Thursday, July 16, 2015
Ordination Sermon on Gen. 32:21-32, preached by Rev. Daniel Mackey
In broad brushstrokes: Jacob is no good. At least, that’s what Esau, his brother, thinks. And rightly so because Jacob tricked father Isaac into giving him the blessing. Jacob got the covenantal promise; Esau got a bowl of lentil stew. After his deceit, Jacob fled to the household of his uncle Laban, his mother’s brother, and there he struggled and prospered. Now, years later, Jacob is returning home, to his father’s land and his inheritance. But Jacob is terrified. He fears Esau’s retribution.
Jacob sends his wives and children ahead, along with his herds and flocks and all his possessions. He sends Esau gifts in order to mollify his brother, appease Esau’s pride, and curb his wrath. Jacob does not despise means but uses that with which the Lord God blessed him. Still, he cannot bring himself to cross the river. He faces a dark, prayerful night and the Lord Himself comes and wrestles with the Patriarch. He is blessed, given the new name of Israel and is thereby affirmed in God’s promises. Emboldened, Israel crosses the river to face brother Esau.
This is the context of Dr. Luther’s prayer for the pastors of the Church. He says that each and every Christian ought to come to the Lord in prayer, struggling as Jacob did and also demanding God’s blessing. This is the prayer he gives:
Lord God, You have appointed me in the Church as a bishop and pastor. You see how unfit I am to fulfill such a great and difficult Office, and were it not for Your help, I would long since have ruined it all. Therefore, I call upon You: I will assuredly apply my mouth and my heart, I will teach the people, and I myself will learn ever more and diligently meditate on Your Word. Use me as Your instrument, only do not forsake me, for if I am left alone I will certainly bring it all to destruction. Amen [WA 43:153; LW 5:123].
It’s a serious and somber prayer, is it not? Of course, the Office of the Holy Ministry is a most serious thing. It goes beyond being simply a matter of life and death. Rather, it’s concerned with eternal life and everlasting death. As Apostle Paul writes to Pastor Timothy: “Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers” (1Tm 4:16). And so we pastors pray, and we pray earnestly.
Like Jacob, we don’t despise means. In fact, much has gone into bringing us to this day. God has molded and shaped Candidate Ulrich for this day of his Ordination and Installation as your pastor. In the waters of Holy Baptism Christ gave him the gift of new birth as a child of the heavenly Father, joining Dan to his death and resurrection. Christ confirmed Dan in the faith and fed him with His very body and blood for the forgiveness of sins, the strengthening of faith toward God and fervent love toward neighbor. Christ shepherded Dan through His ministers, providing him with faithful examples. But Christ wasn’t finished there with shaping Dan. Rather, Dan attended our beloved synod’s seminary in Fort Wayne, Indiana where he learned his languages and the Scriptures, doctrine and our Lutheran Confessions, how to preach and how to conduct the liturgies of the Church. Christ blessed Dan and my congregation of Grace in Muncie, Indiana with two years of fieldwork. And then Christ sent Dan on his vicarage to Holy Trinity in Greensburg, where he was responsible for the daily governing of the congregation—not the typical arrangement, by the way, but one in which he performed admirably. And then he returned to the seminary to complete his training. Dan joins the finest trained clergy in the world—some programs are just as rigorous, but none are better. This is what you demand of your pastors, for you also don’t despise means. These are the means through which Christ has been preparing this man to be your pastor.
But all this training and formation doesn’t make Dan a pastor. Instead, it’s as Dr. Luther says in the prayer:
Lord God, You have appointed me in the Church as a bishop and pastor.
Christ Himself places men into the Preaching Office. Even with all that training and formation, it would be sheer arrogance for any person to grasp and take this sacred Office. Dan is humble enough not to presume such authority and responsibility for himself. We recognize Christ’s placement of pastors in what is referred to as the Call and Ordination.
Christ has extended His Call to Dan through you, Grace congregation. Because of your need for the Gospel and because you possess all things in Christ, God is working through you to bring this man into the Holy Ministry. The second part, Ordination, goes hand in hand with the Call—because we shouldn’t have one without the other. Ordination, simply put, is the recognition of the Church at large that this man has indeed been given to this noble task. This is marked with the laying on of hands by the fellow ministers of the Gospel, which is done in the name of the Church, the entire Church, which is the Body of Christ, and thereby in the power of the Holy Spirit.
But Dan—like all who have come before him and will come after him—Dan is most certainly unfit for the Office. (I’m saying this, and I like the guy! A lot.) While he may look good on the outside—and he should be “above reproach” as St. Paul lists in the qualifications for pastors in 1 Timothy 3—he is entirely unable to fulfill this noble task. As a great Lutheran theologian of the last century said: “God always demands from his servants something which is, humanly speaking, impossible” [Sasse, citation uncertain].
Two things prevent Dan from being able to fulfill this Office. The first is his sinfulness. Yes, you have asked a sinner to be your pastor. This is no minor or trivial thing. He will sin against you and against God. I know he’s only been here a couple of weeks, but he’s probably done that a few times already. He is, like the rest of us, totally depraved. That’s why we pastors wear black shirts. They announce that we are sinners. This is most certainly true. While pastors encounter the sins of their people, they never can recognize the depth and horror of those sins like they do their own. So, I beg you—as I beg of my own people—forgive your pastor. After all, love covers a multitude of sins. Indeed, Christ’s love covers all sins.
