Video of the Divine Service is here. The sermon begins around the 19:00 mark.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
In two days, it will have been seven years since I was installed as the pastor here. That seems about as good a time as any to revisit what a Christian congregation is about, and so what we’re about. I printed in the bulletin a sentence that I’ve been using for the Workshops in the Word (which we haven’t had for a long time, of course). It has basically two parts, the first about what a Christian congregation is, and the second about what the members of a Christian congregation do as they go out into the world. This isn’t anything that applies only to us, or only to Lutherans. This is simply the summary of what the Scriptures reveal to us of the Church that God has established on the rock and cornerstone of Jesus Christ, who makes and sustains His Church by the gifts and means He has chosen. This is who we are and this is what we do, whether we vote on it or not. Today we’re going to focus on the first part, who we are: a congregation of baptized believers gathered together by Christ around His life-giving Word and Sacraments.
Good afternoon. I am Pastor Timothy Winterstein from Faith Lutheran Church in East Wenatchee, a congregation of The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod. Thanks, Gene, for inviting me. What a great privilege it is to be with you today, as we pray and trust God in Jesus Christ as our only hope in life and death.
I am six years younger than Roe v. Wade, which means that I and my younger siblings have always lived under its death-shadow. I was probably 10 or 12 when I saw a picture in the newspaper of the Washington March for Life in Olympia, where I grew up. I remember asking my mom, “What is abortion?” and from that moment on, there was no doubt in my mind that legal and unlimited abortion was a tragedy unlike nearly any that we have seen in this world.
The question for us gathered here and around the country this weekend, as we approach the 46th anniversary of the Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision, is not whether that event is a nearly unfathomable disgrace and stain on the fabric of the United States of America—we have no doubt about that—but what to do about it.
This year, November 27 is the First Sunday in Advent. That means that we begin a new church year, and enter again into the life of Jesus, from prophecy through the giving of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost. Here’s the challenge for you: to participate in the entire church year. Yes. I’m asking you to be in the Lord’s House every Lord’s Day and on festivals, too. And that should include corporate Bible study, particularly on Sunday morning. [If you’re reading this and you’re not a member of Faith, then take up the challenge in your own congregation.] To let the rhythm of the church year, and the weekly rhythm of Word and Sacrament, order your days and your months and your year. To refuse to let the world order your life. To refuse to be conformed to this world, with its priorities and schedules and what it considers important; and, instead, to be transformed in the renewing of your mind as the Holy Spirit brings you the Word of God each and every week.
What is a pastor for? I’ve been thinking about that a lot, lately. The answer is obviously of vital importance to me! I think much of the answer that a person might give depends upon expectations. One member of a congregation has certain expectations based on his experience with previous pastors. Another member might have expectations based on what she wants done in the future. One pastor has expectations based on good or bad experiences in the past; another has expectations based on what he’d like to see in the future. Insofar as they are found in the Scriptures, these expectations are not right or wrong in themselves.
But often the expectations of both pastors and congregations are based on abstractions or generic descriptions, rather than on particular contexts and specific people. Normally, when people are hired in the secular business world, it makes sense to identify a need and hire someone who can fill that space. That doesn’t always work well when it comes to pastors and congregations, because the Christian Church is based around a single need and a single solution: dying sinners in need of Christ, who is life.