Sunday, January 26, 2014

Sermon -- Festival of St. Titus, Pastor & Confessor (January 26, 2013)

TITUS 1:1-9
JESUS SUPPLIES STEWARDS FOR HIS CHURCH.

In the name + of Jesus.

     Why do you need a pastor?  Chances are, you have had some kind of pastor for most or all of your life.  But why do you need him?  And why did St. Paul send his associate, Titus, to the island of Crete?  Paul told Titus that he had left him there to put what remained into order, and appoint elders in every town (Titus 1:5), that is, pastors, for every city.  So, every city would have a church, and every church would have its own bishop, or overseer.  But why? 
     The answer goes all the way back to the Old Testament.  Whenever the Lord wanted to reveal his word or his presence to the people, he always hid himself behind physical things.  To Moses, he appeared in a burning bush.  To Israel, he appeared in a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night.  From Mt. Sinai, his voice was heard from a thick, black cloud.  To Joshua, he appeared as an angel, the commander of the army of the Lord.  From the time of King Solomon, he promised that he would dwell with the people at the Temple.  Thus, the Lord hid himself behind these physical things.
     Even when Jesus came, God veiled his glory behind frail flesh.  Far from being glorious, Jesus was despised for his humble appearance.  Far from establishing a dominant kingdom on a brilliant throne, Jesus established his kingdom by a brutal death on a shameful cross.  God always hides himself under lowly, common things.
     St. Paul noted that he was sent by Jesus Christ as an apostle for the sake of the faith of God's elect and their knowledge of the truth. (Titus 1:1)  This is why Jesus supplies stewards for his Church—for the building up of the faith among God’s chosen people.  As stewards, pastors stand in the stead of Christ.  They call people to repent of their sins.  They warn people of errors—whether in doctrine or in life.  Most importantly, they dispense God’s gifts which are forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation through Jesus Christ alone.
     Jesus supplies pastors for his church.  Jesus could have continued to dwell in the temple and preach sermons from there.  But Jesus was pleased not to have his glory revealed in only one place.  Titus did not command the people of Crete to hop a boat for Jerusalem or Ephesus or Rome if they wanted to receive God’s salvation.  The Lord Jesus is pleased to have stewards dispense his gifts wherever God’s chosen people are.  God’s chosen people gather to hear the word of the Lord and to receive his sacraments.  That is why Jesus supplies stewards for his Church—so that the Church can receive God’s salvation.
     But people despise the way our Lord chooses to come to his people.  On some level, I can appreciate why.  No pastor should make himself the center of any congregation.  Pastors come and go.  No pastor is perfect.  No pastor is permanent.  You don’t attend a church to see a pastor.  The Church gathers to hear Christ.   But many don’t want to hear Christ.  Many look inward for their comfort.  Many trust their feelings.  Many are swayed by the immoral attitudes which are so prevalent in our godless society, thinking that what is popular must be what is right.  Many trust that they are nice, and they know that they don’t need Jesus to be nice. 
     But where Satan is most likely to lead you astray is to get you to think that you no longer need to come and hear the word of the Lord.  After all, you know the stories.  If you did not set foot in church for the next dozen years, you would still know who Jesus is and that he died on the cross for you.  And if you are caught in a sin, just thinking of Jesus is supposed to bring relief.  But Jesus has never told you to turn to quiet introspection for the forgiveness of your sins.  Forgiveness does not come from your own thoughts any more than salvation comes to the ungodly because they think they should be in heaven. 
     Jesus warned the Pharisees, who knew their Bible better than you do, “Whoever is of God hears the words of God.  The reason why you do not hear them is that you are not of God.” (John 8:47)  Do not neglect the word of the Lord, no matter how well you think you know it.  For, God’s word is not about imparting information.  God’s word is the living voice of God who proclaims salvation and dispenses his gifts.  That word cannot be heard if you are not here.  Those gives cannot be received if you are not here.  St. Titus stayed in Crete to ordain pastors who would dispense those gifts to God’s people on Christ’s behalf.  Jesus supplies his church with ministers who are ordained to administer Christ’s gifts.  That is how Christ cares for his Church. 
     When the Lord came to save sinners, he did not send an idea.  The Lord came to personally, in flesh and blood, be seen and heard.  God’s interest in you is not theory; it is personal.  God personally came to take your sin from you, to suffer your punishment for you.  He came personally to deliver you from death and hell.  God in the flesh went into the grave, and God in the flesh arose from the grave to live forever.  Therefore, you, who are flesh, are delivered from these things.
     To assure you that your salvation is not merely given to you in theory, the Lord has attached his promise to physical things.  Just as Jesus came physically to bless and save you, so he still comes in those common, physical things to bless and save you.  You were not merely told that you are in the kingdom of God.  You were baptized to have your sins washed away.  Your Savior attached a promised to the water by which he purifies you of all unrighteousness.  You are not merely told to ponder the heavenly wedding banquet.  Jesus summons you to partake in the feast from his altar, which is already the heavenly wedding banquet.  Here, you receive the common things of bread and wine by which you physically consume the very body and blood which have secured your forgiveness and your salvation.  When you are guilt-ridden because of your sins, your Lord does not leave you to sift through reasons why you should be forgiven.  Confess your sins not to thin air, but to Christ.  Jesus has supplied you a flesh and blood minister, not merely to listen, but to declare in the stead and by the command of Jesus Christ, “I forgive you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”  So your forgiveness does not remain theory, but is personally given in reality.  A real flesh and blood Savior has supplied a real flesh and blood minister to serve real flesh and blood sinners with God’s life-saving gifts.
     Jesus supplies stewards for his Church.  Jesus had called a minister like St. Titus to serve him in (giving) instruction in sound doctrine and also (rebuking) those who contradict it. (Titus 1:9)  St. Titus was also commissioned to appoint bishops for all the churches in Crete to keep God’s people from being led astray by false teachings, to encourage God’s people to pursue good works in their vocations, and to administer God’s gifts.  Could God do all this without pastors?  I suppose so—just as God could bring children into this world without mothers, just as God could satisfy hunger without food, and just as God could provide peace and order without a government.  But he chooses to use physical, common things for his ordained purpose.  And so the Good Shepherd chooses to bless his church with shepherds, or pastors, who continue to call to repent, to preach forgiveness, to administer the sacraments, and to encourage God’s elect. 
     Even if you wonder whether or not you really need a pastor, the Lord Jesus Christ thinks that you do.  Jesus has supplied stewards for his Church, to make sure that God’s good things are given to you, on his behalf, and for your salvation.

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

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