Installation of Jason Toombs as Associate Pastor of First Lutheran Church, Helena, Montana
12th Sunday after Trinity, September 7th, Year of Our + Lord 2014
Hear the Word of the Lord to His Pastors, and to His Church, from Matthew, the 28th chapter.
But the eleven disciples proceeded to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. And when they saw him they worshiped him, but they also doubted. And Jesus came and said to them, "All authority in heaven and on earth is given to me. Therefore, as you proceed, make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age."
Jesus, the great I AM come into human flesh, is speaking to you, Reverend Toombs. As you proceed, Jason, as you serve in the office of the Holy Ministry, you are to teach my people to observe all that I have commanded you.
What Jesus did on that mountain in Galilee 2000 years ago, He does again today; He puts a man into an office, His office, the Apostolic office, the office of pastor, through which Jesus will build His Church. There are distinctions to be made of course, important ones, between the Apostles and the pastors of today, including that the Apostles are the eyewitnesses upon whom the Church is built, while pastors of today are here to repeat their teaching, not come up with new teachings. And yet the Apostles, and pastors of every time and place, are called to deliver the same gift, the gift of Christ for you, the gift of forgiveness, won by Jesus, delivered to the blessed who, even though they never have seen the Savior, still believe, still have eternal life, through the Word.
It is an exceptionally great honor and pleasure for me to say a few words at the installation of the Reverend Jason Toombs as the Associate Pastor of First Lutheran Church of Helena, Montana. The few words I will focus on for pastor and people this evening are “Teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.” For Pastor Toombs, along with Pastor Miller, are called to be making disciples of Jesus, baptizing and teaching them to observe all that Jesus has commanded.
I don’t know anything in particular about being an associate pastor. Having spent a year working with Rev. Toombs during his vicarage, I know a bit about him, and I have some appreciation for team ministry. It was, by and large great fun. At least for me. I’ll let your new pastor tell you if it was fun for him. But being a vicarage supervisor is not like being a senior pastor, even less like being an associate pastor. I don’t really know any more about being an associate pastor than I do about being a missionary to Spain. But that doesn’t matter. God works through His Church to call men to serve where He sees fit, regardless of whether they think they are prepared, or well-suited. The office of the public ministry has many shapes and locations, many rooms with different views and different wallpaper. But at the core, the office of the Holy Ministry doesn’t change, because Christ doesn’t change.
The first thing I’d like to point out about the office is its Law character. Jesus gives a command to the Eleven, and by extension to all men in the pastoral office: Make disciples. Baptize. Teach. Jesus at the end of Matthew puts a burden on the Eleven, and on all the men who follow them into this office. It’s a burden for the benefit of Gods’ people. It is beautiful, and joyful, but certainly not an easy thing.
We live in a world where the value of Baptism is doubted by many, including many of the baptized. “How can water do such great things?” We live in a world where the phenomenal blessing of the real presence of Christ’s Body and Blood in the Lord’s Supper, given and shed for the forgiveness of sins, is denied, or downplayed, by most. “Surely Jesus didn’t really mean what He said?” We live in a world where the very existence of truth is under attack, and so the truth of the pastor’s word of absolution is highly suspect. In the Gospel reading we heard Jesus tell the Eleven, whoever’s sins you forgive, they are forgiven. And yet people still protest, “Who is that guy to stand up there and forgive me?”
So much doubt and denial, and yet these are precisely the tools Christ has given His pastors for delivering His salvation to His people. You do these things, says Jesus, you depend on my Word alone, and I will build my Church through those Words, even through your inelegant speaking of the good confession. I will build my Church with my Word, says Jesus, the Church against which the gates of Hades will not stand.
So rejoice Reverend Toombs. Rejoice when the world reviles and scorns you, even when they persecute you, rejoice, if that persecution is for Jesus’ sake, and for the sake of the Gospel. For so also they treated the prophets who came before you. Rejoice to suffer for the Word, for in that Word is your reward, and your reward, (which you totally don’t deserve), is very great.
Jesus’ call of a man into His office is a burden. But even more, it is a joy. Because Baptism is for you. Baptism is for “all y’all,” as I’ve heard they say in Texas, for pastor and people together. Jesus calls a man from among the Baptized to be set aside to serve the congregation in His stead, one of the Baptized serving all the Baptized, in the Name of the One into whom we have been Baptized. The burden of Jesus’ commission pales in comparison to the blessing, and the privilege, of being caught up in His work of building and sustaining His Church. And what is true of Baptism is also true of all the tasks of the pastoral office, that list of “all things” that Jesus commanded the Eleven to teach the disciples to observe.
But tell me Jason, what are the “all things” that Jesus has commanded you to teach the people of First Lutheran to observe? Well? ...
A couple of weeks into his vicarage, I made Rev. Toombs stand up and preach before a bunch of great preachers, very experienced and well educated Lutheran pastors, at a little event we call the Lutheran Preaching Practicum. For some reason, this made him just a slight bit nervous. He survived. Did fine, actually. Which he’ll do again now, as I put him on the spot, and ask him, what are the “all things” that Jesus has commanded His ministers to teach His people? Jason will survive, because I’m not really going to ask him to answer.
Still, it might be good to know that list of things Jesus wants His pastors to teach His people, good for pastors to know, and good for congregations to know, so that you don’t ask your pastors to do a bunch of things that aren’t part of their core responsibilities, and so you can help them by holding them accountable to spend their time with the things Jesus has commanded. So, let’s consider what things are on that list. Baptism and teaching are obvious. They’re right there, in the text. So, pastors are to baptize, and to teach. Check. What else?
