Monday, September 28, 2009

Pentecost 17

Pentecost 17
Ephesians 4:7-16 (St. Matthew Apostle)
Bror Erickson

[7] But grace was given to each one of us according to the measure of Christ's gift. [8] Therefore it says,
"When he ascended on high he led a host of captives,
and he gave gifts to men."

[9] ( In saying, "He ascended," what does it mean but that he had also descended into the lower parts of the earth? [10] He who descended is the one who also ascended far above all the heavens, that he might fill all things.) [11] And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, [12] to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, [13] until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, [14] so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. [15] Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, [16] from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love. Ephes. 4:7-16 (ESV)

To equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ. Until we all attain to the unity the faith and the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and from by the wavers and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes.

Equip saints for ministry, for building up the body of Christ. That is what I am supposed to be doing, equipping you for ministry, for the building up of te body of Christ. At leas that is the reason the text gives for Jesus giving us pastors. Notice Jesus gives them to the church. Jesus sets some men apart for this task. Equipping the saints for ministry, for the building up of the body of Christ. Saints are you. Saints are baptized believers in Christ, who have been sanctified, made holy, by the washing of the water with the word. You are holy, you are saints. You don’t become saints by what you do, you are made saints by what Christ did for you in baptism.
So then what is ministry, The root of the word means service, the word here is diakonia, from which we get the nouns deacons, and deaconesses. But you don’t have to actually hold these offices to be about ministry or the building up of Christ Body. All can do this, we do it with acts of Charity, or turning to a friend and letting them know about Christ, or simply inviting them to go to church with you. But you do service for the church, and for God. Holy work is not necessarily church work and charity. Holy work is all the work that you do, because you are holy. God has made you holy, therefore the work you do is holy, whatever it is. (alright we may have a problem with some professions, but I am assuming here that you aren’t dealing drugs etc.) The point here is holy work is not necessarily church work. A mom changing a diaper, especially for one of God’s baptized saints is doing holy work. Not because the work in itself is holy, but because the one doing the work is holy, having their sins forgiven in Christ, and being made holy by the washing of regeneration.
So it is that the pastor best equips the saints for ministry, and for the building up of the body of Christ, by doing what Christ has put them here to do first and foremost, forgiving sins. That is the primary, main task of a pastor. First and foremost a pastor needs to forgive the sins of the saints. For we are always saint and sinner. Simul iustus et peccator, is the old reformation slogan. Simultaneously, saint and sinner. As saints we do ministry, as sinners, we need to be forgiven. It is at the heart of what it means to be Christian, that we are forgiven, and forgiven often. We dare not lose sight of forgiveness. Forgive our sins, is what Christ came to do, it is the reason he died on the cross. Forgive our sins, our hard hearts, the fact that we let fear get in the way of inviting our friends to church, or find ourselves to lazy to attend church, or even care to grow in the faith through Bible study, or devotion and prayer. So it is the reason he gave the church pastors also. To forgive sins. Pastors have that one simple task. It is of primary importance. Yet it is the one thing, pastors, sinful as they are, lose sight of quickest. And then they are no longer doing their job. It doesn’t matter how great a pastor is at teaching, or administration, or what have you. If he isn’t forgiven sins and administering the sacraments on a regular basis he isn’t doing his job.
But then there are some other tasks. Forgiveness my be of primary importance, but teaching is not far behind. A professor at seminary once told me that perhaps the single most important requirement for a pastor listed in the Bible is the ability to teach sound doctrine, and rebuke those who contradict it. These days it isn’t politically correct to rebuke people for false doctrine. However it is my job, and I often get a perverse sort of joy doing it. But teaching sound doctrine, that is what I love. Teaching sound doctrine so that you are equipped for ministry, attain the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to no longer be tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine.
Sound doctrine is Lutheran doctrine, Lutheran doctrine is Sound doctrine, by the way. And Lutherans need to stop making apologies for it. People say well we could be wrong. Well I suppose we could be, but I can’t quite see that we are. Lutherans don’t teach anything that isn’t painfully clear and obvious from a plain and simple reading of the Bible, which really isn’t all that hard to understand. And after 15 twenty years of studying God’s word, and theology I’m telling you I have never found a more concise or better book explaining Christian doctrine than Luther’s Small Catechism. If you have daily devotions, rereading that once a week, or maybe once a month will anchor you well to sound doctrine so you aren’t tossed about to and fro by the waves and every wind of doctrine. Because those winds are blowing today, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. And most people are so ill educated as to what they believe they succumb.
A year or two ago, I found on the front doorstep of our church, in a bag, two of the Bibles I hand out when I visit with people and a handful of Baptist literature. My hearts sunk. To this day I don’t know who thought they had to give the Bibles back. But I remembered visiting with a former Lutheran and his wife couple weeks earlier and I haven’t seen him here. And I don’t understand at all why parents would not baptize their children. Acts 2:38-39 Peter tells the parents that the gift of Baptism is for their Children! Why would you deny them the grace of God in such a manner.
If there is anything wrong with the Lutheran church it isn’t our doctrine, but that so many of our people for so many reasons don’t know what it is we believe teach and confess or why. Sometimes it is the pastor. I know of pastors that never study themselves. I know of pastors that haven’t read a book by a Lutheran theologian since they left seminary, and it is sometimes doubtful that they read one there. And I know of pastors that are wholly incapable of teaching. But I also know of, and how do I put this without offence.
Can I just invite you to Bible Study, ask you to come and learn. We start Ephesians today. I like to teach. Almost as much as I enjoy learning. And I do believe that as a congregation it is essential that we know what we believe, and why so that we do attain to the unity of faith and the knowledge of Jesus Christ. It is part and parcel of being equipped to do ministry. The more you learn the faith, the easier it is to share the faith, the bolder and more confident you become in proclaiming it. And there is always more to learn. The Christian faith is quite unique, in that you can have Christian faith, without hardly any knowledge whatsoever. Faith isn’t necessarily cognizant. You can be cognizant of it, but you don’t have to be. So it is that infants, mentally disabled and so on can have faith and be saved. It is more miraculous that God is able to give stuck up, self-confident adults faith, than that he can give faith to a baby just born, and forgive his sins. Because that is what the Christian faith is at its simplest the forgiveness of sins, and forgiveness makes no requirements. And yet the Christian faith, and the Bible is so in depth, that you can spend a lifetime studying and learn still more on your deathbed. And it is wonderful knowledge, all meant to reinforce one message, that simple message at the heart of the Christian faith, that is the meaning and purpose of the cross, where Christ died for you, “Your sins are forgiven.”
Now the peace of God that surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord Amen.

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