Mission Festival

Preached: October 14, 2007

Sharing Together in Mission Work
Selected Passages


In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Some time before his ascension into heaven, the risen Jesus gathered his disciples on a mount in Galilee and said to them:

All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age. (Matthew 28:18-20 NIV)

Notice how Jesus ties mission work and Baptism together. Mission work began in your heart when you were baptized. In Baptism the Holy Spirit killed the original you, the old Adam. He made the new you alive in Jesus. For in Baptism Jesus came into your heart. He began to reign as your King. In Baptism you became one of his people.

How did the Good News of Jesus and Baptism come from that 1st century hill in Galilee down to us in 21st century America on the edge of the prairie? Through mission work. On this mission festival through a series of devotions, readings, and hymns we want to review how mission work throughout the ages has brought you and me the Good News of Jesus. Yes, we share in the benefits of mission work and so we also share in that work of bringing those benefits to others. That brings us to our theme: Sharing together in mission work.

Confession and Absolution

As we draw close in worship to the holy, triune God, we return to our Baptism. Our sin separates us from God. Our sin is filth before his holiness. As we remember our Baptism, we confess our sin, and by contrition and repentance we daily drown our sinful self with its evil deeds and desires. For as we return to our Baptism, we rejoice in God's promise: “You're sins are washed away. You are reborn as my dear child. You are clothed with Jesus. You are my precious people.” With this Good News a new person daily arise before God to live in righteousness and purity for ever. Let us confess our sins with words based on Psalm 51:

Have mercy on me, O God, according to your loving-kindness. According to the abundance of your tender mercies blot out my transgressions. Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity. Cleanse me from my sin. For I acknowledge my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me. Against you, you only have I sinned, and done evil in your sight. I was formed in iniquity and in sin my mother conceived me. Cleanse me with Jesus' blood, and I will be clean. Wash me, and I will be whiter than snow.

Our Father in heaven has had mercy on us. In the blood of his Son, Jesus Christ, he has washed you clean through the water and word of Baptism. For his boundless love sacrificed his Son for you and raised him from the dead for your forgiveness. Yes! You are fully and freely forgiven in Jesus. Now live for your Lord who has purchased you with his blood to be his own. Serve him with the new heart he has given you, showing love toward one another. Amen.

Let us pray:

Heavenly Father, every good and perfect gift comes from you. You created us and all that exists. Continue to care for us according to your mercy and goodness. Provide, preserve, and protect us from all evil. Lead us to thank and praise you, to serve and obey you, so that our light shines out and many others are lead to glorify you, our heavenly Father. Hear us as we pray:

Lord, have mercy.

Lord Jesus Christ, you came born of a virgin to ransom us to be your own. Through your suffering and death you have purchased us, not with gold or silver but with you holy, precious blood. As our risen Savior you give us the victory over sin, Satan, and death. Keep our eyes focused on your cross. Enable us, as your blood-bought people, to patiently carry our crosses as a witness to your unfailing love. Hear us as we pray:

Christ, have mercy.

O Holy Spirit, bringer of life and peace. Fan into flame the faith you have given us. Through your Word and Sacraments testify to us about our Lord Jesus Christ, so that we treasure the forgiveness that comes only through him. Help us work together as the Church to spread the Good News of Jesus so that many others share everlasting life with us. Hear us as we pray:

Lord, have mercy.

O holy Trinity, the only Savior-God, Lord Almighty, bless us who gather here to worship. Enable us to serve you in our lives as we share your name, the only name that saves.


Mission work begins in the home

At your Baptism the Holy Spirit created new life in you. But life needs to be fed or else it dies. In sending out his disciples to all nations, Jesus not only said to baptize but also to teach.

So mission work begins in the home as parents teach their children the wonderful works of our God. That's how Jesus feds his little lambs. He gives us parents not only to care for our bodies but also to care for our souls, to feed his little lambs the life-giving Good News.

Listen to the encouragement from Deuteronomy 6 to treasure and cherish God's Word as part of our family life. Keep that Word in front of you and your children day in and day out. For mission work begins in the home.

Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all you heart and with all you soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you st at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates. (Deuteronomy 6:4-9 NIV)

This is the Word of the Lord

This brings us to the first hymn, hymn 515. The words of this hymn teach us to bring our children to Jesus. The history of this hymn reminds us how the faith was shared from one generation to the next.

This hymn is based on a hymn assumed to be written by Clement of Alexandria around the year 200. It's considered the earliest Christian hymn that has come down to us. Although the tune and setting is much more recent and the English paraphrase is rather a free rendering of the original Greek, think of that line throughout history that connects you to Clement, who wrote this hymn. Because of mission work, we, who live 18 centuries later, still sing this hymn. For the Good News of Jesus was handed down from generation to generation, from parent to child. Keep one handing it down.

We sing Hymn 515 verse 1-3.

Mission Work proclaims the Savior of the nations

Mission festival and Christmas Eve. Emotionally they don't really seem to fit together, but consider the similarities. Christmas is one of those times that we focus on people from all around the world. How do they celebrate Christmas? What do their country and culture do? “Merry Christmas” is one of those phrases you often see listed in many different languages. Fröhliche Weihnachten. . Natale hilare. And many more.

