Sunday, December 5, 2010

Al's Ordination Sermon

Reminiscing today, I pulled out the sermon I was privileged to preach upon Al's Ordination into the Office of the Holy Ministry, and thought I would share:
The Presentation of the Augsburg Confession
Pentecost 3 - June 25, 2006
St. Paul Lutheran Church – Hamburg, Michigan
 Rev. Thomas C. Messer, Pastor
Peace Lutheran Church - Alma, Michigan
“Preach the Faith-Creating, Faith-Sustaining Word”
Romans 10:5-17

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.  Amen.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, esteemed colleagues, Majewski family and friends, and Al, my brother whom I love,

            It is a great honor and a tremendous blessing to stand before you this morning and preach the Word of God on this blessed occasion.  I’ve been looking forward to this day for some time now.  Long before Al actually received his call to serve as pastor at St. Paul Lutheran Church in Manito, Illinois, I was looking forward to this day – the day in which my best friend and brother in Christ would be ordained into the Office of the Holy Ministry.  Oh yes, I’ve been looking forward to this day for some time now, praying for it to come.  And, here we are.  The Lord is good!
I’ve been especially looking forward to this day for the past couple of months, ever since Al asked me if I’d be willing to preach at his ordination.  I said “Yes” right away, but I have to admit that I was a little frightened about it.  After all, who am I to preach at an ordination service?  I’m just a “rookie” pastor myself, still learning what it means to be a pastor.  I can’t offer Al or anyone else words of wisdom that come from years of experience – I don’t have years of experience, I have a year of experience.  As I thought about how unqualified I am for this task, I came very close to calling Al and asking him to find someone else.
Two things stopped me from making that call.  First, I came to realize that this is simply an opportunity I couldn’t allow to pass me by.  To be able to speak in Al’s presence for a length of time without being interrupted by him would be a dream come true.  Allow me a moment to explain.
You see, Al and I became acquainted about eight years ago while attending Concordia University in Ann Arbor.  We hit it off right away and have been best of friends ever since.  One of the reasons we hit it off was because we were the two “old guys” on campus.  I won’t say which of us is older, but I can assure you it ain’t me!  Another reason we became such close friends was that we had so much in common.  We were both married and had four kids; we both knew what it meant to work for a living; and we both had experienced many trials and tribulations in this life, leaving both of us amazed that the Lord would call us into His Service. 
The close bond between Al and I which began in Ann Arbor remains to this day.  Distance has done nothing to sever the bond.  Even though we’ve only seen each other a few times over the past five years – I attended Concordia Theological Seminary in Fort Wayne, Indiana while he attended that other seminary (I think it’s in St. Louis) – we remain as close as ever.  I can’t even begin to fathom how many hours we’ve spent on the phone or how many emails we’ve sent to one another over the past five years.  All I can say is thank God for unlimited long distance!  And, this brings me to my point.
A typical phone conversation between Al and I lasts at least a couple of hours.  They usually begin with some small talk and catching up, but almost always turn into deep theological or philosophical debates in which Al dominates the conversation, making it extremely difficult for me to get a word in edgewise.  And, as if that weren’t bad enough, because these phone calls usually take place in the evening and last so long, coupled with the fact that Al is an early morning riser who needs his beauty sleep, I always somehow get blamed for keeping him up, as if I was the one keeping the conversation going.  And so, you see what I mean, that being able to speak for a length of time without being interrupted by Al is, for me, a dream come true. 
That’s the first thing that kept me from calling Al and asking him to find someone more qualified.  The second reason is more serious and, truth be told, the real reason I didn’t make that call.  You see, I realized that even though I lack the words of wisdom to offer Al that comes from years of experience being a pastor, I do have something even greater – the Word of God. 
Al, my dear friend and brother in Christ, listen once more to the beautiful, Holy Spirit-inspired Word of God recorded for us by St. Paul in his epistle to the Romans, which you know so well:
How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them?  And how can they preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!”  But not all the Israelites accepted the good news.  For Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed our message?”  Consequently, faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ (Romans 10:14-17).
