Sermon at the Missionfestival in Salem

The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers few; therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest. Mt. 9,38

Watchword: “Turn to me and be saved, all the ends of the earth! For I am God, and there is no other. (Isa 45:22 ESV)

Old Testament: 19 O LORD, my strength and my stronghold, my refuge in the day of trouble, to you shall the nations come from the ends of the earth and say: “Our fathers have inherited nothing but lies, worthless things in which there is no profit.  20 Can man make for himself gods? Such are not gods!”  21 “Therefore, behold, I will make them know, this once I will make them know my power and my might, and they shall know that my name is the LORD.” (Jer 16:19-21 ESV)

Epistle: 12 I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel,  13 so that it has become known throughout the whole imperial guard and to all the rest that my imprisonment is for Christ.  14 And most of the brothers, having become confident in the Lord by my imprisonment, are much more bold to speak the word without fear.

15 Some indeed preach Christ from envy and rivalry, but others from good will.  16 The latter do it out of love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel.  17 The former proclaim Christ out of rivalry, not sincerely but thinking to afflict me in my imprisonment.  18 What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed, and in that I rejoice. Yes, and I will rejoice,  19 for I know that through your prayers and the help of the Spirit of Jesus Christ this will turn out for my deliverance,  20 as it is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be at all ashamed, but that with full courage now as always Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death.  21 For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. (Phi 1:12-21)

Gospel: 18 And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.  19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,  20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”  (Mat 28:18-1)

God’s word for the Sermon from Mt.9,35-38

And Jesus went throughout all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.  Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few;  therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.”

Dear friends of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ: Mission festival in Salem is special. All of you here attest to that. That’s why you have come from as far as the USA [Texas, Illinois and even Gunnison in Colorado in the Rocky Mountains], but also from Liberia, Nigeria, Nigeria, Sudan, Ethiopia, Uganda and Zambia. It’s great to have you here together with busloads full of people from Botswana, NW-Province, Gauteng, KZN and off course Mpumalanga. I am happy to see so many faces from FELSiSA [Kirchdorf, Lüneburg, Wittenberg and Pretoria]. I know many more would have liked to come, but couldn’t – that’s not only my father, whose overseas right now, but also the old pastors and missionaries of Salem: Junker & Rehr. Both have sent their kindest regards, prayers, blessings and good wishes. I am sure there are others too, who just couldn’t make it. Well, I am glad you could and are celebrating God’s mission in this world here in Salem today.  Welcome – and it’s wonderful to be here with you. Thank you for coming and thank you for your support +

A Mission festival in Salem is special because it like every mission festival it:

v  brings back good memories about God’s mission in the past

v  celebrates God’s mission with God’s people today – right here and right now.

v  wakes and strengthens hope in God’s mission in the future too +

Good memories! Yes, that’s what a Mission festival is about. Those good memories of the Church go way back far more than just 2000 years after Christ. These fond old memories are recorded in the writings of the apostles and prophets of old – and in the Church these memories are cherished as its most precious treasures.  Today’s watchword reminds us that the mission of our God goes way back into the times of the Old Testament. By mouth of the prophet Isaiah the living God calls across the globe: “Turn to me and be saved, all the ends of the earth! For I am God, and there is no other.” (Isa 45:22) MF remind us that God’s mission dating to the very beginning of history has always been one of salvation and that it has a broad and wide scope far beyond our narrow confines of families, tribes and nations, because it encompasses the very ends of the earth in time and space – God’s mission is truly global. Even when working with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, with Moses and all the prophets, kings and priests in Israel God always had the big picture in mind – the entire world and its salvation. And it is the core message of this worldwide mission that the Lord of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, is the God of Israel and all people and that there is no other God – neither in the skies, nor on the earth, nor under the earth in the ground. Christian Mission has always emphasized the 1st and most crucial commandment of the triune God: “I am the Lord your God – you shall have no other Gods.” That means: “You shall fear, love and trust God above all things!”

Through the same prophet Isaiah the living and most jealous God grants us more insight into his good will and mission mind. In today’s OT reading we hear the him professing his faith in God and also his trust and confidence in God’s successful mission. The prophet confides:

O LORD, my strength and my stronghold, my refuge in the day of trouble, to you shall the nations come from the ends of the earth and say: “Our fathers have inherited nothing but lies, worthless things in which there is no profit. Can man make for himself gods? Such are not gods!

