20 September 2013

The Crucified and Risen Lord Gives Good Gifts

St. Matthew, the former tax collector, is among the Lord’s good gifts to His Church.  Indeed, as one of the Twelve Apostles, and as the first of the Four Holy Evangelists, he is a most excellent gift of God’s grace toward us in Christ Jesus.

He was given, not only to preach, but to write the Holy Gospel for the posterity of the Church, even to the close of the age; and, in that Word of the Gospel, Christ Himself is with His Church.

But St. Matthew remembers — as he himself records for all the ages in that same Holy Gospel — he remembers where he was, and who and what he was, when the Lord Jesus saw him, found him, and called him to follow: to become, first of all, before anything else, a disciple of the One who makes His Way to the Cross.

He was a “Levi,” as we know from the other Evangelists, but he had sought his inheritance, not in the Lord, as the Levites were to find their heritage in Him, but in the collecting of taxes, in the making of money, in worldly wealth and riches, in the worship and service of mammon.

Yet, the Lord had mercy on this man, Levi, and compassion on his whole motley crew.  He sought him out and called him to newness of life, that is, to the real life that is found only in Christ Jesus.

So it was that Levi became a new man, and he was called “Matthew,” a gift, because of what he received, and because of what he was given to be.  What he freely received, in the compassion of Christ Jesus, he freely delivered and bestowed upon others.  You have heard that, for example, in the way his home became a place of hospitality for Christ and His disciples, and for other sinners.

By the gift of St. Matthew, and by his Ministry of the Word, the Lord Jesus Christ has sought and found others, and has called them to Himself, to follow Him through death into life everlasting.  Not simply in the Book of the Gospel that St. Matthew wrote by inspiration of the Holy Spirit; though, to be sure, that precious Book has been copied, published, and distributed in countless ways to all the nations of the earth, to the praise and glory of God, and to the edification of His saints around the world.

But it is also in the Apostolic Office of the Holy Ministry, to which St. Matthew was called and ordained, that Christ is actively present and at work to seek and to save the lost, to call sinners to repentance and faith in His forgiveness of sins.  What St. Matthew wrote is what he and the other Apostles first of all preached and administered; and it is that Office, and that good work, which is continued in the preaching and teaching of men who are called, ordained, and sent by Christ.

Men such as the Reverend Dave Seyboldt, who is given here to you by the same Lord Jesus Christ.

You have heard the testimony of St. Paul the Apostle, that pastors, too, are God’s good gift to His Church.  But you may not always recognize or appreciate that fact.  As children do not always see their parents as good gifts, and spouses do not always perceive each other to be God’s good gift, so too, and for similar reasons, the people of God may struggle to think of their pastors as gifts.

Often you are grateful, and you are generous in your thanksgiving.  But there are times when what you see most clearly in your pastor are frailties and failings, weaknesses and mistakes.  In fact, the better you get to know him, the more and more aware you may be of his sins and his mortality.

The devil would have you stand in condemnation of your pastor, and of the Lord Himself, who has given you such a pastor; in much the same way as the scribes and pharisees grumbled and complained concerning Jesus and the company He keeps.

Believe me, your pastor is more painfully aware of his sins and shortcomings than you are; and the Lord knows even better.  But so it is, that, in your pastor, the Lord demonstrates His mercy and compassion for sinners; and in calling His servants daily to repentance and to faith in His Gospel, He teaches them such mercy and compassion for you, as well.

You have heard of the shepherd who rejoices at the finding of the lost sheep.  So does your pastor learn to have such joy for the salvation of lost souls, as he himself receives mercy from the Lord.  He learns what it means to desire compassion, as he himself receives the compassion of Christ.

As it was for St. Matthew, so it is for your pastor, and for each pastor of the Church, that he must first of all become a disciple of Christ Jesus, before he can “go and make disciples” of others.

To be a disciple is to live by faith in the gracious providence of the Lord Jesus Christ, and so to receive and rely upon His good gifts.  That is no less true, but all the more so, for those who are called to serve as ministers of His Church.  And our dear Lord is faithful in providing all that is required for this good work to which He calls and sends them.  He gives them His good gifts, in love for them, who are His own men, and in love for the sheep He entrusts to their pastoral care.

For it is the case that, for the household and family of His Church, as also in each of your homes and families, the Lord of mercy cares for His people: in, with, and under His Holy Cross.

