Thursday, September 02, 2004

Sermon: Thursday of Trinity 12/Pentecost 13

2 September 2004 at Chapel of Lutheran High School, Metairie, LA

Text: 1 Thess 2:1-20

In the Name of + Jesus. Amen.

St. Paul is writing to his beloved Christians in Thessalonica. He reports that he has been “shamefully treated” in Philippi. The reason for this is Paul’s boldness to preach the Gospel. And this is an amazing thing. Being a pastor is like being the guy who drives the van with a million dollars in prize money and gives it away. When a pastor preaches the Gospel, he gives away God’s free forgiveness of sin. He has nothing but the love of Christ to distribute to anyone who wants it. He doesn’t sell it. He doesn’t give it away with strings attached. He doesn’t cut deals. The preacher tosses the priceless gifts about like a farmer throws seeds. So why would anyone persecute a pastor for preaching the Gospel?

Our sinful flesh hates the Gospel. Why? Because to admit we need the Gospel is to admit our weakness. Instead of receiving charity, we would rather convince ourselves that we have earned God’s favor. Instead of a pastor preaching about our sinfulness that needs forgiving, we would rather our pastor flatter us with compliments. Instead of leaving our salvation in the hands of God, we would rather be in control.

This is why Paul and other preachers who stick to the Gospel of Jesus Christ are “treated shamefully.” But as Paul points out, preachers are “approved by God to be entrusted with the Gospel.” And “so we speak, not to please men, but to please God.” Paul points out that he does not preach in order to flatter, nor out of greed, nor to be glorified by men. Rather, he preaches the Gospel out of genuine love and affection for his hearers. Like a nursing mother, faithful pastors see to the needs of their flocks. They are willing to go even beyond preaching the Gospel, to the very giving of themselves – not for any glory, or money, or approval – but rather out of love. And this love continues to motivate pastors even when it seems their flocks don’t seem to love them in return.

Paul compares his ministry to that of a father caring for his children. This relationship is why pastors have been traditionally called “reverend father.” A father loves his dear children so much that he will correct them when they need it. He will exhort them to be the best they can be. He will encourage them to act in a worthy manner before God. A father doesn't do this for money, or praise, or power. He does it out of love – both love for his children and love of God who has placed him into this vocation.

And as St. Paul reminds us in his letter to the troubled church at Corinth, love always “rejoices in the truth.” Love is not merely emotional, warm-fuzzy feelings, but rather love is faithfulness and integrity. A true father deals with his children as they are, where they are, giving each one the care he or she needs. A true pastor is a theologian who deals with his parishioners as they are, where they are, giving each one the care he or she needs.

A faithful pastor knows when to administer the law – to terrify and motivate those who refuse to repent. And he also knows when to apply the Gospel – to bring comfort and assurance of the love of God to a person who is willing to ask God for help.

And when a pastor preaches the Gospel – the good news that Jesus Christ is God in the flesh, who was crucified for you in order to give you eternal life – he is giving you the Word of God – not the word of men. He is not giving you his own opinions, but rather the unchanging reality that Jesus Christ is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. He is not doing this to please men, but rather to please God who has called him – even when he finds opposition, hatred, or oppression. St. Paul suffered for the Gospel in ways that very few pastors today ever do. And yet he provides the example for being faithful as a preacher, as well as the example for all Christians: to persevere in the faith, to cling to what is true regardless of the cost, and to put our trust in the sure Word of God instead of the fickle opinions of men.

We are not to be people-pleasers, but rather we are to strive to please God. We are called upon to be faithful, motivated by the truth of the Gospel, and not by what is popular or politically correct. The Lord calls us to be willing to take our lumps in order that we may continue to put into practice Christian love, the same love our Lord had for us in going to the cross for us.

May God grant us the grace to persevere, to not lose heart, to always act in faithfulness and love – no matter how shamefully we may be treated as a result. And the grace of God is sufficient for us, through Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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