How beautiful are your feet, my dear friend, for you are being sent by God to Manito, Illinois to preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ and to administer the Sacraments according to Christ’s institution.  Nothing more, nothing less. 
Of course, if we were on the phone right now, you would probably interrupt me and say, “Wait a minute, there’s much more to it than that.”  You would probably remind me of the many administrative duties a pastor is asked to perform, the many Bible studies a pastor is called to teach, the hospital and shut-in calls a pastor must make, the many meetings a pastor must attend, and a great many other things a pastor must do.  I’m aware of all that.  Believe me, if there’s anything I have learned in my limited experience as a pastor it’s that there is a lot more to do than I ever dreamed.  The old joke that pastors have it made because they only have to work two hours a week – one to write the sermon, the other to lead the Service on Sunday – isn’t all that funny to me anymore.  Soon, it won’t be all that funny to you either, for you will learn, as I have, that, in addition to being a wonderful blessing and gift from God, being a full-time Lutheran pastor is a demanding and time-consuming vocation.  And, while you’ll be doing a great many things as a pastor, I would submit to you that everything you do as a pastor falls, in one way or another, under your Divine call to preach the Gospel and administer the Sacraments.  That, my friend, is what you are being ordained and sent to do.  Nothing more, nothing less.    
It is fitting that we remember and celebrate the Presentation of the Augsburg Confession today, which occurred on June 25, 1530, for, as you well know, the Augsburg Confession is the chief of our Lutheran Confessions.  In a little bit, Pastor Walther will officiate over the Rite of Ordination in which you will be asked to subscribe unconditionally to all of our Lutheran Confessions, acknowledging them “to be a correct interpretation of Holy Scripture.”
The two most important articles of faith to which you will subscribe are Articles IV and V of the Augsburg Confession.  Article IV confesses the central article of the Christian faith, that we are declared righteous (that is, justified, or saved) by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone.  Then, Article V says, “To obtain such faith God instituted the Office of the Holy Ministry, that is, provided the Gospel and the Sacraments.  Through these, as through means, He gives the Holy Spirit, who works faith, when and where He pleases, in those who hear the Gospel.”
You are being sent to Manito, Illinois to do nothing more and nothing less than preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ and administer the Sacraments according to Christ’s institution because it is through these means of grace, and only through these means of grace, that the Holy Spirit works to bring sinners to faith in Jesus Christ and to keep them in that salvific faith.  There is no other way, “for faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the Word of Christ.” 
No one – not one single person - in this House of God here this morning who believes in Jesus Christ came to this knowledge and faith on their own.  There’s not a single believer here, or anywhere else in the world, who believes in Jesus Christ as a result of a personal decision they made, no matter how popular that false theology may be in our day and age.  There never has been, nor will there ever be, a person who came to faith of their own will, apart from God’s Word.  If people truly believe, it is only because the Holy Spirit worked that faith in them, connecting them to the Vine, Jesus Christ, by the power of the Gospel.  For, as our Lutheran Confessions declare based on the clear Word of God, before we’re brought to faith and connected to that Vine, we’re dead in sin, completely incapable of turning to God, unable to do one single thing pleasing in His sight.  But, when the Holy Spirit works through Word and Sacrament to convict us of our sins and point us to our Savior Jesus Christ, giving us the faith to believe that He lived the perfect life we can’t live and shed His holy, innocent blood on the cross to pay the penalty for our sins, we are made alive in Christ, branches of the True Vine, and our new life in Christ bears much fruit pleasing to God.     
And so, the charge given to you is the same charge given to all pastors of all time:  Kh/rucon to\n lo/gon! (Preach the Word!); be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke, and encourage – with great patience and careful instruction” (2 Tim. 4:2).  Preach the Word, my dear brother, and when you do, preach it in its entirety, for the Gospel of Jesus Christ is meaningless to people who don’t realize their need for Christ.  You must preach the Law in its fullness, constantly reminding your hearers that, on their own, they are nothing more than poor, miserable sinners who need a Savior.  And then, preach the full, sweet message of the Gospel - the Good News that their need has been answered in the Person and Work of Jesus Christ; that, through faith in Him, they have forgiveness, life, and salvation.  Preach the faith-creating and faith-sustaining Word and then, say your “Amen” and leave the rest to the Holy Spirit.  That’s what you are being sent to do.  Nothing more, nothing less. 
