Alvin Rogness (1906-1992) was a Lutheran pastor, author, and seminary president. In his sermons and books he would often retell the ‘big’ story of the Bible, summarizing the whole story of God and His world in a single narrative. The following reading (part two) is a blend of several of those narratives.
(…continued) The story then goes on to say God established in our midst a ‘Kingdom’, the Church, and gave to the Church the Holy Spirit. And He gave to the Church the Word and Sacraments. Again, in some strange and unaccountable way, the Holy Spirit working through these means, would recruit from out of the prison cells– the doors of the prison being now opened for all who wanted to leave. The Spirit would recruit out from those cells those who had learned to love the darkness and be afraid of the light. And then God gave us power to overcome the temptation to remain there, and gave the Holy Spirit the task of leading us out of the prison, and step by step into the riches of the Kingdom.
God then said, “You can dial me direct anytime you want to. The line is never busy. I’ll be sitting waiting for your call and whatever you lay before me I will attend to.” And then when this life is over, He’ll put us on our feet again in another part of the Kingdom more wonderful than this could ever be.
Now that’s in brief, the story of the Bible and that’s the story you and I confess. Now, if someone very perceptive were to hear that for the first time, they would say “You can’t really believe that, can you? Are you serious? Can you be so audacious and presumptuous, with such an absence of humility that you think the Creator of the ends of the earth, who holds the whole thing in the hollow of His hand, that He hears you when you pray ‘Our Father…’ or, ‘Now I lay me down to sleep?’ Do you really think He hears you?” And I say, “Yes.” He could very well say, “Have you abandoned all reason?” And again I could say, “It appears that way; but I have learned through the teachings of my church to say with Luther, ‘I believe I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in my Lord Jesus or come to him.'”
I’m quite frank about that. It’s a sheer miracle that I can do that. But as the catechism says, “The Holy Spirit has called me through the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, and sanctified and kept me in the true faith.” This is a miracle that began at the time of Baptism and because of the ministry of the Holy Spirit, in a quiet way, it has been a leaven in my life and yours. More than we can possibly know, we are captured by it. I didn’t choose it. He chose me.
I have no difficulty granting that at times it is hard to believe it, and doubts do come. I must confess that the Spirit has done his work well enough: that the doubts don’t overwhelm me too much. But occasionally the thought does come to me, “What if the story isn’t true? What if there is no Creator, but this universe is just a vast machine? And what if Jesus was just a misguided idealist? What if that be true?”
But I do not become frightened because I fall back on the Word of God, and in a strange way the Holy Spirit helps me do that. Jesus said, “Whoever comes to me I will in no wise cast out.” He has given me that promise, so I say to him, “I’m coming Lord. I’m not sure that you exist, but I’m holding you responsible for your Word to me.” And this is quite apart from any ecstatic experiences I have had, or any long index of good works; quite apart from the flaming character of my faith. That is all quite irrelevant. I’ve been taught by the Word of God that I can count on this promise. It is a marvelous freedom to leave it there.
The magnificent outcome of the Gospel goes on. He told the disciples to go and make disciples of the whole world. They were just a few unlettered men against the Roman Empire and the vast unbelief of that day. Would anybody in his right mind call a task force of those twelve men and give them this impossible task? But they just went to it. And again, the only way to account for it is that they were captured by this Holy Spirit that was poured out upon them on that first Pentecost; and who then kept working in the church. And before the turn of the first century these followers had almost circled the Mediterranean Basin and established centers, in every major city. Then they crossed borders and oceans until the whole world had in some way heard this story. And we keep on sending, because the command is still there for us.
Jesus has given us two things to do: First, He has told us to keep the story alive. He has chosen to save the world by the telling of this story, and that is what we do in our churches. We keep telling the story by which the Holy Spirit does his strange and marvelous work in our hearts. Second, he has told us to take care of each other. There is no institution or movement in all the Western world in all these 2,000 years that can remotely compare with what the church has done for the poor, the sick, the orphans, the unfortunate, and the oppressed. We don’t do as well as we could, and we’re not here to applaud ourselves. But by the grace of God we are enabled to continue this mighty work with the dignity he has given us.
This is what we believe.
Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit.
I John 1:1-4 — That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched—this we proclaim concerning the Word of life. The life appeared; we have seen it and testify to it, and we proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and has appeared to us. We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ. We write this to make our joy complete.