Just got back from our weekend in Ft. Wayne where we attended the ordination of (the now Rev.) James Roemke of St. James the Hoosier. I was honored to be the guest preacher.
Here is the text of my sermon for this occasion:
Dear people of St. Peter's and Good Shepherd Lutheran churches, fellow Pastors, Dear Family, Friends, Dear Lesa and Jim, Grace and peace to you...
Today is a special day. For many of you this is the first, and perhaps the last ordination service you will ever attend. For us pastors, it brings us back to a day long ago when we were sitting right there where Jim is now. And I know Jim, that you and Lesa have been looking forward to this day for years.
First perhaps a word of introduction - My name is Pastor Tom Chryst from Grace Lutheran Church in Racine, Wisconsin. I got to know Jim several years ago, and we have chatted almost daily since then, though we've met only twice in person. You might call us "internet pen pals". And as we've chatted over those years I have watched Jim go through all the ups and downs of being a seminary student and vicar, from his better days to a foot-in-mouth moment or two. But I can truly say that the people of Good Shepherd will be served by a well prepared and faithful servant of Christ.
I was honored when Jim asked me to preach for today, but he did make me promise not to embarass him. However I must tell you one thing about Jim - not only is he excited about becoming a pastor, but he's also REALLY looking forward to dressing like one. Jim would often share with me his growing collection of crosses and robes, stoles and chasubles. He'll be the kind of pastor that wears his collar everyday - and maybe even the kind of pastor to wear black pajamas at night (with a little bit of white on the neck). I predict that Jim may well be the best dressed pastor in his entire circuit.
When it came to what passage I would preach on today, Jim's love of vestements made me think of a very common ordination passage. The passing of Elijah's mantle. Elijah the prophet, just before he was taken to heaven in a firey chariot, passed on his mantle or cloak to his successor, Elisha. This vestment was symbolic of the public office of the prophet, and is much like the stole of the pastor that Jim will be receiving today. This vestment (the stole) which symbolizes the yoke of responsibility for the preaching of God's word, and the administration of the sacraments.
But all this got me to thinking about clothing in the Bible:
Clothing is a First Article gift - it's one of the blessings of physical creation - along with food and drink, house and home, land, animals and all that I have. God clothes us. Jesus said look at the lillies of the field - how magnificently they are clothed - and don't worry about what you will wear tomorrow. God will provide. Yes, God always provides the right clothing.
Remember the first clothing in the Bible? After they sinned, Adam and Eve sewed together fig leaves to cover their shame. But that clothing didn't do the job. In his mercy, God provided for them animal skins. Thus the first animal was sacrificed. And that sacrifice (like all Old Testament sacrifices) pointed forward to Christ, the ultimate sacrifice.
* Jim - your main task, where the pastor is most pastor, will be preaching. There you too will point to Christ, who covers our sins. There you too will point to his ultimate sacrifice on the cross. And by such preaching, sins will be covered, and God will take their shame away.
Those animal skins might remind us of John the Baptist, who wore a coat of camel's hair. John who preached a forceful message of repentance - which irritated people more than, well, a camel's hair coat.
* Jim - I doubt you would be caught dead in camel's hair. But in the spirit of John the Baptist, don't be afraid to preach the Law. And if you do it right, some will be irritated. But also like John the Baptist, preach the Gospel - that the kingdom of God is coming and has arrived in the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world - Jesus Christ.
Jesus, whose own clothing was always significant.
From the swaddling clothes of his humble birth to glorious robes of his transfiguration. Pay attention to what Jesus wears.
From the power that exuded when even the hem of his garment when it was touched, to his humble foot-washing with a towl wrapped around his waist.
* Jim - show the power and glory of Christ as you model also his humble service to the people of Christ.
Then, at his passion -
There was the purple robe they cast on him, mocking his kingship - he who indeed was king of all.
His own garments were divided among the soldiers, and they cast lots for his tunic - thus Jesus fulfilled the scriptures, as he always did.
Then Joseph of Arimethea and the women hastily wrapped his lifeless body in linens for burial. But these were garments he would not need for long.
* Jim - preach Christ crucified for sinners. Never cover the cross with the fig leaf of how-to sermons or personal hobby horses. Don't be ashamed of the Gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation!
And then when Peter and John arrived on Easter morn, they saw the linens left behind, and the cloth from his face neatly folded, as one makes his bed when he rises in the morning.
* Jim - preach also the Resurrection of Christ. Remind them at Good Shepherd that the Good Shepherd leads us through the Valley of the Shadow of Death, for he has been there and done that, and he rose victorious.
Yes, Jesus' clothing is always significant, but then there is the clothing we get to wear- Galatians 3 says, "for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ" In Baptism, we Christians get the finest clothes of all - Christ himself. His own robe of righteousness. Our baptism is a gift of God that covers our sins. Most children who are baptized wear white for this very reason. * Jim - you will have the privilege of baptizing many children, and probably some adults. Remind them all how we are decked out in God's own finery by those waters overflowing with promise.
And what good Lutheran can mention baptism without also touching on the Lord's Supper? Any connection with clothing there? Remember Jesus' parable of the marriage feast. When the king was outraged when some of the beggars he had invited were not clothed in the proper wedding attire (which the host himself provides, by the way)? Here we are reminded that to join in the Lord's Feast, we must be properly clothed in faith. For Christ's presence and his promise there require it.
* Jim - as a steward of the mysteries, be faithful. So that all whom you serve with the Lord's Supper are properly attired with faith in Christ's words, "This is my body. This is my blood. given... shed for you... for the forgiveness of your sins." For there, veiled in the bread and wine is the real presence of Christ for the blessing of his people.
Not long ago we read the Ascension account in which Jesus promised the outpouring of his Spirit. He said to his disciples, "Stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high". We too are clothed with the Spirit's power - that Holy Spirit who is always working through God's word, pointing sinners to Christ.
* Jim - you will find that this office of public ministry will be exhilirating and often challenging, sometimes frustrating, always a blessing. And though you have been well prepared and thoroughly trained - resist the temptation to rely on yourself and your own resources. For like the apostles long ago, you can do nothing without the power of the Spirit. And you will find that Spirit working as God promises, in his Word - which is our only sword in the battle.
Yes, there will be weddings, with the bride beautifully adorned like the Bride of Christ, as the church is pictured in the final chapters of Revelation. Remind the bride and groom of the true bridegroom in their marriage, Jesus Christ.
And there will be funerals, when the casket is covered with a pall to remind us of the robe of Christ's righteousness given in baptism. And you might preach a funeral sermon or two on the multitude who have "washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the lamb".
From crade to grave and from font to funeral, Christ is there to clothe his people, and you, Jim, will be there, to point them to Christ. May your stole and alb and cassock and surplice and chasuble and cross all serve you well in serving the people of Christ, and may you, Jim, always be attired in that same robe of His righteousness. That's your most important vestment.