The following sermon was preached by the Rev. Dr. Kevin Golden, pastor at Village Lutheran Church—Ladue, Missouri
St. Matthew, Apostle and Evangelist
September 21, 2014
It was a beautiful spring day in April. The sky was blue; air was invigorating; the sun was brilliant. It was the kind of day to spend outside from dawn to dusk. But that evening everybody was packed into the Chapel of St. Timothy and St. Titus because it was “call day” at the seminary. The images from the day are still vivid in my mind. During the processional I saw Joy holding Claire, who was only 18 months old though now she is taller than her mother. Hymns were sung; scripture was read; a sermon was delivered; prayers were offered. And then over a hundred men walked forward one by one in dark suits and clerical collars. It was my turn and I heard as I walked forward. “Kevin Golden; the Missouri District; pastor; Grace Lutheran Church, Holts Summit, Missouri.” I was shocked. He said, “Missouri District.” I expected to hear South Wisconsin District or Michigan District because I had interviewed for associate pastor positions in suburban Milwaukee and in Ann Arbor and I was sure I was going to one of those locations. After the service the chairman of the Board of Elders of my new congregation and his wife met us outside the chapel. My first question for them was: “Where is Holts Summit?” I am from Missouri but I had no idea where I was heading.
That is how I remember Christ calling me to be a pastor. And then there is St. Matthew. I was called by Christ through His Church; St. Matthew was called immediately, not through the Church, but by Christ in person. Surely he must remember all the vivid details of the weather and the people and his shock at Jesus’ call just like I remembered all those details. But St. Matthew gives us none of that. He records the eternal God appearing to him in the flesh and calling him directly this way. “And going along there, Jesus saw a man sitting at the tax collectors booth named Matthew and He says to him, ‘Follow Me.’ And standing up, he followed Him.” That’s all Matthew gives. Matthew refuses to let the account of his call be about him; it’s all about the One who called him. It’s all about Jesus. There’s a lesson for me to learn about my own call as a pastor. It’s not about me. It’s about the One who called me. It’s all about Jesus. And what a Jesus He is!
His calling is simple enough. “Follow Me.” But notice where Matthew follows him – immediately into a house full of the most undesirable of folk – tax collectors and sinners. If you’re looking for glitz and glamour, if you’re looking to hang out with a better sort of folk, then don’t follow Jesus. Look who He chooses to hang out with. And to make it worse, Jesus is reclining at table with them. With whom do you eat? You see some poor soul on the side of the road with a sign reading, “Homeless. Hungry.” What do you do? You probably do not give him money because you want to be sure that he doesn’t use it to his own detriment with alcohol or drugs. But maybe you’ll hand him a granola bar or the sandwich that you had planned to eat for lunch. Maybe you’ll swing through the drive-through and bring him a burger and fries. But would you even entertain the possibility of saying to him, “Meet me over at that burger joint.” And then sit down to eat with him. I know all the reasons we use for not being that bold. You can smell him from five feet away. You don’t have the time; there’s a schedule to keep. And what about safety? Even though he never enters your car and you’re with him in a public space with dozens of people nearby, still who knows what he will do? But now imagine that instead of the stereotypical homeless man, you are approached by your favorite celebrity. I’ll go with Yadier Molina. He asks you to join him for dinner. I’m in! But I don’t know him any better than the disheveled guy on the corner. Molina has a fine reputation, but I don’t know the man. Yet it is so easy to accept his invitation. It is so easy to refuse to sit at table with the rejected and undesirable and then in the next breath to accept an invitation from the prominent and famous. It is so easy to go from saying, “He made his bed; let him lay in it.” to saying, “Isn’t it grand to sit at table with somebody like that.” It is so easy for us to do that because we all are adept at being Pharisees. There they are shocked that Jesus would recline at table with the likes of tax collectors and sinners. You can see them looking down their noses at the wretched ilk reclining with Jesus and so they get the disciples attention and ask incredulously, “Doesn’t Jesus know who He is eating with?” Your question has been cut from the same cloth – “Who would want to be with somebody like that?” You say it about the guy on the corner; you say it about that good-for-nothing at work; you say it about the black sheep of the family; and you even say it about a brother or sister in Christ who just doesn’t match up to your standards.
