2nd Sunday after Pentecost
June 18, 2017
Good Shepherd Evangelical Lutheran Church
Sioux Falls, SD
Rev. Norman F. Seeger
Colossians 1:3-8 (CSB)
We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, for we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love you have for all the saints because of the hope reserved for you in heaven. You have already heard about this hope in the word of truth, the gospel that has come to you. It is bearing fruit and growing all over the world, just as it has among you since the day you heard it and came to truly appreciate God’s grace., You learned this from Epaphras, our dearly loved fellow servant. He is a faithful minister of Christ on your behalf, and he has told us about your love in the Spirit.
“We Thank God for…”
1) the Gospel 2) for Faith / Love 3) for the Hope of Heaven”
Dear disciples of Christ,
Paul is not celebrating forty years of pastoral ministry (as you are doing for me today). Paul is in prison in Rome, writing believers in Colosse where he apparently had not served as their pastor personally. Despite differences in our setting, words the Lord lays out in our text appear appropriate. With Paul, I pray we ‘Thank God’ today; every day. While we can count years a pastor serves – for me, one year as tutor at our college/high school in New Ulm, MN, managing a dormitory while teaching 9th-grade Latin (classes one Good Shepherd member may vaguely remember); graduating from our Seminary to serve as pastor more than six years in Birmingham, AL; now serving for almost thirty-four years in Sioux Falls, when we celebrate years of ministry, we will rightly ‘Thank God,’ not focusing on a preacher nor how he preaches, but focusing on the good news God gives us to share with our world.
When Paul recounted his missionary work, he rightly deflected attention to the message, not the messenger, ‘When I came to you, I did not come with eloquence or human wisdom as I proclaimed the testimony about God. I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ & him crucified. I came in weakness with great fear & trembling. My message & preaching were not with wise & persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, so your faith might not rest on human wisdom, but on God’s power.’[1 COR 2] Looking at what God works through his Word, guided by Paul’s inspired writing, I pray we thank God for the gospel message he gives us to share, thank God for the faith & love he produces in his people; thank God for the sure hope of heaven he has set aside for us in Christ.
Talking to God in prayer, we ask forgiveness, we ask our Lord’s direction & protection in life; we also thank God for blessings our Lord lovingly pours upon us, often meeting our needs before we ask. Yes, ‘We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you.’ Thanking God, notice how Paul immediately shares God’s good news while simply identifying ‘the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.’ Jesus, meaning ‘he saves,’ is God the Son miraculously born the Son of Mary so, as God & Man, he can live a perfect life his Father credits to us as righteousness; he can die an innocent death his Father accepts as full payment for our sins. Christ, ‘the anointed one,’ subtly reminds readers Jesus is lovingly sent by God to serve as the Prophet who teaches us God’s plan for our eternal life, the Priest who sacrifices himself to atone for our sins & the King (the Lord) who rules our soul & body.
As pastors pray for God’s people; as God’s people pray for pastors, not the messenger but the message – the effective truth of Jesus Christ – is stressed. ‘We thank God for the message of truth, the gospel that has come to you, the gospel bearing fruit & growing all over the world.’ Some people marvel at a pastor preaching two thousand different sermons over four decades, asking at times, ‘Will I ever run out of material? Will I find myself with nothing to say when I step into this pulpit some Sunday?’ In fact, I realize nothing in my mind is worth twenty minutes of your time. I really have no personal wisdom anyone has to hear. However, God has given me eternal truths to share. Preaching like Paul, a faithful pastor will not invent entertaining stories nor try to enthrall you with new ideas, but will simply let the text talk. Paul’s letters, you see, are full of Old Testament references. If every old Testament passage were printed in purple, I suspect people would be surprised how often this apostle’s ‘new’ truth is what God’s prophets taught & wrote hundreds of years earlier. So my aim & my training as a preacher is to let God speak, weaving in applicable passages from other books of the Bible; to let Scripture interpret Scripture, never trying to personally persuade, but trusting the Holy Spirit will work faith through the good news about Jesus Christ crucified but risen.
Faith, I understand, always has, faith always will ‘come from hearing the message of Christ.’[ROM 10] Sermon texts vary; emphases & applications differ week to week, but, rightly preaching God’s law & gospel, I must always show you our sin; show you our Savior: ‘Given into death for our sins, Jesus was raised to life for our justification. Justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.’[ROM 6] Today; every day, thank God for giving us an unchanging, eternally important ‘gospel message of truth’ to share.
