Marching to the Service of Blessing for the Deaconesses – Left to right: LCSA Pastors; LCMS First Vice President Herbert Mueller; Bishop Wilhelm Weber, Lutheran Church in South Africa; Pastor Stephen Rosebrock, Assistant Pastor, Hope Lutheran Church, St. Louis, Liturgist for the Service

NoteThis sermon was preached in St. Paul’s Lutheran Church, Arcadia, Tshwane (Pretoria), South Africa on 28 October 2011 for the blessing of the first deaconesses in the Lutheran Church in Southern Africa, a partner church of The Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod.  The deaconesses were trained in an intensive course over two years by Deaconess Grace Rao of LCMS World Relief/Human Care.  In attendance in the service were the members of the LCSA Church Council, many pastors and Women’s League members of that sister church.  Presiding for the ceremony was Bishop Wilhelm Weber, Bishop of the LCSA.  To say the least, it was a day full of joy in the Lord!

Bishop Weber, Deans, Pastors, beloved brothers, and people of the Lutheran Church in Southern Africa, students and teachers at the seminary, guests from the LCMS – and especially you, the ladies who have completed these intensive deaconess courses taught by Deaconess Grace Rao.

It is my honor to bring greetings to you this day from President Matthew Harrison, and to represent our Synod as together we celebrate God’s gifts. I am humbled by your example and by your desire to serve the Lord Jesus – may God bless you and keep you in His Word.

The Word of God that comes to us this day is 2 Corinthians 8:1-9.

As we begin, you must see this passage in light of the unity of the Church.  The Church is One.  We confess in the creed, one, holy, Christian and apostolic Church, because we are united by faith, to the One Lord Jesus, and to one another. To be specific about this text, Paul is using the generosity of the Macedonians as an example for the Corinthians in their giving to the collection for the saints in Jerusalem. Even from their poverty, the Macedonians gave generously, giving themselves first to the Lord, so Paul wants to motivate the Corinthians to complete their portion of the gift.

Here’s what this has to do with the unity of the Church.  In the book of Acts, the Church began with Pentecost in Jerusalem.  At first, most Christians were also Jewish. But as the Church grew and expanded in Antioch, many Gentiles were brought in. This brought conflict, which the Church addressed in the Apostolic Council in Acts 15 – keeping the Gospel at center. But then there came a famine in Jerusalem, so that the Jewish Christians were suffering terribly, poor and starving.

So Paul had this idea that the Gentile Christians should gather a large offering to bring relief and help to these suffering saints in Jerusalem. This would show the unity, the oneness of the Church, by the gifts of Christ for the Church.  In chapter 9 Paul says this offering, not only supplies the needs of the saints, but is also overflowing in many thanksgivings to God from both Jew and Gentile, showing in a tangible way how the Church is One in Christ.

In a similar way, our service this morning is a sign of the unity of our churches today.  A sign that the body of Christ is one and that Christ gives great gifts. You invited Grace Rao to come from the LCMS to teach. So we share together in the grace of God. We share in teaching and we share in learning. Teachers are encouraging students and students encouraging teachers. This all grows from the fact our churches are One in Christ.

New Deaconesses

Left to Right: Deaconess Deborah Rockrohe, soon-to-be missionary as director of deaconess program at Lutheran Theoogical Seminary, Pretoria (LCSA); Deaconess Grace Rao, of LCMS World Relief/Human Care, who did an excellent job teaching the intensive courses; New Deaconesses - Nancy Sephai; Maria Phogojane; Sheila Letlole; Thulisiwe Bhengu; Esther Mathulwe; Thembekile Buthulezi; LCMS First Vice President Herbert Mueller

That’s why I am honored to bring the Word of God for you this day.  Because in this Word of God we share, we are truly rich, in the Lord Jesus.   In fact, no matter what else we do not have, if we have the Lord Jesus in His Word, we have everything we need.  Together we are rich.

However, if we did not have Jesus in His Word, no matter how much money we might have, we would be the poorest of the poor.  For if we do not have Jesus, we really have nothing.

Think of this for a bit. If we look at ourselves without the Lord Jesus – what are we?  In my Bible study with the Church Council, I said that without the Lord Jesus, we are like the chicken where the head has been chopped off.  He might move and flop around for a few seconds, but as fast as he goes, he has no head, he is lost, and he is dying.

Even when we think we have everything, without Jesus, we really have nothing. Moruti Tswaedi reminded us Wednesday that our parents, Adam and Eve, after they had fallen into sin, had nothing.  Even the fig leaves they tried to cover themselves with were drying up and crumbling away.

You and I know this, too.  When we act on our own.  When we do not care what God says or wants.  When we push ourselves in front of others, we may think that is the way to go.  But like Adam and Eve’s fig leaves, it all comes to nothing… and may even throw away the gifts of God.

