Sermon for the Fifth Sunday after Pentecost, AD 2020

Our Lord JESUS sets forth in our gospel lesson an important address. It is like a president’s “State of the Union” address, a “state of the ministry” so to speak. Jesus gives this address in the most comforting terms. Yet this is not what you would expect by how the chapter leads up to this section. Jesus has been preaching in the cities with little effect. He has just declared dreadful woes on town after town that will not repent, even after seeing his mighty miraculous works, teachings, and forgiveness of sins. These towns have been so unresponsive that Jesus says even Sodom, which was destroyed by God and didn’t have 10 righteous people, would have repented sooner.  Even John the Baptist has sent his disciples questioning if Jesus truly is the one to come. No one in the wisdom of this world would say that Jesus’ ministry is successful. Yet the Father is pleased with Christ’s work, for he calls all to himself through the seemingly weak means of preaching and teaching. As He continues to do through His ministers today.

How is Christ effective when no one seems to be listening? The wise of this world would say He has failed. They say, “Jesus needs to be more appealing!” “He needs to change his message to meet ‘felt needs’!” “How does Jesus expect to gain anyone by condemning what they believe or how they live?” You hear the same things today. “If God is real, why doesn’t he just appear to me and tell me?” “I am basically a good person. I don’t need to go through hoops of going to church or checking off a list of doctrines. God should understand.” “Being in nature, studying the world is how I know God, I don’t need a book or a man to tell me about him.” Jesus answers, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children;  yes, Father, for such was your gracious will.”

God’s gracious will, the source of our salvation, God’s very love for us from His essence, is that He would not be found by the wise and understanding, but by little children, by infants. His will is not that He would appear in a mystical experience gained by the spiritual elite. His will is not that only those who devote their lives to theological research could uncover his plan of salvation. His will is not that only the most moral people can see His face. His will is that He has such compassion on all that He sends His own Son to take on heavy labor of this sin-filled world so all can have true rest. The Father gives His Son and only His Son the authority over heaven and earth, to reveal the Father to all men. God’s gracious will sent His Son as the only one with authority to tell humanity what is necessary to survive the day of judgment. And He says “come, helpless little child, and I will give you rest.”

Only Jesus gives true rest because he took on all our burdens. He followed the will of his Father and lived a perfect life, was crucified, and died taking on all our sins and infirmities. He rose again on the third day and we have full assurance that God is now pleased with us through the work of Jesus. This is what Jesus came to declare, and what he sends his ministers to declare. Christ himself called his apostles to a special office, to share the message of the gospel to the ends of the earth after He ascended. Now Christ calls ministers like me through the church. As your church formed a call committee and requested a seminarian, as I was working through my seminary studies, as the seminary staff and district president worked together to place me, through all the forms and red tape and even through a pandemic, the Holy Spirit was working. Christ was calling a minister to St. Paul’s Evangelical Lutheran Church in Lockport, Illinois, to preach.

 That God has called me here by the Holy Spirit working through men is surely a weighty thing. By it you and I can be assured that I am supposed to be here in the preaching office. Yet this does not mean I am free to preach whatever I want. Christ calls ministers to preach His gospel, not their own. At my ordination, other pastors laid their hands on me, as other laid hands on them, and so on back to the apostles, but it is not the chain of fallible men that is important, even if you could trace every one through history back to Jesus. The true inheritance from the church, the true way in which I follow the five pastors called here to St. Paul’s before me, is in doctrine – preaching the same gospel. I am obligated to preach this pure gospel of Jesus Christ, as read in scripture and explained in the Lutheran confessions, because of promises I made at my ordination and, as you heard, at my installation. Yet even more, this belief of the orthodox Lutheran church is my own, and I will hold to it by God’s grace, come what may.

Only God knows what may come. The devil is riling people up, and the world seems to hate the gospel we preach more and more. Even in our own hearts, the old man in us tells us that this is foolishness, we should concentrate our time on useful things. Who knew a few months ago that churches would be forced to close for months? Who knows what other changes lie ahead for our nation? We hear this or that piece of news and our hearts leap in hope or fall into despair. Don’t let your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid. Christ has defeated the devil by His death and resurrection. He has overcome the world. He has given new hearts through baptism. He works through these ‘foolish’ means of sending pastors to preach, baptize, and administer His own body and blood.

Therefore, the office to which I have been called is no joke. It is life and death. I need your constant prayers, even as I pray for you. I am not free to please people, for I am called only to please God. In our own lives, to try to work out the future, to try to make out your own way, is like trying to get somewhere by following the sun. You end up in the same circle over and over. God gives us a compass, His very Word, which points us to the true North, and while the way may be narrow and the way may be rocky it leads to His face, His gracious love. It leads to the very cross of Christ where God shows how great his love is for us. So when I say I am called to please God I mean I am called to point you to that very place where the blood of Christ was poured out for you and the body of Christ was given for you so you may live eternally. The place where Christ stretches out His arms and says, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”

Pray, therefore, that all obstacles may be cleared out of the way in order that these truths may penetrate into the souls of this congregation for your eternal salvation. Pray that we all may be made by God into little children, who bring no achievement or knowledge of their own but receive the teaching of Christ, “I am gentle and lowly in heart.” By the grace of God, I aim to serve this congregation with Christ’s love for sinners like us. I ask that you also give me your love and trust, not to please me, but to please the Lord who has called me to serve here. None of us can see how exactly God will work his ministry here at St. Paul’s. We trust in the words of Christ, “My yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” When we are ungrateful and evil, the Lord is kind to us. Let us bear each others’ burdens. A pandemic, riots, and even death are only a light momentary affliction for those of us in Christ. Our rest is not in our circumstances, but in Christ who carries our burdens.

Let us pray.

O Lord Jesus Christ, through Your church you have called me to the office of the Holy Ministry at St. Paul’s to tend your sheep by preaching the gospel and administering the sacraments. Protect and defend this congregation from all external pressure and internal division, so that your gospel may rule in our hearts and pour out to our community. Work in the hearts of all in this congregation by Your Holy Spirit – infants, children, teenagers, adults, and elders -  that all may benefit from Your saving words. Bless the teaching of doctrine so all ages may be strengthened in faith. Refute all false teaching among us, and rebuke our sins so that we may repent and turn to you for forgiveness. Teach us continually to live in love for one another in order that we may forgive as we were forgiven. By your cross and passion, help us to draw strength and consolation from your Word and from each other in whatever affliction and heartache life in this wicked world may bring. Let this church be known in Lockport as a place where the true gospel is preached, and soften the hearts of our neighbors to hear your Word. Finally, keep us steadfast in your truth and in your Holy Church, that at life’s end we each may die a blessed death, in full hope and expectation of the resurrection with You, the Father, and the Holy Spirit, one God, world without end, Amen.
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