You see – the people will be brought to God from the ends of the earth. They will come because their gods and the gods of their fathers/ancestors are mere idols, disappointing and hopeless. No renaissance or rebirth is to be expected from this traditional source. Therefore all people ought to come to the living, faithful and trustworthy God. He invites them to find forgiveness, divine life and eternal salvation. That’s the ultimate and perfect destiny as God himself meant it to be. That’s the beautiful world made in heaven! And the Lord our God underlines this wonderful mission invitation: “Therefore, behold, I will make them [i.e. the nations] know, this once I will make them know my power and my might, and they shall know that my name is the LORD.” (Jer 16:19-21) God himself stands behind his mission. He advertises it by his messengers and witnesses. It is he who lets us and all people know his power and might, authority and office. It is he, who shows us and all people that he is the Lord our God. He is the very source, goal and even means of true missions. Just as we learnt in our childhood from Luther’s precious catechism:

I believe that by my own understanding or strength I cannot believe in Jesus Christ my Lord or come to him, but instead the Holy Spirit has called me through the gospel, enlightened me with his gifts, made me holy and kept me in the true faith, just as he calls, gathers, enlightens, and makes holy the whole Christian church on earth and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one common, true faith.”

It is the Holy Spirit himself who calls, gathers, enlightens and makes holy the whole Christian church on earth and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one common, true faith.

In the holy gospel we hear how the triune God makes true his promise of salvation in Jesus Christ our Lord. He is the one, who fulfills God’s promises and is the savior of the world starting amongst the people of Israel, moving out to Samaria and then to the ends of the world. The triune God did his wonderful and most blessed mission work by sending Jesus Christ into our world born of the virgin Mary to grow up obediently in Nazareth as a carpenters son until he would finally fulfill his godly mission through suffering and dying vicariously on the cross of Golgotha for the sins of the world only to rise again victoriously Easter and to be the firstborn of the new creation. That’s the core Christian teaching as we confess it with the Apostolic and Nicene creeds. Jesus Christ’s entire life’s mission was dedicated to comply with the most gracious will of the heavenly Father for us and our salvation. We know that he successfully satisfied God’s highest expectations by fulfilling the divine law perfectly to the very last letter. His life is the flawless example of absolute compliance. It was entirely pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. (1Ti 2:3-4). This divine mission of God was carried out by Jesus Christ in a most loving, caring and sympathetic fashion.  Not only did he look upon us poor miserable sinners with the most compassionate eyes and the most loving heart. Caringly and lovingly he demonstrates how much God cares for all people, but especially for those, who are alone, poor, helpless, sick, suffering, discriminated and without hope. That’s what St. Matthews writes about in the 9th chapter:

“And Jesus went throughout all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.” (Mat 9:35f)

Do you hear, what our Lord Jesus Christ is doing? He goes to the high and low places, into urban and rural areas, celebrating at weddings like Cana or drinking water at a lonely well along the way in Samaria, teaching in places of most advanced learning, being at home in the holy temple, but also among the people at fishing places like those at the sea of Genesaret. He’s found at the Jordan river, he’s active at the pool of Bethesda, meets people in tax booths like Matthews, doesn’t miss those hiding up in trees like Zacheus, even the dead don’t escape his compassion, mercy and loving care – rather they hear his powerful and creative voice and rise from the dead like Lazarus. He’s found partying at weddings like that one in Cana, rides a donkey into Jerusalem, sits down with people at fancy and less fancy eating places, draws crowds even in the desert and everywhere he’s preaching the good news of God’s forgiveness, grace and mercy, healing people suffering from all sorts of diseases/illnesses and every sort of affliction, suffering, hardship and malady. Yes, those low down, those on the edges and outside, those left out and sidetracked, people who have lost out, who’ve missed the boat, who don’t know how to cope with their past, present or their future, who are overwhelmed by their sin and self-seeking selfishness – that’s the people he joins up with. He helps them. He saves them. He heals them and forgives them. He brings God back into their lives and brings them back into the family of God. There is nobody, who is a hopeless case with Jesus. Its rather that our frustrations grant him opportunity to demonstrate his divine authority and power to create great miracles and wonders out of nothing – for our benefit and to his glorification. And he wants to help and he does help. See, helping, healing, saving, forgiving – that his business, that’s his mission, that’s what he’s about and that’s what his church is about too. He does that especially with those, who have no other help, who are harassed no end, who are helpless because they just can’t take care of themselves in their plight. Jesus comes to them as the ultimate savior. He’s their good shepherd, he’s their top physician, he’s their best friend and helper, their Lord and their God + That’s why they sing loud praises: Hallelujah, Hallelujah praise be to him the son of David, the king of the Jews, the Messiah of all mankind, our Lord and God of all + He is the way, the truth and the light. They believe in him. They put their faith in him. They trust him. First only a few like Mary Magdalene confessing: “Rabuni” or Thomas: “My Lord and my God” or Peter: “Lord, you know all things, you know that I love you!”, but then 3,000 are baptized on Pentecost, then 5,000 come to faith and finally it will be that crowd so big that nobody can count it, a crowd from all nations, tribes, languages and people and they will all sing the praises of the lamb on the throne: “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” And together with all the angels, the elders, the prophets of old and the holy martyrs and the apostles, they will fall on their faces before the throne and worship God, saying, “Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen.” (Rev 7:10-12)

