For Trinity and Pilgrim Lutheran Churches on the occasion of Pastor Meyerís 10th anniversary of Ordination

Text: Luke 9:51-62, 1 Kings 19:9b-21††††††††††† ††††††††††††††††††††††† †††††††††††††††††††††††† W 5th Sunday after Pentecost


 

ďFollow MeĒ


 

††††††††††† In the name of him who has called us to follow him out of the darkness and into the freedom of his marvelous light, dear brothers and sisters in Christ:Iíd like to begin this morning by thanking you for allowing me to be with you to proclaim Godís Word on this special occasion. Itís right that we take the time both to celebrate and to reflect upon certain milestone events in the life of a Church and also in the lives of the men the Lord Jesus has called to serve him in it.And so today Iím grateful to be here as together we rejoice with hearts thankful to God for the ten years that Pastor Meyer has faithfully served as an ordained minister to Christís holy bride, the Church, for whom he gave himself in love.And again, it was very kind of you to invite a guest preacher for today because it allowed Pastor Meyer a well earned break from having to prepare a sermon this week.I suspect, however, that you had an ulterior motive:namely, that after all these years youíre sick of listening to him, and you wanted to have a break too.

 

††††††††††† Anyway, I doubt that anyone remembers it, but I had the honor of preaching at the installation service for Pastor Meyer at Pilgrim, Quimby, something on the order of nine years ago.At that time I used as my text the passage from Hebrews chapter 11 that describes all the terrible things suffered throughout the ages by the prophets the Lord sent to proclaim his Word to his people:how they were mocked and flogged and imprisoned; how some were stoned, sawed in two, or killed by the sword; how they went about in rags and goatskins, destitute, mistreated, afflicted, despised, and so on. I then suggested that since this was very clearly the established biblical pattern, you would do well to welcome your new pastor with similar treatment.That way he could feel that he was walking in the steps of the great saints who went before.Sadly, from what Iíve gathered from both Pastor Meyer and his lovely wife, Gayleen, you chose to do the exact opposite.From the very beginning you embraced them with Christian love and have continued to treat them with kindness and generosity even to the present day.I canít tell you how disappointed I am that you did not heed my very helpful advice. But Iím absolutely certain that by now many (if not all) of you have come to see the error of your ways.And so I bring you glad tidings:itís not too late to start.

 

††††††††††† To further encourage you toward that noble goal, for this morning, I was tempted to select a text with a similar theme; but as satisfying as that would be for me personally, I realized that what really should be addressed on a day such as this are some of the basic biblical truths that pertain to the office of the holy ministry.Today we are celebrating ten years of someone being a pastor Ė but hereís a good Lutheran question:What does this mean?What really is a pastor?Whatís he called to do?Who exactly does he work for?By what standards should we evaluate his performance?What are some of the common mistakes that pastors need to avoid?And how can we as the people of God work with, uphold, and support the man weíve called to be our pastor?These are the sorts of things we need to be talking about today Ė especially since ten years is just a mile marker Ė a relatively short one in the lifespan of a church; and one that we hope will be multiplied many times over in the life-long ministry of Pastor Meyer.

 

All that having been said, it turns out that the Scripture lessons already appointed for today go a long way toward answering some of these questions.In the Old Testament and Gospel readings in particular we see men being called by God to serve him.And in response to Godís call, while we see faithful willingness on the part of a few, we also see a lot of hedging, waffling, misunderstanding, and other mistakes being made by the majority. Rather remarkable isnít it?The ways of the Lord are often mysterious; but surely we can detect his divine providence and wisdom in having these particular lessons so chocked full of examples of poor ministry practices appointed for the very day that weíre celebrating Pastor Meyersí service to the church.Is it just a coincidence?I donít think so.

 

But letís talk about the call into ministry, shall we?In todayís Gospel reading Jesus steps up to a fellow and says, ďYou, follow me.ĒNow certainly there is sense in which every Christian is called to follow Jesus. Each one of us is to step out in faith at the summons of Christ, trust him as our Savior from sin, and continue to follow as we learn from him how to faithfully walk in the ways of his righteousness. Itís the common calling of every Christian.And yet, we recognize a difference: Elijah, Elisha, Jeremiah, the other prophets, the disciples of Jesus Ė they were given particular call.They were appointed by the Lord to speak on his behalf.In many cases the Lord actually said, ďIím going to put my Words into your mouth and you are to say to whomever I send you exactly what I tell you to say.ĒAnd we understand that the Lord does the same thing today.He chooses some men in particular and appoints them to be his spokesmen.The only difference now is that instead of standing in front of a guy and saying, ďHey you, follow meĒ, he says it through the Church.A congregation of Christians, like yourselves, who are the body of Christ and who possess his Holy Spirit, are the ones who say to a man, ďHey you, come speak Godís Word to us.ĒThatís what you said to Pastor Meyer once upon a time Ė but that isnít the only thing he heard. And no, Iím not talking about those strange, sinister voices he sometimes hears in his head.What I mean is that through your call he heard the voice of Jesus say, ďFollow me and be the shepherd of this flock that I am entrusting to your care. You speak my Word to them.Ē