Foremost among His gifts, especially within the Office and vocation of the Holy Ministry, is the Word of God, both the Law and the Gospel, by which He reveals and conveys His divine Will for life and salvation.  Such is the heritage, in particular, of those who are called to be the “Levites” of His Church on earth, that is, His servants who are given to care for the Tabernacle of His Body.

He gives them His Word to preach and teach, to catechize both young and old, to admonish and absolve, to encourage and instruct in the Way of the Lord.  But, so also, He gives them His Word, in the first place, by causing His Word to be preached and spoken to them, that is, to His servants, in order to forgive them, to heal them, to strengthen and sustain them in His faith and life forever.

They have nothing to give, and no Word to speak, but that which they have received from Him.

It is not a mushy, sentimental word that is spoken to and by the ministers of Christ, our Lord, but the deadly and life-giving Word of His Cross: It is the Word of Christ, the one true God who has become flesh and blood for us, crucified and risen from the dead.  Such a Word is deadly, because it crucifies and buries your old Adam with Christ Jesus; for so must each and every disciple take up the Cross and follow after Him, even unto death.  But it is no less a life-giving Word, because it raises you with Christ in His Resurrection through the free and full forgiveness of all your sins.

It is a Word of lamentation for the sins of the world, and for the death that has fallen upon all men because of sin.  And yet, it is a Word that has become sweeter than honey in the mouth of him who preaches, by the dying and rising of Christ, our Savior, who was crucified for the transgressions of the world, and who has risen from death for the reconciliation and righteousness of the world.

Your pastor learns that Word, not only academically, but in his own experience and suffering of the Cross: in the pain of repentance, and in the blessed relief and resurrection of forgiveness.  He is given to eat and drink such things, to receive them not only into his ears and his head, but into his mouth, his stomach, his whole body; into his heart and soul and spirit.  He is given to consume the Word of the Lord, the preaching of repentance and forgiveness, that it should consume him.

So does your pastor learn mercy and compassion on the narrow path of his own dire straits, so as to have sympathy and tender affection for even the least of these, for tax collectors and sinners, who, like himself, have no hope nor help but Christ.  He is taught by the Word of the Cross, and by the Cross itself, to know and practice the humility of repentance and the confidence of faith; and to proceed in the Peace of Christ, received and given, by and with the forgiveness of sins.

It is by this Ministry of the Word of the Cross, by this preaching of repentance and forgiveness, by the practice of confession and absolution, that you grow up into Christ, your Head; that you are conformed to the Image of God’s own beloved Son, crucified and risen from the dead.  Not only that you emulate His good example, but that He puts you to death and raises you to newness of life.

So is a pastor also formed by the Cross of Christ, for the administration of the fruits of the Cross, that is, for the breathing of the Holy Spirit through the preaching of the Gospel, and for the giving and pouring out of the Body and Blood of Christ at His Table.

These are the works of mercy and the acts of compassion which define and characterize the Office of the Holy Ministry; and which, in turn, define and characterize the Christian faith and life.

At the heart and center is the Lord Jesus, who is not ashamed to call both you and your pastor His brethren; who graciously receives you to Himself, and reclines at the Table with you in peace; even as He stands to serve you, and as He kneels to wash your feet.

This Man receives sinners, and He eats with them.  Yes, and what is more, He feeds them from His own hand, with His good gifts: with Himself, His Body and His Blood.  He is the best Gift of all.

He gives Himself to you, Pr. Seyboldt; and He gives you as a gift to His people in this place.

Beloved of the Lord, He gives Himself to each and every one of you; and He gives you to one another, and to your neighbors in the world, so that you also are a good gift of His compassion.

That is how your dear Lord Jesus works mercy upon sinners.  It is with compassion that He acts.

As He takes bread, and, by His Word, He gives it to you, His very Body, for the forgiveness of all your sins, so does He take this man, David, and, by His Word, He gives him to you, His servant, His spokesman, to serve you, to preach and teach, all for the sake of forgiving you all your sins.

His heart is stirring with a noble song.  Let him recite what has been fashioned for you by the King.  For his tongue shall be the pen of that skilled Writer.  How sweet is the Word who thus speaks Peace to you.  Much sweeter than honey is the Word of Absolution in his mouth.

In the Name + of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

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