"It Is Now Agnes' Day"
St. Mark 9:30-37
September 24, 2003
Fifteenth Week after Pentecost
IN NOMINE JESU
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ, especially Robert, Jean, Leona, Roger, Shirley, and Jim: It is really hard to know a person well after only two years, especially when contacts are few and far between. Yet I had the great privilege of knowing Agnes during my two years here as her pastor. When she lived here in Woodworth, I saw her each Sunday as she was here receiving the Lord's gifts in Word and Sacrament, brought to the Lord's house by either Jean and Lawrence or Roger and Liz. But at some point it seemed, at least from what I could surmise, that her eyesight suddenly worsened. Shortly after that, she moved to the Rock of Ages care center in Jamestown. She went from being an active member to a shut-in almost as quickly as one could blink. Shortly after she moved into her new home, I went to see her. I was concerned about how she would handle her having to move into an assisted-living care center. When I was at the seminary, I learned about the different emotions that the elderly experience as they move into such a place. Some fight the move tooth and nail. Others seem more accepting of their new reality. Agnes was one of the latter. I was surprised because what I had heard the most, from various sources, was that such people tend to become angry and bitter about making such moves. Not Agnes. To the contrary, she was delighted to be living at Rock of Ages. She appreciated having a window she could look out and see what was happening in her new part of the world. She was glad she had a roommate with whom she got along. She said the food served there was good, a comment which really surprised me. She appreciated the care she received from the staff there. She liked going to the chapel services there. But, most importantly, she was really delighted in knowing that she had a bed provided for her, her very own bed. She was really tickled about that. She had no demands; she was grateful for everything she received there.
She was also grateful for the visits I had with her. Part of me tends to think that she was just happy to have a visitor. But on another level I am sure she appreciated visits from her pastor, as I came to bring to her the Gospel through the Scriptures, the sermon, and the Sacrament of the Altar. She often told me she really missed being here for worship each Lord's Day, and she really felt bad about that. I told her that, when she is no longer able to come to church, the Church comes to her, and this was what was happening: the Church came to her because she was no longer able to come here each Sunday. The one exception to this was that I could not load the organ into my car and take it with me to Jamestown.
In the course of our conversations, little of these were spent talking about her. She was more interested in talking about her children, telling me which ones came to see her and when they came. Rarely did she talk about what she did for you, but she loved you very much. When she was active here she was involved with the Lutheran Women's Missionary League, taking part in the LWML's projects. She especially liked quilting. There is a tremendous service that is rendered in making quilts, especially as these are distributed to people who are in need, people whose winters were a bit less harsh because they could keep warm with a handmade quilt, quite possibly made by Agnes, a tradition I have seen continued in the work Jean has done. But Agnes did not brag. Her attitude was much different from the disciples in our text.
The disciples, on their way to Capernaum, were arguing with each other about who was the greatest among them. This would not be the last time they would vehemently disagree with each other on this point; they would fight over the request James and John made in chapter ten of St. Mark's Gospel, the chapter that follows our text. They did not understand what discipleship was all about. They had visions of grandeur, visions of glory. The Lord Himself came in all humility, and He called ordinary, uneducated men to be His disciples and later His apostles. They went on a power trip, but Jesus rightly deflated their egos, instructing them: "And He sat down and called the twelve. And He said to them, 'If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all'" (v. 35). He had to call them together as if they were in kindergarten and it was story time. He had to teach them a lesson. He has to continually teach us a lesson, too.
We are people full of pride because we are people full of sin. We all strive for recognition sometimes, whether we deserve credit or not. We are easily disappointed when our name does not appear in lights. We want to be important. Agnes was not immune to this, either. During her 93 years on this earth, there were undoubtedly many times when she felt this way, even if she did not state such. She too had a level of pride in her because she too was a sinner. We are all guilty of the sin of pride. To paraphrase the blessed Reformer, Dr. Martin Luther, we fear, love, and trust in ourselves above God. We all like to have our egos stroked. We forget that God has given us all that we need to support our bodies and lives, and we want more. We are selfish. The Lord tells us, "Whoever receives one...child in My Name receives me, and whoever receives Me, receives not Me but Him who sent Me" (v. 37). The Lord spoke these words as He had a child in the disciples' midst. In St. Matthew's account of this conversation, the Lord also says, "Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven" (Mt. 18:3). The Lord is calling us to repent of our childish nature and to possess a child-like faith. A child-like faith is a faith that eagerly clings to every word that comes from the Lord's mouth and cannot get enough Jesus. A childish faith is one that looks out only for the self and has had more than enough of God but not of the self. Agnes confessed her sin of a childish faith repeatedly. She prayed, "O almighty God, merciful Father, I, a poor miserable sinner, confess unto Thee all my sins and iniquities with which I have ever offended Thee and justly deserved Thy temporal and eternal punishment." We make this same confession of sin, for we too are childish in our faith and are in need of the Lord's forgiveness.
As Agnes' pastor I had the privilege of announcing to her that her sins were forgiven. She eagerly wanted to hear these words of absolution that I spoke to her: "Upon this your confession, I, a called and ordained servant of the Word, announce the grace of God unto...you, and in the stead and by the command of my Lord Jesus Christ, I forgive you all your sins in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost." Each time she heard these words, it was Agnes' day, for the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, had mercy on her and granted her His peace, that peace which the world cannot give, the peace in which she now rests into all eternity. Her debt of sins was erased by her heavenly Father for the sake of His only-begotten Son, Jesus Christ. Faith clings to this declaration of forgiveness, and, by the Holy Spirit, Agnes cherished these words. Her child-like, Spirit-given, faith took hold of the promise first made to her at the font 93 years ago, where she was received in Jesus' Name, where she thus received her heavenly Father. This is the gift the Lord offers to each and every one of you: forgiveness of sins, eternal life, and salvation. He offers you the same gift He gave to Agnes, the gift that comes to all who, like a child, cling to Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. He brings this gift to you now through the preaching of His Word, the Word that announces to you that Jesus Christ won on the cross the forgiveness of all your sins, and He rose from the dead, that you may have life with Him in heaven forever, where we will be reunited with Agnes and where we will finally see our Lord face to face. Dear children, take and eat, take and drink, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest the gifts He gives in His Means of Grace for the forgiveness of your sins and the strengthening of your souls, even as Agnes did for lo these many years. Today it is Agnes' day to bask in the glory of the Son of God. By the grace of God, it will also be your day to bask with her in the Son. God grant this in Jesus' Name and for His sake. In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
SOLI DEO GLORIA
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