You hear? At a mission festival we remember the great miracles and wonders of our Lord Jesus Christ, the greatest of which is his salvation of sinful mankind. He saved me a poor, miserable sinner, who deserves nothing but God’s temporal and eternal punishment. By his boundless mercy and for the sake of his holy, innocent, bitter sufferings and death he has forgiven us our guilt and falsehood, our self-centeredness and godlessness, our idolatry, lack of faith and hopelessness – and thus we are saved through Jesus Christ our savior. That’s why the heavenly Father sent his only beloved son Jesus Christ into this world so that he was to seek and to find the lost and to bring them back home into his blessed sanctuary –his holy Christian Church – the earthly Jerusalem, which is the gate to the heavenly Jerusalem, to paradise, eternal bliss and salvation. He does this through his means of grace – through his holy word and through his holy sacraments: Baptism, Absolution and his holy Supper. That’s his mission and that’s what we are celebrating today.

Now you might ask: “Well, what is so special about that? That’s what my pastor does every Sunday in the Church. It’s always about Jesus and its always about what he has done to save me and his people on this earth.” Spot on! You are 100% right – and God bless you that you have a pastor, who does that conscientiously, in good and bad times, Sunday for Sunday. That’s exactly what happens in the Church and you know why? Because Jesus said to his 12 apostles, his very special and closest disciples: “Receive the Holy Spirit. Like my father sent me, I send you. Whomever you forgive their sins, they are forgiven and to whom you retain them, they are retained.” [Joh.20,21]. That is why Christians hold that

we cannot obtain forgiveness of sin and righteousness before God through our merit, work, or satisfactions, but that we receive forgiveness of sin and become righteous before God out of grace for Christ’s sake through faith when we believe that Christ has suffered for us and that for his sake our sin is forgiven and righteousness and eternal life are given to us. For God will regard and reckon this faith as righteousness in his sight, as St. Paul says in Romans 3+4.  To obtain such faith God instituted the office of preaching, giving the gospel and the sacraments. Through these, as through means, he gives the Holy Spirit who produces faith, where and when he wills, in those who hear the gospel. It teaches that we have a gracious God, not through our merit but through Christ’s merit, when we so believe.

Through the office of the ministry/service of pastors, evangelists and missionaries God builds his kingdom in this world and to the benefit of many, many people. That’s why the Church trains, evaluates, ordains, calls and installs pastors – that’s their calling, their ministry – service.  Just like old Israel taught their children and children’s children about God’s miracles and wonders, how he had saved them out of Egypt and then carried them through those long days, months and years in the desert, so faithful Christians throughout the ages teach their children, but also their young adults, their grownups and old people about all and everything that Jesus Christ did and said. That’s what the “Diragelo” is all about. That’s why Lutherans concentrate on education, training, schooling. It’s all about edification and building up of the true Christian faith and they do it, because that’s our Lord’s last, precious will. He says:

All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age. (Mt 28:18-1)

It is all these true stories of Jesus Christ and his mission, the remembrance of his last will and the faith in his promises that moved Christian missionaries throughout the Ages to go to the ends of the world to proclaim Jesus Christ as the Lord of all. The Christian church has supported Christian missions throughout the Ages, and in its heydays – its best days where when it was open to the calling and sending, the vocation and mission of her Lord and Savior to move beyond its borders in true faith to challenge disbelief, ignorance, idolatry and just plain heathendom rampant on all 6 continents – because this is not only far away, but also in the secular, materialistic and faithless neighborhood and even family. Call it paganism, animism, traditional religions, atheism, human ideologies like materialism, individualism or secularism. The word of truth as revealed by the grace of God in the Holy Scriptures by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit and recorded by his apostles and prophets of old addresses all these human philosophies, myths and fairy tales.