The second thing that prevents him from being able to fulfill this Office is the Office itself. It’s a great and difficult Office, one that cannot be accomplished by mortal flesh. This Office is to both watch over Christ’s people as a bishop and to lead them through this life and unto life eternal as a pastor. It’s the very Office Christ has established so that His people might receive the forgiveness of sins, life and salvation. The Scriptures call the men who hold this Office “servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God” [1Co 4:1]. It is a heavy yoke placed upon the shoulders of weak and weary men.
And so Dr. Luther would have us pastors pray:
You see how unfit I am to fulfill such a great and difficult Office, and were it not for Your help, I would long since have ruined it all.
Relying on himself, Dan can do you no good. Indeed, it is only by the grace of Christ, that he hasn’t already “ruined it all.” And he hasn’t even really started yet! No, pastors need to rely solely and completely on Christ and His Word. That’s what the stole means. It is that sign of the Office that, like a scarf in the cold, winter months, protects and preserves the throat and voice of the speaker. In another prayer, it’s called “the stole of immortality” because the Word preached and taught bestows on its hearers just that: life and salvation. The Word given to be preached by the Church and her ministers is the Gospel: Christ crucified for sinners and also raised for the lives of the saints. Or, as our Augsburg Confession puts it,
People are freely justified for Christ’s sake, through faith, when they believe that they are received into favor and that their sins are forgiven for Christ’s sake. By His death, Christ made satisfaction for our sins. God counts this faith for righteousness in His sight (Romans 3 and 4 [3:21-26; 4:5]). So that we may obtain this faith, the ministry of teaching the Gospel and administering the Sacraments was instituted [AC IV; V:1].
Dan’s adherence to Christ and his utter reliance on His Word is the only basis on which you may and ought to judge him. Lord, help Dan to teach Your Word in its truth and purity and also lead a holy life according to it!
Therefore, I call upon You [Lord God]: I will assuredly apply my mouth and my heart, I will teach the people, and I myself will learn ever more and diligently meditate on Your Word.
This is what Dr. Luther would have your pastors pray.
Christ will continue to deepen and grow this man into, I am convinced, an extraordinary and exceptional pastor. One of Christ’s great gifts to Dan is his hunger and thirst for the Word and the Means of Grace. The thing that most impressed me about Dan as a seminarian was how receptive he was to listening and taking to heart all that others shared with him. Dan was eager and hungry to learn whatever he could from each instructor, each pastor, and each congregational member. It was because of this humility, Dan even listened to me. As it has been said: “A good theologian is always a humble theologian” [Sasse, Letters to Lutheran Pastors – Volume 1, Introduction]. Christ will teach you much through him, I can assure you. Moreover, Christ will teach him much through you, dear saints of Grace.
The final plea of Dr. Luther’s prayer:
Use me as Your instrument, only do not forsake me, for if I am left alone I will certainly bring it all to destruction. Amen.
Our Lord promises to use this man as His instrument in this place.
Christ Himself preaches to you. This man will be Christ’s voice both when he rebukes your transgressions and grants you forgiveness. It is Christ’s forgiveness, won on the cross of Calvary and distributed through His ministers.
Christ Himself baptizes you. This man will be Christ’s hands, pouring the life-giving water of Holy Baptism upon your children. It is Christ’s death and resurrection to which we are joined in that sacred flood.
Christ Himself absolves you. This man will be Christ’s voice as he announces the grace of God unto all of you. It is in Christ’s stead and by His command that you will be absolved of your sins.
Christ Himself feeds you with Himself. This man will also be Christ’s hands as he places the very body and blood of your Lord and Savior into your mouths. It is Christ’s body and blood given and shed for you.
Christ Himself comforts you. This man will be Christ’s feet as he visits in your homes, consoling you, his brothers and sisters. It is Christ Himself who will enter your homes and hearts, comforting you with the Gospel of salvation.
And that’s what everything today is about: Christ caring for you, His Church. This man will be yet another sign of Christ’s abundant love for you. He will love you with Christ’s love. He will guard you in the faith. He will comfort you in the promises Christ has made to you, His Church. As it is written in our Small Catechism,
I believe that when the called ministers of Christ deal with us by His divine command…this is just as valid and certain, even in heaven, as if Christ our dear Lord dealt with us Himself.
Just as Jacob received Christ’s blessing on the banks of the Jabbok, Dan will in a few short minutes receive a blessing. With it comes a new name of a sort. You won’t call him Dan; rather, you’ll call this man Pastor Ulrich (some of you, I’m sure, in your eagerness, have already started). But it’ll become official—a point not to be overlooked and despised. Just as Jacob was wrapped up in his new identity before God and men as Israel, Christ is wrapping up Dan in his new identity as Pastor Ulrich. This doesn’t refer merely to his function but to your personal relationship to him. No longer will he be simply another child of God, a member of the royal priesthood of all believers, but Christ will declare this man to be a pastor. Throughout the remainder of his life, Christ will shape him by this identity. Because, as we pastors are taught to pray, it is our Lord God who has appointed him to be a bishop and pastor in this Church in order to be Christ’s instrument to care for you.