The Encouragement of Pastors
St. Barnabas, Apostle
The 10th Anniversary of Ordination for
Rev. James Alfred Roemke
June 11, 2017
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.
Today we gather to give thanks to God for the ministry of his servant Pastor Jim Roemke these past 10 years. It is good and fitting for the church to honor her ministers, for in doing so we honor the One who sends them to us, even our Lord Jesus Christ. So also, today, even though Pastor Roemke hasn't served here at Messiah all of those 10 years, we recognize also that God has worked through this man here and at his former parish, to forgive sins, administer the sacraments to sinners, and to proclaim the word of God and especially the message of Christ crucified.
It was about 10 years ago, when my good friend here was ordained, that I also had the privilege of preaching for the occasion. And, God willing, perhaps I'll have the honor again many years from now to do the same again. But for today, we agreed it was fitting to observe the commemoration of St. Barnabas, who's day falls on June 11th. Pastor reminds me this was the occasion, also, for the first Sunday he ever served as an actual pastor. But it is fitting for many other reasons, as we'll soon see. First, some background on Barnabas:
His given name was Joseph, but he was called by the apostles Barnabas (which means son of encouragement). He was a Levite, a native of Cyprus, and he sold a field that belonged to him and brought the money and laid it at the apostles' feet. (Acts 4:36-37). Here Scripture makes first mention of Saint Barnabas.
This name given by the Apostles matches what we know of his actions. When Saul of Tarsus (or Paul) came to Jerusalem after his conversion, most of the congregation wanted nothing to do with him. They knew him only as a persecutor and an enemy of Christ's Church. Barnabas, however, willingly gave him a second chance. He sought him out, spoke with him, and brought him to meet the other Christians, vouching for him.
Later, Paul and Barnabas went on a missionary journey together, taking Barnabas's cousin Mark along. Part way, Mark turned back and went home. When Paul and Barnabas were about to set out on another such journey, Barnabas proposed to take Mark along, and Paul was against it, saying that Mark had shown himself undependable. Barnabas wanted to give Mark a second chance, and so he and Mark went off on one journey, while Paul took Silas and went on another. Apparently Mark responded well to the trust given him by the "son of encouragement," since we find that Paul later spoke of him as a valuable assistant (2 Timothy 4:11; see also Colossians 4:10 and Philemon 24).
Barnabas stands for us, today, as an encourager as well. Yet another example of a faithful ministry of the word, he teaches us by example and reminds us of gifts God gives to his church through his appointed servants.
The apostles gave him the name, “Barnabas”, but I also like to call him “Mr. Second Chances” He reminds me, for instance, that it is one aspect of the pastor's office to afford “second chances” to sinners, under the cross of Christ. The cross is the only second chance we have with God, the only escape clause from the punishments due for sin. And a faithful pastor points sinners to that cross, and to this Christ.
Yes, Paul was a great sinner and persecutor of the church, but Baranabas could see through the cross, that Christ had forgiven Paul and would use him for good. Yes, Mark may have chickened out or given up when the going got tough, but Barnabas saw through the cross, that whatever Mark's failing – Christ had it covered, and Mark would go on to continue serving the kingdom.
You, also have a faithful Barnabas, Messiah. Your pastor here, will encourage you with the same cross of Christ, and restore you by the forgiveness Christ speaks through him. It doesn't matter what your sin is, this pastor will hear your confession and pronounce God's holy absolution for the sake of Christ. It doesn't matter how big or how small it is, the Barnabas in this place will remind you of your baptism, where your old Adam drowns and your new Adam arises daily. Were you unkind, or selfish, or angry, or lustful, or negligent, or prideful, or gossipy, or discontent, or hateful, or cowardly, or some combination or all of the above? This faithful Barnabas will feed you with the very Body and Blood of Christ, who was none of those things, but who takes all of those sins and more and wipes them out, giving you a clean slate each and every time.
The Gospel reading for today is also helpful. Why is this chosen for St. Barnabas day? Barnabas wasn't one of the 12 sent out here by Jesus, though Luke refers to him briefly with the same title, “apostle”. Perhaps because, like the 12, Barnabas was also sent out, though at a different time and to different places, in a twosome with St. Paul. And furthermore, this reading from Mark 6 gives some basic contours common to all who serve in the public ministry of the word. Consider:
Jesus sends them out with authority – and so he does for us, and this is good for you, the hearer. To know that the pastor doesn't preach his own word, his own ideas, his own opinions – but always and only the word of Christ. A word that has authority. So when the pastor forgives your sins, it's not his forgiveness, but God's. When the pastor proclaims that in Christ, salvation is sure, eternity is yours, and “it is finished”, you know these are not his words, but the words of him who sends him. And that is an encouraging thought.
Take note, it says Jesus “began to send” them out... This isn't the last time Jesus would send out preachers carrying his message. It may have been that he sent the 12 out on several occasions similar to this, as it seems Matthew and Luke's accounts have some varying details. Jesus would send out the 72 in pairs of proclamation. And some of his final words before his ascension were words of sending, that disciples should be made of all nations by baptizing and teaching everything he has commanded. The same Jesus, by the same Spirit, sent laborers into his harvest fields throughout history, all over the world, and has even sent a young man from Indiana to a congregation in Kenosha for the same purposes.
Jesus also reminds them that some will hear and receive and believe, and others will reject this message. He instructs the disciples to testify against them by the prophetic action of shaking the dust off their feet. A powerful statement that if you won't receive Christ and his word, then you have no part with him or his church. But the flip side is that some will believe and show appreciation for the word, the ministry, and therefore the ministers of this message. Some would even take them into their homes, and show hospitality as long as the preacher was there.
So also, today, not everyone has ears to hear the Gospel. I'll let you in on a little secret about us pastors. One of the hardest things for us, one of the biggest griefs we bear, is when people reject the Gospel of Christ. It happens far too often.
But the comfort, the encouragement for us from Christ is partly, knowing beforehand that some will reject, but also that some, like you will believe. And this is one of the greatest joys of the pastor. Not that his people love him. Not that they give him a nice salary or a Christmas bonus, or a nice parsonage or a 10 year anniversary celebration. But it pleases us most, gives us the most joy, when sinners repent and believe in Jesus Christ. When that happens, there's even a party in heaven as the angels join in great rejoicing.
But yes, that does also mean that those who receive the message and appreciate it will also care and provide for their pastors. And I know that you do so here at Messiah, and have for a very long time. It is a testament to your faith in Christ, and that you do treasure his precious Gospel. And because of that, you care for and treasure your pastor. And so, I encourage you - keep up the good work!
Thanks be to God for the 10 years he has proclaimed the word through this faithful servant. May God continue to bless and keep you and your family, Pastor Roemke, as you encourage these your people with the message of Christ crucified. And we pray that the Lord who has sent us into the harvest will also bless our labors, according to the work of his Spirit, for his good purposes and according to his gracious will. God grant it, for the sake of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.