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Sermon at the Ordination and Installation of Christopher Biernacki, 31 May

June 5, 2015 Leave a comment

There was no audio recording that I know of.

2 Timothy 4:1-8

I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.

For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that Day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing.

Oh, Chris.  What a great day for you, for Stephanie, for Our Redeemer, for your Mom and Dad.  What a LSB Icon_048great day for Heavenly Host, and a great day, I know for Pastor Paavola, who watched you grow up, encouraged you to study for the ministry and is now here to ordain you.  There is also a great deal of comfort for older pastors in watching younger pastors come to the altar of the Good Shepherd to enter into the office of holy ministry in much the same way we did however long ago it was for us.  It’s validating for us and for the Church, not just this congregation or the one you grew up in.  The work of the Gospel, the work of proclaiming the kingdom, goes on, is continued, today in you and Our Redeemer.

I chose for my text today, one of those touchstones for pastoral ministry, the beginning of 2 Timothy, chapter four.  [Read text.]  And I chose this text because it is the perfect encapsulation of the many different things that are happening today as you are ordained and installed here.  There’s both curb and guidance here as well as comfort for you, for the saints here at Our Redeemer, and for my brother pastors too.   We need both curb and guidance from God’s Word, as well as comfort.  And this text has that tone of wise mentor pastor speaking to his protégé about it.  And I can tell you as I close in on twenty years of ordained ministry that it really doesn’t matter, especially after the first few years, how long you’ve been doing this, these words from Paul today are sage counsel.  Come back to them over and over again, and you will not stray too far from what the Lord of the Church is doing in you today.

“I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom.”  “I charge you,” says Paul.  Other translations have “solemnly charge” you.  If this isn’t the kind of language appropriate for a day like today, I don’t know what could be.  Paul is using the formula of a solemn oath calling on Christ Jesus as righteous judge, His incarnation and His kingdom come.  And you had Gibbs so I know you know what Jesus’ kingdom is.  Yes, the pastor who watched you grow up is ordaining you today, but he is but the hands and mouth, not merely of the Church, but of the Lord of the Church to put you properly into this holy office of ministry, the predigamt, as we used to call it, the preaching office.  An office so set apart that we do not allow just anyone to hold it, to stand in it even for a moment, but “Our churches teach that no one should publicly teach in the Church, or administer the Sacraments, without a rightly ordered call.”  (AC XIV)  Today is the certifying that your call from Jesus through the saints here at Our Redeemer is rightly ordered.  What we do today, we do for your congregation’s sake as much as we do for your sake and you’ll both need that assurance before long.

Apostle and Bishop and Pastor Paul says, “For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths.”  Brothers already ordained, is this not the case where you serve?

We live in changing times.  The talk of our vocation all over the Internet is the Pew Center confirming in a scientific survey what most pastors were already seeing and sharing anecdotally, a drop in identification as a Christian and a drop in affiliation with local congregations.  It sure seems like that’s the case and the folks at Pew said, “Nope, you’re not crazy.  We asked ‘em.  It’s happening.”  In my community, in Putnam County, in the county you grew up in, Chris, it’s happening.  I’m sure it’s happening here in Florence too, with Lauderdale County here, we rhinestones on the buckle of the Bible Belt.

Just after Easter, the phone rang and it was a pastor of a neighboring church out west of us, toward Baxter, and I guess it started out as a conversation, but he was calling every church in the county and trying to gather up their attendance numbers for Easter.  He was trying to put together a good figure for just how many people in Putnam County were in church on Easter Sunday.  Because I think it’s one thing to see a number like 70 percent in a Pew Research survey and completely another to get a real sense of what actually happened on a particular day in a particular place.  And so I asked him how it was shaking out.  He speculated with me that his best estimate was around 30 percent of the county was actually in church on Easter.  And that number shocked me and disturbed me.

