As you know every summer I plan ahead to the next liturgical year creating sermon titles and publishing them in a little brochure. Last summer I chose for this Sunday to use a line from Martin Franzmann’s hymn, “Thy Strong Word.” I also chose to reference Klemet Preus’ comment on it in his book “The Fire and the Staff.”
At the graduation and alumni reunion events this past May at Concordia Theological Seminary Klemet’s brothers Dan and Peter informed us of his sudden serious illness. Last summer I could not, of course, have known that this sermon would fall on the Sunday immediately following Klemet’s death which I prefer to call “entering life.” Requiescat in pace dear brother.
Thy Word Bespeaks Us Righteous
Text: Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23
Date: Pentecost V, Proper 10 + 7/13/14
In his wonderful book, “The Fire and the Staff,” our dear brother Klemet Preus wrote about Martin Franzmann’s hymn, “Thy Strong Word.” He highlights the line, “Thy strong Word bespeaks us righteous,” and then concludes, “This little phrase tells us all we need to know about the relationship between the Spirit, the Word of God, and justification in Christ. Follow this line of theological thought:
- Jesus’ death pronounces the world ‘not guilty.’ (This verdict is our justification….)
- The word of the cross pronounces this gracious verdict upon us. (That’s what Martin Franzmann meant when he wrote, ‘Thy strong Word bespeaks us righteous.’)
- The Spirit testifies to Jesus through the word of the cross (John 15:26).
- So the Spirit uses the word of the cross to testify to Jesus Christ, and when He does so, we are justified.”
We are a sacramental people. We believe that God is the actor, the doer when we are baptized, and we believe that God is Himself giving us Jesus’ body and blood in the sacrament of the altar. So it is that we believe that God works mightily through His word spoken over us, spoken to us. It is God speaking not just the pastor when He says, “I baptize you in the name….” It is God speaking not just the pastor when He says, “Take eat, take drink, this is my body, my blood given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.” Likewise it is God speaking not just the pastor when He says, “I forgive you all your sins in the Name….” Today Jesus says this is how salvation comes to, is applied to everyone, namely, by God’s Word, God’s Voice, God’s speaking. Christ died for the world obtaining forgiveness and justification for all on the cross. But not all receive that forgiveness, justification or salvation unless and until they hear it spoken to them; until they hear it.
Garden seeds grow because God designed them to grow, to grow when He tells them to grow. He tells them by being buried in the ground and watered. So God’s justifying, saving Word grows the gift of faith in our hearts when that Word is heard. It is as St. Paul put it so well, asking, first, “How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed?” Well, no one can. “And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard?” “Impossible,” says the Bible. “And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent?” The conclusion, “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ” (Rom 10:14-17).
All things were created in the beginning at the mere speaking of God, saying, “Let there be….” I suppose God could have just sat there silently and “wished” things into existence or “telecommunicated” them. But He didn’t just sit there thinking or wishing. He spoke. He spoke words. More mysterious than whether the fallen tree in the forest makes noise if there is no one to hear it, when God spoke everything happened—light and darkness, heaven, earth, seas, all the species (or kinds) of vegetation, the sun the moon and the stars, swimming things and flying birds, mooing things and squiggly creepy things and finally man. He said, “Let us make man in our image,” and at His speaking we were created, formed out of the material of the earth.
It is no wonder, then, that to save us He needed to speak again. The psalm says, “As for man, his days are like grass; he flourishes like a flower of the field; for the wind passes over it, and it is gone, and its place knows it no more” (Ps 103:15-16). Because of our sin and separation from God, “going it alone” so to speak, our end is always death.
Today Jesus says in a parable that death comes in different ways but the one thing each way has in common is that we are cut off from God’s mighty, life-giving Word. I tried to convert a garden in my backyard this spring back into lawn by planting grass seed. So far little has happened. If a bird comes to the feast the seed never even has a chance to begin to live. That makes us think of all those in the world who never hear God’s Word at all.
“How shall they hear,” who have not heard
News of a Lord who loved and came;
Nor known His reconciling word,
Nor learned to trust a Savior’s name? (LSB 831:1)
Then there are many who have been baptized as infants and maybe even taken to church or Sunday school for a while, but God’s gift of faith never grows any deeper than the tribulation and troubles of life they encounter and they fall away. Or the cares of the world and “the deceitfulness of riches” choke. What do they choke? They “choke the word, and it proves unfruitful.”
It is only when God speaks and when one hears the word and understands it that the fruit of faith is gained, the gift of God’s salvation. We become righteous only when God bespeaks us righteous for the sake of His work and gift of faith in Jesus in our hearts.
If God’s Word, God’s Voice is so powerful as to have created us in the first place, to give us life and being, even to the taking away of our sin and cares, to make us His righteous, holy people even as we still struggle with sin—“while we were still sinners Christ died for us”—and finally when He “descends from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God” He raises us from death (1 Thess 4:16-18), then we should never, ever dare or desire to stop hearing His life-giving voice. “And I heard a voice from heaven saying, ‘Write this: Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.’ ‘Blessed indeed,’ says the Spirit, ‘that they may rest from their labors, for their deeds follow them!’” (Rev 14:13-14).
Rev. Allen D. Lunneberg 
 Klemet I. Preus, “The Fire and the Staff,” ©2004 Klemet I. Preus, St. Louis, CPH p. 80.