Below is my sermon for the first Sunday in Advent. There were two versions. As of Advent 1, I am serving as the vacancy pastor for two additional parishes. It seemed like a good idea to say a few words specifically for them. So, the bold print was for my long-time parish in Wheatland. The italic print was for the new congregations in Pine Bluffs and Grover. The prayers (not included in the text) were from the rite of installation and Lutheran Prayer Companion, respectively.
The audio is from the third parish. This sermon is somewhat longer than my sermons have been, but I have no bible classes right now, so I’m trying to give a couple extra minutes of sermon time. Also, I think longer sermons would be a good thing in general – if they are properly prepared. The church can’t long survive on a diet of sub-ten minute sermons. A snack. We need solid food. Luther criticized know-nothings who get into the pulpit and run out of things to say after a quarter of an hour. In many places, that would be considered a long sermon. So, I’ve been working to increase my sermon length a little bit at a time. This was rather a dramatic burst. We’ll see if I can continue with it.
A new church year. The season of Advent marks a new beginning for us – in more ways than usual. A new schedule. A lot has changed since last year – which was last week.
A month ago changes were suggested – perhaps early next year, sometime. Now, less than a month on, and it’s all jumbled. We haven’t even had time to figure out bible classes or meetings, and church is an hour earlier. The official status is “We’ll see how it goes.” For now, two other parishes as a vacancy, with more discussions as we move forward. If things continue as planned, there will be a time for formal documents to be drawn up, approved and signed. Until then, we’re in sort of an irregular situation. Those happen a lot in the church – it isn’t a perfect world. That’s why we need the church and the forgiveness Christ offers here. The command of God is to have pastors – men who dare – even in their sin – to speak the most holy Word of God. Such arrogance, it seems.
You have a new pastor in front of you. Normally there is an installation – with a festive meal to celebrate the new beginning. This time, there is no installation service. No festive meal. In God’s time often means we wait longer than we would like. This time it meant that things moved too quickly. Two months ago, it looked like maybe this could happen at Easter. Then Ash Wednesday, Epiphany, maybe Christmas… now here we are Advent 1 and it’s all jumbled. Service times, meeting schedules. Good byes and hellos happened so quickly, if you blinked you missed it. And for the third time in as many years, a new man in the pulpit and at the altar. It’s listed as a vacancy for now, with more discussion as we move forward. The official status is “We’ll see.” If it moves to a regular call, then installation, all the festivities. We’re sort of in an irregular situation. Those seem to happen a lot in the church. It isn’t a perfect world. That’s why we need the church, and the forgiveness Christ offers here. Installation is a fine custom. The command of God is to have pastors. To have the regular call of pastors. The Grace-Zion parish got together and called a pastor – designating him vacancy because of the we’ll see nature of things at the moment – he accepted, and now dares to step into the pulpit to bring you the Word of God. A task for which he is wholly unqualified. No sinner is qualified to speak the most holy word of God.
No sinner may even come into the presence of God. Nadab and Abihu once went into the temple with the wrong kind of fire – whatever that means – and so were consumed by fire from the altar. “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.” Only one was ever qualified for the work. He commanded that pastors be appointed and sent. So, we call, ordain, and place sinners into office. Were it not for that command of our Lord Jesus Christ, no one would dare speak for God. But he has declared that it should be so. This congregation has had various men serve in that office to bring the word over the years. Unless our Lord returns, there will likely be more.
When starting a new charge, pastors are encouraged to pray – at the beginning of the sermon for the Holy Ministry, and at the end for the congregation. And, although the only thing new today is the time change, we are reminded by the hymn, “With the Lord Begin Thy task, Jesus will direct it, for his aid and counsel ask, Jesus will perfect it.” Luther explains that prayer is a powerful defense against Satan and his lies. Paul says to pray without ceasing. And so, let us pray.
The advice given to young pastors at the seminary for moments such as these:
“In his inaugural sermon the pastor should say, first, what the congregation should expect of its pastor, and secondly, what the pastor should expect of his congregation… the pastor should speak in all earnestness and solemn truthfulness, but at the same time with evangelical, winning kindness, and unfeigned heartfelt humility. A prayer for divine help and blessing for the pastor may be fitly offered by the pastor as soon as he has stepped into the pulpit, and at the close of the sermon he may offer an intercessory prayer for the congregation…”
Let us pray.
The entry of our Lord into Jerusalem. That’s the Gospel reading appointed for today. The Lord comes. It is a time of preparation. In your own homes, the decorations come out, the meals are planned, travel arrangements are finalized. Everything is pointing toward Christmas Day. The church takes a longer view during Advent. We aren’t preparing for December 25 and the first coming of our Lord – Jesus already accomplished that. Oh, we will proclaim it at the appointed time. But for now, we prepare for his return. This time it won’t be in humility, unnoticed. When he returns it will be with the shout of a trumpet, the heavens will be split open, the dead will be raised, and every knee will bow at the name of Jesus – whether in reverence and joy as our Baptism reaches its fulfillment, or terror at the judgment which has come upon the ungodly.
So, Advent is the time to hear the call – repent! Hear the word of God and turn away from your sin. From your casual attitude toward his holy word. From your laziness, awaken from your slumber, put off the sins that entangle you and lead you away from Christ. Do it now, while there is still time. For soon the hour will come when no man can work, and then it will be judgment against every kind of evil. And many will be cast into outer darkness where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Today we set aside time to cleanse our hearts, so that we would worthily receive the gifts Christ gives.
