10th Sunday after Pentecost (Prop 13 – B)
August 1, 2021
Grace, mercy, and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
The text that I have chosen for this morning’s sermon is the Epistle from Ephesians.
We pastors wear a lot of hats. We’re preachers and teachers, counselors and chaplains, janitors and masters of ceremonies. We’re husbands and friends, fathers and sons, janitors and defenders. We’re golfers and readers, history buffs and Rocky Road ice cream aficionados, frustrated sports fans and bodybuilders. Okay, you might not buy that last one. You might even be thinking, “Oh, you’re building a body, that’s for sure, but it’s from Rocky Road, not from pumping iron.” You might be right, but I really am a bodybuilder. I am because, through me, Christ builds up His Body, the Church. He builds up you.
The weightiest activity I do, what builds you up as the body of Christ, is speaking words that I’m least qualified to speak. “I by virtue of my office, as a called and ordained servant of the Word, announce the grace of God unto all of you. And in the stead and by the command of my Lord Jesus Christ, I forgive you all your sins in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” These powerful words lift the weight of sin from your shoulders. It’s Christ, speaking through me, that builds you up on the absolute certainty that your sins are forgiven. When you heard those words about five minutes after nine, every sin you’ve committed was forgiven. As I spoke those words a few seconds ago, every sin you’ve committed was forgiven. You have the forgiveness of sins, not partially, not incompletely, but totally! Paul goes on to say, “When He ascended on high He led a host of captives, and He gave gifts to men.” Jesus took Sin which held us captive, into captivity. He put the Death which takes our lives to death. Satan who held us in chains, is now chained himself. Through Jesus, we are blessed with the totality of God’s grace. The forgiveness of sins through Christ’s crucified and risen body, is the foundation for His Body, the Church.
To claim that Jesus speaks through me is really something else, isn’t it? He does though, as He says, “He who hears you, hears me.” Can I speak the Absolution because I’m better than anybody else? Yeah, right! I need to hear the Absolution just as much as you do! Believe me when I say that I’m a sinner, and I know I’m a sinner. That’s why the Pastoral office is based on Jesus and not on the person. If it was based on the person, none of your sins would be forgiven, your baptisms would be worthless, and communion would be a sham because I’m as sinful as you are. That’s why Jesus instituted the Office of the Ministry. It would be the Apostles, the Prophets, and the Evangelists taking His Word into the world, by His command and according to His will. As Jesus said before He ascended on high: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” They spoke only what Christ gave them to say, not their own opinions or beliefs.
While the offices of Apostle, Prophet, or Evangelist were only in existence when the Church was first started, we do have Pastors and Teachers. Pastor can also be translated as Shepherd. I am one who leads you in the way of Christ, the Good and Perfect Shepherd. It’s been said that Pastors should be called sheepdogs instead of shepherds because we only do what the Good Shepherd tells us to do. It’s the job of the Pastor to continue the work of Jesus in His absence, but we do so under His authority, and His direction.
Christ’s earthly work paved the road for the Apostles and the Evangelists to take the Gospel to the ancient world, and it paved the way for me to bring you the Gospel. The Gospel isn’t information, it’s the Good News that Christ died for you! My number one job as a Pastor is to build you up with this incredible, life changing, Gospel. This is why Jesus calls on you to worship weekly here in His House, with His people, with those who make up the Body of Christ. Jesus builds up His Body when we gather as His Body. Can you get forgiveness outside these walls? Sure. When you pray the Lord’s Prayer or remember your baptism, you’re forgiven. But it’s not what Christ intends, and the practice since the very beginning was for the Body to gather every Sunday, and even days in between. Luther was asked why he preaches the Gospel every week. He said it’s because the people forget it every week. And we do! That’s why we’re here!
Bodybuilders eat right, they take vitamins, and if they’re smart, they stay away from steroids. They don’t put anything into their bodies without knowing what it is. Christians likewise must be aware of what they put into themselves, into their hearts and minds. It may be hard to believe, but there are so-called Christian preachers out there that aren’t Christian. Of if they are Christians, they’ve corrupted the Gospel. Add to them to the people who teach the garbage of the world, and there’s a lot that can lead you astray. If you don’t know the Bible, you are Paul says, “Children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes.” This is why you need to know Christ’s Word and what you believe.
Bible illiteracy is a real and terrible thing among Christians. We can fix that by attending service and Bible class more often. I hate to say this: Our attendance at Bible classes and Sunday school is really poor; it’s no wonder we struggle with applying God’s Word to our lives. By meeting with other Christians, by learning the Bible stories, by memorizing Bible passages, you’ll know what is right and what is wrong. You’ll be stable in the rough waters of life. You’ll be stable because you’re not floating alone; you’re part of the built up Body of Christ that withstands the tossing waves and winds. I challenge you to rise up and face the challenges of this life and the teachings that are all around you by attending Worship, Bible class, and Sunday school every week.
Finally, it’s by working as one Body, that Body of Christ is built up. Paul puts it this way: “Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.” The Body of Christ, as it’s found in Emmanuel, is about loving and serving one another. It’s about stepping up when there is a need. It’s about strengthening the body through volunteerism. Instead of letting somebody else do it, do it as part of the Body.
Can you imagine what Jesus will accomplish through Emmanuel if we work together? If we worship together If we were financially flourishing? If we were built up through God’s Word? We would be an incredible force for God in Sac County (and beyond). And this is what Christ wants! Paul reminds us that when we’re united in love for Christ, when each of us in working properly, when each part is working properly, the Body will grow. It grows not by our heavy lifting, but the lifting up that Jesus Christ does through us, and most importantly, for us.
As I was trying to move a heavy box the other day, I realized that I needed to regain some strength and the only way to do that is by lifting weights. Let me say, I’m not keen on that, but if I want to have a somewhat healthy body, I need to work at it. I’ll never be a bodybuilder, not in the earthly sense, but I do build up you, the Body of Christ as Jesus’ pastor. He builds you up as the forgiveness of sins penetrates your ears, wets your head, and fills your mouth. I am simply a conduit and I pray that He works through me to build you up.
Now the peace which surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen