June 24, 2018

A Message from God's Word

5th Sunday of Pentecost
First Lesson:  Joshua 1:1-9

Second Lesson:  2 Timothy 2:1-10

Gospel Lesson:  Matthew 9:35-10:4

Sermon Text:  2 Corinthians 3:1-6

Do you agree that one of the least fun parts of having a job is being forced to do self-evaluations?  I loathe doing them, but I have to each year.  My circuit pastor will send me a list of different things that pastors have to do and I have to rank myself.  If I really like something and think I am halfway decent at it, I give myself a 4 or 5.  If I stink at something or don’t want to do it, I put a 1.  But recently I found out how those records are kept.  Each number means something.  5 means excellent, 4 means good, 2 means fair, and 1 means poor.  When a church is looking to call a pastor, they get that list.  They find out what I think I am good at and what I think I do poorly at.

But I skipped a number – 3.  What does the 3 mean?  Competent.  Frankly, I think that might be worse than fair or poor.  Who wants a pastor who is just competent?  And competent makes it sound like yeah, he can do this job or activity, but he isn’t very good at it.  Would you want to go to a restaurant that is reviewed as competent when it comes to making food?  Would you marry someone who would make a competent spouse? Would you flock to a movie that critics say is competent at entertaining you? Again, I think competent might be the worst word on that list.  And believe me when I say that next time I fill out of those evaluations, there will be no 3s on it.

As we mentioned, today is a very special service.  This is only the 3rd installation in the congregation – Pastor Dan, me, and now Jason.  And it feels like this day took forever to get to.  All the way back in February, we issued the call.  Not long after that, Jason accepted it.  Then came March.  And April.  Then there was May. And a good amount of June.  I can’t begin to count how many discussions and emails I have been involved with that center around what he will be doing, how we can expand ministry, how people can’t wait to meet him and his family, where are we going to put his office, how will we furnish it, etc.  Well, the day has finally arrived.  We will give him the rest of the day to celebrate, but come tomorrow morning, he’d better be in his office.

And I am guessing a number of you read the bio Jason put together about himself and his family.  If you didn’t, take the time to get to know a little bit more about him, Kayla, and the kids.  But for all the information that is in there, one thing is missing – a very important fact.  Remember I said it stinks to be labelled as competent?  Well, I hate to tell you this, but Jason, the staff minister we called and will install today, the servant of the Lord placed here by the Holy Spirit himself working through a body of believers at this congregation - he not only not competent.  He is incompetent.  He doesn’t get a 3.  He gets a zero.

Am I saying he can’t put two sentences together, knows next to nothing about the Bible, and has no clue what he is doing?  No.  So how is he incompetent?  Well come back to that.  But first, look at our lesson.    Paul is writing to the Corinthians, and he has to address a problem.  Some false teachers were telling the people that Paul wasn’t a real preacher, that he didn’t care about the people, and that he was only doing it for power, money, notoriety or whatever.  This was not the case at all, but Paul felt he had to defend himself so he was able to carry on ministry instead of people second guessing him motives because of these rumors.

He says, “Are we beginning to commend ourselves again? Or do we need, like some people, letters of recommendation to you or from you?”  He’s basically saying, “Do I really have to prove to you that this is for real?  Do I need some document that shows I am the real deal?”  No, he doesn’t.  Why not?  Keep going.  “You yourselves are our letter, written on our hearts, known and read by everyone.  You show that you are a letter from Christ, the result of our ministry, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts.”

What is the proof that Paul’s ministry is real and that God is blessing it?  The people themselves are.  Through Paul, God brought the Corinthians to faith.  Through Paul, God trained the people.  Through Paul, he built the people up. The Corinthian congregation was Paul’s problem child.  The struggled with many, many issues.  But God, through Paul, kept the congregation together and kept it on the straight path. If people wondered if Paul was the real deal, all they had to do was look in the mirror.  The fact that they were believers despite all the various issues that he gone through would give them all the proof they needed.

