18 June 2017

Installation of Pastor Karl W. Gregory

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

People loved by God, saints of Messiah here in Lebanon, brother pastors, President Scharr, and especially Pastor Gregory and Nancy, today is a day of great joy! Another prayer answered. "Ask the Lord of the harvest to send forth laborers into his harvest fields" He had said. The saints here took Him up on that. And the Lord Jesus answered. And this afternoon they delight to receive the gift they asked for, a pastor, a minister of the Word, and we rejoice with them. A fellow laborer in the harvest of the Lord, called to serve out the gifts of God to the people of God: one Karl W. Gregory.

When the great Lutheran theologian Johann Gerhard taught about the duties that belong to the office of the ministry, he came up with a rather tidy list. He wrote: "All told, therefore, there are seven duties of ministers of the church. We can relate all the rest to those seven: first, preaching the Word; second, dispensing the Sacraments; third, praying for the flock entrusted to them; fourth, controlling their own life and behavior; fifth, administering church discipline; sixth, preserving the rituals of the church; seventh, caring for and visiting the sick and distressed." Pastor Gregory, Jesus has put you here to attend to all this.

And as you can tell from the readings today, preaching the Word gets the top billing. Jeremiah warns the people not to put up with any preacher just jawing on about his own ideas and dreams and thoughts. And oddly enough, the preacher's own ideas and thoughts tend to work like this: telling people not to be afraid of despising God's Word and that all is going to be great with them no matter what they do or how they live. What St. Paul would later call scratching itching ears. "No disaster shall come upon you. Be at peace. Do what you will." That's to be a preacher of lies. The mark of the real-deal preacher is this: "if they had stood in my council, then they would have proclaimed my words to my people, and they would have turned them from their evil way." They, not the preachers, the Words of God. Only the Words of God, the real words that come from God, have the power to turn people from their evil ways.

HIS Word alone the hammer that breaks the rock in pieces, the rocky hearts of unrepentant men and women.

But that means it is not YOUR words that have that power. Not your ingenuity that can figure out how to make God a bit more palatable. None of that for you, Pastor Gregory. No putting up with that, saints at Messiah or brothers in office, not that I think you have that to fear from this man, knowing him as I do. But still, it is never to be taken for granted. People of God, remember your catechism. Remember the important question it teaches you to ask: not just "what does this mean" but above all "where is this written?" I can tell you this man will never resent you coming to him with the request that he show you from the Scriptures the truth of what he is asserting. He will thank you for coming to him with that.

The words of God do the job, but the words are joined to the elements and so sacraments. That too is what Pastor Gregory is put here to attend to. The sacraments don't belong to him as a minister; they belong to you as the beloved Bride of Christ, but serving them to you is part of what Jesus puts him here to do. And he must do this faithfully: as one who must give account to Jesus for his handling of such awesome gifts. Here, it doesn't matter on whit whether you like or dislike what he's doing; what matters is how will he answer to the Lord for his administration of these life-giving sacraments. You help him most when you tell him: Pastor, we want you to do exactly what Jesus wants you to do, what He's said in His word. Do that and we will be ever so grateful to our good Lord for sending us a faithful shepherd.

But whether the saints here say that to you or not, it is still your duty to be on your knees interceding for them. That means you must open your heart to take their heartaches and sorrows, their joys and celebrations, into yourself and carry them before the throne of God. Not now and again. Daily. Daily praying for them. Without fail. Make Samuel's words your own: "God forbid that I should sin against the Lord by ceasing to pray for you."

And then the watching your own life and behavior to set an example. No, that doesn't mean making sure that they never learn to know you as a sinner. In fact, it means quite the opposite. Let them learn to know and love you for the man you are: a sinner whose every sin has been answered for by the blood of Jesus, even as all their own have been. Let them learn to know and love you in your struggles against your own sinful flesh that they might have the courage to struggle against their own and realize that they don't have to live a life of make-believe where they go from victory to victory. In the Church, we stumble along, fall flat our face and get back up again by the grace of God to stumble a few steps further. We do this, as the second reading taught us, surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses who also in their own day, stood and fell, crawled forward a bit and fell again, and then struggled on, and finally crossed that finish line. Now they cheer us on from the stands. Let the people here know you as a man of faith: a man who literally lives from the giving of God, His abyss of forgiveness and mercy. Fix your eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of your faith, and you will help them to keep their eyes trained on him as well.

