“Isn’t it the case that we all – and I include myself here – complain so often about the sermon without ever asking whether the real basis for our discontent doesn’t perhaps lie within ourselves? When a hearer gets nothing from a sermon it is not always the sermon or the preacher that is to blame. Listening to sermons is like work, or better yet an art that one must learn. Fruitful listening requires a measure of Christian formation and spiritual receptivity that few seem to possess anymore (in fact, I dare say that I have only seen it today in ‘simple’ people, in farmers and labourers in country areas). The lack of this formation cannot be compensated for by the thundering rhetoric or the emotional eloquence which most people seem to expect nowadays from preachers if they are to stay alert.”
From Hermann Sasse, ‘Concerning the Hearing of God’s Word’, a sermon preached in Erlangen, Germany on Rogate Sunday, 18th May, 1941 (Text: James 1:22-27)[trans. M.A. Henderson].
From whence comes this unifying effect of the great confessions? It is explained by the fact that in the churches which still take their confession seriously something of that great earnestness is still alive with which the Word of God requires us to give consideration to questions of doctrine. This is the case also tehre, indeed, directly there, where the great confessional churches stand over against each other as such. … The serious Roman Catholic, the serious Lutheran, the serious Calvinist, the serious Anglican, the serious Baptist—all stand nearer to the eternal truth than the one who hazards making no confession because he maintains that the truth is finally undiscernable. And because of this, they also stand closer to each other.
H. Sasse, ‘The Question of the Church’s Unity on the Mission Field’, in The Lonely Way II, 194.
If the church were constituted by our faith, then a series of churches would be conceivable, because there are varying views regarding Christ. Luther’s faith in Christ is something different than [sic] that of the modern American Protestant. But if Christ, the present Lord, constitutes the church, then there can be only one church, because there is only one Christ. Then this question is immediately raised: Where does this one church become visible? Where is it knowable for us as a historical reality? And this does not mean for us, Where do we find the people who belong to this church? but rather, Where do we find Christ?
But to this question we can give only one answer: Christ is present for us humans only in the Word and the Sacrament.
Hermann Sasse, ‘Church and Churches: Concerning the Doctrine of the Unity of the Church’, The Lonely Way: Selected Essays and Letters, Vol. I, 82–83. Emph. added
… is that when he deals with the issues of his day, he could as well be writing for our day!
I have just finished reading Union and Confession (tr. Matt Harrison; LC-MS Office of the President, 1997). It’s written in response to the Barmen Declaration. Yet it could be written about the Lutheran churches of the Nordic countries, or the ELCA, or the LC-MS, today.
I suppose that’s what “timeless” means.