The Commemoration of Rev. Dr. Charles Evanson, Pastor
October 24, 2019 A+D
In the Name of the Father and of the +Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
God instituted the Office of preaching that His elect would obtain faith. The Office is God’s means by which He gives the gospel and the sacraments to the world. Through the Word and Sacrament, as through means, God gives the Holy Spirit who produces faith, where and when He wills, in those who hear the Gospel preached. Thus it is God’s design and intention, His holy institution and will, that by the Office of the Holy Ministry we learn that we have a gracious God. We are saved not through our merit but through Christ’s merit. This is ours when we believe it.
For this purpose, then, God has instituted and given the Office of the Holy Ministry wherein He seeks His elect and the Good News of His grace is delivered to the world in Word and Sacrament.
We cannot obtain the Holy Spirit without the external word of the gospel through our own preparation, thoughts, and works. No one comes to faith on his own apart from the Church and the Ministry that God has instituted and given as a Word and means external to ourselves.
Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved, but how will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in Him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? Without that sending and preaching there is no hearing and no believing and no calling. So God sends preachers. They preach an external Word to those who cannot save themselves or come to the knowledge of the truth by observation. Those preachers preach that everyone who calls upon the Name of the Lord is heard and saved and where and when He pleases the Holy Spirit causes those who hear to believe and to call upon the name of the Lord and they are saved.
We are gathered here tonight to thank God that we have heard that preaching and believed. We have been baptized and fed in this faith. God sent men to us, throughout our lives, to fulfill this Office and Ministry for this purpose. And of chief important to us here at Redeemer is God’s gift of the Rev. Dr. Charles Evanson, who gave his life to this very work and mission.
It is not hard to imagine what Redeemer would be now without his endurance and patience. He saved this congregation for confessional Lutheranism. He was driven by the Gospel and would not allow its expression to be corrupted or watered down for the sake of popularity or in some vain seeking for earthly success. He was no Platonist that separated doctrine and practice. His practice confessed his doctrine. If you love this Church, thank God for Pastor Evanson. If you have ever been fed here, encouraged here, moved to joy and tears and felt God’s presence here, thank God for Pastor Evanson.
He came to be our pastor at the worst of times. The congregation was in a turmoil that lasted for decades, for most, if not quite all, of his 25 years here. When he arrived in 1975, the congregation had already been in numerical decline due to demographics and racial tensions and rising crime for 30 years. The glory days were past. Redeemer was heavily involved in the synodical controversy of the day. Most of her members wanted to leave synod and many were angry at Pastor Evanson for not taking us out of synod. There was great pressure to do something about the decline by changing worship and mimicking the culture but Pastor Evanson wouldn’t let them. At the same time, the joint school that Redeemer that had started just a few years before was failing. Pastor Evanson would have to lead the council to close it. And on top of all that, the associate pastor, whom he had inherited, was having an extramarital affair with the secretary.
Twice the voters’ assembly of this congregation, in this building, voted by majority to remove him from office but missed the constitutionally required 2/3 vote by a very narrow margin. People left by the dozens every month. Hundreds left. Most of those who left, and even some of those who stayed, blamed him. And the local clergy was glad to join in with the blame. He found little support or encouragement from the leadership of the LCMS, from the Seminary community, or from his brothers in the Ministry at that time. They just figured Evanson wasn’t very good at being a pastor.
His family, his wife and his children, also suffered. And what did Pastor Evanson do? He carried on. He preached. He taught. He visited the sick and the dying. He consoled the hurting who would have him. He conducted the liturgy. He heard confession and pronounced absolution.
He did not respond in kind. He was bound to the Scriptures and the Book of Concord and bound to love and pray for the members of this congregation, for this community, and for our synod. So he did. He steadfastly refused to compromise for popularity or to blame others. He took the blame that he did not deserve. He carried on in the midst of slander and financial hardship. He gave of himself, again and again and again. He endured for the sake of the Gospel and held the love of God before any and all who would listen.
That is what a congregation in turmoil, a neighborhood in decay, and a synod on ropes need. They need the strong Word that leads to repentance and faith, Law preached not to support an agenda or to win a fight or to prove who is smarter, but to make a spiritual diagnosis and to give spiritual counsel. They need the Gospel, the Good News of God’s love in Christ for humanity that bestows Christ’s forgiveness on sinners in its full power and context and not just as a convenient excuse from a lying shepherd who says “peace, peace” when there is no peace and not just the vain opinion of men that God must love them for their efforts or sincerity or despite their hatred of His law.
Congregations in turmoil, neighborhoods in decay, and synods on the ropes do not need success, better numbers, more money, prestige or honor or stuff. They need God’s Word and Sacraments. They need a pastor. And God sent us a pastor! In our time of need, God sent a man like the world have rarely seen, a man who was willing to give himself to us, to sacrifice himself for us, who was willing to serve us at his own cost that we might be led to repentance and to absolution and restored to God in the Sacrament of the Altar as God Himself has instituted and given it.
Thank God: the wisdom and steadfastness of Pastor Evanson is now obvious. He is finally and rightly upheld as an ideal model for ministry. His patience has been rewarded. May he be honored in this congregation, in this synod and ministerium, and even in the ministeriums of Lithuania, Latvia, Germany, and elsewhere, until Christ returns in glory. I am thankful that he was, in some parts, in some small ways, even before he was called to glory, honored at the end, but I am sorry that it took so long. I pray that his memory be ever kindled and kept here, that we, his beneficiaries now and into the future, do not forget what God has done for us through this man, by this Office. I pray particularly that God would inspire me and my brothers in Office, and those among us preparing for this office, through the example of Pastor Evanson to be diligent and patient, long-suffering and faithful as he was.
God be praised for His mercy in sending that man to us in our time of need and for seeing even him through to the end and bringing him into His nearer presences. I trust that we shall see him again on the Day of the Resurrection and then we shall be able to thank him ourselves.
In +Jesus’ Name. Amen.