(Delivered on Nov. 11, 2018, at Church of the Savior, Paramus, New Jersey)
Grace mercy and peace from God and from our lord and savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
First of all, a word of congratulations to Pastor Paul Miller, my past advisee, and friend, and now a respected colleague in the ministry of word and sacrament in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. Paul, we are so fortunate as a group of clergy and a people of God, to have had you around both through your internship these past two years, adding to our wisdom and work, and now as one among our cluster of pastors in this area of Bergen County. We your colleagues congratulate you, and ask that the Lord Jesus may richly bless your ministry among the people of the Church of the Savior, and among us, your friends in this Gospel work.
I also congratulate you, the congregation of Church of the Savior Lutheran in Paramus. You have waited patiently for your new pastor, and have persevered, and now rejoice in the fruition of all your prayers and hard work. Paul’s ordination was indeed a joyous occasion, and I met some of you that day and your joy was evident. Now that we are at the Installation, some of you may be asking, why do we have to do another special service? Wasn’t one enough? You can think of it this way: Paul’s ordination was like the NFL Draft. Paul was picked in the first round, and that was a great thing. Now the installation is like the party at the team club house, or maybe the locker room. It’s’ his official welcome to the team here at Church of the Savior. This celebration is a bit more intimate, and makes it official—this newly ordained pastor has been called HERE, in this community, among these people! The ordination established the Holy Spirit’s call and gave Paul the chance to publicly accept this calling. It articulated the expectations for his service to the church. Today, we get to celebrate Paul’s unique relationship with this assembly of God’s people, the particular group of people called the congregation of the Church of the Savior-Lutheran.
We focus on what Paul is called to do here as your pastor, but we also must focus on what you the people of God are to do as well. To help explain the office of pastor, Professor Gordon Lathrop, one of my teachers in seminary, pointed to the writing of Justin Martyr, an early father of the church who died in 165 AD. Justin wrote to the Roman emperor who was persecuting the church, that the pastor’s role entailed 3 main functions: to concern themselves with the book, with the table, and with the collection.
1. the book refers to Biblical preaching and teaching of the Gospel.
2. the table refers to the proper administration of the sacraments.
3 the collection refers to the extension of the assembly’s ministry to those outside the church, from the nearest neighbor to those half a world away.
Christian worship from an early date, is centered on these things, and the pastor’s job is to help the congregation focus on them from week to week.
However, this is not the only work that goes on in this relationship between the Pastor and the congregation. For the congregation has its own role to play in every step of this process. You, the good people of the Church of the Savior, are called to respond to Paul’s ministry. You are called to be a willing flock. And how are you to manifest this willingness in the Gospel?
A good example can be found in our second lesson this afternoon from the apostle Paul. He breaks down of the process through which the Gospel is proclaimed in the church. He writes in the letter to the Romans, that the proclamation of the Gospel follows a step-by-step process that starts with proclamation, and then moves to hearing, and then believing, so that finally, we may call on God and be saved.
St. Paul writes, “how are they to believe in one of whom they have never heard? And
how are they to hear without someone to proclaim him? 15And
how are they to proclaim him unless they are sent?”
It seems straightforward enough, especially since it depends on the individual who is sent. But the real subject of this process is the people, God’s people.
Now, to better understand your role in this process, let us undertake some “mindful reading” of scripture.
I take our cue for this mindful reading from Martin Luther, in his Small Catechism. Luther enumerated the Ten Commandments in the Small Catechism, not by simply retelling what the words say. Crucially, Luther imagined the implications of each commandment as he read. Through this mindful reading, and listening, he could take to heart the full implications of the text. So for example, it’s not simply that you are to avoid taking God’s name in vain, or use it to swear, practice magic, lie or deceive, but Luther says, you are to use that name in every time of need. You are to call on, pray to, praise, and give thanks to God, using God’s name. And in this way, we see that the commandments are not simply a list of don’ts, but are alive with a list of dos. And the dos are as important as the don’ts.
Likewise, in our mindful reading of St. Paul’s description of the process of proclamation, you should read what he says, and mindfully, prayerfully, understand even more what is implied. You, the people of the Church of the Savior, are not simply to employ this pastor to proclaim the Gospel for you, or at you, or even despite you, but you are to actively engage in this procedure, this process of hearing, listening, and believing, so that you may start calling on the Lord’s name anew every day.
Be like Cornelius the Roman Centurion in the 10thchapter of the book of Acts. Even though he was not a Jew, his faith was recognized by God, and he was instructed to send for Peter, bring him to his house, and have his family and household gather around this word that was the Gospel. They then listened to this word, and heard it, and received it, and then believed the Gospel, and then called on God with words not made of their own will or mind, but with words of praise given to them by the Holy Spirit.
The task set before you, and all children of the Gospel, is that of opening your hearts again and again to the reception of the proclaimed word. Seek out the proclamation of the Gospel with joyful expectation. As you prepare for worship, for Bible Study, for fellowship activities, and service in your congregation and community, invite the proclamation with glad and eager hearts. Don’t just say, you’re going to church. Say to your family and friends, let’s go to hear the Gospel! Let us go to be fed by the hand of the good Shepherd.
And then the next Sunday, like your clothes, rinse and repeat. You are to rise from bed in the morning, and move to the church and say to your pastor, Pastor, preach to us yet again this Holy Gospel from the Lord, so that we might hear the promise of God’s grace and love, that has been given to us freely as a gift, and believe in God and open our mouths in holy spirit praise and supplication! The preaching and the hearing and the believing and calling out are all the work of the Holy Spirit, singing to itself, in the power of the risen Christ, the song of the praises of the triune God.
How are you, Church of the Savior, to call on one in whom you have not believed? And how are you to believe in one of whom you have never heard?
And how are you to hear without someone to proclaim him?
And how is someone to proclaim him unless they are sent?
And, Church of the Savior, today we are all here to affirm together that this humble servant, Paul Miller has been sent TO YOU!
And blessed are the feet by whom the Gospel is preached, and also, we might remember the words of Jesus, blessed are they who have ears to hear, and listen!
Finally, we would be remiss to think that this is the extent of our roles in this business of proclaiming the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and responding to it as a congregation. For, once again, our Lutheran theology reminds us that we are ALL priests of that royal priesthood, which calls on God’s mercy on behalf of our sinful world, and that not only our pastors, but we ourselves, his flock, are called and therefore sent to proclaim in word and deed, the faithfulness of our Lord.
And when we falter, when we tire and lose heart, when we become discouraged--and you will Paul, and you will, people of God--remember that God does not abandon you to your own devices. God will not abandon you to your own unconvincing words and faithless deeds. No, but just when you need it most, the God who raised from the dead our Lord Jesus Christ, the great shepherd of the sheep, will inspire faith in your hearts, just as he inspired in the earliest church the proclamation of the Gospel from which we ourselves have been born. As assuredly as God did it for Aaron and Moses, for Mary and for Peter, and Cornelius, and Justin Martyr, and Luther, and Paul Miller, just as assuredly, God will do it for you and me!
To you, the people of the Church of the Savior in Paramus NJ, and to you, colleagues and friends in the ministry of the Gospel, may you be blessed with Spirit-filled excitement to proclaim and receive, receive and proclaim, the Gospel of Jesus Christ in our time, in our communities, in our lives. And may the grace of God which passes all understanding, keep our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.