The Gospel is Bearing Fruit All Over the World (June 17, 2018)

Sermon Text: Colossians 1:3-8

Pastor Steven Pagels

In the name of Christ Jesus, dear friends:

It’s something I anticipate with eager expectation every year.  It fits into a small window of time that lasts for two or three weeks at the most. And it is finally here.  What is it?  What is so important?  What have I been waiting for?  What have I been looking forward to?  Strawberry picking season!

The middle of June is prime time for picking strawberries in Wisconsin.  They are so red and juicy.  They are so much better than the packaged strawberries you buy at the grocery store.  And they can be made into so many different things: strawberry jam, strawberry pie, strawberries and cream, or if you are a purist you might prefer just a bowl of plain strawberries.

But if you don’t pay close attention to the calendar, if you don’t get out and get your strawberries in the next week or so, it might be too late.  That’s too bad, isn’t it?  It’s a shame that the growing season for strawberries and so many other summer fruits we love is so short.  Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we had more time to enjoy them, not just a couple weeks, but months or even years?

There is a place where the growing season is much longer, and I’m not talking about California or Florida.  Paul describes it in our text for today.  As a missionary Paul shared the gospel with all kinds of people.  And he was grateful that God allowed him to see that good news bear fruit in places like Rome and Corinth and Philippi and Thessalonica and the city of Colosse.

But the gospel growing season isn’t limited to only the places where Paul preached.  This growing season extends far beyond the first generation after Jesus ascended in heaven. Two thousand years later we continue to see the power of God’s Word at work. Today we rejoice that the gospel is being proclaimed in faraway places like South America and southeast Asia.  And this morning we join Paul in praising God because…

THE GOSPEL IS BEARING FRUIT ALL OVER THE WORLD

Finish this sentence: When I pray to God, the person I pray for most often is ____________.  Is it yourself?  Perhaps someone in your family?  Or someone else maybe, someone you know who is hurting or struggling?  None of those are bad answers, but the first verse of our text suggests another possible answer.  When Paul prayed, he gave thanks for the Colossians, for a group of Christians he had never met before.   And then he went on to tell them why he was so grateful for them:

“We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, because we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love you have for all the saints” (3-4).  Paul didn’t personally know the Christians in Colosse, but he had heard about them.  Specifically, he wanted them to know that he had received very positive reports about their faith in Jesus.  Not to puff them up.  Not to give them a pat on the back.  To encourage them.  To remind them that in spite of the challenges they faced (and they faced lots of challenges), the Lord was with them.  His Word would sustain them, and he would never abandon them.

Do you sometimes need the same encouragement? Maybe you had one of those weeks when everything seemed to go wrong.  Maybe you are finding yourself in a difficult situation where your beliefs are constantly coming under attack.  I can remember a member who was going through the ringer saying something like this to me: “Pastor, I don’t know what I would do if I didn’t have my faith.”  I can appreciate that.  I can correctly understand that.  But in that statement there is also a subtle danger.  Don’t take that statement too far.  Don’t ever put your faith in your faith.  Don’t forget that the most important part of your faith is the object of your faith: Jesus.

Only Jesus is 100% reliable.  Only Jesus will never disappoint you.  Only Jesus will never leave you or forsake you.  Only Jesus could obey every commandment, resist every temptation, die for his friends and his enemies and pay for every sin you have ever committed.  Only Jesus could rise from the dead and ascend into heaven and prepare your place in heaven and keep every one of your hairs numbered.  And we believe it!  By the grace of God we believe every word of it!  Faith a miracle.  It changes us.  It transforms us so that the faith God has placed in our hearts doesn’t stay in our hearts.  Our faith in God shows itself in our love for God’s people.

One early church father (if you are curious, it was Chrysostom) described faith and love as “a pair of wonderful twins,” but in his letter to the Colossians Paul thought of them more as two thirds of a set of triplets. He explained that Christian faithand love“spring from the hopethat is stored up for you in heaven and that you have already heard about in the word of truth, the gospel” (5).

The hope Paul mentions here is much more than wishful thinking.  Christian hope is something sure, something certain, a promise that is as real and tangible as the words on the page because it is based on the word of truth, the gospel, the good news guarantee that because of Jesus we will go to heaven.

