In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. Grace and Peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ and may our Lord and Savior sanctify you in the truth, for His word is truth. Amen Fifth Sunday after Trinity (2014) God’s Gracious Method of Saving Sinners and Sustaining Believers Rev. Toby Byrd “For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe.” (1 Corinthians 1:21 ESV) The people of Israel, following king Ahab and his wife Jezebel, had forsaken God’s covenant, tore down His altars, and killed His prophets (1 Kings 19:10). The condition of Israel sounds eerily familiar to the condition of much of the world today, including our own country. People who once worshipped the One true Triune God no longer look to Him for divine salvation. Instead, rejecting divine salvation, they turn to the world, to man, and to themselves seeking to fulfill their wants and desires of the moment. They make idols out of creatures, shunning the One true God; refusing to bow down and worship the Creator. Fulfilling His threat to punish all who worshiped idols, God’s wrath fell upon all who renounced Him, who worshipped the idol Baal, and His wrath was carried out by Hazael, Jehu, and Elisha. Hazael and Jehu carried out God’s wrath by the sword, but Elisha slew by the twoedged sword of God’s Word, bringing judgment upon the ungodly (2 Kings 2:24). Yet not all within Israel perished, God, out of His merciful compassion, retained a remnant of seventhousand who had not bowed their knee to Baal or kissed him (1 Kings 19:18). These seventhousand are the number of the “remnant, chosen by grace” (Romans 11:5, ESV) which is God’s Gracious Method of Saving Sinners and Sustaining Believers. But how does that grace come? We hear in our text, “it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe.” This statement for many sounds very peculiar, so they ask, “What is St. Paul trying to say?” When he writes, “it pleased God,” he is saying it was God’s good pleasure to decide, to determine, to resolve, or to decree “to save those who believe.” That is to give salvation to those who have been brought to faith by the Holy Spirit. But now one must ask, how does one come to faith? To which St. Paul answers, “through the folly of what we preach.” Is St. Paul making light of his preaching? Is he belittling the preaching of others? Is he calling his preaching and the preaching of others foolishness or folly? No; St. Paul is using a figure of speech here known as an oxymoron. In fact, a very bold oxymoron! Beginning this section of his letter to the Corinthians he wrote, “For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God” (1 Corinthians 1:18 ESV). Elijah, thinking he was the last of God’s chosen people and fearful for his life, hid in a cave. God came to him there and told him “Go out and stand on the mount before the LORD” (1 Kings 19:11 ESV). But before he could respond to God’s request a great and mighty wind tore through the mountain, breaking rocks, but the Lord was not in the wind. Then a great earthquake rumbled the mountain, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. And after the quake a fire roared up the mountain, but God was not in the fire. Then God came in a low, soft whisper and Elijah heard Him. Here our merciful and gracious God, filled with long-suffering and of great goodness and truth, was coming to answer Elijah’s complaint. Wrapping his face in his cloak he went and stood at the entrance to the cave eager to hear the Lord. Such is what happens to sinners when the Gospel is proclaimed and the redemption won by the Son of God is revealed. The Holy Spirit comes, whispering into their hearts, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him” (Matthew 17:5 ESV). Furthermore, He tells them, “You shall have no other gods before me” (Exodus 20:3, ESV). In the Gospel, God reveals Himself through His only-begotten Son, and His Son reminds us, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6 ESV). As God had commanded Elijah found Elisha and placed his cloak upon him; thereby anointing Elisha to the prophetic office. Here we see the fulfillment of Isaiah 61:1, “The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me, because the LORD has anointed me to bring good news to the poor; he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound.” Elisha was to preach God’s Word to those captured by the temptation of idol worship, calling them to repentance; calling them to worship the one true God once again. We believe, teach, and confess that the public teaching and preaching as well as the administration of the Sacraments in the Church is, according to Article XIV of the Augsburg Confession, the sole function of the distinct office of the Holy Ministry through a regular call. Therefore, it is there, through the Gospel, in Word and Sacrament that the salvation won for all by the incarnate Son of God is revealed to sinners. Much like God came to Elijah in a whisper, our merciful and compassionate God comes to us through the voice of the pastor as he declares, “I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit” while sprinkling the sin cleansing waters of Baptism on the baptized. Again our merciful and compassionate God comes to us through His Son’s body and blood, which was shed for the forgiveness of sins as the pastor distributes the bread and wine of Holy Communion, saying take eat this is the true body of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ given into death for the forgiveness of sins. Take drink, this is the true blood of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ shed for the forgiveness of sins. As He anointed Elisha to speak on His behalf, today God speaks to His people through His anointed under-shepherds of Christ, yet often their message sounds strange and confusing to the world, “For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing” (1 Corinthians 1:18 ESV). As St. Paul says, “Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom” (1 Corinthians 1:22 ESV). The world thinks and speaks in absolutes, those things they can see, hear, touch, and smell. Temporal things make sense, but spiritual things are unknown, spiritual truths must be received by true faith, faith in a loving, merciful God who sent His only Son into the world of human flesh to suffer and die that we might be forgiven our sins. Yet true faith is not a quality of man, it comes only through divine means. It comes only through the Holy Spirit who creates faith through the Gospel (Rom. 5:5; Titus 3:5). Moreover, because of man’s corrupted nature he rejects all things divine. Turning to the world man tries to clarify his existence through faith in things worldly, such as Social Darwinism or social politics. Therefore, man makes idols of himself, his past, his world, his knowledge, his ability to create worldly things, his intellect and intelligence; thinking these are his by evolution. Never once considering these are his only by the divine providence of God and they can be taken from him as easily as God took them from Ahab and Jezebel. Man is corrupt by nature and he seeks things corrupt. St. Paul reminds us, “Now the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will depart from the faith by devoting themselves to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons” (1 Timothy 4:1 ESV). However, our God is a merciful and compassionate God, “who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy 2:4 ESV). When the means of grace are presented through pastors, God is working salvation through human instruments. To be certain many who hear the Gospel proclaimed by pastors will consider it foolishness and turn a deaf ear to the pulpit. But God in His wisdom and grace never allows His Word to return to Him empty (Is. 55:11). He has given both Law and Gospel for His pastors to preach: The Law to show men their sin and their inability to overcome their sin on their own, and the Gospel to show men what He has done to remit their sin through the life, death, and resurrection of His Son, Jesus Christ. Sadly, not all who hear of our Lord’s atoning sacrifice on the Altar of the Cross believe in its redeeming and saving power. Many simply look at our Lord’s death as just another execution of a criminal by the Romans. However, through the power of the Holy Spirit the redeeming power of our Lord’s death upon the Altar of the Cross is revealed to many and their hearts are changed. The Holy Spirit whispers to men, you are justified by the atoning sacrifice of Christ. You have been reconciled with God, your sins are forgiven, and God’s Son’s victory on the Cross has released you from the firm grip of Satan, the world, and your flesh. YOU HAVE BEEN SAVED! Receive this blessed gift of salvation, trust in God and give glory and honor to Him who saved you for all eternity. “The word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God” (1 Corinthians 1:18 ESV). The Gospel is God’s Gracious Method of Saving Sinners and Sustaining Believers. Amen. May the peace of God, which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus. Amen.