Wow – sounds like Paul has a big head.  “You guys believe because of me and my ministry!”  No, that is not what he is saying.  And he proves it.  Back to out lesson.  “Such confidence we have through Christ before God.”  God is the one who did this.  Yes, he used Paul, but God was behind it all.  And here is the clincher.  He says, “Not that we are competent in ourselves to claim anything for ourselves, but our competence comes from God. He has made us competent as ministers of a new covenant.”

So what did Paul just do there?  He didn’t give himself a 3.  He gave himself a 0.  Paul’s ministry didn’t succeed because Paul was so great, so talented, or so smart.  It succeeded because God was behind it.  If that hadn’t been the case, his ministry would have been a disaster.  Why?  Because Paul, on his own, wasn’t competent.  He couldn’t create faith in anyone’s heart.  He couldn’t cause people to turn to Christ from unbelief. He couldn’t build up the faith of anyone.  In all these matters, on his own, Paul was completely incompetent.

But, of course Paul wasn’t alone.  His Lord was with him.  And that Lord made Paul competent.  And far from being a bad thing, that is a very good thing.  What that means is that whatever God wanted Paul to do, Paul would be able to do it.  God would bless him with skill, patience, knowledge, and whatever else he needed to keep going in his ministry.  And if you look at Paul’s whole life, you see that time and again God did just that.

Now do you get why I said Jason is not competent – incompetent?  Because of his own, he is.  So am I.  So are you.  Because on our own, what is he?  What I am?  What are you?  You know – a sinner.  We are selfish, arrogant, merciless, unforgiving, grudge holding, “I am the god of my own life” sinners.  It is not fun to admit that.  It actually is quite terrifying.  But it is reality.  In another letter, Paul wrote this: “I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature.”  On our own, there is nothing good and noble about us.  And on our own, the only thing we are competent to do is sin.  Fun to hear?  No.  Reality?  Yes.

But Jason is not on his own, nor am I, nor are you.  With him, with me, and with you is our Savior.  And because he is the exact opposite of the sinner in us, he could do something about our problem.  Instead of selfishness, he sacrificed in every way.  Instead of arrogance, he humbly served.  Instead of a lack of mercy, he couldn’t have shown more.  Instead of withholding forgiveness and holding grudges, he forgave every sin.  And that perfect Savior is the one who did his work on Calvary that Jason, me, and you know we are loved, know we are forgiven, and know we are part of the family.  And this we know because Jesus was competent, was able to do the work of being our Savior.

And the Jesus who did all that did something else.  He made us competent.  To do what?  To serve.  To help.  To teach.  To lead.  To guide.  To be a blessing to others.  Just like with Paul, whatever the Lord puts on your plate, he will make you competent to do it.  Parents of little ones, he will give you the patience to keep at your super important work of raising his little lambs.  Students, he will make sure that you learn what you need to learn for wherever in life he places you.  Workers, the skills you need for the job you have are what he will bless you with.  He will make you competent.

And above all, he will do this in regard to Gospel ministry.  He will give you the words to say to a hurting friend, or he will give you a fellow believer, pastor, or staff minister to help you find the right godly words.  He will give you the strength of faith you need to talk about your faith with others and what it means to you.  He will give you the spiritual backbone to stand firm against any kind of assaults.  Again, whatever you need, he will give.  You never have to worry about being incompetent.

And to close, I hope that is something Jason can take to heart.  Maybe I should get him a plaque for his office of Luther’s pulpit prayer.  He’d pray it before he’d preach, and in the prayer there is a line like this: “Lord, bless this ministry, because if it were up to me, I would bring it all to ruin.”  Luther knew he was not competent on his own. I know I am not competent on my own, and neither are you.  And Jason isn’t competent on his own.  But like Luther, you, me, and him aren’t alone.  As we carry out the Lord’s work in public or private ministry, our perfectly competent Savior will make us competent.  I pray that encourages Jason as he begins his ministry here, and I pray that encourages the rest of you as you live out your daily personal ministries.  Amen.