Paul thanked God that this gospel had found receptive hearts in Colosse, but he recognized that he had even more reasons to give thanks because the simple, beautiful, powerful gospel was bearing fruit and growing all over the world (6).  And what was true two millennia ago is no less true today.   A few examples…

Let me start by telling you about Harrison, a four-month-old baby who looks like most four-month-old babies: cute, chubby and bald.  What makes Harrison special is that he was baptized at St. Matthew’s last Saturday. And what made that baptism even more special is that Harrison was the first child enrolled in our First Steps child care center to be baptized (about a month before the center is scheduled to open).

In our Fast Forward video today you will get to know two new St. Matthew’s families.  Every family is different, but what made their spiritual journey unique is that they both came to us initially through our preschool program.  We give thanks for these blessings, and we pray that God will give us more opportunities to reach more families when our new facility opens in a couple months.

After the video is shown today we will say farewell to a daughter of St. Matthew’s in the 10:30 am service.  Rebecca Olson recently received a call to teach at Ascension Lutheran School in Sarasota, FL.  And as we wish her God’s blessings we pray that the gospel will bear fruit in the lives of the students she will serve.

After the farewell, we will offer our intercessory prayers.  One prayer will be for three Lakeside students/members of St. Matthew’s who are going on a mission trip this week to Cross of Christ Lutheran Church in Boise, ID.  Another prayer will be for the Lutheran Women’s Missionary Society annual convention next weekend, where about 1,500 women (including some sitting in the pew today) will worship and pray and learn and grow and hear amazing stories about how the gospel is bearing fruit all over the world.

One more.  Between services today St. Matthew’s Mission Journeys team will be sharing pictures and experiences from our recent trip to Ecuador.  You will hear about Ana and Leonel and Mariana and Mateo.  And you will be encouraged to pray for our missionaries and their mission work in this brand new WELS mission field.

At this point there are two ways this sermon could go.  We could say: “Wow! That’s a ton of ministry.  The gospel is definitely bearing fruit in so many different places and God is allowing us to be a part of it.  Alleluia! Praise the Lord! Amen.”

Or instead of looking at a handful of examples, we could look in here.  We could ask ourselves a couple questions, probing questions like: “Am I truly grateful that God is blessing so many of our efforts, or am I just happy that someone else is putting forth the effort?”

Another pastor once told me that the work of the church (including mission work) is a lot like a sold-out football game: 22 people desperately in need of a break being cheered on by 80,000 people in desperate need of some exercise.  At first I found that statement to be pretty funny, but the more I think about it the less funny it becomes because behind the humor is a rather sobering reality.

We just sang these words: Let none hear you idly saying, “There is nothing I can do,” While the multitudes are dying, And the Master calls for you.  It is not an exaggeration.  Millions of people are dying.  Vast multitudes are drowning in a sea of unbelief. And you and I have the life preserver.  We have in our possession the life-giving gospel, the one thing, the only thing that can rescue souls from eternal death.

So what are you doing with it?  Are you using it?  Are you sharing it?  Or have you convinced yourself there is nothing you can do?  Have you decided that there are other things you would rather do?  And if so, have you thought about what you will say to Jesus the Judge when he asks you to give an account on the Last Day?

When I think about all the missed opportunities, when I re-examine all my excuses and am led to confess that there is no excuse for my apathy, when I realize that I deserve to die for neglecting the multitudes who are dying, that’s when I begin to appreciate what a miracle my faith is.  If it were up to me, the gospel would be a scorched, dried up, dead plant.  But it’s not up to me.  Thanks to the grace of God, thanks to the love of Jesus, thanks to the working of the Holy Spirit, thanks to the inspired testimony of Paul, we know that the gospel is bearing fruit and growing all over the world.

And that growth begins right in here.  Jesus doesn’t dwell on the sins of our past. He forgives them, and every day he gives us new opportunities to put our faith and our love in practice.  You don’t have to go on a mission trip to Idaho or Ecuador.  You don’t have to speak like angels or preach like Paul.  You can be a missionary anywhere.  You can share the good news with anyone.  And when you do you have God’s promise that the gospel will bear fruit. Amen.