Preached at Christ Our Savior Lutheran Church, Freeburg, IL
Grace and peace in our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
In a particular way, I am the prodigal son in today’s Gospel (Luke 15:1-3, 11-32), for I left my father’s house to forge my own identity. But now here I am, by God’s grace, reconciled with my father's and following in his footsteps – in my own fashion.
I can also identify personally with the Apostle Paul in this, our epistle text. In fact, Paul wrote nearly all of his second letter to the Corinthians to defend his authority as an apostle. Although the church in Corinth had taken some of the counsel that Paul had advised in First Corinthians, there still were opponents continued to question the legitimacy of his call, often in an abusive and insulting way. Not only that, the tendency toward tolerance of worldly, sinful conduct remained.
Thus, the occasion of this second epistle. In today’s text, Paul speaks of the great joy and privilege of serving in the office of the public ministry. “Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.”
Now, who are the ambassadors of Christ of whom Paul speaks? Are not all baptized Christians ambassadors of Christ? Do we not teach the priesthood of all believers? Does not Paul say in our text, that “if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation”? Furthermore, “All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation.”
The answer to the preceding questions is “yes”, but a qualified yes on every count. We need to understand who is the “us” that Paul is talking about. In the strictest sense, Paul is identifying himself as an apostle. The Greek word, ἀπόστολος, means essentially an ambassador, someone who has been appointed to bear a message on behalf of a king. In the New Testament, the word is used in a very special sense: One who has received a direct call from the King, Jesus Himself, to make disciples, baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; and teaching them all the Lord commanded. The other apostles had walked the roads of Palestine and sat at the feet of Jesus for three years before He personally commissioned them as apostles; Paul, already highly educated in the Scriptures and the learning of the Greeks, had received a vision of the risen Christ on the road to Damascus.
Now, in the very strictest sense, there are no apostles nowadays, no matter what anyone may tell you. Yes, we have “the new apostolic movement” in Venezuela, too. This teaches that there are those who have been directly appointed by God to lead the church, and who receive direct revelations from Him.
This is wrong. Why? Because there is no need for new revelations. We should not trust them, because we have all we need to know for our salvation is written in the Holy Scriptures, the Holy Spirit-inspired testimony of the prophets and apostles. The writer of Hebrews says God spoke in diverse ways to the prophets, but to the apostles, and through them to His church, by His Son, Jesus Christ.
Yet we still speak of “one holy, apostolic Christian church”. In what way is the church today apostolic? It continues the ministry of reconciliation given to the apostles, proclaiming the Gospel given to the apostles.
The church guards this deposit of faith, entrusting the public preaching and administration of the sacraments to those who have been called, prepared and ordained by the church to do so. The Augsburg Confession says that no one shall preach or administer the sacraments without a legitimate call. Normally, the preparation includes four years of a residential seminary program, but this is not an absolute prerequisite. Even as St. Paul did not receive his direct call in exactly the same manner, there are alternate routes to the public ministry, as I can attest. I am have been blessed to receive training not just from one seminary, but through the combined efforts of Concordia, St. Louis; Concordia Theological Seminary, Fort Wayne, IN; Concordia Seminary, Buenos Aires, Argentina; and Concordia Reformer Seminary in the Dominican Republic. But the important thing is that, the church act as Christ’s instrument in the calling and commissioning of its ministers.
The church as whole has been given this authority in the Office of the Keys, but told to entrust the public exercise of this office only to a few. In a sense, as a U.S. citizen in Venezuela, I represent the USA to the Venezuelans that I meet. But I am not authorized to speak to the Venezuelan government on behalf of our nation as a whole. I am authorized by the Lutheran Church of Venezuela to pronounce absolution in the place and by the command of our Lord, which is a much greater responsibility.
To set men apart for the public ministry, to train them and test them, is for the benefit of the whole church. It is to protect all from false prophets and teachers.
All Christians are called to be the light and salt of this world. All may witness to what Christ has done for us in the vocations that God has given us, whether as parents, citizens or neighbors. All may approach the Lord directly in prayer with petitions and intercessions. Not all are called to leave family, friends and businesses, and proclaim God’s Word in difficult and dangerous places.
But it is all one ministry of reconciliation. Christ, through His church, is reconciling the world to Himself. As we all share in the promise of eternal life in baptism, as we all receive the Lord’s body and blood in the Lord’s Supper, we all share in the great mission that the Lord has entrusted to His great army, the church, until He returns in glory.
In this truth, may you find the peace which passes all understanding. Amen.
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