Veni, Vidi, Vici
Julius Caesar said of an easy victory 3, now famous, Latin words, "Veni, Vidi, Vici." "I came, I saw, I conquered." These words describe the thinking behind many evangelism programs with some justification. As in the Epiphany text before us, there is coming, seeing and conquering in evangelism. But it matters where you are being called to come, what you are being called to see, and whom is being conquered.
Most evangelism programs urge you to "come out into the world." You're insulated in the Church. You need to come out from behind her hallowed walls into the "real" world. Stop looking at the world through stained glass colored windows and see what's really going on. Don't you know that billions of people don't know Jesus Christ as their personal Savior? Don't you know that in the short time it takes for me to preach this sermon thousands of people will go to hell? Come out, come out from inside that Church and see the fallen world.
Once you've come out of the safety and security of the Church, then you are to see the real plight of the world. The fallen world is miserable, hopeless, helpless. Your friends, your neighbors, your coworkers are pining away in their unbelief. Won't you have compassion on them? Don't you care about them? How can you turn away from such abject sadness? Don't you want them to have your bubbling joyfulness?
Come, see, and conquer. And how is misbelief, unbelief, and other great shame and vice to be conquered? By methods, by programs, by doing. Ever since the 1940s when a Methodist missionary returned home from the mission fields declaring that simply preaching the Gospel was not enough to grow the church, to deal with unbelief, to convert sinners, there has been an unending chain of programs, methods, ideas and ways to grow the church. The watchwords of these things have been results, souls gained, churches built. Though we Lutherans confess to believe in the Explanation of the Lord's Prayer that, "The kingdom of God certainly comes by itself," we too dreamed we could and should build it. We bought into the idea that we can preserve the Church even though Luther taught since 1548 the opposite saying, "It is indeed not we who can preserve the church. Nor was it our ancestors, and it will not be those who come after us. But it has been, is now, and will be the one who said, 'I am with you always, even to the end of the age.'"
Has the building been successful? This move to build the kingdom of God that began in the 40's virtually swept Texas Lutherans from the 80s on. Since this movement is the one which speak of results and numbers, let's evaluate it by its own standards. In 1983 the Synod reported the baptized membership of Texas congregations as 125,397. After 20 years of planing, programs, hand wringing, and haranguing people over what they're doing to reach the lost, the Synod reported in 2003 the baptized membership of Texas churches as 137,082. So while the population of Texas jumped from 15 million to 22 million, an increase of 31.8%, kingdom building produced an increase of 8.5%. And just how many churches have been started? In 1983 there were 319. In 2003, there were 334. That's an increase of 4.5%.
I came, I saw, I conquered breaks down as an evangelism program 3 ways. You don't need to be called to come out to the world. You are out there 167 hours a week and in here 1. You don't need to be called into the world but into Church. To the Word, to the Sacrament, to Bible Class, to teaching. I've confirmed 30 adults in the last 5 years. Yet, most of you think you can learn no more from me, and what's worse many of you import your personal ideas into the Lutheran framework I've taught you. You need to be taught that the real problem, the real dilemma, the real crisis to see is not the misbelief and unbelief out there, but in here, in your own pious little heart. Nobody can throw a rope to someone being swept away by a river unless they themselves are standing on the bank. The old evangelism programs called you to jump into the raging river of the world. I'm calling you to come up on the bank.
Come up on the bank and see what the plight of the world really is. Here the old evangelism programs simply ignored the words of CFW Walther, the Synod's first president. He said that it was a confounding of law and gospel to describe unconverted sinners in a way that is not true. And it is simply not true that the unbelieving are miserable, hopeless, and helpless. I'm sure many of you have noted this. You know plenty of unbelievers, plenty of rank, open sinners and they certainly don't seem any more miserable than you are. In fact, they probably seem happier, more lighthearted, and more together than you.
And that's their real plight: to be happy and content in their sins; to think that unbelief, false belief, and living by their own standards are no big deal. Only the Law of God can reveal to them the truth. Only the Law can show them their real plight. Happy, clappy praise services won't do it. Warm and welcoming churches won't do it either. Directions for better living, happier living, Christian living won't help. For one, most are happy just the way they other. And second, even when God preaches the Law to them through sickness, family troubles, world problems, they naturally think, as we all do, that the answer is to do something. Fallen man's natural response to the preaching of the Law has not changed since Acts. When the Jerusalem crowd is convicted of killing Jesus and the Philippian jailer is convicted of his sins, their response is to ask, "What shall we do?"