If it weren’t bad enough that we act that way, we make it all the more perverse by justifying our actions in pious language. Looking at the mess in our world today – marriage treated as a throw-away institution or a wax nose to be twisted into whatever you want it to be; children treated as either trophies or a nuisance; a nation in the firm grip of economic entropy; the fabric of society falling apart at the seams – you look at that mess and say, “Things wouldn’t be this way if we just had more good Christians.” What is a “good Christian?” Listen to Jesus. “The strong have no need of a doctor, but those who have it bad [need him.]” Those who have it bad – that is how Jesus puts it literally. That is who Jesus identifies with. That is with whom Jesus reclines at table. If you have your life put together, if you are not sick with sin, go home. You don’t need Jesus. But if you are a mess and your life is a train wreck, if you know that you have it bad and you can’t seem to find a way to get it right, then Jesus is the One for you. He called Matthew away from the tax collectors booth where he had it bad, making himself rich by cheating others. And Jesus calls you away from your own sin because just like Matthew, just like the tax collectors and sinners reclining at table with Jesus, just like the Pharisees though they are too blind to see it, you’ve got it bad. And only Jesus can cure what ails you.
There is no pretense with Jesus, only honesty. Be honest with who you are because Jesus is honest about who you are. He says, “I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” You’re a sinner. And what a wonderful thing to be because that is whom Jesus calls. There is no delight in your sin. All it is has done is bring death and destruction into your life and the lives of others, most of all those you love. But there is delight in having a Savior who calls you in the midst of your sin. You’ve got it bad, but Jesus makes you good, all by His call, even good enough that you might recline at table with Him.
You’re called just like Matthew. Jesus says to you, “Follow me.” To where do you follow Jesus? To the same place as Matthew. You follow Jesus into a fellowship of sinners, known as the Church, where Jesus reclines at table with those who have it bad. So Jesus called you in Holy Baptism to be part of His Church. He calls you anew with the exhortation and confession of sins, specifically He calls you to repentance because He will not have you be comfortable with having it bad. Knowing that your sin has brought you guilt and shame, He then calls you to peace in the absolution. At His call, your sin is gone and with it goes the guilt and shame. He calls you to kneel at table with Him. And so you enjoy an intimacy far exceeding what the tax collectors and sinners enjoyed because Jesus is not only present here with you, but He even gives you His body to eat and His blood to drink. Jesus continues to call you day by day, calling you to faith as you face trial and tribulation. Again and again, Jesus calls you. And His call is effective. His call accomplishes what He says. He keeps calling, “Follow Me.” And so you keep following Him because that is what His word accomplishes. Jesus promises to keep calling you even until He calls you to rest at your last hour, bringing you into the joy of His heaven. And then you will wait… until that great day when He will call you one last time. The day is coming when He will stand before you, He in His resurrection glory and you in that same glory. And He will say to you, “Follow Me.” And off you will go with Him into life everlasting.
The following sermon was preached at the LCMS International Center Chapel service on September 11, 2014 by The Rev. Michael Meyer, Manager of LCMS Disaster Response.
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Paul had to deal with the accusation that he was arrogant and that he was shamelessly promoting himself. He writes of the Corinthians that they are his “letter of recommendation” from Christ to the church and to the world. But he is sensitive to the thought that people think he is bragging. So Paul writes, “Such is the confidence that we have through Christ toward God.” This is the heart of the passage. Paul confesses that in and of himself, he is not particularly sufficient or competent for the task he is performing, and the work he does is not successful because of his talent or intelligence. He acknowledges, instead, that everything comes from God. His competence and his success are God-worked. God has made him sufficient to the task. He writes, “Not that we are sufficient in ourselves to claim anything as coming from us, but our sufficiency is from God.”