It shocked me because I remember as a kid growing up just east of here in Georgia, we had to set up folding chairs down the aisles for Christmas and Easter.  It disturbed me because I don’t know of a church that has to do that these days.  And it’s not because they haven’t heard of Jesus; Jesus is on the billboards in our county and here too I’m sure.  It disturbs me because people are walking away from Jesus because the people no longer will endure the teachings of God become human flesh for the sake of saving sinners from their sin and the power of hell.  They will not put up with the teaching of the bodily resurrection of Jesus from the dead.  They have not endured.  They’ve preferred instead the myths that come to pass for spirituality today.  You know them.  “You don’t need to confess you’re “a poor, miserable sinner” because you’re not a bad person.  You’re not nearly as bad as those mean people in the churches say you are.  You’re not nearly as in need of God’s forgiveness as some other people you know.  You need to find a more positive religion.  In fact, maybe you don’t need organized religion at all.  They’re all just a bunch of losers and hypocrites anyway.  You can believe in God on your own time and your own way and be a more authentic Christian.”  And when the people from Pew call they still say, “Yes, I’m a Christian.”  But is it any wonder now that more and more people are saying, “None,” when asked about their religious self-identification?  We live in changing times.  And what we see happening around us is not unprecedented if St. Paul is writing about it to young pastor Timothy.

But, “as for you” the Apostle says, “As for you, be serious about these things.”  Realize this is our lot.  We were born for this time.  We can bemoan all we like that it might have been easier 50 years ago in the US, but I might argue that’s probably true.  The situation we find ourselves in today did not happen overnight.  While for generations we took for granted that this nation was a Christian nation, cultural Christianity came to replace the true message of Gospel.  And when that cultural identity became threatened, we responded not with God’s truth but with identity politics, with power not with the authority of truth.  That is, we responded with a moral majority, not because it was moral but because it was the majority.  A Lutheran recognizes that instantly as a theology of glory rather than the theology of the cross.

And my experience has been, even among some “lifelong Lutherans”, people will not endure sound teaching.  They will not put up with you and the God who charges you today to preach the whole counsel of God, not endorsing their lifestyle choices and myths they have fallen into.  They will not put up with the sound teaching of Small Catechism.  They will not put up with a view of humanity as taught in the Old and New Testaments.  They won’t put up with it and they won’t put up with you.  But don’t worry, you don’t work for them but it’s not like you might think.

In ordination, you are given your orders, your charge.  Servants are charged with duties.  In the era of CEO pastors and church-sanctioned institutes for pastoral leadership, this may come as a bit of a shock.  We’re not the CEOs.  We’re the servants.  We are the servants of the King, his ministers.  That language of minister/ministry is entirely religious in our country but in many other countries that language of ministry and minister is less explicitly religious and more governmental.  In monarchies (you know, monarchies, the only Biblically justifiable government; (just think of all the myths we’ve fallen into), ministers serve the King and take charge over the King’s interests in that particular area.  Like in Britain they have a Foreign Minister and a Home Minister for foreign and domestic fairs.  Likewise, today the Lord is through the church giving you charge over the affairs of His kingdom here in Florence.  It’s not yours to do with as you please.  People of Florence, it’s not yours either.  It all belongs to the King, King Jesus.  And you and your pastor are, together, to go about the work of His kingdom here, proclaiming the King’s truth to people who would prefer to be entertained and who have already given up truth for myths.

And the goal of it all?  To be poured out like a drink offering, says Paul.  To be used up in service to the king.  It’s a powerful image.  Isn’t it?  It’s kind of like this little water bottle.  What’s its purpose?  I’m pretty sure it’s purpose is to do this.  [Take a drink.]  And the end result of course is this [crush and show crushed up bottle].  But the myths of our world say different, even in the church.  The myth says the purpose of the water bottle is something different, that it’s this [show a much larger filled water bottle] not this [show the little crushed up water bottle].  A life poured out in witness and mercy and in enduring life together vs. making a name for oneself and getting big.  [Show big water bottle] theology of glory.  [Show crushed up water bottle] theology of the cross.  Theology of the world vs. the theology of God’s kingdom.  Pride vs. faithfulness.  Theology of the cult of personality and church growth vs. the theology of servanthood.  Lord, I believe.  Help, Thou, my unbelief.  If you think this is easy, you haven’t had your first church council meeting.

I say this to say know always what the Gospel is and what it isn’t.  You might think it’s easy but it’s not always clear.  A newer, bigger building is not the Gospel.  It might help the work of the Gospel but it’s not the Gospel.  The Gospel is always this: because this is Jesus on the cross, poured out, dried up and crushed for sinners, even Lutherans, even pastors.