Christmas has come to these nations through mission work. Jesus came as the Savior not only for the Jews, but for all people. Those shepherds were the first missionaries as they glorified and praised God by telling what they had heard and seen

Think of that as you listen to Luke 2

And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord. . .And it came to pass, as the angels were gone away from them into heaven, the shephers said one to another, Let us now go even unto Bethlehem, and see this thing which is come to pass, which the Lord hath made known unto us. And they came with hast, and found Mary and Joseph, and the babe lying in a manger. And when they had seen it, they made known abraod the saying, which was told them concerning this child . . . And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen, as it was told unto them. (Luke 2:10, 11, 15-17, 20 KJV)

This is the word of our Lord.

The title of the next hymn we sing reminds us that Jesus was born for all people. “Savior of the Nations, Come.” The history of this hymn also illustrates the spread of the Christmas Good News. Remember the first hymn we sang today came from Eastern Mediterranean and was written in Greek? Greek was the language of the New Testament. But even in the days of the Apostles the Gospel spread West to Rome. Paul wrote Romans to the Christian in Rome. No doubt many Christians in Rome and Italy spoke Latin, the official language of the Roman Empire.

So in the 4th century Ambrose, the Bishop of Milan in Italy, wrote a hymn in Latin, “Veni, Redemptor gentium.” Now the Gospel of Jesus spread from the Roman Empire to the Germanic peoples, our ancestors. So in the 16th century a German by the name of Martin Luther, translated Ambrose's hymn into German with the title, “Nun Komm, der Heiden Heiland.” Then in the 19th century William Reynold in America translated it from German to English so that we can sing, “Savior of the Nations, Come.” And unlike the first hymn whose tune was quite different from the original, this hymns melody hearkens back to its Latin origins. So the history of this hymn itself illustrates its title as to goes from Italy to Germany to the United States, from Latin to German to English.

We sing Hymn 2 verse 1-4.

Mission Work proclaims Christ's victory

Africa was one of the first and the last places for mission work. Early on in the book of acts, we here that people from Egypt, Libya, and Cyrene were there at Pentecost. Later we're told how the Holy Spirit led Philip to talk an official from Ethiopia. He explained that the prophet Isaiah wrote about Jesus. Jesus was led like a lamb to the slaughter. He was crucified for the sins of the world. But God raised him from the dead. He, Jesus, is the only Savior, who washes away our sins. That Good News led the Ethiopian to be baptized.

Listen to the account from Acts 8

Now an angel of the Lord said to Philip, “Go south to the road -- the desert road -- that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.” So he started out, and on his way he met an Ethiopian eunuch, an important official in charge of all the treasury of Candace, queen of the Ethiopians. This man had gone to Jerusalem to worship, and on his way home was sitting in his chariot reading the book of Isaiah the prophet. The Spirit told Phili0p, “Go to that chariot and stay near it.”
Then Philip ran up to the chariot and heard the man reading Isaiah the prophet. “Do you understand what you are reading?” Philip asked.
“How can I,” he said, “Unless someone explains it to me?” So he invited Philip to come up and sit with him.
The eunuch was reading this passage of Scripture:
“He was led like a sheep to the slaughter, and as a lamb before the shearer is silent, so he did not open his mouth. In his humiliation he was deprived of justice. Who can speak of his descendants? For his life was taken from the earth.”
The eunuch asked Philip, “Tell me, please, who is the prophet talking about, himself or someone else?” Then Philip began with that very passage of Scripture and told him the good news about Jesus.
As they traveled along the road, they came to some water and the eunuch said, “Look, here is water. Why shouldn't I be baptized?” And he gave orders to stop the chariot. Then both Philip and the eunuch went down into the water and Philip baptized him. When they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord suddenly took Philip away, and the eunuch did not see him again, but went on his way rejoicing. (Acts 8:26-39 NIV)

This is the word of our Lord.

And yet even though Africa was one of the first places for mission work many in Africa did not know the Gospel. And when Islam came in the 7th century and thereafter, many places that had been Christian were no longer. Then in the 19th century there was a resurgence of Christian missionaries, many coming from Europe, bringing the Gospel to people in Africa that had not heard it before.

In 1949 two Wisconsin Synod pastors, Arthur Wacker and Edgar Hoenecke, started out in Capetown South Africa, looking for a place where the Gospel of Jesus Christ had not been preached. This was an exploratory mission. They were to return with their report and then the synod would decide whether to send out missionaries. They traveled some 4,000 miles through Southwest Africa, Angola, the Belgian Congo, and Northern Rhodesia. They traveled roads that were nothing but deep ruts in the wilderness, crossed river on makeshift rafts, and traveled through deserts and forests. Then they came to Northern Rhodesia. The Lord had led them after all those months to the place for WELS mission work. Pastors Wacker and Hoenecke reported back to the synod. Then in 1953 Pastors Habben and Ziegler went as the first WELS missionaries to Lusaka, Northern Rhodesia, which today is called Zambia.

