The Ordination of Daniel Burfiend
New Hope Lutheran Church – Ossian, Indiana
June 19, 2016 A+D
1 Cor. 1:18-31
In the Name of the Father and of the +Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
The Jews demand signs and the Greeks seek wisdom, but the Missouri Synod just wants something that works.
Pastor Burfiend here is a talented man, well-educated and good looking. St. Paul may not have been eloquent, but Pastor Burfiend is. Jesus may have lacked the comeliness that men should be attracted to Him, but Pastor Burfiend doesn’t. There has never been a family, wife and children, more suited for the Ministry, more full of promise, more able to make the district execs swoon.
And yet, despite all those advantages, I will tell you an unpopular reality: this church is not going to grow. It isn’t. You’re not in the right place. You don’t have the demographics.
You might be thinking that there could be a miracle. That is true and we should pray for miracles. We should be bold in our prayers. There is nothing wrong is asking that God bless this church with a hundred new members.
You farmers should also pray for miracles. You should pray for a healthy and profitable crop, for deliverance from market fluctuations and regulations and nature itself. But while praying you should also work, and you should bring to bear the knowledge and skills that God has given you about how plants grow. Don’t boast to me about your vision of a farm where nothing was planted and call that faith. And don’t you dare tell me that you are smarter and better farmers than those who are laboring in the Sahara desert. Your yields are better, but how much of that is your wisdom and how much is the rich soil and abundant rain?
No man knows the future. I could be wrong about the future of New Hope, but there is currently no dramatic housing shortage here. The public school district is shrinking because we haven’t been having babies like we used to and because farms are getting bigger while the number of farmers is getting smaller. Perhaps something we can’t foresee will happen and Ossian will become a major metropolitan area and a center for Lutheran Orthodoxy and a revitalizing influence on America. But barring a miracle, there is no reason, nor is there any article of faith, that would cause us to expect the trajectory of this congregation’s Sunday morning attendance to deviate in any statistically significant way.
You’ve got a new pastor. You love this place and so you should. But this church isn’t going to grow while Ossian shrinks and the Church suffers in the midst a culture war it seems to have lost 25 years ago.
If that sounds like bad news to you, if it makes you sad or mad, that there is no promise that your church will grow even though you want it to, then you should repent. Because you have in mind not the things of God, but the things of men.
The Jews demand signs and the Greeks seek wisdom. Americans want success in the marketplace, prestige in the world, and a big building. But we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles and a rebuke to Americans. We preach Christ crucified, and though it is folly to the world to those who are called—both Jews and Greeks, and even to Americans—Christ and His cross are the power of God and the wisdom of God.
So why do I tell you this unhappy reality that your church won’t grow? Because God loves the truth, even though it is hard for us to face. And also because even if it weren’t true—even if this was a booming suburb of affluent people where they couldn’t build Tim Hortons fast enough and your church was destined to double in size in the next couple of years—that still wouldn’t bring any comfort or be any kind of fulfillment of the mission of God.
Our goal is not to get a bigger piece of the market. It is not to be successful religious entrepreneurs. It is not even to change the world. Our goal is the preach Christ crucified and let the Holy Spirit take care of it all.
The mission of God was completed on the cross of Jesus Christ. There He reconciled the world to Himself. He ended the accusations against us by taking our sins and guilt onto Himself. So there is no desperation, no back room plotting and strategizing in heaven. It is finished. God knows what He is doing. There no hand-wringing despair or fear either. For the Lord has purchased and won the world for Himself. He has opened heaven to all believers. There is nothing left to pay. We reap where we did not sow and we live in houses we did not build. And it is not our job to convince people to believe in Jesus.
The mission of God continues now when we preach to save those who believe—not to create believers, not to save the lost, but to save those who believe. That is what Paul says in today’s text. We have often gotten this mixed up. We have often been misled and deceived so that we thought the fate of the elect rested upon our efforts, that we needed to save them, that we could make heaven bigger and get more people in by our efforts. At times, sadly, we have even been harangued with the demonic doctrine that it was our fault people were going to hell because we didn’t do enough or try hard enough and apparently God couldn’t do it without us.
