Labor Preaching Part I

LutherPulpitChrist the Lord says, “When a woman is giving birth, she has sorrow because her hour has come, but when she has delivered the baby, she no longer remembers the anguish, for joy that a human being has been born into the world. 22 So also you have sorrow now, but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you. ” (John 16:21-22).

On December 15th, my wife gave birth to our fourth son.  During the labor, these words of Jesus above were not something to contemplate, but were a reality. The life of the baptized is the life of a woman in labor. It is a struggle, with unknowns in sight. The woman doesn’t know if she will live or die. She does not know if the child will live or die. She doesn’t know when the labor will end or the amount of pain that will come with every different contraction. What she does know though is that she is physically struggling and knows that after one contraction is done, another one is only a few minutes away. She knows pain, weakness, fear, and doubt. You don’t have to remind her of these things, they are a reality for her. So, what does the husband do by her side? Does he educate her on what a contraction is? Does he explain what a pain scale is to her? Does he talk about how she and her child are one together, or how she and the child are connected? Does he exhort her to have a more pleasant contraction? No, if he did these things the wife would tell him to get out, shut his mouth, and leave her alone.

What then should the husband say to his wife in labor? It is very simple. He needs to speak words of comfort in her time of pain, words of consolation after she has been through a rough contraction, and keep reminding her the whole way of the joy of the child. He needs to let his wife know that this will  soon be over. Fear not wife, your life is in the Lord’s hands and He will never leave you nor forsake you. We will get through this, you will be fine, you are strong. He doesn’t need to do anything except preach words of comfort, love, and promise.

This is the baptized life. It is a life of pain, suffering, fear, doubt, anxiety, and sorrow. If a Christian is not suffering in love for their neighbor, then no amount of sanctified law preaching will change their heart. No, either they believe and will then walk in the law or they do not believe and the Old Adam must die with all sin and evil desires. If they are not loving their neighbor, going through the labor pains for the sake of their neighbor, then there is no faith in them. Faith loves only. It does not hate, nor does it serve the self. Faith loves the neighbor unconditionally and painfully.

This is the hearer of the proclamation of the Gospel. The hardened sinner, who does not love their neighbor, will not hear anything. They will remain in their state and the first state of that person will be worse than the first, “When the unclean spirit has gone out of a person, it passes through waterless places seeking rest, but finds none. 44 Then it says, ‘I will return to my house from which I came.’ And when it comes, it finds the house empty, swept, and put in order. 45 Then it goes and brings with it seven other spirits more evil than itself, and they enter and dwell there, and the last state of that person is worse than the first. So also will it be with this evil generation.” (Matthew 12:43-45).  The law is preached quickly to them and precisely.  You are not loving your neighbor in their specific need. Repent. Clearly you don’t believe, for if you did you would not be living this way, but would be walking in the law of the Lord joyfully and willingly. Because the hardened sinner does not hear anything, you should not have them in mind when preaching. It will drive the entire sermon and you will end up giving a lecture on good works, rather than freeing the bound and terrified conscience from their captivity to sin, death, and the power of the devil. Preach to the hardened sinner, but do not let them be the target or the driving force.

The hearer of the proclamation, who confesses their weakness and desires to be forgiven, is not the hardened sinner, but the terrified one. They are the focus of your proclamation.  They are going through the labor pains and need to hear one thing, “Take heart. The promise is for you.There is life for you at the end of this struggle. The pain will be over soon, your warfare over. Jesus died and rose for you and forgives you all of your sin. He is here this day to deliver you. Peace be with you. You are freed. You are forgiven. You are loved by your Lord and Savior, Jesus the Christ.” This is Lutheran preaching. It’s goal is not the improvement of the hearer, but their release. Their improvement is a fruit of that release, but we will never see it until the last day as we read in Matthew 25 with the parable of the sheep and the goats.  Preach your sermon as if you are preaching to a women going through the labor pains.  This is the preaching that grants justifying faith.

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