Wednesday, September 08, 2004

Sermon: Thursday of Trinity 13 (Pentecost 14)

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

Text: 1 Tim 3:1-16

In the Name of + Jesus. Amen.

This week’s text (which is selected by the Church) once again deals with the ministry.

The Office of the Holy Ministry is in a state of confusion today. Pastors today are expected to be corporate CEOs, therapists, and motivational speakers. They are either admired by the public as great leaders, counselors, or peddlers of positive thinking, or they are derided as self-righteous hypocrites, busy-bodies, or people who only want to rain on everyone else’s parade.

In today’s text, St. Paul the pastor, the bishop, the apostle writes to his fellow pastor and bishop, St. Timothy. Paul explains carefully the qualifications for bishops and deacons. Notice Paul does not say a bishop or deacon must be a “dynamic motivational speaker” with a “revelant message” and a sure-fire way to “do church-growth ministry.” Rather, Paul says a bishop must be a man who has one wife, who oversees and leads his family well, who has a good reputation, does not abuse alcohol, is level-headed, and a good teacher.

Paul does not say that a pastor must be perfect, but rather that he must be respected by the community as a trustworthy person of good reputation.

If pastors are supposed to be CEOs, therapists, and motivational speakers, why should they need to have such a reputation to begin with? In fact, many corporate CEOs are far from faithful to one wife, many therapists are far from being “not given to much wine,” and many successful motivational speakers are colorful figures , hardly the “sober-minded” type.

So why does Paul harp on this reputation thing? It’s because pastors are not there to “run an organization,” nor to “raise levels of self-esteem,” nor to be a “corporate cheerleader,” but rather to be a minister of Jesus Christ, a proclaimer of the Gospel, and a provider of soul-care to redeemed sinners. Yes, the issue, once again, is sin. The pastor’s calling is to identify sin, call the sinner to repentance, and then forgive him. In order to do this, the people must trust the pastor. They must see that the pastor’s conduct reflects his commitment to reject sin and promote the Gospel.

The pastor stands in the place of Christ when he preaches, baptizes, gives out the holy Eucharist, and forgives sins. And our Lord is indeed blameless, the husband of only one wife (that is, his bride the Church), temperate, sober-minded, of good behavior, hospitable, and able to teach. And just as our Lord is all of these things, our Lord’s ministers, his servants, must likewise mirror this image – even if imperfectly. For the pastoral office is not just a “job,” but rather it is a gift from God established by Jesus himself.

The Lutheran confessions put it this way: “That we may obtain this faith, the Ministry of Teaching the Gospel and administering the Sacraments was instituted. For through the Word and Sacraments, as through instruments, the Holy Ghost is given, who works faith, where and when it pleases God…” In other words, through pastors, imperfect men though they are, the Holy Spirit gives faith.

So a pastor has so much more to offer than a get-rich-quick scheme, or a slick program of church growth, or a sure-fire way to win friends and influence people. Rather, pastors offer the forgiveness of sin. They hand out eternal life to everyone in the form of the Gospel. They cleanse the dirty with living water, they give life to the dying with a medicine made of bread and wine, and they open and close the very gates of heaven with the keys entrusted to them by their Lord.

Of course, the world looks on and laughs. All they see is an unimpressive man in a silly robe, saying some words, and tracing a cross in the air. All they see is a wafer and a cup, a splash of water, and a boring sermon. Not very impressive compared with the high-powered preachers we can tune in on the TV any time of day. But what the world does not see are the tens of thousands of angels who rejoice when a person repents, the howling in hell as baptismal water flows over a tiny infant, and the throngs of saints who praise God in our very presence as we partake of a communion with Jesus that transcends the grave.

All of these gifts are given to the pastor – not for his own glory, but rather for him to give away. Just as our Lord gave of his very life for his sheep, so must a bishop likewise see to his own flock. And this is why Paul tells us this “faithful saying: If a man desires the position of a bishop, he desires a good work.”

May our Lord bless the ongoing ministry of bishops and pastors around the world, both now, and unto eternity. For through their “good work” we receive the faith in Jesus Christ that saves us. Amen.

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

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