Over the years I have written several "book" or "booklets" and many, many, many newsletter and bulletin articles. Because the book market seeks writings to meet specific needs at specific times, my material has never been accepted. I have a tendency to write what is on my mind and so I am left with self publishing. So, with the encouragement from my wife and others, I am beginning this blog in order to put my "ramblings" "out there"! I hope you enjoy!
Please note that while my intentions are to use good grammar, because of the way in which some of the material presented here is presented (orally) the grammar and syntax might not always be the best English. Also note that good theology is not always presented in the best English so there may be times when the proper grammar rules are purposely broken.
Sunday, May 14, 2017
The Office of Holy Ministry and the Keys - May 14, 2017 - Fifth Sunday of Easter/Mother’s Day - Text: Acts 6:1-9; 7:2a, 51-60
Today is the Fifth Sunday after Easter meaning that we are still in the Easter Season and so we are still celebrating the resurrection of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Indeed, the reason we worship on Sunday is that each and every Sunday is an Easter resurrection celebration. Today is also the most sacred, secular holiday of Mother’s Day and here, indeed, we in the church should be first in celebrating Mother’s and motherhood, as we might suggest one of the primary ways the church grows is through the birth of children who are to be raised in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. So, Happy Mother’s Day to our Mothers here today. We are so glad you are here and we are so glad you brought your family.
As we get to our Scripture readings for this morning, what a wonderful opportunity our text affords us, the opportunity to get a better understanding of what we as Lutherans believe, teach and confess concerning the office of Holy Ministry and the Office of the Keys. Let me begin by reminding you that we believe that God issues three calls, and even four as we understand God’s call to life at conception. First, although some people resist, refuse and reject, God calls all people to faith and He does this through the means of grace, that is He calls us to faith either through the means of the sacrament of Holy Baptism, as He called and gave faith to many of us as babies, or God calls to and gives faith through His Word. After calling us to faith, God strengthens and keeps us in faith through these means of grace as well as through confession and absolution, our hearing and reading His Word, and the Lord’s Supper. So, God’s first call is to faith. God’s second call is that He calls us to our vocation, that is God calls us to and gives us each the abilities, skills, talents and opportunities to work to make a living and while He calls us to the vocation in which we work, we are to work, not as if we are working for a boss, but that we are to work as if we are working for our Lord, in other words, we are to work, doing our best and giving a witness of our faith in Jesus. The third call which God issues is not issued to all people, but God calls some men to serve in the office of Holy Ministry. And so these are the calls God issues.
Now, getting to our text, we are told by Luke that a dispute had arisen in the early Christian Church, but that a solution was also thought out. Because the Church and the local congregation was growing so fast, the work of the apostles and disciples grew as well. The church was not a communist or socialist church, but the wealthy did provide for those in need. As the distribution of the wealth to the needy took place there appeared to be a discrepancy concerning one group of people, perhaps the group not as well known to those distributing the goods. When a complaint was brought forward, whether founded or unfounded, and here we see that Satan uses whatever he can grasp to bring division, the situation was dealt with. The apostles and the congregation knew the greatest importance of the work of the apostles in Word and Sacrament ministry so the suggestion to “elect” seven for the daily tasks of distribution was accepted. Those elected must be of good Christian character and report, also we might note that they were not called ministers or given any “ecclesiastical” name, simply they were called to serve. The congregation agreed to the proposal and seven were elected. We are told especially of the faith of Stephen, faith from which flows one’s Christian life and character.
Notice that the dispute was not necessarily a quarrel or fight. What we are told is that there was a complaint and evidently this was a justified complaint. It appears that there was no intention of malice, no intention of leaving out some of those in need, simply the fact was the church was growing so big that some of those in need were being overlooked and neglected.
The solution helps us get a better understanding of the Office of Holy Ministry. The office of Holy Ministry is that peculiar office into which God calls certain men for the tasks of being about the business of the Word of God, that is pastors are to be teaching and preaching the word of God. Here again we are reminded that the Word of God is a means of grace, a way in which our Lord comes to us to give us the gifts and blessing He has to give. Notice that pastors do not call themselves. God calls Pastors through the local congregation to preach and teach the word of God.
Along with teaching and preaching the Word of God, Pastors are called by God through the local congregation to administering the sacraments, that is to baptize children as well as adults after instruction. Pastors are also to administer the Lord’s Supper for forgiveness and strengthening of faith of the members. And we might add, pastors are also to minister to those who are sick and shut-in. Yes, pastors make house calls.
Finally, along with preaching the Gospel, and administering the sacraments, the other work God calls pastors to do is to forgive and retain sins. Certainly we see this done every Sunday morning as we have corporate confession and absolution, in other words as we have confession and absolution as a congregation. But even more, the pastor is available, and I would encourage you to make use of your pastor for the purpose of private or individual confession and absolution.
So we have heard the work God gives to pastors. God also gives work to the lay people in the congregation. The work of the laity is that they are to be about doing good. They are to be about doing works of service. Notice how the seven were chosen for a specific task. We have various boards and committees on which to serve, we have various activities going on and God gives us the talents and abilities as well as time and treasure to do these various activities. To not use our gifts, talents and abilities for service to God in His kingdom is to misuse what He gives.