 

And that brings us to an important distinction that needs to be made: though a pastor is called by a congregation to serve in it, his allegiance always is first and foremost to Christ.Getting that wrong is the formula for disaster.For example, a pastor who makes the mistake of believing that he works for the congregation will always be tempted to say only the things he knows his employers want to hear.Thatís what the false prophets did.They soft-peddled the severity of Godís wrath against sin and they toned down the requirements of his holy law. They told the people that God was pleased with them just the way they were Ė despite the fact that they were engaged in a wide variety of loveless and idolatrous practices. Watering down and distorting Godís Word made the false prophets popular with the people and in turn made their own lives easy and successful Ė at least by the standards of this world.The trouble, of course, is that they werenít being faithful to the Lord.And by distorting his message, they led people to perdition.In contrast, the true prophets and apostles spoke Godís Word faithfully.In the process, they often had to say things that people didnít want to hear.Funny thing about sinful people is that they donít like to have their sins pointed out. Thatís why Godís true prophets were treated so badly, as I mentioned before.

 

But the true prophet Ė or pastor Ė understands that the message he proclaims is not his own.The Words are those of the Lord who called him.He also understands that only by proclaiming Godís Law and his wrath against sin in all their terrifying fury can he lead his people to despair of finding any hope of salvation in themselves.This he must do precisely so that he can direct terrified hearts and souls to the repentance that leads to life.Then and only then can he proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ crucified as Godís sacrifice of atonement Ė and how God declares holy and righteousness those whose faith and trust are in the crucified and risen Lord Jesus.Getting to this powerful message is always the faithful pastorís goal because it is what gives forgiveness of sin, life, and salvation to the people he serves Ė but to get there, he must first say the things that hurt to hear. And so a faithful pastor is sort of like a dentist who must drill out whatís decayed before he fills with gold, or doctor who must use a scalpel to cut out a lethal cancer so that he can heal.The difference is that pastor uses Words of Law by which the Lord kills sinners so that with Words of Godís grace in Christ the Lord can raise up and give eternal life to the holy children of God.

 

All of which calls for dedication and for great care to be exercised.The man called by God to serve his church must understand that he serves it for the Lord who will one day call his ministry into account.Therefore he cannot be overly-occupied with worldly things or with personal concerns as were some whom Jesus called to follow.Nor can he be a hot-head who wants to call down fire from heaven to incinerate those who are less receptive to letting Jesus into certain areas of their lives.No, with patience and with love for the people entrusted to his care he must shepherd them along, gently guiding, teaching, and at times admonishing them to walk faithfully in the steps of the Lord Jesus who bids us all ďFollow me.Ē

 

And this, I hasten to add, is very rarely an easy task. Especially in our day as the culture in which we live is continuing its steady decline, slouching ever downward so that now vices that would make the inhabitants of Sodom and Gomorrah blush with shame are commonplace, itís becoming increasingly difficult.As the spiritual darkness around us thickens in whatís now being called the post Christian era, fewer and fewer people are interested in the kingdom of God and the righteousness that comes by faith in Jesus.Meanwhile those who do consider themselves to be spiritual seekers usually do their church shopping in all the wrong places.Itís to eastern religions, or to Scientologyóa faith created by a science fiction writer for crying out loud, or the to feel good psycho-babble of Joel Osteen and those of his ilk that people are turning. The result is that most traditional Christian churches like this one in Americaís heartland are getting smaller, grayer, and having an increasingly hard time making ends meet.

 

And that leads us to the question of how the performance of a called pastor should be evaluated.One method, the one thatís used most often because it aligns so well with our bottom line way of thinking, is simply to keep score.Weíll measure progress by counting the number of coverts, or by analyzing attendance figures, or Ė even more important Ė by calculating what comes in through the collection plate.Itís a pity that this method is most popular, because the pastor who falls into the trap of determining his success or failure in this way is the guy who sets his hand to the plow and keeps looking back to see how far heís come.Heís looking to see how much heís done so that he can feel good about his accomplishments.Jesus said that such a man is not fit for the kingdom.The indication is that the focus of the pastor should always be forward on the job yet to be done.Then the pastor will see that he is like a man trying to empty an ocean with a water glass.Heíll see that the greater part of the task is always before him, and that by comparison what heís done so far sure doesnít amount to much.