Allow me to quote just a few names of famous missionaries in the ages gone by: St. Paul – the obvious number one, St. Thomas to India, St. Augustin of Canterbury to Britain, St. Bonifatius to old Europe, Hudson Taylor to China, Bartholomäus Ziegenbalg to India, Otto Kayser to New Guinea, but also Johann Ludwig Krapf to E.Africa, Robert Moffat to Kuruman in S.Africa and his son-in-law  Robert Livingstone to central Africa. In that time i.e. in the mid-19th century the Hermannsburg missionaries arrived in SA – in Zululand and also amongst the Batswana in NW province. These are our fathers in the faith. The list of missionaries is endless and the results of their missionary efforts are 30, 60 and 100-fold by the grace of the living God – even if they didn’t see anything of it. It is as St. Paul writes in the first letter to the Corinthians:

So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth. He who plants and he who waters are one, and each will receive his wages according to his labor. For we are God’s fellow workers. You are God’s field, God’s building. (1Co 3:7-9)

Today we praise God for this his mission and the growth he has granted his Church over the years. We thank him, for calling us also into his Church together with Christians throughout the ages and throughout the world. We thank him for the Lutheran Church in Germany [Hermannsburg/Bleckmar – SELK/MLC], through which our Church came into being in the past century. We thank him for the missionaries, pastors, evangelists, their wives and children, who served in this part of the world answering his call – especially superintendent Christoph Johannes [uMbogojwane], who succeeded his father [uMboza] as pastor of this congregation in Salem [inducted into this congregation on the 1st January 1908 – and under whose decade-long ministry this congregation experienced its first love and the growth of the early days both in numbers, but also in substance of faith, love, grace and peace. This congregation was not only a big congregation with many outstations, but it was also the centre of the missions at that time and also the home of our Seminary for some years.

We also remember specifically bafundisi Mazwimabi Salomon Nyandeni noJoseph uMkhaliphi – who were ordained on Ascension Day 13th May 1920 i.e. 92 years ago. Many of you remember them even. Their faithful service is still an extraordinary example to us today and their graves are with us to this day. The list of pastors, evangelists and students connected to Salem is not short: Simelane, Karl Meister, UMose Thwala, uAsser Mdluli, Titus Lenkwe, uHendrik Molefe, uSimon Zikhali, uAndreas Xaba, uAmos Mdluli, uJohannes Khumalo, uEfraim Mthembu, uStefan Zikhali, Georg Schulz, Johannes Junker, Gottfried Stallmann, Peter Rehr, uSamuel Ndwalane, uAson Thwala, noJohannes Nene [Salem]; uJohan Dlamini wase TsehniLejuba; uSamuel Nkosi waseNhlanhleni, uLukas Lefete waseRoodepoort/eGoli; noJohannes Mokone and David Ramekwa wase Bothabelo. Mose Mbatha abaseSalem;  uJosafat Vilakazi; Amos Mtunwgwa; Samuel Dlamini, Mose Gamede, Jakob Jali, Daniel Mkhaliphi; Elias Thanjekwayo; umnumzane Absalom Sibiya; nomfundisi Petros Nkosi, nomevangeli uW. Thabete, uGustav Shandu, Isaac Khumalo; We thank God for the Mission of Lutheran Churches [MLC] and its support even today. We thank him also for the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod, which is helping us addressing numerous and sometimes overwhelming challenges even today. God has made his promises true in Jesus Christ. He has spread out his kingdom of grace and mercy to the ends of the world. That was his mission throughout the Ages – that has left us with piles of good memories. Praise God for those.

Sharing and nurturing good memories of God’s mission – that’s what MF is about. However it’s not just about the past.  It’s also about today and tomorrow. Remembering the great and good days of Salem, we might be tempted to forget the hard work we face today, we might be tempted to give up and think – we are so few, small and weak, what can we really do? You know, the God, who has built his church in the past is still with us today. He, who sent back most of the armed forces of Joshua until he only had a small band left; he, who was deserted by all his disciples in the night on which he was betrayed; he, who suffered and died, but also rose victoriously on his own  – he is the one, who says even today: Don’t be afraid – have faith – remember: “All authority/power/might and creativity, strategy and planning, means, money and all things are mine – I will surely do it!” This God, the father almighty and his Son Jesus Christ, the head of the Church is with us even  today – and also the Holy Spirit – the maker and giver of life! He does his miracles and wonders even today – his miracle and wonder of making disciples of all nations by baptism and by good theology/teaching of everything he has taught us. That’s it. That was his master plan in the past, that’s how he converted millions through the Ages, that’s how he’s doing it even today. And us? What about us? We are called to be faithful to his mission, faithful to his institutions, to think, say and practice what he taught, commanded and showed us in faithful orthodoxy. Nothing fancy, nothing exotic, nothing unheard of, but rather just as he commanded, taught and showed us. Now if you have 10, 5 or only 1 talent – don’t be shy, don’t shrink back, don’t run away from your task and duty, to which your Lord has called you as a Lutheran in Southern Africa.