In contrast to this St. Paul writes:
For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. (1 Cor. 1:21, ESV)
So when your pastor stands in this pulpit and preaches Christ crucified to you, to those who believe, you are saved. That is what happens and the angels rejoice. God is pleased even though the world sees it as folly and trivial. God is no respecter of persons. He doesn’t get a buzz off of a big crowd. He isn’t awed by the dignity and beauty of a fancy service at the seminary. He is into the individuals. He cares about every hair on your head. He is pleased when you come to receive from Him what He desires to give: His forgiveness, His peace, His Word, His body and blood. He doesn’t care that there are only 2 or 3 of you, or that you aren’t rich and powerful, or even that there aren’t as many as there used to be. The divine Bridegroom is not looking wistfully at the waitress and wondering what that would have been like. He is focused on His Bride, on you. He has promised to work here, to be your God, to be present for you here—no matter how foolish it seems to the world or to the district execs or to the seminary.
You don’t have to get new members to please God. You don’t have to grow and in fact you aren’t going to, but you could learn to count differently. Because the Christians who die are not lost to the Church.
The people transferred from the Church Militant to glory keeps the numbers growing where it counts. The people transferred to glory aren’t losses because they are still with us in the great cloud of witnesses and they gather with us around the risen body and blood of Jesus. That is what we mean by “the whole company of heaven.” We mean your grandma and the funny guy who used to sit in the front pew and the old bachelor farmer who grunted more than he spoke are here with us. We mean Christ’s people—from this place, from history, and from all over the world—join us along with angels and archangels around the risen body of Jesus. And they never miss. They aren’t as stupid as we are so they never get the idea that there is something better or more important to do. They’re always here when the Sacrament is offered. Nor do they ever stop praying for you and this place. They are now in the nearer presence of God so they are more aware of you than they were when they were here in their fallen bodies, and they also recognize better the true significance of what happens in this place.
I am also telling you this—that your church isn’t going to grow in the conventional sense—because the number one reason that pastors crash and burn is because of the stress and isolation that comes from unrealistic expectations. If you try to foist your unrealistic, and possibly even unbiblical, fantasies of this church magically becoming revitalized and exciting and growing by his efforts and willpower and personality, you will harm Pastor Burfiend. You might even harm him deeply. He might never recover on this side of glory. And I don’t want you to do that to him or to any of us or to each other.
You have a very talented man here. It is remarkable that he has chosen to devote his life to the Church. He could have easily gone to law school or medical school or become a politician. Now just about every pastor in the Missouri Synod thinks that about himself and we all like to pretend that we’ve gone to “grad school,” but we haven’t. We’ve gone to seminary. That is not the same thing. Few of us really have the chops to make it anywhere else. But in this case, it is true. Pastor Burfiend could have done those things, but he has chosen to forgo them in order to spend his days and nights, the entire rest of his life, serving God’s people exclusively with his study, his prayers, and his time. That is no small thing and you ought to stand in awe of it, in gratitude to God that He raises up such men and sends them to Ossian.
You ought to also know that it is kind of stupid, folly in the eyes of the world, and even with an extra year of remedial training at the seminary, Pastor Burfiend here is an amateur. Most things in life, most professions, have to be lived. That is certainly true of the ministry. So he has a lot to learn and he will need a lot of support and encouragement. If I could trade places with him, I most certainly would not. I am no Messiah. I don’t envy him. He has some very hard months and years ahead of him. Even if you behave yourselves, he has his own unrealistic expectations plus what the seminary has filled his head with, and there is little hope that the district or synod won’t make those things worse. So I am asking you to comfort him, pray for him, and remind him of his vow to preach Christ crucified and risen for sinners and that he leave the prosperity of the Church in the hands of God—that is, that he be a Christian.
So the world will little note what happens here today, but that doesn’t matter. You note it because this is a significant day. It is a significant day in the history of this congregation and also in the kingdom of God. You want a miracle? Here is a miracle: God has sent you a pastor. He has sent His Word. He has promised to be here in the preaching and in the Sacraments—whether that means earthly success and measurable growth or not. Bethlehem and Nazareth were also small farming towns. God does great things in little places through His Word without the world’s notice, or at least without the world’s noticing at the time. Who knows? Maybe 2000 years from now congregations in Africa will name themselves Ossian Lutheran Church in your memory.
God is with you. He has not left you without a shepherd.
For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. 27 But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; 28 God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, 29 so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. 30 And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, 31 so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord” (1 Cor 1:26-31, ESV).
In the Name of +Jesus. Amen.