Jesus sends the apostles into the city before him. Jesus tells several parables along these lines– the king sends servants ahead to proclaim his coming, to prepare. But this is really happening – Jesus is about to enter the Holy City, and preparations must be made. The disciples run off to get the donkey. The Lord has need of it. The Lord has need of nothing. And yet, in this world he humbles himself, suffers hunger and want, and needs to borrow a ride even on a donkey. It will not always be this way. For now, he has his holy church – the little flock that looks so meager, looks so weak and helpless in the world. And he gives us the chance to help – to answer these needs, as if they were his. To give of the gifts he has given to us to support the church. To offer our time to assist in his eternal kingdom. When he comes in glory with the angels, it will not be this way any more. Now is the opportunity for us to assist in His kingdom with the work God has given us to do, each according to his office and ability. Fixing things around the church, tithes and offerings, making a meal for someone who has lost a loved one, helping a traveler who is in need, raising children in the fear and knowledge of the Lord. There is much that can be done – as he has laid it out in the Ten Commandments. And God has declared that, as we do it for the least of these, we do it for him. That is a gift he gives to us. He has no need. He has no lack, no want. And if he desired, he could thunder forth from the clouds with his all powerful word as he did on Sinai, or send the heavenly hosts as he does to the Blessed Virgin Mary, to Saint Joseph, to the shepherds on the hillside, and the magi from the east. Or a bright light on the road, as he does with Saul – Why do you persecute me? Instead, our Lord cloaks His word in common things. A building on the high plains, a pastor in the pulpit. Nothing miraculous to be seen here by the world. Let the world go its own way if it will not hear. If they will not listen to Prophets and Apostles, they will not be persuaded even should someone rise from the dead. The task here is to preach faithfully the word. To absolve the sinner, to baptize the child and feed the dying with the food that does not spoil, but remains to eternal life. We are all dying. And so we all need to be fed. That is the direct task of the church. It is what happened two weeks ago, and last week, and now this week.
When the church is faithful, the name on the desk does not matter. One gone, another in place – for now. The faithful messenger brings the word they are given to bring. One brings the same word as another. It is done at the command of our Lord Jesus Christ. The names, height, hair color, change. The word remains the same. The death of Peter and Paul did not end the church. Luther is no more in this world. Walther is one of the Saints who have gone before. The word they spoke – that remains. Because it was not their word. It was the Word of the one who sent them.
Go into the village in front you and say… The disciples did as they were told. They spoke not there own word, but the word of Jesus. And so they came back with the donkey. And Jesus rode into the city. The people shouted and sang for joy. Hosanna in the highest, blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” That is our song as well. We sing it when we dare to come forward and receive the most precious and holy body and blood of the Lord. And had it not been for the command and promise of Christ, we would never dare to do that either. He is the one who says, Take eat, take drink, and adds this command and encouragement “often”. And so we come to receive it. And for those who can not come here because of age or infirmity, for those facing grave danger, pastors carry it to them. Taking church from this place – set aside for the proclamation of God’s Word according to the church’s regular order – and go into homes, and hospital rooms and nursing homes to bring the sacred gift, the food that does not spoil, so those facing death would also be fed with the body and blood of Jesus, would receive the forgiveness of sins, so they would be strengthened in the true faith unto life everlasting.
For now, the messengers bring the glad tidings – the Lord is coming. One speaks for a time, another rises to take his place according to the will of God. But none labors for himself. We preach Christ crucified. We begin the church year with Jesus triumphally entering the city. During the season of Advent it points us to his second coming – the triumphal entry when all will see and acknowledge him as Lord. It reminds us that the humility is for now, but glory is to come. The Pharisees rejected Jesus as he came into the city – they even told him to command his disciples to be silent. Jesus tells them that if they are silent, the rocks themselves will cry out. As we prepare for His second coming we pray that we would be given repentant hearts, that we would look in fear love and trust to him, that our tongues would confess and praise his name, that we would not allow the rocks to do what we are unwilling to do – praise the Lord of heaven and earth, but that we would faithfully call upon him in every trouble, pray, praise and give thanks.
The reading from Matthew reminds us of this as well – The triumphal entry begins Holy week – the cross ends it. All of the glory and shouting of Palm Sunday finds its meaning in the cross. In the death of our Lord. Today we use the triumphal entry to look ahead to the second coming and to bring repentance into our stony hearts. But behind the one who comes as the people cry Hosanna, is the cry of the one who is lifted up on the cross, and prays father forgive. Christ and him crucified is what we are about. It was never about us. It was always about him. He sheds his blood for the forgiveness of your sins. He carries out in his own body your redemption. He bears the punishment, the stripes and wounds which you deserve. He goes into death for you. He suffers the entire wrath of the heavenly Father. He is great and mighty and all powerful, and more than that, shows mercy to sinners, by himself suffering the punishment so you would be cleansed. So you would be given new life. So that you would not remain in your sin, but be given the new life of a child of God. Claimed as his through the Baptismal waters. Raised up to a new life in Christ. The old Adam put to death – and each day the Old Adam must be drowned and die with all sins and evil desires. That is the struggle of the repentant life – that we no longer live according to the old manner, but now are raised up in him to live according to the life he is, the life he gives, to you through the water, through the body and blood.
Let us pray.