Tuesday – Lent 2
Sermon for Pastors Circuit Meeting (Winkel)
February 23, 2016
There's an old story about a husband and wife waking up on a Sunday morning, and the wife is busy getting ready for church, but the husband is sort of lolly-gagging. She warns him, “Come on, honey, you're going to be late if you don't get moving.”
“I don't want to go to church today” he says.
“Why not?” she asks.
“Because I'm tired. Because church is boring. And frankly, nobody there likes me anyway”
“Well, I'll give you three good reasons you should go to church” the wife answers him.
“One, you're a sinner. Two you need God's forgiveness. And three, you're the pastor! Now get dressed!”
Friends, you know that this office we bear can be a burden. There is so much to do. There are so many people with so many needs. Sometimes you don't even like some of those people. And frankly, sometimes they don't like you either. We must make difficult pastoral decisions dealing with sinners in messy situations. We see people sometimes at their best, but often at their worst, their weakest, their lowest. Often they don't come to you until all the damage is done and you can't help anyway, it seems, and can do nothing but stand there gobsmacked with them. Offer a shoulder to cry on. Say a prayer. You give and it's never enough. The work is never really finished. At least, this side of heaven.
And there are crosses. The sick. The suffering. The grieving. They are not yours, but sometimes you get splinters from their crosses as you shoulder it along side them for a time. And there are fears. Fears that you didn't do enough. That you did too much. That you should have said this or that, or what the hang am I going to say to THIS person? Will we make budget? Will this conflict ever resolve? What will my legacy be in this place? Have I just been wasting my time? Am I wasting my breath?
Well, friend, I am here to tell you that you are not Jesus. But Jesus, too, knew the burdens of ministry. He knew what it was like to have 5000, no probably more like 15,000 hungry mouths to feed. He knew what it was like to be rejected, even betrayed by those closest to him. He knew what it was like to be opposed by the religious people, by the bread-hungry or blood-thirsty crowd. He knew even the opposition of demons. He felt the burden of hordes of desperate people with dropsy and leprosy, blindness and deafness, a flow of blood and even a dead little girl. Wherever he came in villages, cities, or countryside, they laid the sick in the marketplaces and implored him that they might touch even the fringe of his garment.... it all sounds so... exhausting.
Perhaps we do well to follow Jesus' example, and find times of rest and prayer. Jesus withdrew to a solitary place to pray. Go up on your mountain now and then. Pray. Fast. It's Lent, after all. Good enough for Jesus, good enough for you and me. But still. This is a temporary reprieve. He would soon be back at it.
And now with his own disciples. The ones that should have known better. The ones that should have known him best. They heard his word, day in and day out. They got the inside scoop on decoding the parables. They had front-row seats to all the miracles. If anyone should get it, they should have! Three years in such close proximity to Jesus was the best seminary training ever.
And yet. AND YET. “Jesus, don't you care that we die?” “Jesus, are you NOW going to restore the kingdom to Israel?” “Holy smokes, it's a ghost!” Their hearts were dark, and their heads were hard. Their fears rules them. They didn't yet understand the loaves. They didn't understand a lot of things. Oh they of little faith!
You wonder if Jesus grew frustrated with them. If he let out one of those signature sighs. Did he do a Jesus face-palm? Maybe we feel like we can relate to that frustration.
But as I said, friend, I am here to tell you that you are not Jesus. Sure, it's your job to bring Jesus to the crowds, to the little children, to the hospital bedside. To the hungry and thirsty for righteousness. It's your job to preach Christ crucified for sinners to all sinners who have ears to hear. It's your calling to reprove, rebuke and teach, with patience and kindness and gentleness and respect. To call a sin a sin. And to point weary sinners to the cross. But you are not Jesus.
But you are just as much a part of that needy crowd. You are just as much a bewildered disciple, oh you of little faith! You are just as much oppressed by the devil, the world, the sinful flesh. You are just as much in need of Jesus as they are. Being a pastor doesn't make you need Jesus less. If anything it makes us need him more. And Jesus is for you just as much as he is for the 5000, for the sick, the demon-possessed, and for the people of Peace, Crown of Life, or Messiah.
Jesus says, “Take heart. It is I. Do not be afraid.”
“Take heart. Be encouraged. Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust God. Trust me.” What a kind and simple word of comfort that is surely not just meant to the blokes in the boat. Take heart, pastor. It's Jesus. He's here. Oh, not as a ghost or a phantom. And not just in some abstract symbolical way. Christ is present here in his word. He is present when two or three gather in his name. The living word from eternity, the living word once made flesh and whose human body reigns from heaven, this living word speaks to you this day and says, “Take heart! It is I!” There's no one else who can say “take heart” and it mean so much. For it is he. It is Jesus. Here, for you.
And he says, “Do not be afraid.” And again, the words mean more than just “I'm not a ghost you nincompoops” His perfect love drives out all our fear. That love shown to us when he gave himself into the punishment we should fear, the death we ought to die, the hell and wrath that is ours by rights. But fear not. It is I. Jesus. The Savior.
You are not Jesus. But Jesus IS Jesus. And he is Jesus for you. He comes to comfort and console you. He comes to heal and lift you up. He comes to forgive you of your sins, by his word of absolution, by the washing in his name, and the meal of his institution. In these we take heart. In these, we are made well. In these, we are fed, cleansed, sustained, encouraged.
I don't know what struggles you face, dear pastor. But I suspect they are like my own. I don't know how you handle the stress, but if you're a sinner you probably don't do as well as you should. The burdens are great, and we are weak. But take heart, for our savior is strong – stronger than the devils, stronger than even death. He bears all burdens. He shoulders all sins and hurts and sorrows. Even yours. Even your sins. Even to the cross.
Take heart. It's Jesus! Do not be afraid.
Thanks be to God, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.