Today that first mission work from over fifty years ago continues not only in Zambia but in neighbor Malawi as well. Together they serve over 50,000 baptized members, with over forty national pastors and over a dozen missionaries. How greatly God has blessed the mission work there. Jesus is surely our triumphant risen Lord. He has conquered sin and death and reigns over all.

Think of that as we sing this Easter hymn that has come to us from Africa, both with its the words and its melody. We'll sing the hymn antiphonally. I'll sing verse one and three and the congregation will sing verse two and four.

Hymn 146

Mission work goes to all the world

As a church body we have sent missionaries not only to Africa, but to Japan, Russia, Mexico, Columbia, Puerto Rico, India, Thailand, Indonesia, and other places. Take a look at the map in the narthex. As an individual congregation, we at St. John's would have to more than double our total giving to support even one missionary in a foreign country. And though we may not have the faith to give that generously, yet God's mercy allows us to share in mission work as we come together as a church body united in faith. That's one reason we come together as a synod in order to carry on mission work that we could not do as separate congregations.

Because of this unity in faith that we share, you can give your mission offerings with confidence that you are supporting the faithful teaching of God's Word. Your offerings will support missionaries who teach God's Word in its truth and purity, the same Word of God that you know and believe.

Think of that unity in the truth, that unity that the Holy Spirit works as we gather around God's Word of truth without compromising his truth. Think of that unity we share as synod as you listen to Paul's words in Ephesians 4

Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit -- just as you were called to one hope when you were called -- one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. (Ephesians 4:3-6 NIV)

This is the Word of the Lord.

Now as we sing the next hymn consider how, since we are walking together as a synod united by God's truth, he has enabled us to carry that Gospel all around the world, from India's coral strand to Africa's bright fountains.

We sing hymn 571.

Jesus gives us people to do mission work

Where do these missionaries come from? From Jesus. As our risen and ascended Lord, Jesus rules over his church providing us with pastors, teachers, and missionaries.

How does Jesus provide them for us? Through the worker training system that our synod has set up. The vast majority of our pastors, teachers, and missionaries, receive their college training at Martin Luther College in New Ulm, MN. After that those who desire to be trained as pastors, which includes most of our future missionaries, continue their preparation at Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary, in Mequon, WI. At these two school they receive a thorough education in God's Word so that they hold on and teach that truth in their ministries.

Your mission offerings also go to help support this system that also includes to preparatory high schools. For you see, that's one of the purposes for which we have come together as a church body and synod, not only to send out missionaries but also to train future missionaries and future pastors and teachers, so that the Lord's kingdom work continues for the next generation.

We turn back to Ephesians to hear the Lord's promise that he will provide us with the called workers we need.

To each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it. This is why it says: “When he ascended on high, he led captives in his train and gave gifts to men” . . . It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God's people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. (Ephesians 4:7, 8, 11-13 NIV)

This is the word of our Lord.

So as we sing the next hymn, give thanks to God for the pastors and missionaries he has given us and continue to pray that he bless us with such faithful shepherds.

We sing hymn 548:1, 2

Jesus allows us to share in mission work

But it's not only full time pastors, missionaries, and teachers that participate in mission work. You can too.

The fields are ripe for harvest, and I'm not talking about the corn crop. The fields are ripe. The harvest of souls is waiting. Who will go and bring the sheaves in by telling others about Jesus?

And even though you may never be able to travel as a missionary to a foreign county, with your prayers and with your offerings you support that work. And maybe, and this is especially for the young people here, maybe the Lord will move your heart to prepare to be a pastor, teacher, or missionary. So that you can say, “Here am I -- send me, send me!”

Matthew 9

When [Jesus] saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field. (Matthew 9:36-38 NIV)

This is the Word of the Lord.

We sign hymn 573

Offering and Lord's Prayer

Jesus enables you to speak his saving word

After Jesus told his disciples to pray for harvest workers, he answered that prayer by sending them out into the harvest field. Your prayers and your offerings are wonderful ways that the Lord allows us to share in his kingdom work. But he has not limited you to your prayers and offerings.

Open your eyes and see the mission fields around you. We don't have to travel to India or Africa to find someone who needs to hear about Jesus. They are right here in our homes, our churches, in our communities.

You are missionaries. Share with others the faith and hope you have in your heart. In Baptism the Holy Spirit took our dead hearts and made us alive, do not you think that he can't also give you the words to say as you take to heart God's Word? So let others know your hope in Jesus. Let them know that he is your Life and Salvation. Let them know that he came for them as well. Let them know whether that's your children at home, or a child in Sunday school, or friend down the street, or an acquaintance at work. You are missionaries.

Take to heart the words of the Apostle Peter.

In your hearts set apart Christ as Lord, Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect. (1 Peter 3:15 NIV)

This is the Word of our Lord.

Yes. You are missionaries. So tell that old, old story of Jesus and his love. We sing hymn 562.

Prayer for the mission of the Church, p. 129



Pastor Gregg Bitter

St. John's Evangelical Lutheran Church
859 5th Street
Hancock, MN 56244
(320) 392-5313