Thursday, January 26, 2012

Liars, Evil Beasts, Lazy Gluttons and the Kingdom of God

Sermon for St. Titus Day, preached at the Circuit Winkel, January 26, 2012

It has been a big week.  The Church commemorated St. Timothy on Tuesday, the Conversion of St. Paul on Wednesday, and today St. Titus.  No shortage of things on which to preach here.  But we shall satisfy our time with Titus since today is his.

Timothy and Titus are always together in the Church – though unlikely brothers in Christ. Timothy the son of a Jewish Christian mother and Titus the uncircumcized Gentile.  But Paul is the common link.  He considered them both his own sons, “my own child in the common faith.”

Titus was perhaps the first Gentile Christian.  A test case for Paul.  He took his trophy convert down to the big pow wow in Jerusalem in which the Church would hash out this business of Gentile Christians.  It must have come as some surprise to the Jewish Christians assembled to see and hear a real live uncircumcized Christian.  Perhaps that was Paul’s intent.  They were not debating a theory but a person.  In the end Paul prevailed.  Titus could stay Christian without following a Jewish path into the community of those called the Church.

Paul ordained both Timothy and Titus and they traveled with Paul on his many journeys for the kingdom.  Titus had two big assignments.  One to lay down the law in rebellious Corinth and bring them back into the fold.  It seems to have gone well.  Titus was able to report that the Corinthians were as noble as ever and Paul’s heart was warmed by the news.  The other duty was to direct a collection for the Jerusalem poor.  This two went well.

It is easy to see why Titus is so honored.  Why any Pastor who can calm the troubled waters in a conflicted congregation AND raise up a big donation for the case is sure to be well considered by the Church!  Even today!

Perhaps this was all just preparation for the big task to come.  Titus was sent to Crete - which made Corinth seem like a cakewalk.  Paul said the Cretans were “always liars, evil beasts, and lazy gluttons.”  Haven’t all Pastors thought that about their congregations at one point or another?  Perhaps lay folk have thought the occupant of the pulpit a Cretan.  Who knows?

His job was no small task.  He was to “rebuke them sharply” that these Christians defiled by works at odds with their words might be purified and restored among the faithful. So Titus plucked some thistles and planted some flowers in God’s garden in Crete.

But that is the work of Gospel.  We are all sinners   The Lord sends Pastors to sinners because the righteous do not need the Word of the Lord.  We are all condemned by our works and none of our hearts are pure.  It is grace and mercy that we need and yet we cannot hear this without first hearing the bite of the Law, exposing our sins and coaxing from us the honest confession of thoughts, words, and deeds that flow from our evil hearts.

But Titus was not to take delight in dishing it out to the Cretans.  The goal of the Word is not to condemn but to redeem.  God delights not in condemning the wrong but in forgiving and making right liars, evil beasts, and lazy gluttons.

Preachers are wise to remember they are not above those to whom they preach.  The preacher must hold firm to the trustworthy word as he was taught – both for his own sake as well as for the sake of those who will hear the Word through him.  So Paul counsels Titus to remain steadfast in the Word of the Lord or else he will have nothing of sound doctrine to bring to the people of God and will not be able to stand against those contradict that word.

The Church is no showcase of good people but filled with Cretans.  We who are called Pastors would do well to pay attention to Titus and to the words of Paul that prepared him for his life of service to the Gospel.  It is not enough to condemn sin for God has called us also to encourage and uplift, pointing to that which is good and noble and worthy of God.  To this end the Lord has given Pastors the tools of the Word and the Sacraments.  By these means of grace the filthy are cleansed, the wounded made whole, the guilty declared righteous, the hungry fed upon the bread of heaven, and the dying given the life that cannot die. 

And that is the crux of our need today.  We live among wolves and those who speak twisted words instead of the Word of the Lord.  We are gravely tempted to believe that the Gospel is merely a program, like so many other programs in the Church.  We are still tempted to think of the ministry as the work of men instead of God’s work through them.  We are tested by means and methodologies borrowed from business as if the Church were God’s venture capital firm.  Titus does well to remind us that the work of the Kingdom is still work among sinners and that the works of the Kingdom are still the Word and the Sacraments.  In an age in which numbers and statistics seem to rule, the currency of God’s Kingdom is grace and mercy, come to us through the Word of the cross, the water of life, the voice of absolution, and the heavenly meal of His body and blood.  

Unlike so many in the early Church, Titus did live a long life, serving in Crete as Bishop until his death about 96 AD.  And thanks be to God for the work of such faithful folk.  For the  Timothies and Tituses of the Church... and the Pauls who taught them, let us give thanks. And let us pray that the Lord would never leave His Church without those who will teach us to know and remember always the Word of the Lord that is our hope, our life, and our salvation.  Amen.

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