Summary: God’s amazing grace is at work for our missionaries and his grace is at work through the message of what Jesus has done to save sinners.
God’s Grace at Work: Then and Now
Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. The Word of Truth through which the Holy Spirit speaks to us us is Acts 13:1-5 [Read the text]
Dear friends, in whom God’s grace is at work:
The river ran wide and deep. No bridge could be seen. But Pastors Edgar Hoenecke and Arthur Wacker needed to cross. What’s more they needed to get their vehicle, which was their home on wheels, across as well. They were directed to a ferry, but the ferry manager pointed to their vehicle and said: “It won’t work; it will tip over.”
Now what? How were Hoenecke and Wacker to continue their work of finding a place for the Wisconsin Synod to start African mission work? Would they be able to cross the Orange River in South Africa?
After the ferry owner and manager talked it over, they agreed to give it a try on two conditions. First everything would have to be unloaded from the vehicle. Second a new ramp had to be dug on the opposite shore, since the original would be too steep for their vehicles. The pastors agreed.
Five men began digging in the water on the opposite side. The pastors felt sorry for them and gave them harmonicas, which spurred them on. By evening they were ready to try. The ferry went OK with the heavy vehicle, until they entered the main current. Then all began to wobble. But the hard workers steadied it and made it to the other side. After they returned and brought the goods over, the pastors had to pay up for two ferry trips and the day-labor of five men to dig a new channel. Total cost: twelve dollars.
That’s just one of the obstacles that Pastor Hoenecke and Wacker went through as they started in Cape Town, South Africa, and worked their way north looking for a suitable place for the Wisconsin Synod to do mission work.
What got them through these obstacles? Their foresight? Their ingenuity? Their luck? Not at all. It was God’s grace. God’s grace kept them safe from the time they left their homes in Michigan in April 1949 until they returned about three months later. God’s grace directed them over the 4000 miles they drove in Africa. God’s grace led them to northern Rhodesia, which is present day Zambia.
And when the first missionaries Habben and Drevlow finally arrived in 1953 the Lord’s grace again was at work. Today as we remember the WELS African mission work, we give thanks to God for his amazing. For the same God of grace, who worked in the Apostle Paul almost 2000 years ago, has been at work for the past fifty years in our Central African mission work. And he is at work in us as well. (Summarized from “The WELS Forty-niners”, by Edgar H. Hoenecke, WELS Historical Institute Journal, Vol 3, No. 1; and To Every Nation, Tribe, Language, and People: A century of WELS World Missions, Northwestern Publishing House, 1992)
So our theme today is: God’s grace at work: Then and Now, His grace is at work for his missionaries. His grace is at work through his message.
God’s grace at work for his missionaries.
For Paul and Barnabas
In the text you heard that Holy Spirit led the Christians in Antioch to set apart Barnabas and Saul, whom we know better by the name Paul. These men were to take the Good News of Jesus to places that had not heard it before. They preached both to Jews, who were still looking for the coming of the Messiah, and to pagan Gentiles, who had never heard of the true God and his Messiah.
Think back to the hardships Paul faced on this first missionary journey. In Cyprus he has opposed by the wicked sorcerer, Elymas. At Perga their co-worker John abandoned them. In Pisidian Antioch the unbelieving Jews stirred up persecution against him. In Iconium they plotted to them, but Paul and Barnabas fled on to the next town. In Lystra, the crowd first wanted to offer sacrifices to them but later stoned Paul and left him for dead.
Was Paul some kind of super-Apostle that he could endure all this? Not at all. Listen to what he writes to the Corinthians: “I am the least of the apostles and do not even deserve to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God” (1 Corinthians 15:9 NIV). Where did his strength come from? Paul continues: “But by the grace of God I am what I am” (1 Corinthians 15:10 NIV). He could think back a know that the Holy Spirit had called him to this work through the Christians in Antioch and that God’s grace would not fail him