There remains a lot to do:

  1. Here in Mpumalanga: with the vacant congregation of Salem [Wetterau, Bakenkop, Sandbank etc], but also in Nhlangano, Swaziland and the new congregation opening up in KwaNgema opposite Driefontein otherside of Heyshope Dam. The many schools here, which have a Lutheran history and even many Lutheran teachers today – like principal Nkosi at Etshondo or vice-principal Christoph Nkambule here in Salem – they are great mission opportunities. There are also huge needs of rehabilitation and other vital works of mercy required. Dean Vilakazi knows all about that working with the Mkonda Rehabilitation Centre.
  2. Up in Botswana: In the vacant congregation of Kanye [with Ramathea and its vocational school RAVOS and Ludabo] and the widespread Baralong area in the South without any pastors, at the cattleposts amongst the San / Basarwa or in the areas of their resettlement like Otse, the refugee camp in  Dukwi in Eastern Botswana or in the metropolitan area of Gaborone or up North in the Caprivi amongst the Lutheran refugees there.
  3.  Just over the border from Botswana and in the NW province we have our dear Lutheran brothers and sisters, who were once called the “mission of happiness and joy”, because they received the gospel of Jesus Christ with such fervor and enthusiasm. Well, even today there is lots of good Church work going on in NW and the opportunities are growing even bigger – in Potchefstroom, in Mafeking, Rustenburg this prosperous province so busy in agriculture, mining and industry attracts people from all over SADC. A wonderful mission opportunity!
  4. And off course in Gauteng too: Outreach in Cosmo City; Student ministries at the many universities in this urban hub, our Seminary and the deaconess school. There are still more people living in Soweto than in the entire country of Botswana. Lots remains to be done – and there are but few workers!
  5. Last, but not least allow me to point you at KwaZulu – Umsinga is the poorest district in SA. We have our traditional centre of Enhlanhleni right there, but we’re also concentrated on the fastest growing area in SA: Thekweni and the coastal areas N and S of that city: Nthshongweni, Umlazi, Phoenix, Chatsworth, Port Shepstone, Ohlangeni etc. A number of towns are still without Lutheran congregations: Escourt, Ladysmith, Ulundi, Richardsbay. Lots of people, lots of non-christians, lots of work still to be done. The fields are white for harvest! The time for missions is not over – not by a long shot.

When Jesus saw the crowds, the people like these in Southern Africa he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.  Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few;  therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.”  Let us look at these many opportunities before us with the compassionate eyes of your Lord and Jesus Christ. Let us not give up, but rather pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest – not tourists, not adventurers or treasure-seekers, but laborers, workers, servants, people, who will be hands-on, supporters and helpers, serving and doing,  always awake and praying everywhere and at all places and for all people, folding hands and praying for the Church, its pastors and bishops, its teachers and evangelists, its deaconesses and helpers so that they will not tire, but do what needs to be done to get the harvest of our Lord into his barns and sheds, sanctuaries and churches. Praying for the government and all its people, so that they will serve the people in their constituency well and as is pleasing to God. Praying for the Seminary and its teachers, but also for its students and even for more students and means and ways to support them. Ora et labora – work as if all the praying doesn’t work and pray as if all the work doesn’t help. Both need to be done in the Church: Praying and working! It’s his work, it’s his mission and we are following his calling, there where he has placed and situated us, because we love him. Serving him by serving his people, who need our help and with the services we are gifted to do with the gifts/charisma he has granted us. He has promised to be with us all the days until the ends of the world. Therefore take courage. He will not let you down. He is our all and our everything – now and forever. Praise be to him – God the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit + Hallelujah. Amen.

And the peace of our Lord, which surpasses all understanding, bless and keep you + Amen.

About Wilhelm Weber

Pastor at the Old Latin School in the Lutherstadt Wittenberg
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