Chris, today you join the ranks of the King’s ministers, his servants.  Remember always that what you do is not your own.  Welcome people to His house.  Proclaim His word of rebuke and pardon.  Prepare his people to be welcomed at His table and served His very own Body and Blood.  Proclaim His will for wives and husbands, parents and children, leaders and citizens.  Help them figure out the ways the King is asking them to be poured out for the sake of others, and in the end rejoice with those who have finished their lives in such a way as they awaiting the crowning glory to come in the resurrection on the Last Day.  That is, preach the Good News of the Kingdom of God, that Jesus poured Himself out for us all.  Amen.

Sermon for Lent 5

April 9, 2010 Leave a comment

Sermon for Lent 5 – Luke 20:9-18

Augustana, 2010

Click here for MP3 Audio

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.  Amen.

The text for the sermon this morning is the Gospel lesson for today, the parable of the wicked tenants.

I don’t normally do this but I want to go through the lesson verse by verse in an expository way this morning making application along the way.  There is a reason and hopefully you will have discerned it by the end, if not, don’t worry, I’ll tell you.

Keep in mind as we begin to hear this parable, this is chapter 20.  Jesus is in Jerusalem, the triumphal entry, what we celebrate as Palm Sunday next week has already happened.  Jesus is in Jerusalem teaching in the temple precincts.  The scribes, the experts in Jewish religious law are trying to find a way to trap him and Jesus is confronting them directly and they are frustrated because the thing they think he is doing, blasphemy, they can’t catch him doing.  Immediately before our reading Jesus challenged them with the question of the authority of John’s baptism.  Later in the chapter he will confront them with the question concerning whose son is the Christ and then in the hearing of all the people warn them against the scribes and their displays of religiosity.  This is the occasion for this parable.

And [Jesus] began to tell the people this parable: “A man planted a vineyard and let it out to tenants and went into another country for a long while. 10 When the time came, he sent a servant to the tenants, so that they would give him some of the fruit of the vineyard.”  Presumably, this kind of thing happened all the time in Jesus’ day.  Absentee landlords expected the fruit of the vineyard.  It seems completely fair for the owner to expect to get the fruit of the vineyard.  Right?  Of course.  I do want to make one comment on the word for time here.  “When the time came, he sent a servant…”  Presumably what time are we talking about?  Yeah, sure, harvest time.  The time when the produce would be ready, right?  When is that?  When it’s ready and not a moment too soon.  There was a wine maker that used to use this tag line in their ads, “We will sell no wine before its time.”  There are two different kinds of times.  There is four o’clock on October 3rd, and there is harvest time.  And the two are completely different.  We use the same word for time, but the Greeks, of course did not.  Chronos is the time that can be measured, October 4th, at four o’clock.  This is the other word for time and it’s kairos.  And it is one of those words that speaks of God’s timing for things.

Dr Just, in his commentary on this passage writes:

“Every time God sent a prophet to Israel, it created a “critical time,” a “right season” (καιρῷ; 20:10), because prophets speak for God… Jesus has just wept over Jerusalem “because you did not know the appointed time of your visitation” (τὸν καιρὸν τῆς ἐπισκοπῆς σου; [19:44] ) … Jesus exhorted the crowds to “examine the critical time” (καιρὸν; v. 12:56). Now this parable tests the ability of the people and the religious establishment to discern whether the “critical time” is upon them in the life and ministry of Jesus.  Are they able to see that Jesus is speaking this parable about his own rejection in Jerusalem?  Will this parable’s indictment of their participation in that rejection lead them to repentance?  The critical time is now, in this final week in Jerusalem, where Jesus is destined to die.” (Just, Luke, 762)

God’s time is not our time but when says it’s time, it’s time.  We’re obviously talking about God’s time in terms of the broad scope of salvation history but I think this holds on a personal level for us too.  There is some cross pollination for me because of the sermons of the last two days but if Jesus is truly concerned with each of his disciples as he clearly showed he was in John 14 as I preached at Don’s memorial service, and if Jesus truly knows us in the deepest and perhaps even most intimate way akin to how He knows the Father and the Father knows him, which he clearly does because he says so in John 10.  If all that holds, and I’m sure it does, then what time is it for you, for each of us?  And I mean, what kairos is it for you?  What is God doing in your life right now?  Have you been listening?  What kind of tree in his vineyard have you been?  By the way, the vineyard is Israel.  And while we’re starting here who is the vineyard owner?  Right, God.  Who are the tenants?  Be careful.  Maybe we’re not ready yet.