Similarly, when I preach, my confidence is not that I am something, but that God is at work through His Word. The good things that may happen are not the pastor’s work or that of the evangelism committee, rather they are God’s work. My sufficiency and my confidence are from God. If I measure up to the task, it is the gracious working of God.
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, that is the truth of everything in general, and the Holy Ministry in particular. No one who holds the office of the ministry is competent for the task, in and of himself. Their sufficiency is also from God. Surely there are pastors that you have liked more than others, here at the IC, or at the seminary, or in your congregation. Some may have been better speakers. Some may have been just wonderful at calling on the home-bound and sick, making them feel right at home. Some may have fit in like a glove, while others may have seemed odd and out of place. The truth, however, is that whether you like them or not, the power and sufficiency for doing the work of the ministry is God-given. Faith does not come by the eloquence of the preacher, or his intellectual arguments, or even his personal appeal. Faith comes by hearing, and that hearing is by the Word of God.
We confess as much in the Small Catechism, in the explanation to the Third Article of the Apostles’ Creed, “I believe that I cannot, by my own reason or strength, believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him; but the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the one true faith. In the same way, He calls, gathers, enlightens and sanctifies the whole Christian Church on earth, and keeps it in Jesus Christ in the one true faith.”
God must create faith, because, ‘a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God; for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually dead.’ So, our faith does not depend on us or on the skill of the preacher, but on God. As long as a pastor is faithful and teaches the whole counsel of God faithfully, God is at work through him, making him sufficient for the work which God has called him to do and granting the success which God Himself has planned for His Word in that place.
Of course, the pastor must preach the whole counsel of God – both the Law and the Gospel. That is what Paul writes about when he mentions the ministry of condemnation and the ministry of righteousness. Paul first writes about the Law. He calls it “the ministry of death.” He describes it as “engraved in letters on stone.” That is Mt. Sinai. He says that the Law came with glory — such glory that the Children of Israel could not stand to look at the shining face of Moses. He had to cover his face for a time, until the reflected glory of God faded. Paul writes that the “letter kills.” That is the work of the Law. It condemns us. You may have heard the Latin phrase- “lex semper accusat” – “the law always accuses”. Now, that’s not the only thing it does, but it always finds us guilty of sin.
“And the wages of sin is death.” Our sin, revealed so clearly (and cleverly) by the Law, causes death and makes us worthy of death — and not just death of the body, but that eternal death which we call hell — which is more than just being “dead and gone” and unconscious of everything forever. It is misery. It is regret. It is condemnation. That is why the work of the Law is called the “Ministry of Condemnation”.
And the Law is true – it is good and wise as we sing in the hymn. It came with glory, and still possesses the glory of being God’s own will and law. And yet such truth and glory is not enough. The Law has no power to save us, only to kill us. In Romans, Paul tells us that “the Law was given in order that sin might increase.” That does not mean that its purpose is that we might become more sinful. The purpose of the Law was that we would see our sinfulness. That we would recognize our corruption and helplessness in sin, learn our deserved condemnation, and despair of our own righteousness and of our own ability to save ourselves.
This is why we need a Savior. The Law always accuses and always condemns and leaves us no hope. But God wants us to live. He wants us to have hope, and to trust in Him. So, He sent Jesus. Jesus accomplished what we could not. He kept the whole will and Law of God perfectly — without failure or sin or exception. He earned life where we had earned death. Because He is true man He was able to earn life, just as He was liable to death if He had sinned. Because He is true God His obedience was sufficient to exchange for all sin. His life was of ample value to cover all of our lives. His death was sufficient ransom for all of us. “By His stripes, we are healed,” not made a little better, but healed, as Isaiah the prophet said.
