121021 Ephesians 6:18-20

Last Updated on Tuesday, 13 November 2012 Written by Pastor Pagels

Ephesians 6:19-20 * October 21, 2012 * Pentecost 21 * Pastor Pagels

In the name of Christ Jesus, dear friends:

It happened a couple weeks after I had accepted the call to serve at St. Matthew's. I was at a high school football game when I ran into a member from my former congregation, St. John's, Wauwatosa. He had heard that I had taken the call. He told me that his family would miss me and my family. And then in an attempt to lighten up the conversation a little he said: "Well at least you can reuse all your old sermons now."

I want you to know that I didn't take this call so that I could recycle all my old sermons, but I would like to make an exception today. I would like to reuse the text and theme from the first sermon I ever preached as a pastor. I am a little older and a lot grayer now, but thirteen years after my ordination into the public ministry there is one thing that hasn't changed.

As I stand before you today and preach what will be, Lord willing, the first of many sermons, I have a confession to make. I am in way over my head, not because I have over a thousand names and faces to get to know, but because I am a sinful human being who cannot stand before a just and holy God. If the success of my ministry depends on my intellect and abilities, if everything depends on my charisma and personality, this pastor and this congregation are in a lot of trouble.

In spite of my weaknesses, in spite of my shortcomings, God has called me to be a shepherd of souls at St. Matthew's. We have God's promise that he will bless our work together. And to get this working relationship between pastor and people off on the right foot, allow me to make one simple request...

PRAY FOR ME!

I. God has entrusted me with an awesome responsibility
II. God has blessed us with a wonderful opportunity

The sermon theme for today is taken directly from the words of Paul in our text. Paul was a tireless missionary and a caring shepherd of souls, but his path into public ministry wasn't exactly traditional. His name wasn't even Paul. His given name was Saul, and Saul took his religion seriously. Saul was so zealous about his faith that persecuted anyone who opposed it, especially Christians. He even traveled long distances to bring these troublemakers to justice.

But on one of these trips everything changed. While Saul was on the road going north to Damascus, Jesus appeared to him in a blinding light. Even though Saul was a Pharisee and a sworn enemy of Jesus' followers, the Lord handpicked him to carry the good news of salvation to the Gentiles. On paper it made no sense, but in God's eyes it was a perfect match.

The call you have extended to me is essentially the same. My resume doesn't say that I hunted down Christians in the past, but I'm not any more qualified than Paul to act as God's representative on your behalf. The Lord didn't appear to me or cause me to go blind when he called me here, but the call that I have is equally valid and divine. The Holy Spirit led the people of St. Matthew's to call me, and the same Spirit led me to accept that divine call. And today I humbly ask you to pray for me as I assume the duties of this sacred office.

The duties of a pastor are many and varied, but you could probably summarize them all with just three words: "Preach the Word" (II Timothy 4:2). When Paul asked the Christians in Ephesus to pray for him, he was in prison in Rome. He wasn't looking for a speedy trial and a not-guilty verdict. He didn't ask for prayers for his personal safety or revenge against his enemies. His only request was for the courage to preach the Word.

Paul wasn't a comic book super hero. He was a human being. He felt the pressure to mute his message to avoid confrontation. He felt the pressure to hide his faith to assure his personal safety. That pressure was real. At times that pressure was intense. And it was part of the reason Paul asked his brothers and sisters to pray for him, to pray that he would be able to preach the Word without fear.

You have called me to preach the Word with the same conviction, to preach the whole counsel of God, not what will make me popular, not what will win friends and influence people. Preaching the Word means preaching everything God reveals to us, everything God wants his people to believe and do.

Paul understood that. He understood that it's not about the messenger. It's about the message: "For we do not preach ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Christ's sake" (II Corinthians 4:5). And a couple verses later, he described the relationship between the message and the messenger. It is like a treasure stored in jars of clay.

That comparison became more meaningful to me thirteen years ago when I participated in an archaeological dig in Israel. On the first day I got all excited when I unearthed my first piece of pottery. But as the days went by and we dug further and further down in our 9 x 9 foot square, the initial thrill of discovery wore off. Why? Because there were pieces of pottery lying all over the place. I quickly learned that in the ancient world pottery was easily broken and just as easily replaced.