But that doesn't mean that you're free to ignore the sin either in your own life or in theirs. No, we are not ignorant of the devil's devices. We know that sin is never a neutral. It's like a cancer in the body. It will eat you up. God hates sin because of what sin does to us, the creatures that He loves. It must be fought and above all, we need to receive forgiveness and to turn from it. Forgiveness is never a get out of hell free card that allows a person to go on sinning with impunity. God loves to forgive. I love to sin. Such a deal! May it never be. That's what God was crying out against in Jeremiah. No, "repentance unto the forgiveness of sins" is how Christ quite literally put it in today's third reading. And so church discipline. Not from the posture of "I've got it all together and I want to help you become as put together as I am" but from the posture of a fellow sinner who has learned first hand the dangers of sin's allure and who loves his people enough to speak to them the truth. "Turn from this! It will destroy you. I love you. HE loves you. He doesn't want you destroyed. Repent!" You're put here for that task too and it is the most difficult and thankless.

Well, almost as thankless as the task of preserving church rites. What? Folks might think. What does that mean? You see, you have the task of helping this wonderful family of God realize that the rites and ceremonies of the church don't belong to this congregation or its individuals and certainly not to its pastor. They belong to the wider church and require care in their exercise. St. Paul said to do all things decently and in order (1 Cor. 14) and that presupposes there IS an order. We honor our fathers and mothers in the faith when we receive these rites as gifts from those who have walked this way before. We honor them when we let these rites and ceremonies shape how we receive the good gifts of God and live as His servants in this world. Here's good news: you don't need to create some nifty liturgy that will pack in the crowds and fill the offering plates to overflowing. You get to serve up the liturgy that the Church has handed to you and show your people the joy of the way that thing serves up the Word of God in all its richness and glory.

The last bit from Gerhard reminds you that you as the pastor of this flock have a special responsibility toward the disadvantaged here, those who are poor, who are sick, who are hurting and above all the dying. He puts you in His own spot where He saw the crowds and had compassion on them for they were harassed and troubled like sheep without a shepherd. That's the heart He would put inside you as His undershepherd in this place: a heart that yearns for those who are passing through difficult and trying times, and that goes to them, where they are, to accompany them through those times with the words of Him who will not fail them no matter what, with prayers and tears. If you are faithful in this, you'll know the nurses in the hospital by name in a few years time and you will realize that more ministry happens in waiting rooms and by the hospital beds than anywhere else.

That's a pile of responsibilities to lay on any man. Karl, I know that hearing all that, you will not hear it as crushing load because you know that the One who gives it to you gives Himself to you too without reservation. He will walk this road with you and through you will serve His beloved flock here. He delights to pour out His Spirit upon you that all this might be done. Then you with Paul can cry out that your sufficiency is from Him and that it is His strength that is perfected in your weakness. True, you bring great gifts He has given you. A good mind, wide-ranging experience in the military, a veteran already of the struggles in the church herself, one who has known suffering for speaking the truth and being willing to pay the price. Most of all, you bring the gift of song, you and Nancy together, hearts brimming with His joy and eager to sing His praise with the saints here. Lots of gifts. But to the people here, the greatest gift you will ever bring is simply to be that humble sinner among them who never ceases to point them to their Jesus, His cross, His triumph, His love for them, His forgiveness. It's the beating heart of all those seven duties. Take up your shepherd's staff with joy, my friend, you have a great Savior who loves you, and to Him be the glory with His Father and His all-holy Spirit, now and ever and to the ages of ages! Amen.

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