Sermon – September 18, 2016
18th Sunday after Pentecost
Hope Lutheran Church, Warren, Michigan
1 Timothy 2:1-15
“Hope. In This Place.”
What a blessing and privilege to return here for Hope's 50th anniversary year. I thank you for the invitation, and for your hospitality. Brenda and I lived here in 1997 and 98 when I served as Hope's second vicar. It was a year of great learning for me, in which so many of you showed us great kindness. It's been great to catch up with so many of you. Hope Lutheran Church will always have a special place in our hearts.
Now, 18 years have passed, and much has changed, but much is the same. I see that Hope remains a place in which the Gospel of Jesus Christ is proclaimed in word, and the love of Jesus Christ is shown in deed. Throughout these 50 years this congregation has been blessed, and also been a blessing to many.
With that in mind, I'd like us to focus today on our Epistle reading from 1 Timothy 2. Here you have one of Paul's “pastoral” letters, written to Timothy, a young pastor for whom Paul had lots of helpful instruction and advice. You might say that Timothy was almost like Paul's vicar.
Last week, this series of readings from 1 Timothy began, and Paul talked about his own path to the public ministry – that he was a persecutor, blasphemer and insolent opponent of the Gospel – and yet even as the foremost of sinners or chief of sinners, he was saved by God's grace because Jesus came into the world to do just that – save sinners. And here we see Paul was appointed as an apostle to the gentiles.
Those of us who serve in the Holy Ministry can certainly relate. Each of us brings the baggage of our sins, our personality flaws, all our shortcomings to the office. None of us is Jesus Christ. None of us is even St. Paul. But nonetheless God appoints pastors, calls and ordains pastors, to serve his church, to preach his word, for the good of his people. He works through these imperfect servants to bring you his gifts – His Word of grace, Holy Baptism, and the Sacrament of Christ's body and blood.
So we have the Church and her Ministers – two holy institutions established by God for our benefit. And just as Hope has benefitted from the faithful preaching of faithful preachers these 50 years, so has Hope also served others by training and sending men out to serve in other places in that same ministry.
Just as Paul sent Timothy to be a pastor, and just as the apostles appointed men to preach in various places, churches were established throughout the world as the Gospel went forth from Jerusalem, to Judea, to Samaria and even to the ends of the world.
So too has Hope Lutheran Church, in Warren Michigan had a hand and influence in the preaching of the Gospel throughout the world – and in places near and far, Wisconsin, Texas, and Singapore... and many other places.
Paul writes, that men in every place should pray.... in every place... There is a universality to this Gospel message, its invitation for Jew and Gentile, slave and free, men and women, rich and poor. All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God and are justified freely by his grace in Jesus Christ.
But there is also a particularity to all this, too. You are a certain person, in a certain congregation, in a certain place. A location. With local people as neighbors, that is, those God places near you.
Paul also says here that Jesus is the one mediator between God and man. As a mediator, or a go-between, that means he takes your place before God. He takes the place of sin, the place of punishment, the place of the cross. And he gives you a place you could never have earned, a place prepared for you even in the mansions of Heaven. A place in his kingdom, even in God's own family.
And God sends you, his people, pastors – places them in your midst - to tell you this good news, week in and week out. That even though you sin, though your sins are as scarlet, in Christ they are as white as snow. That in Christ, they are as far away from you as the East is from the West. That in Christ, God remembers your sins no more.
For this we give thanks. For this we lift up holy hands in prayer. Yes, holy hands – hands that have been sanctified by the blood of Christ to pray - “supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings... for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior”
You are, Christian, a part of something far bigger than yourself. You are, Hope Lutheran Church, a part of something far bigger than just a local congregation. You are part of the body of Christ in the world, and have been these 50 years, and God-willing for many more.
And in this church each of us has differing and varying gifts. In this church, each of us has different and varying callings, tasks, roles. Paul makes it clear here, the office of the ministry is reserved for men. Likewise, the role of childbearing is reserved for women (thank God!)
And it is through this godly calling that God brought salvation into this world – when the Son of God was made man, born of a woman. But there are many callings, vocations, ways to serve in response to His grace.
Some are musically inclined. Others serve the needy. Some give a hug when needed, others make a meal for someone who's lost a loved one.
Members of one body all – the hand and the foot and the eye and the mouth – all need each other. All have a part to play. All have a place.
You see, the church is a communion of saints – a community – placed in relationship with each other, to love and serve one another. And each local congregation is an expression of that. A gathering of believers to first of all hear and receive the gifts of God, but then also to share and reflect his love to one another. To bear one another's burdens. To encourage and strengthen. And to love whatever neighbor God places in our path in whatever way he has equipped us to do it. First of all, to those of the family of faith, but even to all people as we have opportunity.
I've lived in many places now in my years on this earth. Baltimore, New York, St. Louis, Wisconsin, Singapore, even Warren Michigan. Schoenner Ave. and 13 mile road. But whatever place I've been, people are really the same. Sinners all, just as fallen and frail as the next, facing the same grave that awaits us all. But Christians in every place are also the same – faithful people of God who trust in Jesus Christ for salvation. People who appreciate the good news he brings. People like you, at Hope, who know the grace of God in Jesus Christ, and seek to serve him by serving your neighbor. Thanks be to God for these 50 years. And God grant many more, for Hope Lutheran Church, in this place. Amen.