This is your response as well. When you're told of millions dying without Christ, when you're told how many unchurched people there are in our own neighborhood, you cry, "What shall we do?" And the answer comes back, "Do evangelism." And you try; you speak, you pray, you want to do more. But there's no end, no rest, no peace "in doing" because the Law never says "enough." The Law never says, "Well done good and faithful, servant." The Law says do more, do better, do different to get the results it demands, but those results are always more than you've done. So you're like the donkey ever trying to reach the carrot being dangled in front of you.
Well having come into the Church today and having seen your true plight under the Law, what you need is to be conquered by the Gospel. There are 10 verbs for seeing in this text. 7 of them refer to seeing Jesus. You need to see the Lamb of God taking away the sin of the world. What you can do, should do, or will do is nothing compared to what Jesus has done and will do. He has carried away from you your sinful hardheartedness towards unbelievers, your lack of love for those without the Gospel, your failures to be the salt and light Jesus declares you are. See loaded on Jesus all the sins we dare not think about because they're too ugly, messy, or stinky. See loaded on Jesus all the sins for which we cannot forgive ourselves or others won't forgive us. See loaded on Jesus not only our sins but the sins of the entire world. The sins of everyone you know, pass by, or talk to every single day of your life, were carried away by Jesus.
Having really seen your Savior, let me ask you a question. What "makes" you share a restaurant? Why do you tell anyone about a restaurant? Is it because someone drags you outside of it and shows you all the hungry people in the world? Do they show you the bedraggled guy at Airport and I-35 and say, "This man is hungry. If you don't tell him about your restaurant, who will? If you don't tell him about your restaurant, he will die of hunger and it will be your fault?" Are you moved to share what you know about a restaurant because someone has shown you hungry people in the world? No.
Well then are you empowered or trained to share your restaurant because the staff stands at the door telling you, "You must go tell others; you have to tell others, you had better tell others?" Do restaurants offer classes, "How to share your restaurant;" or, "12 Steps for recruiting Hungry people;" or, "Your Restaurant Can Grow"? What would you think of such a restaurant? They're selling themselves. They're marketing themselves. They're doing what any good business ought to do. The Church, however, is not a business. Yes, the Church has business aspects about Her, but She is no more a business then She is a voluntary organization. Businesses and voluntary organizations are formed, built, and maintained by men using principles from sociology, psychology, and business. The Church is the Body of Christ. She's not created, grown, or built by men. She's miraculously birthed, grown, and sustained by Her Head, Christ, through the miraculous Means of Grace.
But back to my original question. What "makes" you share a restaurant? Having a good, satisfying meal there. No one makes you share that. No one stands at the door telling you, you "gotta" share it. No one trains you how to share it. You just do. You can't help it. And that's what we find in our text. The first thing Andrew did after spending time with Jesus was find His brother Simon and say, "We have found the Messiah." Jesus didn't tell him to do that; didn't train him to do that; didn't make him feel guilty if he didn't. In fact, it was the opposite. Jesus made Andrew feel not guilty; Jesus took Andrew's sins away as the OT had promised the Messiah would.
Andrew tasted and saw that the Lord is good, and he couldn't help but share it like you do any truly good, amazing thing you've experienced. If Divine Service, if Bible class, if being in the Church is not an experience of sins being forgiven, of guilt being relieved, of heaven being opened to you, then why on earth would you want to share it? Is Church forgiveness, life, and salvation to you or is it duty, have to, must? Does the Body of Christ support you or do you think you must support Her? Go back where this text begins: the Lamb of God carrying away the sins of the world. Come in here and see more and more of this. See your real plight: that nothing you do can help. Repent of your plans to do better, more, or different, and be conquered by the Gospel of Jesus Christ. See that your sins have really been taken away from you and so be carried away to a whole different view of Christ, of Church, of evangelism. Amen.
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Epiphany II (1-16-05); John 1:29-41