Thank & praise God for using his Word to produce faith, to powerfully – as God causes seeds in the ground to sprout & grow – to powerfully lead souls ‘to hear & to recognize God’s grace,’ acknowledging, confessing it is true: Jesus lived & died to redeem me! Jesus is my Savior; Jesus is my Lord! Called by Christ ‘to prepare God’s people for works of service,’[EPH 4] pastors are privileged to teach confirmation classes for older as well as younger souls. Bible information classes are a joyful part of ministry; yet while pastors might feel ‘successful’ as people professing faith in Jesus join a congregation, we must realize it is always the Holy Spirit, never the pastor, using God’s gospel truth to create ‘faith in Christ Jesus;’ to produce in us ‘love for all the saints.’
Celebrating ministry, a pastor can undoubtedly recall numerous ups & downs – personal pleasure as well as disappointment; spiritual sorrows & also joys – yet I pray pastors, like Paul, remember all the positive people our Lord leads to serve with us. ‘We always thank God for your faith; for your love – for the gospel truth bearing fruit among you since the day you recognized God’s grace.’ As I thank God for your faith & faithfulness (for your faith in action), I remember the Lord using many of you to shape my ministry. Paul prints no particulars & I will not mention many names, but I clearly recall Mel (my first weekend in Birmingham) serving the Lord by cleaning the bathroom floor in church. Seeing an older gentleman, vice-president in a national trucking company, scrubbing the floor on his hands & knees, could I ever act as if any form of service might be too menial for me to tackle? No! Thank God for leading us pastors & people to faithfully serve our Savior together.
Lifting eyes to look beyond our personal place in Christ’s kingdom, I with Paul thank God ‘because his gospel message is bearing fruit & growing all over the world, just as it has among you.’ Reading Paul’s mission journeys recorded in the Acts of the Apostles, we rejoice to see God’s saving Word spead from place to place despite persistent opposition. Knowing, God’s life-giving gospel message would not stop spreading as the Scriptures were fully written, I rejoice to see God still increasing his kingdom when we scatter gospel seeds in our world — as we share God’s truth personally, as we call pastors to serve our congregation; as we, with the rest of our synon, send out missionaries. Vicaring in Seminole, I was able to help start our congregation in Clearwater, FL. From Birmingham, the Lord allowed me to begin gathering believers in Columbus, MS, moving our synod into all 50 states. Privileged here to serve sixteen years as our district’s mission board chairman, I was blessed to observe first-hand how the Holy Spirit uses God’s gospel truth to create believers while planting mission congregations across our country, as well as in Canada.
While I thank God for now gathering in one normal Sunday service what was our total worship attendance as I arrived in Sioux Falls – as Paul mentions ‘the gospel bearing fruit & growing throughout the whole world’ – we notice WELS’ world mission activity increasing on many continents, even as outreach efforts or effectiveness in North America appear to plateau. Souls around us might refuse to see their sin & subsequently see no need for a Savior, yet I pray we will thank God his Word – God’s gospel truth – God’s good news of Jesus our Redeemer – continues to work faith wherever & whenever the Lord wills.
Focusing on our ministry of God’s truth here at Good Shepherd, I pray, ‘May God’s gospel message never be rejected by me, nor by you!’ since, Paul points out, our ‘faith in Christ Jesus & our love for all God’s people spring from the hope stored up for us in heaven.’ Whichever messenger God uses to deliver ‘the true message of the gospel that has come to you’ – whichever pastor God uses to preach his saving truth to you – whichever faithful friend our Lord uses to share his law & gospel convicting you of your sin while convincing you Jesus is your Savior – God always aims to ultimately welcome you & me into a heavenly home Jesus has prepared for us in God’s eternal glory.
As Paul cites ‘this hope stored up for us in heaven’ — eternal glory our crucified, risen; ascended Lord & Savior has set aside for safe keeping ‘where moth & rust cannot destroy; where thieves cannot break in & steal’[MT 6] – as Peter tags Jesus’ promised home in heaven ‘the goal of our faith, the salvation of our souls’[1 PT 1] – I thank God that of the one-hundred-thirty souls regularly listening to me preach from this pulpit in 1983, a large majority are not sitting beside you in the pew this morning. Most are singing God’s praises in heaven. Some may say a pastor burying a good-sized congregation is a negative statistic, but is not the ultimate goal of gospel ministry ushering faithful believers into their heavenly home? Is not a Christian’s funeral a definitive victory? What has brought about these triumphant funerals in the past? What will possibly cause us to celebrate the end of earthly life in the years to come? God’s Word! Guided by our gracious God, I plan to keep preaching God’s good news: Jesus’ life, death, resurrection; ascension – ‘the true gospel message you have already heard’ – gospel truth the Holy Spirit has used & will use to create & increase faith in your heart; to inspire loving faithfulness in your (eternal) life in Christ.