In Paul's illustration we are the pottery. We are jars of clay. We aren't always eager to share our faith. We are often afraid to stand up for the truth. We are weak. We are fragile. We are sinful, but the message we possess is powerful. Sin shattered our relationship with God into a million pieces, but Jesus has brought about a complete restoration.

Jesus lived a perfect life for us. Jesus gave up his life for us. Jesus rose from the dead to conquer death and to give us the hope of eternal life. And he has given you and me the command to take the gospel, the only message that saves, to others. It's an awesome responsibility, but it is also a wonderful opportunity.

At the end of his letter to the Ephesians Paul called himself God's ambassador, and that was an interesting way to describe his work. An ambassador is someone who speaks for someone else. Today the term is commonly applied to international diplomatic relations. Ambassadors represent nations, and they are given the authority to speak on behalf of the government they represent.

Paul's situation, however, was a little different. He was an "ambassador in chains." Because he was a prisoner in Rome, he wasn't able to come and go as he pleased. He wasn't free to visit the Roman synagogue or the churches he had planted in Athens or Corinth or Ephesus.

Even though Paul's movement was restricted, he still considered himself an ambassador. His chains didn't hinder the spread of the gospel. He actually saw them as a blessing. Paul's less-than-ideal circumstances gave him opportunities to witness to the people who guarded him and the people who came to visit him. His imprisonment even became an inspiration for others, and his example inspired other Christians to carry on the work in his absence.

Paul's love for people, his passion for saving souls inspires us to be God's ambassadors too. The Lord has given us in this time and this place a tremendous opportunity. We live in a country that allows us to worship as we please. We have been blessed with facilities where we can praise God and give glory to his name. This congregation has been blessed with men and women and children who love God and want to live their lives for God.

I had breakfast with one of those members earlier this week, and he made it clear to me that sharing the love of Jesus is very important to this congregation. The fact that you called me to be your outreach pastor demonstrates that St. Matthew's is committed to the Great Commission. But it's not just the outreach pastor. It's not just an outreach board. Why should we get to have all the fun? We are all Christ's ambassadors, and we carry an important message.

Paul called that message the "mystery of the gospel." What makes it a mystery? Is it dark? Is it difficult to understand? Yes and no. You don't have to open up a Bible to know that there is a god. You don't have to be a Christian to know the difference between right and wrong. Your conscience can tell you that something isn't quite right in your life, that you are guilty and that you deserve to be punished.

It is impossible, however, to find relief from that guilt apart from the gospel. People can't believe the good news of forgiveness if they have never heard it. In that sense the gospel is a mystery. It needs to be revealed. It needs to be shared. The Holy Spirit works only through the Word. He touches hearts and creates faith through the preaching of the Word. And that's where we come into the picture. God reveals the mystery of the gospel through people. The Word of God spreads and the kingdom of God grows through people like you and me.

No matter what criteria you use, it would be difficult to find a more successful Christian missionary than the apostle Paul. He wrote half of the books in the New Testament. When he began his work, Christianity was a tiny sect confined to the area in and around Judea. By the time he was finished, congregations had been planted all across Europe.

If Paul saw the need to ask for constant prayer and encouragement, it only makes sense for me to follow his example. As a new shepherd of souls at St. Matthew's, I ask you to pray for me. Pray for me today and throughout my ministry. Pray that God will give me the courage to preach the Word fearlessly as I should. Pray that God will give me the strength to carry out this awesome responsibility. Pray that God will bless our efforts to make the most of this wonderful opportunity. Amen.

Our Mission Statement:

Compelled by the love of Christ, St. Matthew’s Evangelical Lutheran Church and School seek to reach out to our families, community and world, using Law and Gospel to make disciples, growing and nurturing them in their Christian faith and life.

 

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Sunday
8:00 A.M. & 10:30 A.M.

9:15 A.M. Bible Study for All Ages

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818 West Wisconsin Avenue
Oconomowoc, WI 53066
262-912-6060

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