Sunday, December 12, 2010

Homily for Gaudete – The Third Sunday in Advent


Matthew 11:2-11; 1 Corinthians 4:1-5; Isaiah 40:1-11

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.

Our lessons today are less about the preaching of John the Baptist and his imprisonment or the promised comfort and peace that the Messiah brings than they are about the mysteries of God and what it means to be a steward and manager of those mysteries, that is, a pastor. This topic Paul takes up in his letter to the Church in Corinth: This is how one should regard us, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God. Thus, pastors are not to be regarded as bosses over the congregation, but neither are they to be regarded as employees of the congregation. Pastors are servants of Christ, and a pastor serves Christ by serving the Good Shepherd’s flock as an undershepherd. The pastor has been given stewardship, that is, management, of the mysteries of God. These mysteries are the preaching of the Gospel, the administration of the Sacraments, and the remitting and the retaining of sins through the Office of the Keys in Confession and Absolution. These mysteries do not belong to the pastor, but they belong to Christ who has given His pastors their stewardship.

Thus, the pastor is not to be judged according to worldly measures of success – quantitative growth, financial growth, other statistics, or even the development of properties or other capital – but the pastor is to be judged according to his trustworthiness, his faithfulness in his stewardship of the mysteries. For, to this stewardship alone has he been called. It is not uncommon that faithful preaching and teaching and the administration of the sacraments fails to satisfy the bottom line, but this is not the failure of the mysteries of God nor even of the pastor, the steward of those mysteries, for the Holy Spirit works where and when He pleases just as the wind blows here and there and men have no control and no ability to direct its course.

But, even stewards of God’s mysteries have moments when they get caught up in worldly measures of success and growth. It’s all too easy see your congregation merely maintaining and not perceivably growing and conclude that the mysteries aren’t working and that something needs to change – change the message to make it more appealing and practical; change the music to make it more contemporary and emotional; throw out the repetitive, predictable liturgy and replace it with a constantly changing, evolving, and emerging format that’s always fresh, always different, always new. So, you see, it comes down to faith, doesn’t it? Do you trust God to do what He has said He will do, even if our eyes do not see the effectiveness? The faithful pastor and the faithful congregation must answer “Yes!”

Was John the Baptist having such a moment of doubt when he, from prison, sent disciples to ask Jesus “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?” Perhaps; it would be, after all, only human. John was in prison, knowing that he was going to die, it’s quite plausible that he began to wonder “How can this be happening? I faithfully carried out my stewardship of the mysteries of God, preaching repentance before the coming of the Son of God, and what has it gotten me, but imprisonment and a death sentence?” Was John having a moment of disillusionment, hopelessness, and despair? Maybe. Of course, maybe he, knowing that his time was soon up, was commending his disciples unto Jesus so that they could hear with their own ears and see with their own eyes that He was the fulfillment of Messianic prophecy.

Either way, Jesus directs them, and John, to the mysteries of God: The blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them. Perhaps the disciples had witnessed some of these things first hand, but many they simply had to believe by hearing. The Gospels are filled with such miraculous accounts, still many eye witnesses refused to believe. Men will be men, determining for ourselves the conditions by which we will believe. Repent.

What did you come to church to see? An inspiring motivational speaker with practical advice for how to manage your finances, deal with your co-workers, handle your rebellious child, or rekindle the flame in your marriage? What did you come to church to hear? Music like on your favorite radio station or a stroll down memory lane of your early adulthood? What did you come to church to do? The good work of your presence so that you can feel better about yourself, that at least you go to church while many of your family, friends, and neighbors do not? What did you come to church for? Motivational speakers are on the lecture circuit. They proclaim a message that is dictated by the whims and felt needs of men to make a profit. Musical tastes are fickle and subjective and are often powerfully connected to worldly pleasures and vices; these come and go, here today, gone tomorrow, while the Word of the Lord alone remains forever. If you come to church to do something for God, then you might as well stay home in bed. God needs nothing from you and, on your own, you can do nothing for God. The only reason to come to church is to receive from God His mysteries: faith, forgiveness, life, and salvation.

For this purpose, it is my privilege to stand before you today as a servant of Christ and as a steward of the mysteries of God. In fact, my standing here itself is a mystery, for I claim no worthiness, no right, or special piety to do so, but I trust in the Lord who has called me, through you, to this stewardship to do what He has said He will do: To convict your hearts of sin by the preaching of His Law to turn you in repentance to Him that He might shower you with His grace, mercy, love, and forgiveness in the preaching of His Gospel. That He might create faith in the hearts of infants and adults through Holy Baptism and that He might return you to your baptismal purity through your confession of sins and holy absolution. That He might feed, nourish, and strengthen your faith as He communes with you in His holy body and His precious blood in the supper that He died to give to you. All this, that you might be preserved and kept in faith throughout your life, through your death, into life eternal with God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, to whom alone be all glory and praise, now and forever.

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

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