The Ordination of the Reverend Mark P. Braden
In the Name of the Father and of the +Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Eau Claire, Wisconsin is under attack. It is nearly covered in darkness. The men, women, and children suffering there are no match for the powers of Hell arrayed against them. Fathers are turning from their children and from their wives. Government officials are accepting bribes. They fear the masses. They lie for political gain. The churches have sold out. They are counting their offerings while they scratch the itchy ears of men and pat the demons on the head. It is as bleak in Eau Claire as it has ever been. The end of all things draws near.
But the Light shines in the darkness. The remnant there hears the voice of its Shepherd. They gather around the Light emanating from the Word of God hidden in water, bread, wine, and the pages of a Book. The darkness has not overcome them. But they are sore oppressed. They have asked for our aid. In accordance with God´s institution and promise they desire a Man of God, a warrior against death, to come and preach to them, to shine that Holy Light on their path, to lay hands upon them in Holy Absolution, to drown the old Adam and raise up the new, to bring Good News from God.
Thus we gather this day to anoint one of our own for that task. The Holy Spirit is bestowed. The next generation is born. Off he goes to war in Eau Claire with nothing more than the Word and faith. He does not go empty handed. He goes with a Promise. The Lord is with him. Even if they kill him as they killed the prophets before him, it will be good. For he belongs to God.
That is the way that Abraham left Chaldea. That is the way that Moses stared down Pharaoh, Nathan David, Elijah Jezebel, and John Herod. The Word of God was their only weapon. The Spirit was their fortitude and courage. They were but frail men full of sin. Yet God was on their side! Yes, God takes sides. He is on the side of repentant sinners who trust in Him. He is on the side of Zion in Eau Claire. But He is never on the side of the coward.
Cowardice denies the Spirit. It denies that God is in control. It believes the lies the devil tells in the dark. You cannot be charitable, merciful, or just if you are terrified of what men will think. You cannot speak the truth if you are calculating how it will be received. You cannot preach nor pray if you are scared of martyrdom. The men God sends into battle He first endows with the Spirit of fortitude and courage or else all is lost. They must learn that God´s Word is the only force in all the Universe that can overcome the darkness. It accomplishes that for which it was sent even if it seems to fail. It changes men. It brings life out of death, turns wine into Blood. It bestows an inheritance upon rebels. The Men of God must learn to live by faith and to not trust in their eyes or district reports.
The battle to which our brother has been called has gone on for far longer than we ever thought it would – even now for 7000 years. But the end draws near! The decisive battle was won outside of Jerusalem. Mankind is redeemed. The enemy is afraid. He grows more desperate every day. He relies on guerrilla and terrorist tactics. He seeks to destroy morale or to create indifference, laziness, and complacency. He offers treaties of peace and compromise. But there can be none.
Yet some have grown weary. Some have succumbed. They´ve renamed the love of money and success “missionary zeal.’ They´ve replaced devotion to the Truth with legalism or even political expediency. Thus the worst and most painful attacks seem to come from within our own camps. For the devil has found some in the spirit of Esau, they are are willing to sell their birthright; some like Ahaz and Saul, they test the Lord; and others like Judas, they betray God. They think they can accomplish by violence or deceit, by earthly wisdom or rhetoric, even by crass appeals to the flesh, what grace failed to do. They build their churches to themselves.
If the Man of God places his trust in men – in synods, in voters, in constitutions and by-laws – he will not only be disappointed but he will be lost to the other side. He will lose his soul. There is real danger in this battle, not only for those to whom he is sent, but also for himself and for his family. All the Braden´s are in harm´s way. Only a fool would not be afraid.
But he is called to courage and to faith. Courage acts in the face of fear. The Man of God is more afraid of God than of men. He says with St. Paul, “Woe to me if I do not preach the Gospel.’ Like Jeremiah, his bones burn within him. He must preach. And like Balaam´s ass, the words are not his own. God will have His way. God´s promises will come true. The Man of God cannot but preach. He must heed the call and preach on regardless of the consequences, success or failure, or no change at all. He must live by faith.
The godly preacher is motivated by one simple fact: Jesus died for his hearers. He prayed for them. He loves them. He would have all men turn and be saved – even the most cruel and obscene. For God is no respecter of persons. He reconciled all men to His Father. The Man of God must preach this love, this free and whole forgiveness, the kind of death Our Lord died and the Life He now lives for us. For if it is not so, and if it is not urgent, or if there be a different way, then there is no hope for anyone, least of all for him. But it is so. And it is the power of God unto salvation. It beats back the darkness. It preserves creation. It declares men righteous. Jesus lives.
It is not an easy task; war never is. Indeed, it is impossible. Thus are hands laid upon this Man of God tonight to join him to the brotherhood of those who do not love their lives to death, to those who preach and do not count the cost, to those who stand and mock the grave while the coffin is put in the ground and say, “O Death where is thy sting?’ The Spirit is breathed out in the Word of God this night and breathed into him, that he would breathe it out again in Eau Claire; that the Comforter would proceed from his mouth and comfort those fighting saints in Eau Claire. These are his orders: “Forgive sins. Preach the Gospel. Baptize. Feed the sheep.’
His life is not his own. It never really was. It is a noble task. It is a good work. It is what the Lord has given and it contains a promise. The sins you forgive are forgiven. The Word you preach will not return empty. And the Lord will be with you. He will fulfill His Word in and through you. Your sins are also forgiven. Your name is written in the bloody, watery ink of Baptism in the Book of Life. Your life is not your own. It is God´s – as it should be.
In Jesus´ Name. Amen.
Rev’d David H. Petersen
Redeemer Lutheran Church
Fort Wayne, Indiana