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For Trinity 22
Today we hear from one of Bach’s “chamber cantatas,” BWV 89 — “Was soll ich aus dir machen, Ephraim?” (How shall I give you up, Ephraim?). These required only about a dozen performers, and may have given Bach space at various times throughout the church year to work on more elaborate pieces.
The soprano recitative and aria presented here change the mood of the cantata from minor to major and point to Christ’s death as the hope of forgiveness and cleansing.
Well then! My heart lays anger, quarreling and discord aside;
it is ready to forgive my neighbor.
However, how terrified is my sinful life,
since I am full of guilt before God!
Yet Jesus’ blood
accounts for the reckoning,
if I turn to Him, as the source of the law,
Righteous God, ah, do you judge?
Then for the salvation of my soul
I will count the drops of blood from Jesus.
Ah! Reckon the total to my account!
Indeed, since no one can fathom it,
it will conceal my guilt and sin.
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Sermon: Edification (1 Thessalonians 2.1-12)
You yourselves know, brothers and sisters, that our coming to you was not in vain, but though we had already suffered and been shamefully maltreated at Philippi, as you know, we had courage in our God to declare to you the gospel of God in spite of great opposition. For our appeal does not spring from deceit or impure motives or trickery, but just as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the message of the gospel, even so we speak, not to please mortals, but to please God who tests our hearts. As you know and as God is our witness, we never came with words of flattery or with a pretext for greed; nor did we seek praise from mortals, whether from you or from others, though we might have made demands as apostles of Christ. But we were gentle among you, like a nurse tenderly caring for her own children. So deeply do we care for you that we are determined to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you have become very dear to us.
You remember our labour and toil, brothers and sisters; we worked night and day, so that we might not burden any of you while we proclaimed to you the gospel of God. You are witnesses, and God also, how pure, upright, and blameless our conduct was towards you believers. As you know, we dealt with each one of you like a father with his children, urging and encouraging you and pleading that you should lead a life worthy of God, who calls you into his own kingdom and glory.
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The epistle readings for this final month of Ordinary Time are from 1Thessalonians, and we have been focusing our sermons on Paul’s instructions in this letter. We have also been linking these texts and teachings with principles from Martin Luther and the Reformation in this 500th anniversary year. We have thus far considered the Protestant principles of conversion, revelation, and resurrection. Today we look at a fourth theme: the principle of edification.
The word “edification” means to build up or to strengthen. In Christ and in the church and among our neighbors, we are called to live in such a way that we will build up the people around us. We will serve others in such a way that they will grow and be benefitted as people as we relate to one another. In other words, the faith we have in Jesus will naturally and continually move us to love those around us. In one of his letters, Paul writes that the religious rituals some were urging people to participate in in order to be part of God’s family really count for nothing. What really matters, he reminded them, is faith working through love. And love always seeks to build up, and not tear down, those around us.
In 1Thessalonians 2, Paul writes his friends in the church and shares about the ministry of the apostles — what they were all about. There were many religious leaders in Paul’s day (and there continue to be many in our own day) who say they are for the gospel, but in reality they are all about self-glorification. Their goal is to build impressive organizations that garner fame and recognition and wealth and power. Though they may say many things that are good and encouraging to people, ultimately their focus is on building monuments to themselves and not to our Lord Jesus Christ. In contrast to that approach, the Apostle Paul tells the Thessalonians what real ministry looks like, what a real pastor looks like, what a true servant of God and people looks like. Paul describes a ministry here that is all about edification and not self-glorification. It’s all about building others up, not inflating one’s own wealth, power and status.
In 1528, as the Reformation was growing, Luther and other reformers did a systematically visitation of the churches and communities in Saxony, in order to assess the state of spiritual vitality there. The results were discouraging, and Luther wrote:
Dear God, what misery I beheld! The ordinary person, especially in the villages, knows absolutely nothing about the Christian faith, and unfortunately many pastors are completely unskilled and incompetent teachers. Yet supposedly they all bear the name Christian, are baptized, and receive the holy sacrament, even though they do not know the Lord’s Prayer, the Creed, or the Ten Commandments! As a result they live like simple cattle or irrational pigs and, despite the fact that the Gospel has returned, have mastered the fine art of misusing their freedom”
One of the results of this visitation was that Martin Luther wrote his Small Catechism. Luther saw the Catechism as a book to be used in home and congregation. The Catechism soon became one of the most important documents of the Reformation. It reinforced the gospel message that the people were hearing from Saxon pulpits as God’s Word was preached, and gave both pastors and parents an excellent resource for training the people in the communities in the faith.
Martin Luther had a pastor’s heart. He cared for people like us, ordinary people who engage in our daily work, who raise our families, and who care for one another as neighbors in the communities where we live. He understood that the Reformation would only be as strong as the individuals, families, and churches that were in those communities. The priests and others in the church in his day were weak and ineffective. They cared more about money and power than they did about people. Luther knew that one key element of reforming the church was turning this around so that the church would have spiritually vibrant, well trained, and caring ministers.
And this is the emphasis that what we see in Paul’s text for today.
- Paul says we came to please God and not to flatter you so that you would become attached to us.
- Paul says we didn’t come to gain riches for ourselves, or positions of great honor.
- Paul says we came with a motherly kind of love, a love that is gentle and self-sacrificing.
- Paul says we came with a brotherly kind of love, not demanding anything from you, but working side by side with you.
- Paul says we came with a fatherly kind of love, not concerned about what you could do for us, but about how we could encourage you to follow Jesus and put his kingdom first.
My favorite words in this section are found in verse 8: “So deeply do we care for you that we are determined to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you have become very dear to us.”
That, my friends, is the heart of a true minister of the gospel of Christ. As Christ has loved us with an everlasting love, a true pastor loves and cares for people. As Christ laid down his life to serve others, so a pastor gives not just words, but his or her own self in serving others with Jesus’ love.
But these are not only the qualities of an ordained minister that Paul is describing here, in my opinion. Paul always hoped that his actions and the actions of his coworkers would be an example of how all Christians should live. Faith, genuine faith, works itself out in loving service to others. It is the duty of all the people in a congregation to serve each other with motherly, brotherly, and fatherly love.
One pastor who writes books about ministry that I dearly love to read once wrote: “I knew that my leadership role was to let Jesus Christ lead the church” (David Hansen). He went on to say that his job was to love and care for the people God had entrusted to him as parishioners, neighbors, and friends.
My friends, if every church, if every minister, if every person in the congregation would take this attitude, the church would experience continual reformation. It is faith and love that will continually make us new. I pray that, in this church, we will always let Jesus lead and that we will always love and serve one another and our community. Amen.