 

But then how should the pastor or his congregation evaluate his performance? This is the question the prophet Elijah was grappling with in todayís Old Testament lesson.He too lived in a dark age when people were fleeing the true faith in droves.King Ahab and his wicked wife Jezebel had introduced Baal worship into Israel.In a very short span of time it all but replaced the worship of the true God.The altars of the Lord had been torn down and most of his faithful prophets had been killed.In response, you may remember how Elijah called for a showdown at Mount Carmel.There he stood alone against the 450 prophets of Baal.A huge crowd had gathered there to see which deity would prove himself by sending fire from heaven to light the sacrifices that had been offered.Iím sure you remember the story:how the prophets of Baal cried out all day to their nonexistent god, howling, dancing about, and even cutting themselves with knives to show the fervor of their devotion. Nothing happened.They struck out completely. But then it was Elijahís turn at bat.He offered a brief prayer and immediately fire fell from on high and consumed his sacrifice, stone altar and all.

 

Elijah was convinced that this glorious display of Godís power would be the turning point and that all Israel would hear of it and return to the true faith.He thought he would be spearheading a nationwide revival.He could not have been more wrong.What happened instead was that the wicked queen hired assassins and put a price on the prophetís head.No one in all of supposedly now faithful Israel came to Elijahís defense.They werenít any more faithful to the Lord or supportive of his prophets than they had been before.So Elijah got scared and ran for his life.He felt like a total failure.He ended up at Mount Sinai.Like a dying salmon seeking the source waters of its origin, the prophet was looking for the God who revealed himself there amid fire, thunderous storms, and earthquakes.In his mind was this question, ďLord, why donít you reveal yourself like that again?Why donít you come down here and really show yourself.Then we could turn these people around.Then they would be faithful to you.Ē

 

So the Lord gave Elijah fire, and storm, and earthquakeóbut he was in none of those things. Instead the Lord revealed himself to the prophet in a quiet whispering voice.And in that quiet whisper he told Elijah that despite all the terrible things that were happening, he was still very much in control of what was going on, and that through his barely audible Word and the power of his Spirit he was keeping 7000 people close to him, and that he was still turning their hearts to the truth, to repentance, and to faith in him.That, according to the Lord, is the measure of success for the man he calls to serve his people:not to perform great feats of awe, not to amass vast numbers of converts; but simply to be the instrument, through which the quiet whisper of the Lord is heard; to faithfully speak what God has said so that through his powerful Word he may continue to bring souls, one at a time, to repentance and to faith and to keep them there unto eternal life.

 

In closing, you may have noticed that during the course of this message I have used the privilege of the pulpit to take what some might consider to be a few cheap shots at Pastor Meyer.If this has disturbed you (though I canít imagine why it would) I should explain that I feel that the Lord has appointed me to be the thorn in his flesh to keep him humble and reliant on Godís grace.Somebodyís got to do it.And so the Lord in his wisdom chose someone who delights in it.For me itís a labor of love Ė one that you can see I take very seriously.But that having been said, and his many and manifest faults notwithstanding, I know that in Pastor Meyer you are blessed to have a shepherd who is faithful to his call to follow the Good Shepherd, and who is conscientious and bold to declare to you the whole counsel of God.For the last nine of his ten years of ministry he has served you by preaching Godís Law and Gospel Ė something he is able to do well because he applies them first to himself before he applies them to you. Through his ministry you hear regularly the voice of Jesus declaring to you the forgiveness of your sins.He has been Godís instrument to baptize, to teach, and to feed you with Christís own body and blood.He has consecrated your unions in marriage.He has prayed with you, and for you.He has warned those who were going astray.He has brought the Lordís counsel to bear in times of conflict and confusion.He has comforted you in times of sorrow and blessed the graves of your dead.Throughout it all his one goal has been to give you the Lord Jesus Christ:his Word, his forgiveness, and his salvation.He has been the mouth through which the quiet whisper of the Lord calls unto you, ďFollow me.Ē

 

For all of these reasons you are blessed to call him pastor.For my part, though itís much less a distinction, I am honored to call him my friend.(Heís waited ten years for me to say something nice to him.And heís going to have to wait at least that long before he hears it again.)And I would be remiss if I failed to mention someone else whom Christ has called to serve you if a bit more indirectly.I speak of Gayleen Meyer, of course.Though I know she serves in many capacities, lending her talents wherever they're needed, her primary role and the one she does best is to minister to your minister. It is she who keeps him able to serve you by faithfully doing so much more than faithful Aaron holding up the prophetís hands.Therefore, in gratitude to God for the work he does through both of them, I invite you to stand and join with me in singing the common doxology Ö


 

Soli Deo Gloria!