“But the tenants beat him and sent him away empty-handed. 11 And he sent another servant. But they also beat and treated him shamefully, and sent him away empty-handed. 12 And he sent yet a third. This one also they wounded and cast out. 13 Then the owner of the vineyard said, ‘What shall I do? I will send my beloved son; perhaps they will respect him.’ 14 But when the tenants saw him, they said to themselves, ‘This is the heir. Let us kill him, so that the inheritance may be ours.’ 15 And they threw him out of the vineyard and killed him.”  Who are the tenants again?  The scribes.  Jesus is picking a fight with them in the hearing of the people.  Who are the servants of the vineyard owner?  Right, the prophets.  Who is the son?  Right.  Jesus.  And there’s that line, “This is the heir.  Let us kill him, so that the inheritance may be ours.”  What is Jesus saying about the tenants in that line?  That’s right, that Israel is not God’s but theirs.  As the interpreters of God’s law, the vineyard, Israel, is theirs, not God’s.

There is in this reading a strong lesson for pastors.  The scribes were the religious leaders of the day.  People looked up to them, honored them, and the scribes were leading the people down the wrong path, down the path of religiousity, rather than faith in God through his Messiah Jesus.  The lie is in thinking that the ministry is done by the servants, the lie is in thinking that the grapes come from the work of the tenants.  But this is not true.  This is God’s church not mine.  I did not have two funerals this week.  Oh at the beginning of the week, I did.  But yesterday afternoon as I was thinking about everything that had gone on and thinking about this text and, really, thinking about where the Lord was challenging me as a religious leader.  It dawned on me that I did not have two funerals this week, the Lord did.  We did.  I merely brought what was mine to bring, what I hope was words of comfort in midst of death.  But you all did too.  You all made it happen.  You gave up time at work and time with family and time for yourself to honor these two men who meant so much in the life of this congregation.  The chairs, the food, man, we have good food.  Many of you must have been keeping me in prayer too, and I truly appreciate it because together, the Gospel of Jesus Christ, his victory over death and the hope of the resurrection was proclaimed in this place loudly and clearly.  And we gave glory to God to a host of friends and relatives and people in our community and outside our community.  We were a productive vineyard to the glory of our vineyard owner and I repented of my nearsightedness.

Jesus continues, “What then will the owner of the vineyard do to them? 16 He will come and destroy those tenants and give the vineyard to others.” When they heard this, they said, “Surely not!” 17 But he looked directly at them and said, “What then is this that is written:

“ ‘The stone that the builders rejected

has become the cornerstone’?

So there is a case of shifting metaphors here.  We have to shift from vineyards to construction.  So let’s make sure the shift happens clearly.  Who are the builders now?  They are the tenants, that is, they are the scribes.  The son has become, a cornerstone, or the keystone, there seems to be some confusion in translating this word.  If it’s a cornerstone, then in the construction methods of Jesus’ day it serves the same purpose as foundations and footings of buildings serve today.  The most important step is a sure foundation.  If it is the keystone or capstone, it is the stone in the very top of an arch that with its downward pressure keeps the arch in place and actually distributes the load above it down through the vertical supports of the arch.  Either way, it’s the most important part of the building.  With out it, the building crumbles.

The last line is a word from Jesus, “Everyone who falls on that stone will be broken to pieces, and when it falls on anyone, it will crush him.”  It’s worth nothing here that everyone will be either broken or crushed.  Disciples will be broken by repentance.  Unbelievers will be crushed by God’s judgment.  So Lent, then, is that time to listen more closely to the Lord, to listen to what he is calling us, to listen to what he is returning to us, to prepare to rejoice all the more in the joy of Easter Sunday as individuals and as a community of faith.  It is all part of God’s timing, his kairos.  Amen.