"Paul, Titus, and Pastors Today"
Feast of St. Titus, Pastor and Confessor
January 26 and 27, 2008
IN NOMINE JESU
Normally, we would be observing the Third Sunday after the Epiphany this weekend. This season there are not many Sundays because Ash Wednesday comes very early, February 6, to be precise. But we are presented with a unique opportunity this weekend. We are celebrating what is called a minor festival in the church year. There are three major festivals in the liturgical year: Christmas, Easter, and Pentecost. The minor festivals are those days that highlight specific events in the life of our Lord or feature various saints, most of whom lived in the first century A.D. Today we honor one of those first-century saints: St. Titus. Titus was a young pastor whom St. Paul took under his wing and who later became an associate pastor sent by Paul to Corinth and the island of Crete. Titus received a letter of encouragement from Paul, the letter from whence our text comes. Honoring the saints may be something foreign to some of us; some may complain that this is something that only the Roman Catholics can do. However, the Lutheran Confessions, to which we have subscribed as binding to our faith second only to Scripture, state thus regarding the saints:
Our Confession approves honoring the saints in three ways. The first is thanksgiving. We should thank God because He has shown examples of mercy, because He wishes to save people, and because He has given teachers and other gifts to the Church. These gifts, since they are the greatest, should be amplified. The saints themselves, who have faithfully used these gifts, should be praised just as Christ praises faithful businessmen (Mt. 25: 21, 23). The second service is the strengthening of our faith. When we see Peter's denial forgiven, we also are encouraged to believe all the more that grace truly superabounds over sin (Rom. 5:20). The third honor is the imitation, first of faith, then of the other virtues. Everyone should imitate the saints according to his calling. [Ap XXI, 4-6]
This honoring the saints does not, however, mean that we are free to pray to them. The Lutheran Confessions address this also. Therefore, we believe, teach, confess, and practice:
Furthermore, even if the saints do pray for the Church, that does not mean they should be invoked. Our Confession affirms only this: Scripture does not teach the invocation of the saints, or that we are to ask the saints for aid. Since neither a command nor a promise nor an example can be produced from the Scriptures about the invocation of saints, it makes sense that conscience remains uncertain about this invocation. Since prayer should be made from faith, how do we know that God approves this invocation? Without the testimony of Scripture, how doe we know that the saints know about the prayers of each one? …Since the invocation of saints does not have a testimony from God's Word, it cannot be affirmed that the saints understand our invocation or, even if they understand it, that God approves it. [Ap XXI, 10-11, 12]
We can be reasonably certain, then, that neither St. Paul nor St. Titus would tolerate having prayers offered up to them, for Paul encouraged the young pastor to be "holding fast the faithful word as he has been taught, that he may be able, by sound doctrine, both to exhort and convict those who contradict" (v. 9). This is perhaps the least favorite duty of a pastor: to correct the most serious errors that exist in a congregation. Paul sent Titus to consecrate pastors to do just that. They were to be stewards of God—that is, responsible for the proper reading and proclamation of the Word and the right administration of the Sacraments. Such is the responsibilities of the pastor today, for neither God's Word nor His Sacraments have changed. Paul writes to the young pastor St. Timothy, "Guard what was committed to your trust, avoiding the profane and idle babblings and contradictions of what is falsely called knowledge—by professing it some have strayed concerning the faith" (1 Tim. 6:20-21a). Paul also exhorts Timothy, as he likely did Titus, to continue in the public reading and preaching of the Scriptures, to "give attention to reading, to exhortation, to doctrine. … Take heed to yourself and to the doctrine. Continue in them, for in doing this you will save both yourself and those who hear you" (1 Tim. 4:13, 16).
