and nice appearance. Nice words are not that nice if they hide from us the truth we need to know.
Let us examine one more vocation: the honest preacher, troubled with the aforementioned examples and wishing to avoid them in his ministry. Not wanting to forget the truth for the sake of appearing friendly, he wonders how he can honestly preach the Gospel anymore. How can he proclaim: “Your sins are forgiven”, when he can never be fully certain that the one hearing him actually has true saving faith? How can he preach: “You have peace with God, be of good cheer!” when he still is unsure whether his hearers truly believed that? “After all”, the honest preacher might say to himself, “it is true only if they have faith. And I don’t dare to assume they all believe – so how could I say that?”
And thus the honest preacher begins to add conditional clauses in his sermons, his prayers, even his words of absolution. “To all of you who truly believe, I say, your sins have been forgiven”, he might announce. “Christ has saved you – as long as you believe!” he preaches. There always is that condition. Most often it is a mere footnote, small print at the end of a longer sermon, a quick disclaimer he has to include there to free his conscience. After all, he wants to be just honest, not giving false promises. He fears that some people would, in vain, imagine that they are saved.
For most of the congregation, that is not a problem. Over time they learn to ignore these small additions and subtle reservations. But there are some who wonder. They wonder what is wrong with them, since it sounds like the preacher is doing a good job and proclaiming the gospel just like it is supposed to be…but still they cannot quite grasp the joy of these good news. It’s a bit like going out for a holiday and wondering if you left your stove on: you are heading for good times and you’re almost 100% sure that your home will not be a smouldering pile of ashes when you come back, but still there is that gnawing, nagging question in the back of your head: “What if?” Similarly there are some in the congregation who get stuck in these footnotes and disclaimers of the honest preacher, and can’t get through them.
Now, you honest preacher, listen to what Christ said: Whatever house you enter, first say, ‘Peace be to this house!’
The Lord said: “Whatever house”. Stop and think about that word. Does it make a distinction between houses, saying that in some cases do this, but otherwise do that? No. “Whatever house” means “without distinction” – always, everywhere.
The Lord commanded: “First say”. Time of probing and discussion and assessment and evaluation and personalized study questions (you so enjoy) might come later, but it is not where you begin. You don’t know who they are and you don’t stop to find out. Say this thing first.
The Lord says: “Peace be to this house!” Indeed, it is Lord himself who says that, after all he teaches in the same passage: “the one who hears you hears me.” Peace of Christ is pronounced and declared with these words to the people in the house. It means: peace with God, forgiveness of sins, true life and salvation.
And listen, you honest preacher: “If a son of peace is there, your peace will rest upon him. But if not, it will return to you.” Do not worry about what happens after you preach the gospel. It is in the hands of the Lord. He knows the hearts of men so you don’t need to. Just go and declare what has been given to you to declare: Good News.
For this is the secret that the Honest Preacher missed: that there is no such thing as believing the Gospel in vain. Certainly, if your mechanic tells you your car is doing fine while in fact the engine will blow up during the next thousand kilometres, then he is fooling you because your faith in the durability of your car does nothing to the engine. Or if the teller in the bank is lying to you about your account balance, he is doing a disservice because your false sense of economic security doesn’t help you at all if the account is empty and rent is due.
But such is not the case with Gospel. For anyone who believes what the gospel says, there and then, without any requirements or conditions, also receives what the gospel promises. The honest preacher is worried that there might be someone in the pews who hears his proclamation of gospel and takes it too seriously, not realizing that it doesn’t apply to him because he doesn’t have faith. But you foolish honest preacher, can’t you see that the moment that person ‘takes the gospel too seriously’, he has indeed moved from unbelief into faith and thus all the promises of the gospel are true for him?
Therefore, you restless sinners in the pews! No matter who you are, or what you think, or what sins you have on your conscience, or how miserably weak your faith is: Peace be to you and your house. Christ has died for your sins and has been resurrected for your righteousness. He suffered your punishment so that you could be free. You have peace with God. Amen.