[Note: This two part article was originally written as a portion of a larger piece prepared in 2002 for a joint meeting of the seminary faculties and Council of Presidents. Yet it is still just as relevant today and is offered for prayerful consideration by all.]
How do we work with each other when we have differences we ought not ignore and divisions we must not allow to stand? The answer is at one and the same time simple, yet also impossible for us – apart from Christ and His Spirit.
The simple fact is, we are called to deal with each other as brothers and sisters in Christ. Pastors, you are brothers in Christ and brothers in office. Brothers who live by and live under the same Word of God. Brothers with one teacher, one master, one confession, one Lord.
And WHEN we must deal with diversity and differences among us, we must do so as brothers. This is not an option, not an opportunity. This is the only way – for Christ has made us – pastors and lay people – brothers and sisters in Christ.
Now let’s review some specifics of what this means:
- We must be careful how we speak of one another – because we are brothers in Christ. We must be careful what we call one another because each of us is someone for whom Christ died. We must not call each other names or demonize those who are opposed to us. Even as we discuss differences, we must be careful to protect the reputation of a brother, because that’s what he is – a brother.
- We are mutually accountable to one another and are called to live as brothers in a relationship of trust under the Word of God. When we hear something about a brother, we are called to “put the best construction on everything.” We are not to spread rumors but when we have a question about someone, we are to go to the brother and speak with him privately. This also means that when a brother approaches us with a concern about something we have done or said, we do not ignore or belittle him because “we know we are right.” Instead we go together to the Word of God to examine the issue and find our answer. We must all recognize that just because we have God in mind when we are taking a course of action does not mean that we are right. We realize instead that we need one another to help us remain faithful to the Word.
- When one of us develops an idea that may be different from what has been commonly accepted doctrine or practice, we do not simply go forward on our own, but we bring it to our brothers, remembering we are committed to the same confession and remembering how easy it is to develop blind spots. We are not alone. God has given us brothers. And here it is disingenuous to go only to brothers we are sure will immediately agree with us.
- We are to be very careful about taking stands of conscience. George Wollenburg, in an unpublished essay prepared for the Council of Presidents in 1975, writes, “It is therefore a most serious matter to say, ‘My conscience impels me to do this.’ A person who says this lightly or without the most agonizing searching of his own heart and the will of God as it is expressed in Holy Scripture is guilty of blasphemy in the most serious meaning of that word. By such a statement he is also seeking to persuade others to agree with him for he seeks to instruct their consciences as well as his own. To appeal to conscience can only mean that it is out of the fear of God’s judgment and out of terror before God that one acts in order that there might not be uncertainty and doubt about salvation.” (George Wollenburg, 1975 unpublished essay, p. 4)
- When we do believe a brother has given offense, we are called to go to that brother with the purpose of working to win him back, to be reconciled to him. In just a little bit of light heartedness, I have called this the “You Go Principle.” Compare with me Matthew 18 and Matthew 5. In Matthew 18 we read, “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother” (Matthew 18:15). And the implication is, keep on going until you are reconciled or until it is abundantly clear that you cannot resolve it without help from others to discuss the issues in good faith. And if you recognize that you are the one who has given offense, Jesus in Matthew 5 instructs, “If you are offering your gift at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift” (Matthew 5:23-24). Why? Because you have a brother or sister with whom you need to be reconciled. There are a couple of things I want you to notice about these two Scriptures. What does the Lord tell you? How do you treat a brother with whom you have a difference or who has given offense? YOU GO! In Matthew 5 you are the offender – so you go to be reconciled to your brother. In Matthew 18, he has sinned against you. No matter. YOU GO! Why? He’s your brother and you need to be reconciled to him. You need to gain him back as a brother.
There is much more that can be said on this, more than we have time for here. However, the basic point is very simple. Whenever we deal with diversities and differences within our synodical fellowship – whatever the arena, whatever the relationship – we pastors are called to treat each other as brothers, men who have one Lord and master – Jesus.
Continued in Part Two
As filming of “The First Rosa” documentary begins in Selma, Ala., the week of Sept. 22, 2014, the Rev. Jon Vieker, senior assistant to the LCMS president, interviews two of the actors playing Rosa J. Young at different stages of her life, Jordan Donegan and Jasmine Gatewood. Planned for a 2015 release and produced by The Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod, the film, titled “The First Rosa,” is a story about Young (1890-1971), who was instrumental in founding and promoting 30 Lutheran elementary schools and 35 Lutheran congregations in Alabama. Her legacy is unparalleled as an educator, confessor and church planter for Christ and His Church. Learn more about the film at http://www.lcms.org/thefirstrosa.
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.”