Tuesday, October 20, 2020

Is there nothing more than the Word?

Sermon for the Festival of St. Luke, preached on Sunday, October 18, 2020.

   What a terrible job it is to be a pastor!  Though many of us complain about our jobs and terrible pay and awful working conditions and the terrible people we work for and work with, pastors have it the worst.  I cannot honestly think why anyone would voluntarily choose to be a pastor without the call of God through the Church to seal the deal.  But it is not the pay or the working conditions or even the people to whom we are sent that makes this job the worst.  It is that God strips away everything we think we should have in order to be safe and secure in this job and then He gives us nothing more than His Word as our only tool and weapon.  How can that be enough?

    If I could, I would do anything else but be a pastor.  But God has called me and so here I am.  At first glance it seems so inspiring.  “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few. Therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.”  Like the old Marine slogan, all God wants are a few good men.  Or so it would seem.  Slick talkers, gladhanders, men who can inspire, warriors to do battle, soldiers to march even to the gates of hell with the sword of the Word of God.  Men to go where the Lord will send to act as instruments of His redemption in a world filled with people in need of saving.  Then the reality sets in.

    “Go your way; behold, I am sending you out as lambs in the midst of wolves. Carry no moneybag, no knapsack, no sandals, and greet no one on the road.”  That can’t be what God means.  Lambs among wolves?  No stash of cash or debit card.  No extra clothes or another pair of good walking shoes?  No small talk on the road?  That is not what I signed up for.  I expected God to give me the secrets to make it all work.  I thought the ministry would provide an easy and comfortable life.  I thought that I would have plenty of time for my family and for me.  I thought that God would see how hard I was trying and how much I was doing and throw a little extra rewards my way.  I thought at least the people would follow me into hell and back if that was want God wanted.  But that is not what I got.

    I got a ministry without any real power or authority, a vocation of service and sacrifice, a choice between disappointing spouse and family or church family, phone calls of disease and death in the night, weeks without days off, years with vacations interrupted by church emergencies, and people who complained constantly to me and about me.  There I was with only the Word of God.  Stripped bare of all that I thought I needed, God gave me one thing and one thing only – His Word.  He gave me no rose colored glasses to view this calling but warned me that doors would slam in my face and people would get angry with me and I was to reply only on Him.

    But there is comfort.  Even fools shall not go astray as long as the Word of the Lord lives in them and even foolish pastors shall not fail in all that God has appointed as long as His Word is spoken from their lips.  You see, that is the comfort.  The success or failure depends not upon the messenger but the message, not upon the preacher but the Word of God preached, and not on the gifts of the pastor but the gifts of God the pastor bestows through the means of grace, the Word and the Sacraments.  No pastor thinks that God has given them enough to do what needs to be done and every pastor has every thing needful in the Word alone.  Oh, to be sure, you need to learn not to detract from that Word or get in its way but the Word of the Lord is enough.  It is enough for the 72 the Lord sent out.  It is enough for Luke, the healing evangelist whose medical arts gave way to the Word that heals the sick with sin and raises those dead in trespasses.  It is enough for pastors in Clarksville whom the Lord has called to serve you in His name.

    But wait.  This is not simply about pastors.  This is also about you.  This is about you whom the Lord has called to be His own children by the power of the Spirit working in the Word, whom He has washed clean in the waters of baptism, whom He has absolved of your sins, and whom He has fed and nourished upon the body and blood of Christ.  If you have the Word of the Lord, you have all you need to face the wounds and worries of this mortal life.  If you have faith in that Word of the Lord, you will endure to life everlasting.  If you endure in that Word of the Lord despite the troubles and trials of this ever changing life, you will be anchored in every storm.  You are sure you do not have enough but God knows your needs, your weakness, your pain, your afflictions, your challenges, and His grace is sufficient for them all. 

    Nearly all our prayers are about the stuff we think we must have in order to be the people we need to be or do the tasks God’s wisdom has assigned us.  We worry about money and fear giving to the Lord or to those in need lest we be left empty.  We worry about every ache and pain and what illness they might portend.  We worry about where we will live, what we will eat, and whether our life will have the rich experiences that satisfy our desires.  But if we have the Word of the Lord, we have enough.  That is the ultimate test of faith.  From both sides of the pulpit, that is the constant and daily test of faith.  Is God’s grace sufficient for me?  Is His Word enough to guide my way?  Is His mercy enough to supply me?  Is His future where I want to go?

    Beloved St. Luke was no duffus.  Like those with MD behind their names today, St. Luke was educated and respected as someone a cut above the rest.  But in all his training and education, St. Luke had to learn what you have to learn.  The Word of the Lord is sufficient to grasp you into the Kingdom and to keep you in the arms of Your heavenly Father.  In the end, his healing vocation was a shadow of his call in Christ.  This is beloved St. Luke whose account of Christ is orderly and erudite, who gives us the story we long to hear while we hold our Christmas candles and who alone tells us the mystery of Christ’s ascension glory and whose account of the history of the early Church in the book of Acts reveals how this small band of misfits might become the mighty Church of Jesus Christ.

    Pastors must learn what St. Luke did.  The ministry is no dream vocation but a calling amid the messes of a messy life and a messy world.  Though every pastor prays for more, every pastor has what God has supplied him – the Word and Sacraments.  This is enough.  The Word of the Lord will not return to God empty but will fulfill His purpose in sending it.  In the end, that is all any pastor ever has.  And it is always enough no matter how much that pastor worries or complains.

    You, the people loved by God, must learn the same truth.  Your Christian life is no dream life but it is lived out amid the dirt and darkness of a real world as a real sinner whose only glory is God’s grace and favor.  You will pray to God for all that you are confident you need but God has already supplied you with everything when He gave you new life in baptismal water, spoken His Word into your ears so that it might be planted in your heart, and fed you upon the flesh and blood of Christ.  In the end it is all any Christian has.  And it is always enough – no matter how much you worry or complain to God that you need more.  The Word is enough for pastors, for God's people, and for the Church.

    You have the cross marked upon you, you have the seal of His promise as your hope, you have His life in you as your new identity, and you have the future He has prepared – to walk through death to the life that is beyond imagination in the wonders God has prepared for you.  Do not fear.  Do not be distracted.  Do not abandon the Word of the Lord that endures forever.  Do not disdain His baptismal gift of new birth.  Do not absent yourself from His table.  Do not give up on His sufficient grace.  All things are yours because you are His.  Amen.

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