It is faith, created and sustained by the Holy Spirit, that lays hold of this and claims it as its own. That is “the ministry of the Holy Spirit,” “the letter of the spirit, written in our hearts.” “He that believes and is baptized will be saved”. We who believe have life everlasting already, and will rise from our graves on that great day when Jesus returns to create for His people a new heavens and a new earth, in which righteousness and glory dwell.
It is the ministry of Christ’s righteousness, which works righteousness in us and for us. The Holy Spirit makes those in whom He dwells holy. And it is glorious, for it is life and salvation for all who believe. Thus, the Law, which is true, and perfect and glorious, and came with great glory, cannot hold a candle to the gospel. The gospel is as much better than the law than life is better than death. The glory of the Law, which is great, is overwhelmed by the glory of the Gospel like a candle, which serves quite well as a light at night is overwhelmed by the bright light of the sun shining in broad daylight. You cannot always even see that the candle is lit, if the sunshine is bright enough. So, when we compare the Law with the Gospel, the truth and glory of the Law are simply not enough.
The Law is still true (and good and wise). But the Gospel is better. It is not ‘more true’, it simply gives what the Law cannot. Forgiveness trumps condemnation, and the righteousness received by grace through faith trumps sinfulness, and eternal life trumps death. It is received by those who believe, the gift of God, worked through the Holy Gospel. It is faith that Paul describes as confidence through Christ toward God – confidence in forgiveness, salvation, and life eternal; and confidence for this life here and now for you.
Thus, we are made sufficient by Christ. And with Paul we confess: “such is our confidence through Christ towards God.”
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Bitterness is an ugly thing. It is not attractive when displayed and causes other people to feel uncomfortable, at the very least. However, we all know bitterness. It has lived in us, crept up on us, held us hostage, and destroyed relationships and opportunities. It is a powerful, invisible beast that can eat you from the inside out and is a favorite tool of the devil.
I have been bitter at God in the past. Have you? Twenty years ago, at the age of 34, I was angry and bitter at God that I was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. I was bitter, for a time, that I was going to lose out on so much in life and not be able to have all I dreamed of….or so I thought (turns out I was wrong…really wrong). You might have felt bitterness in the past for some other matter or situation. Bitterness is the same in all of us though as it blinds us from truth and love. It is hard to see joy when looking thru the lens of bitterness.
But thanks be to God that He is greater than all the devil’s schemes and ways and more powerful than our weaknesses. He promises to hear us when we pour out our soul to Him, comforts us with His peace and fills us with joyfulness.
Today is the Commemoration of Hannah. Hannah, wife of Elkanah, was barren for years and deeply anguished, but later was blessed with a son, Samuel (and many more children). Through the merciful, divine love of God, Hannah went from bitterness to joyfulness. Even in Hannah’s “great anguish and grief” and “weeping bitterly” she did not turn from God but kept praying to Him. Despite difficult circumstances, she went to the temple and poured out her soul. What a great example for all of us.
Learn more about Hannah here. Read her prayer (1 Samuel 2: 1-10) below which so beautifully includes a reminder to not trust in your own strength but to rejoice in the Lord, your Rock who “raises the poor from the dust” and “lifts the needy from the ash heap.”
1 And Hannah prayed and said,
“My heart exults in the Lord;
my horn is exalted in the Lord.
My mouth derides my enemies,
because I rejoice in your salvation.
2 “There is none holy like the Lord:
for there is none besides you;
there is no rock like our God.
3 Talk no more so very proudly,
let not arrogance come from your mouth;
for the Lord is a God of knowledge,
and by him actions are weighed.
4 The bows of the mighty are broken,
but the feeble bind on strength.
5 Those who were full have hired themselves out for bread,
but those who were hungry have ceased to hunger.
The barren has borne seven,
but she who has many children is forlorn.
6 The Lord kills and brings to life;
he brings down to Sheol and raises up.
7 The Lord makes poor and makes rich;
he brings low and he exalts.