Well, just sticking to Matthew’s Gospel, we can definitely say that Jesus has sent His pastors to preach. I won’t get into whether teaching and preaching are essentially different. They are different words, in English and in Greek, and Jesus uses both, telling His apostles to teach and preach. Indeed, Jesus suggests they should preach more openly and freely than He Himself did, as in chapter 10, when Jesus says, “What I tell you in the darkness, speak in the light; and what you hear whispered in your ear, proclaim upon the housetops. Now, in case you didn’t know, to teach and preach requires studying God’s Word. Matthew’s Gospel is full of Jesus explaining the Scriptures to the disciples and to the Pharisees and the crowds. Pastors are to study God’s Word, so that they have something useful to say to God’s people. And Lutheran pastors have these great resources, tested resources which are great because they are drawn from and are faithful to Holy Scripture. I’m speaking of the Catechisms, and the whole Book of Concord, the Lutheran Confessions. Dare to be Lutheran and use these books. Study them and teach them, and God’s Word will be opened to you, and to your people.
Jesus commands His ministers to seek the lost, to reach out to the multitudes who are like sheep without a shepherd, (pastor means shepherd). When needed, Jesus says you are to drop everything and go after the one lost sheep, even though that lost sheep’s predicament is probably self-chosen and self-inflicted. Pastors, shepherds of God’s people, seek the lost. They also teach the people to be involved in this same work. After this evening, First Lutheran in Helena has two pastors. God be praised. This blessing does not change the fact that you, the members of First in Helena, have far more interactions and opportunities to reach out to the lost than your pastors do. Though you cannot preach like Paul, or Pastor Miller or Pastor Toombs, you can speak. You can give the reason for the hope that you have, you can invite. You can suggest your neighbor bring their hard questions to your pastor. And you can care for them and pray for them. Outreach, seeking the lost, is an activity of pastors and people together, each doing their part, according to their various vocations in life, each supporting the other as we live in God’s Mission.
Care for the hurting, even for the hurting who hate you. What good is it if you love and serve only your friends? Even the Gentiles, even the pagans, do that. But love those who hate you, serve those who persecute you. In these days of NDOs and hate speech laws, pastors will have more and more opportunities to love the enemies that persecute the Church. Now that is tricky, for pastors must at the same time defend the truth and their people, while still loving the enemies who attack.
Oh, and while you’re at it, correct false doctrine, or as Jesus puts it, beware of the leaven of the Pharisees. That is, the devil and our own sinful nature are always looking to introduce some form of works righteousness into the Church, to lessen the severity of God’s Law, and replace it with a man-made law we think we can keep. Pastors are always to be listening for false teaching, and must also teach their people to beware of false teaching. Among the many reasons that faithful Lutheran pastors and congregations do the unpleasant and difficult work of properly administering the Lord’s Supper is for the sake of preserving the true teaching of Jesus. Pastors especially are charged to do this, for the sake of their people, and for the sake of the world. For no one is saved by a watered down Law and Gospel.
Peter tried to water down God’s Word, daring to even rebuke his Master and deny that Jesus would ever go to the Cross. Peter cried out, very piously: “No, never, not you Lord, you will never be crucified.” Jesus’ reply to Peter? “Get behind me satan.” Denying the Cross is satan’s aim in every attempt to pervert doctrine. In the end, every attempt to water down God’s Word is a satanic attempt to empty the Gospel of saving power by removing the Cross from the center of all we do.
The list is getting kind of long. And I haven’t even gotten to one of the most obvious: Keep the Law, for not one jot or tittle of the Law will pass away until all is fulfilled. Thankfully, Jesus has fulfilled the Law for us, but He has not discarded it. The Old Testament ceremonial law no longer applies to the New Testament Church. But the Ten Commandments do. Pastors are to keep, and teach their people to keep, the Ten Commandments. In regard to the commandments, we properly live uncomfortably, on a knife’s edge, on the one hand taking them absolutely seriously, for they are God’s Word to us, but on the other, never thinking we are saving ourselves by keeping them. Because we do not keep them. But teaching the Ten Commandments, teaching and actually trying to love God first and our neighbors as ourselves, is central to being a Christian pastor and to being a Christian. We are to never stop trying. For the Law of God is good and right. And it drives us to our Savior.
And that is Jesus’ plan in all of this, to drive you to Him. Repentance is high on the list of things that Jesus commands. Because, Rev. Toombs, as much as you are expected and will promise and will try to do all these things, you will fail. You haven’t been observing all these things so far. Neither have I. Neither has your new congregation, or Pastor Miller. We should. We have a calling to get up each morning and seek to live as God commands. But we haven’t, and we don’t.
All of us in this room are failures in regard to God’s Law, deserving of His rejection. But do not despair. Do not despair, but repent. Confess your sins, and look up. For Jesus isn’t done speaking to you yet. For behold, He says, I am with you always, even to the end of the age. The One who wears the scars of His suffering as trophies of mercy in His glorified body, that One, is with you, forever.
Wherever the Apostolic office is filled, there is Jesus. That is, wherever God has gathered a congregation of sinners who believe in Jesus, and moved them to call one or more men to serve in His office of pastor, to speak the Word to God’s people, there in the midst of pastor and people is Jesus. Always. And where Jesus is, there is also forgiveness, mercy, grace, peace, and joy, for you, and for all who trust not in themselves and their efforts, but rather who trust in the One who fulfilled all things, in heaven and on earth, by dying on a Roman Cross. Indeed, Pastor Toombs, as you pursue the “all things” Jesus commands, and as you teach the people of First to observe all things, this is your strength and hope, the promise that the Resurrected Christ is and will always be with you, in your very midst, forgiving your sins, overcoming your weaknesses, welcoming you into His Kingdom. This is His promise, to pastors and people together, in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.