Our Lord calls us daily to REPENT – that is, to see the poverty of that way, the way that leads to death.  And by the Holy Spirit in His Word, our Lord wants us to see our true riches in Jesus Christ, crucified and raised from the dead.

 For this is what God has done by His grace in Jesus. For the Lord Jesus, the eternal Son of God, though He is rich – the King of kings and Lord of Lords, the one who fills the universe, who owns, not only the earth, but everything there is – it all belongs to Him. Yet, for our sake, He became poor.  He gave it up. When He was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the virgin Mary, He came down to us.

Then, as God in our flesh, he humbled Himself.  He became poor, as Jesus said, Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no where to lay His head. He came down even more, suffering under Pontius Pilate, came down all the way to the cross, all the way to death and the grave. He took our spiritual poverty into Himself, for the Scripture says, God made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God. So because Jesus takes all our sin, our poverty, our death, now by His resurrection from the dead, He makes us rich.  He makes us rich with the forgiveness of our sins, with the promise of the resurrection to eternal life.  He makes us rich, by calling us, by adopting us, as the Children of God, making God our Father.  Everything that belongs to Him, He now gives us. 

By His poverty, we are made rich. 

The Bible says that baptized into Jesus, we are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession, that we might declare the excellencies of Him who called us out of darkness into His own marvelous light (1 Peter 2:9).  A people for God’s own possession, a people God marked out for Himself.  In another place it says, you are not your own, you were bought with a price (1 Corinthians 6:19).

As the Catechism says, Christ has redeemed me, a lost and condemned person, purchased and won me from all sins, from death and from the power of the devil, not with gold or silver, but with His holy precious blood, and His innocent suffering and death, that I may be His own, and live under Him in His kingdom, and serve Him… Jesus makes us rich in His gifts…  And in the richness of His gifts… we serve Him together.

Our temptation as churches is often to think of ourselves as poor, that because we don’t have enough money, we are weak, that we are poor and have little or nothing to give.  But our Lord calls us to see today that we have, together, the greatest treasure in all the world, in Jesus Christ.

  • In our confessional service on Wednesday, our Lord gave us riches beyond measure in the forgiveness of sins.  You have those riches always to share.
  • In the Lord’s Supper, we have, given into our very mouths, the most precious things in the universe, the body and blood of Jesus, for the forgiveness of sins.
  • Sunday after Sunday in Church, as well as whenever we open our Bibles, we open up a treasure chest of Spiritual riches.

By Christ’s poverty on the cross, by His sacrifice, we are now RICH!  And when we receive that treasure, when we receive the forgiveness of sins, when we believe the promise and Christ gives His righteousness, He makes us RICH beyond measure!

St. Ambrose first told the story of St. Lawrence, a leader of the church in Rome. When the emperor’s representative demanded that he turn over to him the riches of the Church, he asked for three days to gather them up. First, he gave away to the poor all the money the church had, then he gathered all the sick, the blind, the lame, the hurting, the poor, all the people who had been gathered into the church and said, Here are the riches of the church!

You see, the true treasure of the church is the forgiveness of sins in the Lord Jesus, the life of Christ given to us.  These riches are the possession of every believer in Jesus.  For the true riches of Christ’s Church are not measured in dollars, but are measured in people who know the Lord Jesus Christ, who are baptized into His name, and are living in His forgiveness. The riches of the church are given by the Lord Jesus Himself when he forgives us, makes us His own, and fills us with His Spirit. And these riches of Christ are given away through you Pastors as you proclaim the Word of God and forgive sins.

That’s also why, the real riches of the Church are present here, here in the people Jesus has forgiven, that Jesus has given His Church.  YOU are a treasure to the Lord Jesus because He shed His blood for you.  So the treasure is here in you, dear pastors…  And here in you, dear ladies, whom we are recognizing today.

You are being trained as deaconesses.  You are part of the treasure of the Church.  For you know the Lord Jesus.  You are giving away the riches of Christ’s love, the riches of His mercy and His care for poor, hurting sinners. For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, who though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor, so that by His poverty, we might become rich! (2 Corinthians 8:9).

And in this way also, the Church is One…  As St. Paul was seeking to demonstrate. For the Lord has raised you up, dear ladies, through the congregations of the LCSA.  You have been gathered and prepared and sent here.

And another part of the Church has provided training and help through people like Deaconess Grace and others.

So the Church is One… Because we receive the same gifts of Christ.  He makes us rich.

And now these deaconesses in training are being blessed and given to the Church, to learn and to grow in service, to work with the Pastors and congregations, to be servants in the Church, to be the hands and feet of Jesus to care for people, to help bring the riches of Christ to His people.

We thank God for you today…  We thank God for these ladies:   

Thulisiwe Bhengu
Thembekile Buthulezi
Esther Mathulwe
Maria Phogojane
Sheila Letlole
Nancy Sephai

So the Church is One, and it is rich in receiving and giving the gifts of the Lord Jesus!

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

+ Herbert Mueller
LCMS First Vice President
28 October 2011