Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Sermon: St. Titus - 2011

26 January 2011 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA

Text: Titus 1:1-9 (Acts 20:28-35, Luke 10:1-9)

In the name of + Jesus. Amen.

On this day, the Church honors St. Titus, a pastor and bishop whose name gives us one of the books of the New Testament. St. Titus was ordained into the ministry by St. Paul, and traveled with him spreading the Gospel: preaching and administering the sacraments. Unlike many of the fathers of the Church, it seems that St. Titus lived a full life well into his nineties, serving in Eastern Europe as well as on the Island of Crete.

St. Paul prepared Titus for his pastoral ministry in Crete by describing what Bishop Titus would find there. Paul did not have too much good to say about the Cretan Christians. Just a few verses after our lesson, St. Paul writes:

“‘Cretans are always liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons…. Therefore rebuke them sharply…. To the pure, all things are pure, but to the defiled and unbelieving, nothing is pure; but both their minds and their consciences are defiled. They profess to know God, but they deny Him by their works.”

One only wonders if St. Titus read these words from his mentor wondering why Paul didn’t explain all this to him before he was ordained!

But this is the point of having a pastor and having a church. Pastors are sent to sinners, and the sinners congregate together in worship; a church is a bunch of sinners gathering together. But they are not gathering together to pursue their sinfulness, but rather to be forgiven. They do not call pastors to tell them how wonderful they are, but rather because they know that they need to be called to repentance.

It goes without saying that what is true of people in Crete is true of people of every time and place. We are all sinners and we all need to repent. We are all condemned by our works, and we all need salvation by the Lord’s grace.

And that, dear friends, is why St. Paul laid hands on Titus and sent him to Crete.

St. Paul prepares the men called by the Holy Spirit and sent out by the apostles by giving them fatherly advice: “Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers [that is, bishops], to care for the church of God, which He obtained with His own blood.” Paul warns of spiritual battles with “fierce wolves” and those teaching unbiblical doctrines.

He reminds his fellow ministers that the “Word of His grace… is able to build you up and give you the inheritance among those who are sanctified.” Dear friends, is there anything more comforting and calming than “the Word of His grace”? Jesus has not come to condemn, but to save. He has come to call us to repentance and to offer us forgiveness! For all of the filth and muck of human sin and the fallen world in which we live (and worse yet, to which we contribute), we have the promise of the cleansing of baptismal waters, washing us clean in the mercy of the very Lord who sends out ministers armed with the pure Word!

St. Paul reminds Titus and all men who bear the Holy Office that much is expected of them. They are to be “above reproach, the husband of one wife” with obedient children. A bishop must not be “arrogant or quick-tempered or a drunkard or violent or greedy for gain, but hospitable, a lover of good, self-controlled, upright, holy, and disciplined.” He is to be a sound teacher of Christian doctrine and he is charged with the difficult task to “rebuke those who contradict it.”

This is a tall order for men who are themselves far from perfect and also under the curse of sin. And this is why St. Paul explains the ordination ceremony of his other associate Timothy as the giving of the gift of the Holy Spirit, reminding him “to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands, for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.”

Likewise, Titus is reminded that he is not only to be a teacher of doctrine, but also a man of encouragement and exhortation, “so that those who have believed in God may be careful to devote themselves to good works. These things are excellent and profitable to people.” He is to discipline those who cause trouble: “But avoid foolish controversies, genealogies, dissentions, and quarrels about the law, for they are unprofitable and worthless. As for a person who stirs up division, after warning him once and then twice, have nothing more to do with him, knowing that such a person is warped and sinful; he is self-condemned.”

But the bulk of Titus’s work as a minister of the Gospel and a steward of the mysteries will be far more joyful. For Titus is a bishop of faithful souls, a pastor of the flock, a preacher of the Good News of the coming of God in human flesh in order to forgive sins and save sinners, and he is a man with the privilege – by grace alone – to stand at the holy altar and distribute the true body and blood of Jesus Christ to those who hunger and thirst for righteousness.

He is also a minister of Holy Baptism, as St. Paul writes to Titus: “But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, He saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to His own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by His grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.”

There is no greater or more eloquent summary of the Gospel that these words given to St. Titus to preach, dear brothers and sisters in Christ! And thanks be to God that this Good News still resounds the world over, declared from marble pulpits and whispered in prison cells, preached from rooftops, and chanted in the shade of mud huts. Wherever Christians gather, called and ordained servants of the Word declare that Word, forgive the sins of those who repent, and joyfully deliver eternal life to those called by the Holy Spirit.

For St. Paul does not send out Titus to preach on his own authority. Titus was called, ultimately, as every other proclaimer of the Good News of our Lord, by the Lord Himself. For Titus was ordaind by Paul, and Paul was ordained by Jesus. And it was Jesus Himself who first sent laborers into the harvest “as lambs in the midst of wolves.” It was our blessed Lord who commanded His preachers to say: “Peace be to this house” and to “heal the sick and say to them, ‘the kingdom of God has come near to you.’”

This ministry did not end with the death of the twelve, nor with the death of St. Paul, nor even with the death of St. Titus. For those upon whom hands were laid in ordination, likewise laid hands on other servants of the Word. And this ministry continues to this very day.

Cretans are not the only ones in need of rebuke and forgiveness. That is why the Word is proclaimed to “all nations” and disciples continue to be made by Holy Baptism in every corner of the globe. What St. Titus preached, we too hear, dear friends. For Titus proclaimed the Word. That Word is still just as valuable and relevant to us today. Though Cretans may lie, the Word of God is always true!

For as Paul reminds Titus, and us in this time and place, we have the “hope of eternal life, which God, who never lies, promised before the ages began and at the proper time manifested in the Word through the preaching with which I have been entrusted by the command of God our Savior.”

Thanks be to God for Titus, for the Word, and for our life as forgiven sinners that will have no end! Amen.

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

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