But let us get back to our text. Luke tells us in particular, about one gifted servant, Stephen. I am sure we have all heard the story of the stoning of Stephen, but have we looked at the exemplary life and example he leaves for us. Let me summarize Luke’s account. After reciting the history of Israel, Stephen accuses the Pharisees and teachers of the law of being worse than the idolatrous nations they put out of the promised land, because they refused God’s grace! My commentary gives this note: “Note: The sermon of Stephen admonishes us Christians to be mindful of the great blessings of God under the new dispensation, lest we also become indifferent and then callous, and finally resist the work of the Holy Ghost.” Stephen was probably not finished with his sermon, but the Pharisees and teachers of the law were. Stephen is given a special revelation as he faces martyrdom, a revelation of heaven and Christ Himself. All of this even more angered the Pharisees and teachers of the law so much that they held their hands over their ears, shouting so as not to hear and then began stoning him to death. All the while a young man name Saul watched their coats.
Stephen is a great example and really an example greater than we could ever think or imagine to follow. His example is that he lived as a Christian. Stephen did not simply have his name on the rolls at his church, he did not simply show up on Sunday or every other Sunday, or once a month, no, Stephen was involved, using the gifts, talents and abilities God gave him in service to the Lord.
Stephen also gave an answer for the hope he had as he was questioned. You can tell Stephen had been in Bible class and divine service. Perhaps he was even teaching a Bible class. Stephen was ready and filled with the Holy Spirit so that he was ready to gave an answer for his faith.
Stephen was not afraid to live or die for the Lord. Someone once said, “Dying for the Lord is easy, it’s the living that is so hard.” And there is a point to these words. Remember, once we have died and gone to heaven our life is great. It is difficult, and apart from God and His grace, it is sometimes impossible for us to live for the Lord.
Finally, Stephen rightly spoke the Gospel and especially at his stoning he spoke words of forgiveness of sins. We often make the comparison of Stephen to Jesus. Just as Jesus forgave those who crucified Him, so Stephen forgave those who stoned him. Will we so easily be able to forgive those in this world who sin against us? whether they ask or not?
So, let’s get to the what does this mean? First and foremost this means that we need to remind ourselves that God gives the Office of the Keys, that is God gives the Church the authority to preach the Gospel, to administer the Sacraments and to forgive and retain sins. This authority is a gift from God and is given for the purpose of giving and strengthening the faith of the members of the Church, for the purpose of extending God’s kingdom by sharing the Gospel with others, and for the purpose of giving praise and glory to God’s Holy Name.
God gives the office of the Keys to the Church and God gives churches to call pastors to exercise the office of the keys through the Office of Holy Ministry. A man does not call himself to be a pastor of a church, but God calls a man through the external means of His church to be a pastor where He would have him serve. The work of the pastor is to preach the Gospel, and here we are reminded by Paul that pastors are to be pastor/teachers. The work of the pastor is to administer the sacraments, to baptize and administer the Lord’s Supper, and to forgive and retain sins. Remember, when Jesus was visiting with Mary and Martha, Martha was so distracted by worldly things. Mary sat at Jesus’ feet and listened. When Martha complained Jesus explained that the most important thing for all is what Mary chose, to hear the Word of God.
God gives the Office of Holy Ministry in which He calls some men to serve and at the same time God gives the priesthood of all believers for all Christians to be a part. God gives gifts, talents and abilities for all of us to use in service to Him. Perhaps we would do well to remind ourselves that this is not our Church. None of us was here when this church began. In a few years none of us will be here as we will pass on to eternity. This is God’s church. Perhaps we might do well before we make decisions, to ask, what would God have us to do? How can we best be His Church in this place? How might we use the gifts, talents and abilities He has given to us in service to Him? How might we best go about the business of strengthening the faith of our own members, sharing the Gospel with others to extend God’s kingdom in this place and all of this will indeed give praise and glory to His Holy Name.
Finally, and really, most importantly, we need the constant reminder that God gives faith, forgiveness and life, even eternal life. God gives these gifts through Jesus who earned forgiveness and life for us. In our Gospel reading for today we are reminded as to why we in the Christian Church are so hated and despised by the rest of the world and that is because of the exclusive claim we, or rather God makes. Jesus does not say there are many ways to heaven, or enlightenment or nirvana, rather Jesus says there is only one way and that way is through Him alone. In our Epistle reading Paul encourages and urges us to long for, to desire the pure spiritual milk of His Word so that we may grow up into salvation. And he too explains how Jesus is the cornerstone, the only way to heaven. Thanks be to God that He gives us faith, that He strengthens and keeps us in faith, that He gives us forgiveness of sins and eternal life.
And to wrap this up, thanks be to God that He gives us our parents, our fathers and especially on this Mother’s Day, our moms to teach us, to read Bible lessons to us, to teach us to pray, to bring us to His house, to church and Sunday School, so that we might be raised in the nurture and admonition of the Lord, so that we might hear His Word, be given and strengthened in faith, have our sins forgiven, and be certain of our eternal salvation. To Him be the glory, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.