Of course, preaching the faith-creating and faith-sustaining Word of God is much easier said than done.  In a very real way, you are entering a war-zone, my friend.  You are being sent out as “a sheep among wolves” (Matt. 10:16).  You are being called to “fight the good fight” against a fierce, powerful, multi-faced enemy.  Your biggest adversary will be that “old evil foe,” the “ancient dragon,” Satan.  You’re no match for him on your own, for he knows the Word of God far better than you and he is far more imaginative and crafty than you will ever be.  Then, there is the Old Adam, the sinful nature which lives in every member of the flock to which you are being called to serve, and the sinful nature which also lives in you.  You’re no match for Old Adam on your own either, and neither is your flock, for the flesh is weak and desires to do the will of Old Adam.  And, then there is death, that final enemy, against which, again, you and the flock in Manito are powerless. 
This fierce, powerful, multi-faced enemy will battle you every step of the way, always seeking to devour you.  Its primary weapons are deception, temptation, and pride.  It will try to deceive you into believing that God’s Holy Word and Sacraments are not enough, tempt you into tying something different, something said to be new and better in serving the flock, and it will try to fill you with pride, hoping that you will begin to believe that the church is your church and the people are your people to serve as you see fit.  You completely lack the ability to engage this enemy in battle on your own, let alone defeat it.  Every pastor who has ever tried has lost.  If you try to go it alone, you too will lose.    
But, if you abide in the Word, sin, death, and the devil will be powerless against you.  If you cling to the Word of the Lord who is sending you out, you will be constantly reminded of the truth, that it’s not your message He’s sending you to preach or your church He’s calling you to serve, but His message and His church.  My friend, you are being called, ordained, and sent out as a mere instrument to be used by the Lord to accomplish His purposes.  You are being sent out to be nothing more than a mouthpiece through which the Lord Himself will speak to His people.  You will be nothing more than a messenger through whom the Word of the Lord will be delivered, convicting people of sin and pointing them to the Savior Jesus Christ.  Armed with this Word, you are already victorious over the enemy, for this is the Word who became Incarnate – the Valiant One, Jesus Christ, who has already “fought the good fight” and won the victory on your behalf and, indeed on behalf of the whole world.    
The Lord’s flock in Manito needs this Word, my friend, and the Lord is answering that need by sending you.  Some of them may want something else, but you’re not being sent to give them what they want.  You’re being sent to deliver to them what they need – the eternal, unchanging Word of God, for it is through this Word, and this Word alone, that sinners are brought to, and sustained in, the one true faith and receive the spoils of war won by Christ – complete forgiveness of all sins, everlasting life, and eternal salvation.
So, my good friend and brother in Christ, preach the faith-creating, faith-sustaining Word of God.  For this reason, you’ve spent nine years in training so that you’d be thoroughly equipped for the task.  For this reason, and this reason alone, you are being sent.  And, as you preach this Word, know that you will not be alone, for the Lord’s promise to you is that He will be with you always and that His Word which goes out from you, His mouthpiece, will not return empty (even though it will often seem like it does), but will accomplish the purpose for which He sent it (Isaiah 55:11). 
Abide in His Word.  Be His mouthpiece.  Deliver His message.  Preach the faith-creating, faith-sustaining Word!  Nothing more, nothing less!  I love you and so does the Lord who is sending you out to preach His faith-creating, faith-sustaining Word to His people.  In His Holy and Precious Name.  Amen. 
The Peace of God that passes all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, keeping you steadfast in His Word, unto life everlasting.  Amen.


sag said...

Thanks for letting me read that. It is what I hear you say often but I never get tired of hearing. Thankfully!

Carol said...

I had read this sermon before, but it was really good to be reminded of it. You and Pastor Majewski's family are in my thoughts and prayers.