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This sermon by Rev. Alan Taylor was preached at St Mark Lutheran Church in Lake Jackson, Texas on August 30, 2015 — Pentecost 14B
Sermon Text — Ephesians 6:10-20
+ In Nomine Jesu +
Grace to you and peace, from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
It is an honor and privilege to be here with you today as you take the next step in the process of calling a new pastor. This congregation and the one I serve in Galveston (St. John’s) have had a fairly close relationship over the years. That relationship became even closer in the aftermath of Hurricane Ike in 2008. This congregation was very instrumental in helping us get back on our feet after the storm. Thank you for all you did to help us. Your kindness and generosity will not soon be forgotten.
To help prepare you for your congregational call meeting, which will take place after the services today, I was asked to preach about “Calling a Pastor.” Now, in many respects I’m a bit old fashioned. Consequently, I really didn’t want to search the Scriptures for a Bible passage to preach on outside of the appointed readings for the day. But, having read through the readings for today, much to my surprise, I didn’t have to.
I’d like to draw your attention to the last couple of verses of this morning’s Epistle reading from Ephesians 6. St. Paul writes, “Keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints, and also for me, that words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains, that I may declare it boldly, as I ought to speak.”
Paul wrote the letter to the Ephesians in about 60AD, some 5 or 6 years before he was put to death in Rome. It is known as one of his prison epistles, meaning he was in prison when he wrote it. Despite that fact, the letter is filled with encouragement, calling all Christians to believe ever more firmly in Christ, whose atoning sacrifice won for them, and for the whole world, forgiveness, life and salvation.
In the latter part of the letter, specifically in chapters 4-6, Paul explains the implications of God’s grace for people appointed to different stations, or, to different roles in life. “Wives, he says, submit to your husband as to the Lord…Husbands, love your wives as Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her.” As unpopular as those words of instruction may be to today’s politically correct ear, the Holy Spirit moved Paul to pen them. He followed those words of wisdom for husbands and wives with instructions for children and parents, as well as for slaves and masters.
Finally, in chapter 6, he encourages every Christian to prepare to fight the good fight of faith. The battle to come, of which Paul knows a little something about, will not be against the typical foes of mankind, that is, against nations and foreign powers. Rather, it will be against “the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle (he says) against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.”
Outfitted with the whole armor of God, holding in one hand the sword of the Spirit, God’s Word, and in the other hand, the shield of faith, Paul says, “keep alert with all perseverance AND PRAY AT ALL TIMES,” both for all the saints, but also, “FOR ME.”
Now, while it might seem somewhat presumptuous for Paul to petition the prayers of the church specifically for him, it would be safe to say, based on other passages of Scripture that he didn’t think of himself as better than any other Christian, or, as more worthy of prayer than anyone else. To the contrary, he held a very humble view of himself and of his vocation, his calling. “As to me (he said) as to one untimely born, (Jesus) appeared also. For I am the least of the apostles, unworthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain.”
Paul asked the congregation in Ephesus to pray for him because he recognized the importance of the Office to which he had been called BY GOD to fill and because he was fully aware of the unique temptations he would face in striving to fill it. “Pray (he said) words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains, that I may declare it boldly, as I ought to speak.”
Luther too recognized the unique temptations to be faced by any man who aspires to fill the Office of Pastor. He also recognized the unique qualifications necessary to fill the Office. “A good preacher (he said) should have these qualities and virtues. First, he should be able to teach in a right and orderly way. Second, he should have a good head. Third, he should be able to speak well. Fourth, he should have a good voice. Fifth, a good memory. Sixth, he should know when to stop. Seventh, he should be sure of his material and be diligent. Eighth, he should stake body and life, good and honor on it. Ninth, he must suffer himself to be vexed and flayed by everybody.” Luther’s council has often been summarized in a much shorter phrase…the pastor should know when to STAND UP, when to SPEAK UP, and when to SHUT UP.
Paul might well have had Luther’s sentiments in mind, since he was undoubtedly a Lutheran. I’M KIDDING!!! Still, he asked the Ephesian Christians to pray for him because he didn’t want to mess up God’s plan, as sinners are apt to do. As he sought to fill his vocation, his Call in God’s church, more was at stake than his reputation. Indeed, the Gospel itself was at stake and with it, the lives and the eternal well being of people for there was, and never will be salvation outside of Christ Jesus and Him crucified!
Whoever your next Pastor is, he is going to need your prayers.
Why? Well, because as you well know, the Church, like many other institutions in our culture, is threatened by the non-committal nature and the mealy softness of political correctness. To be loved she is challenged to say only what she can get away with saying. To be accepted she is shamed into conformity. To grow in numbers she is enticed to submit to the whims and the fads of the culture.
But the Church, by her very nature, is counter-cultural. Grace, which this world counts as foolishness, is her foundation and forgiveness, life and salvation are the gifts she has to give. And frankly, she offers those gifts to a culture that, by and large, neither recognizes them, nor tolerates them.
My friends, the task that is set before you today is a godly task. The church, which includes each individual congregation, is given the charge to fill the Office of Pastor with a man who will faithfully discharge his duties. As such, there is nothing ordinary about what you will do in your congregational meeting! There is nothing worldly about it either! You aren’t hiring a pastor, for you have no divine authority to hire or fire a pastor! You are calling a servant of God, an under shepherd of the chief shepherd.
To the man you Call, you are saying “we want you to “wear the chains of Christ in this place. We want you to proclaim boldly to us the Gospel of God’s grace in Christ! And our promise to you is that we will pray for you. We will pray that you will be empowered by God to proclaim boldy the Gospel of God’s grace in Christ. To that end, God grant you His wisdom and His grace. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
The peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus unto life everlasting. Amen.
+ Soli Deo Gloria +
Rev. Alan Taylor
Preached at St Mark Lutheran Church, Lake Jackson, Texas
Rev Taylor is pastor of St. John’s Lutheran Church in Galveston, Texas since 1993. Graduate of Concordia Theological Seminary in Ft. Wayne, Indiana. Married since 1978. Two daughters, both grown, married and moved away.