8 He raises up the poor from the dust;
he lifts the needy from the ash heap
to make them sit with princes
and inherit a seat of honor.
For the pillars of the earth are the Lord‘s,
and on them he has set the world.
9 “He will guard the feet of his faithful ones,
but the wicked shall be cut off in darkness,
for not by might shall a man prevail.
10 The adversaries of the Lord shall be broken to pieces;
against them he will thunder in heaven.
The Lord will judge the ends of the earth;
he will give strength to his king
and exalt the horn of his anointed.”
Norway’s Defender of Life Børre Knudsen Dead at 76
(August 18) Norwegian Bishop Børre Knudsen died quietly in his home near Tromsø Sunday morning, surrounded by his family. Norway’s most prominent pro-Life leader had suffered worsening Parkinson’s Disease in recent years. His passing sparked a wave of praise from Christian and even secular publications across Norway. An editorial in the Christian daily Dagen entitled “Heartfelt Thanks, Borre Knudsen” described him as “a unique person. His warm heart, his gentle zeal and his steadfastness stand as strong testimony to a life of selfless service for the Life that God created.”
“When the history of our times is written,” Dagen continues, “Borre Knudsen will be one future generations will hear about. Knudsen’s struggle is not driven by opposition to women’s rights or the preservation of traditional gender roles, but by a strong commitment to protect life itself.”
Vårt Land writes, “Borre Knudsen will go down in history as one of the most important churchly personalities of our time, but both he and his family had to pay a high price because he stood out front in the abortion battle.”
Bishop Knudsen was known throughout Norway and beyond for his gentle demeanor but uncompromising struggle against legalized abortion, beginning when the Norwegian law was adopted in 1978. Protesting the law, he refused to carry out government duties assigned to state church pastors, such as keeping official records, and refused his salary, but continued his pastoral service to his congregation.
This protest was modeled after the Church’s resistance against the World War II Nazi occupation of Norway. When the occupation government attempted to transform the Church along their lines and brainwash children as was then being done in Germany, the bishops wrote a Confession known as “The Church’s Foundation” (Kirkens Grunn). This confessed that the Church is bound to God’s Word, that Word and Sacrament cannot be reshaped by the government, and that parents must resist government efforts to pervert their children’s faith. On Easter Day 1942 this Confession was read from the pulpit in Lutheran churches all over Norway. Most pastors then resigned their state appointments, refusing to serve the government or to accept their government salaries, but continuing their pastoral services. The bishops and many pastors were imprisoned, but the Church remained free and faithful.
Following the Kirkens Grunn model, Knudsen continued to serve his parish despite government efforts to remove him, until the Norwegian Supreme Court ruled against him in 1983. He was not, however, defrocked at that time and continued his ministry in a valgmenighet, a Norwegian form of congregation nominally within the state church, but independent of its bishops. On Easter Day 1991, Knudsen and several other pastors formed the Strandebarm Deanery (Prosti), also called the “Norwegian Church in Exile.” The Deanery viewed itself as continuing the historic faith and practice of the Norwegian Church, but outside the control of the government and the government-appointed bishops. It held to confessional Lutheran positions, and thus opposed the state church, on such matters as abortion, homosexuality, and ordination of women.
Knudsen was consecrated bishop for the Deanery in 1997, and this led to his being defrocked in 2001. He continued serving in the Deanery until 2011, when he retired for health reasons. Bishop Thor Henrik With was consecrated in 2012 to replace Knudsen for the congregations in northern Norway. These congregations constituted themselves into what is now called The Evangelical-Lutheran Diocese in Norway. It cooperates closely with the Mission Province in Sweden and the Evangelical Lutheran Mission Diocese in Finland. Bishop Knudsen was one of the four Lutheran bishops who assisted Bishop Walter Obare of Kenya when he consecrated the first Mission Province bishop, Arne Olsson, in 2005.
