Mr. Hennig, we found your sermons on the internet. We are pleased to see that you welcome our feedback. Here are the notes from our scrutiny and discussion of your sermon on Lamentations.
Mr. Hennig, Mount Calvary Lutheran, Untitled Sermon, Lamentations 3.22-33.
Summary: (He reads the text, then mentions the various accessories that adorn his church and uniform during the season of Pentecost and what they signify.) The topic is growth in faith. (He gives examples of growth: from nature, family, and the athlete.) Muscles must be ripped before they will grow bigger and stronger. This is why it is said, ‘No pain, no gain.’ This phrase may apply to Christian growth as well, but with the following caution. Our growth comes from the work of God, through word, sacrament, and suffering, not our own efforts. Our text indicates that it is God who permits and even brings times of trial into our lives. It is hard for us to understand that God would cause grief. We often hear that God is love, and that he always shows his people favor. But as our text says, he also causes grief. God’s discipline and law come to us according to our need, to bring us back if we have strayed. (He now gives some context to the passage, which pertains to God’s punishment of his people for their faithless actions.) God brought discipline. When right and proper, he disciplines us. How should we respond? We turn to his word. We learn from it and listen to it. (He quotes a supporting passage.) Because it is a benefit to us, the discipline is not a cause for complaint. God is doing what is best for us. The children may react in a threatening, rebellious way when corrected by their parents. But because of the good they are aiming to accomplish, do the parents not look on in sadness at such a reaction? Do we cry out like children that God’s ways are unjust? We must embrace discipline and confess our sins. We are called to endure in patience and silence. Abide in him with hope. He does not discipline in rage, but in love. His compassion and mercy are not suspended when he disciplines. As we endure, God calls us to look upon the One who suffered for us—who endured all grief. Truly, we have failed to behave as we should in suffering. But Christ our Saviour has not failed. Our God suffered in our place. Therefore we know that a loving God watches over us. He has suffered the pains of hell—the eternal consequences of sin so that we would not. What a God to trust! We have rebelled. Jesus has not. He lived the perfect life. Salvation came to him for us. Discipline is for drawing us to God’s Son. We know that God is our salvation and that he will deliver us. God will bring our times of grief to an end. The children of Israel were eventually brought back. God’s mercies never end for us either. This is why we wait for his salvation. And by Jesus Christ, God has already delivered us from the greatest grief we faced: sin, death, and the devil. All has been overcome for us. Salvation has come to each one of us. Our sins are forgiven. The promise of eternal life is ours. Do not fear God’s discipline. The discipline on the cross is the salvation of the Lord. This is our salvation.
Remarks: Mr. Hennig begins by reading his text, and very shortly after that begins to expound it. He seems to be following a sermon program, which keeps him nicely hemmed in to handle important matters. Scripture verses are frequently brought in to support the text preached on, and they always suit the purpose. His illustration from the athletic world is excellent, especially because no base character from the world of sports is brought in to soil it. Incidentally, we are also thankful that no jokes are made during the sermon, and no amusing stories told. This is a refreshing change from what we find in other churches. Mr. Hennig seems like a serious man who is ‘about his Father’s business.’ There is no sense that he is putting on a show, as we have discovered in pastors elsewhere; he is humbly and confidently preaching, with a sincere aim to convey the word of God. He is not trying to ‘fit in,’ and cares more for delivering the word faithfully than for what listeners might think. He is not a ‘salesman,’ but more like the ambassador the Bible commands him to be. The sermon does not sound rehearsed, but strikes us as a message containing facts and lessons the speaker is familiar with. He really believes what he preaches and is glad to preach it. His voice is loud and clear, and he enunciates well. Mr. Hennig is passionate, reverent, and we believe he may even have unction. We get a sense of authority from this pulpit, and therefore also a sense that we can stand on the word of God that is preached from it. He seems to know the difference between law and gospel. Many pastors today do not. And he is aware that salvation is a deliverance that has a future aspect to it. That God brings trials into our lives is a comforting fact too often ignored or rejected. This pastor is not ashamed to preach it like it is. His sermon is not a soft-handed, ‘non-threatening’ conversation, but an actual sermon challenging Christians to bear the rod of God in patience and silence. The sermon also has a thought-provoking effect, which is another excellent aspect worth mentioning, for a sermon ought to cause the hearers to meditate. For instance, he calls discipline God’s ‘alien work.’ This term causes us to reflect on our fall from innocence and the sin nature incurred by disobedience. Since the topic of discipline so obviously involves the Christian life, we do not worry that he takes it for granted that his listeners are saved. The unsaved would probably realize their exclusion from his peculiar pronouncements of peace, hope, and eternal life. At one point we had a touch of anxiety. It was when he said that Jesus was “patient for the salvation of the Lord.” Our anxiety was increased when he continued with, “salvation came to him.” But we believe, upon closer examination, our anxiety to be groundless. Because of Jesus being our substitute, there is a sense in which he endured with patience and looked to the Father for deliverance. And it may be said that salvation came to him by virtue of his death, so long as it came to him for us alone. And this, we think, is Mr. Hennig’s meaning. We have no major faults to point out. We are tempted to mention brevity as a minor one, for the sermon is only sixteen minutes long. Maybe the pastor is under some unfortunate (though probably unnecessary) time constraint. And so this fault perhaps might be fixed. But a sermon does not need to be long, only true and convincing, which this one is. It is better to be left wanting more than to be left weary. There is a lot of precious content packed into a short space here. And it is well delivered. No specific examples are given to show what discipline and grief would consist of. This could be mentioned as another minor fault. That said, we are obviously quite pleased with the sermon. Maybe the pastor could make more of them available through the internet at the same time, unless he is worried that some saints might use the site as a substitute for attending church. Then we understand if he does not.
Conclusion: We do not follow a church calendar pointing out the various seasons of religion, like Pentecost, Advent, and Epiphany. But for the sake of lively, sober, sound preaching, we would put up with this. And we do not object to prayers by rote, so long as the pastor’s heart is involved. This sermon, and probably the whole service, is well structured, doctrinal, direct, decent, and even devout, which, I suppose, is what we should expect from a ‘word and sacrament’ ministry.
Mr. Hennig, we cannot test your preaching by one sermon alone. You can expect further comments on two sermons more. You may get in touch with us by any means.