Paul sent Titus to Crete to correct the errors that existed there and to rebuke those who persisted in them. He had to go there, armed with the Word of God, to win the hearts and minds of the people. This is not an easy task. Paul exhorted Timothy, saying,
I charge you therefore before God and the Lord Jesus Christ, who will judge the living and the dead at His appearing and His kingdom: Preach the word! Be ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers; and they will turn their ears away from the truth, and be turned aside to fables. But you be watchful in all things, endure afflictions, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry. [2 Tim. 4:1-5]
"They will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers; and they will turn their ears away from the truth, and be turned aside to fables…." Paul knew that a pastor's hearers will not listen to him, even as many refused to listen to Christ Himself. Paul is speaking in the stead and by the command of Christ, writing under inspiration of God the Holy Spirit. So when Paul speaks here, he is essentially attaching the words "Thus says the Lord" to his writing. Thus says the Lord, "Speak these things, exhort, and rebuke with all authority. Let no one despise you" (2:15), Paul exhorts Titus and all pastors. The fact of the matter, though, is that pastors are despised. Why? We sinners resent men sent from God and are faithful to their calls. We want them to be "friendly," as if a pastor cannot be friendly and faithful. We choose to not understand what is being taught because we don't like to think we've been in error. It may well not be our fault, for we might have been led into error, but we don't want to shun it, and we tend to view our shepherds with contempt, thinking he is self-willed and quick-tempered and not hospitable, a lover of what is good, just, holy, or self-controlled. God has given His undershepherds and their hearers each divinely-mandated duties. He has given pastors the charge to preach and teach the Word and to administer the Sacraments in accordance with the Gospel. He has given the laity the charge to hear the Word of God and keep it and to receive the gifts Christ freely gives in His Means of Grace. As Martin Luther teaches us: "We should fear and love God that we may not despise preaching and His Word, but hold it sacred, and gladly hear and learn it" (3rd Commandment). Luther also gives a stern warning to those who refuse to hear the Word: "But those who are unwilling to learn it should be told that they deny Christ and are no Christians, neither should they be admitted to the Sacrament, accepted as sponsors at baptism, nor exercise any part of Christian liberty, but should simply be turned back…yea, to the devil himself" (SC: Introduction).
Paul exhorts us in our First Reading to not despair, for the Lord of the Church has sent men to preach not only the Law but also the Gospel. Paul told the pastors at Ephesus, "Therefore take heed to yourselves and to all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood. …So now, brethren, I commend you to God and to the word of His grace, which is able to build you up and give you an inheritance among all those who are sanctified" (Acts 20:28, 32). Again Paul says, "You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ's, then you are Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise" (Gal. 3:26-29). Again, Paul says to Titus,
When the kindness and the love of God our Savior toward man appeared, not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Savior, that having been justified by His grace we should become heirs according to the hope of eternal life. [3:4-7]
This is why the Lord sent Paul to preach. This is why the Lord called Titus to preach. This is why I have been sent. The Lord has sent men to preach the Word to save His people both from their errors and from their sins. The Lord has sent men to administer the Sacraments to bring to you the gifts of forgiveness, life, and salvation. He has sent undershepherds to give the gifts He Himself won on the cross for us, paying the debt we could not pay. Paul shed blood for the sake of the Gospel, as tradition states that he was beheaded. Christ shed blood for Paul's sake and ours, as Scripture tells us that He was crucified. This is the message I have been given to proclaim to you: Jesus Christ gave His body, shed His blood, and died on the cross for you for the forgiveness of your sins. This is the preaching of the cross, as Paul writes:
For since, in the wisdom of God, the world through wisdom did not know God, it pleased God through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe. For Jews request a sign, and Greeks seek after wisdom; BUT WE PREACH CHRIST CRUCIFIED, to the Jews a stumbling block and to the Greeks foolishness, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men. [1 Cor. 1:21-25]
We preach not only Christ crucified but also Christ resurrected. "But now Christ is risen from the dead, and has become the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For since by man came death, by Man also came the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ all shall be made alive" (1 Cor. 15:20-22). "It is Christ who died, and furthermore is also risen, who is even at the right hand of God, who also makes intercession for us" (Rom. 8:34). As Christ is risen from the dead, He gives us the assurance that our prayers are heard, a promise that no saint or angel in heaven can make, for only Christ has died and risen, and has done so FOR YOU, so that you would have eternal life in heaven with Him, forever partaking of the marriage Feast of the Lamb in His kingdom, which has no end. So let us give thanks to God for the gift of St. Titus and for all faithful pastors who have served as voices "in the wilderness: 'Prepare the way of the LORD; make straight in the desert a highway for our God'" (Is. 40:3).
In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
SOLI DEO GLORIA
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