Bishop Knudsen led an increasingly controversial series of protest actions in defense of the unborn as long as his health permitted. He was the object of much hatred and abuse by militant abortion supporters. He maintained a gentle but steadfast attitude in the face of much persecution. His family, especially his children, were also targeted for persecution.
Public attitudes toward Bishop Knudsen have mellowed considerably in light of his consistent and gentle witness. He is the subject of a book entitled A Priest and a Plague (En Prest og en Plage) and a full-length documentary film of the same title. The film was released in Norway earlier this year and shown all over that country. Norwegian TV has scheduled a nation-wide prime time broadcast on Tuesday (August 19). The film has been released on DVD in Scandinavia (in Region2 format), and is expected to be released in North America in October.
Coverage (in Norwegian) of Børre Knudsen’s passing:
Link to documentary film website [a DVD is available in Scandinavia, but has not yet been released in North America … it will have English subtitles]:
Christopher C. Barnekov, PhD
Scandinavia House Fort Wayne
1925 Saint Joe Center RD
Fort Wayne, IN 46825
A while ago I renamed my blog a “blahg.” This is one of those. Not real exciting. More of the “blah” kind of thing. But important for our life together as a synod.
The 2010 Synod convention sought to restore visitation circuits to their primary purpose. The 2013 convention decided to reflect that restoration by also restoring the historical name “circuit visitor.” Some of us, myself included, have trouble making the switch from “circuit counselor” to “circuit visitor.” Earlier today I sent out an email to district presidents in which I got it consistently wrong. Consistent, but wrong. Old habits die hard.
The convention also sought to enhance the procedure for electing circuit visitors, moving away from congregations mailing in ballots to having circuit forums meet to select these important officers. Several of the postcards that congregations have been receiving to call attention to their convention preparation responsibilities have called particular attention to preparations for the circuit forums that will select circuit visitors for the next three years. One of those preparations is the nomination of one or more active or retired pastors for consideration by the forum for the circuit visitor position.
Every congregation of the circuit should consider nominating one or more pastors from within the circuit or possibly living just outside the circuit to serve in this important position. The name(s) and biographical information, including specific experience, number of years as a member of the Synod, present position, offices previously held in the district or the Synod, and any particular qualifications for the office, should be sent to the current circuit visitor prior to the forum.
Which brings me to the email I sent earlier today to the district presidents (with terminology now properly corrected to protect the embarrassed):
EMAIL MESSAGE TO ALL DISTRICT PRESIDENTS:
We are receiving questions regarding circuit forum elections of circuit visitors, namely, if congregations do not submit nominations or do not submit them prior to the forums, what is the forum to do?
Bylaw 5.2.2 (d) (1) appears to make floor nominations at the time of the circuit forum less than possible. If the current circuit visitor is to have all of the information at hand to make his presentations to the forum (including such information as is listed in Bylaw 18.104.22.168 [c]), he will need to have the names and required information prior to the meeting.
This makes suggestions of names by district presidents important (Bylaw 5.2.2 [b]), especially if they are made aware that no nominations are coming or expected from circuit congregations. District presidents then have the opportunity/responsibility to suggest names (along with accompanying bio information) to circuit visitors prior to their forums so that the forum will have names to consider.
Circuit visitors should note, therefore, that if they are not receiving nominations, the solution is to inform their district presidents so that the district presidents have time to suggest names and provide information. District presidents have the opportunity to suggest names anyway, even if nominations are made by circuit congregations, which names the forum may (or may not) choose to consider. But in such case when no nominations are made by circuit congregations, it is essential that the district president become involved so that the forum does have names to consider.
It is good that district presidents have the opportunity to suggest names for circuit forums to consider. It is especially good that district presidents are able to suggest names when there are insufficient nominations. But I expect district presidents would also agree that it is best when a circuit selects the pastor who will serve as its circuit visitor for the next three years using primarily a list of nominees provided by the congregations of the circuit.