I recently resigned my position at Capo Valley Church. I'm now a member at Faith Lutheran in Capistrano Beach, California.
Recently, Faith called a new Associate Pastor. He was installed this past Sunday in one of the most profound and impactful services I've ever had the privilege of attending. The sermon preached for Pastor Rhode's installation was beyond amazing. I do not have words that are adequate to describe it. Therefore, I'm reproducing the entire text here in this post.
A Sermon Preached by the Rev. Ron Hodel at the Installation of Pastor Jeremy Rhode on Sunday June 23, 2007.
Pastor Rhode, and all my brothers and sisters in Christ here at Faith Lutheran Church.
This is an exciting day your life… and in the life of this parish. Behind you are many very excited people. Why they’re excited is beyond me… but they are… and, to tell you the truth, and so am I.
I thought that at your installation, I ought to preach a practical sermon for once - giving you ten bullet-points – advise on how to be a good Pastor, have a successful ministry, and make it so that people love you.
But then I decided that it’s really only a one bullet-point sermon.
Inspired by the Holy Spirit, St. Paul wrote about God’s method of saving sinful people, you, and me, and all the rest of the sons and daughters of Adam sitting around you. Preach this, and you’ll be
• a good Pastor (though may in the world will beg to differ),
• you'll have a successful ministry (in the eyes of relatively very few and certainly not in the eyes of the growing, successful mega-churches),
• and you’ll make it so that people (but only people who know they’re broken) will love you.
You know the text well. 1Cor. 1:18-25
For the word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. 19 For it is written, “I WILL DESTROY THE WISDOM OF THE WISE, AND THE CLEVERNESS OF THE CLEVER I WILL SET ASIDE.” 20 Where is the wise man? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? 21 For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not come to know God, God was well-pleased through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe. 22 For indeed Jews ask for signs and Greeks search for wisdom; 23 but we preach Christ crucified, to Jews a stumbling block and to Gentiles foolishness, 24 but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 25 Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.
Jews ask for signs and Greeks search for wisdom. Paul’s emphasis is on what seemingly dumb methods God chose to save us.
• Dumb and foolish as compared to the impressive things set forth by the self proclaimed “super-apostles” at Corinth.
• The very opposite of wisdom in the eyes of the world then and now.
But the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.
Times really haven’t changed and all that Paul says here is also considered foolish to the sophisticated American … and, believe it or not, to many Christian Pastors as well. And to make matters worse, Pastor Rhode, in a few minutes you’re going to promise before all these people and before God Himself, just as you promised a couple of weeks ago at your Ordination, that you will personally use these dumb methods God uses to save us sinners.
You have personally “bet the farm” on some guy talking about God saving the world by an instrument of Roman execution and giving out the benefits of that cross by means of
• a sinful Pastor’s mouth,
• plain old tap water,
• bread and fairly cheap wine.
Kind of foolish, if you think about it, isn’t it. And maybe only slightly worse, you’re going to promise that you will – come hell or high water – have a ministry filled with these dumb methods, and really, only these dumb methods.
And so, before you make this promise again, remember this, you’re setting yourself up for a lifetime of derision and contempt… foolishness even to other Christian pastors who have discovered something better than word and water and bread and wine and the forgiveness of sins. In fact, talk about this with them and they’ll think you’ve time warped in from the 16th century. They’ll give lip service to your sincerity (after all, being postmodern, they think, well, if it works for you, great) but they’ll make jokes about you behind your back because you imagine
• that the preaching of the Gospel gives people eternal life…
• that some water poured on the head of an adult or baby works salvation
• and that a poor excuse for a piece of bread and obscenely sweet wine actually deliver the gifts of Christ.
You’re going to promise to faithfully appear to be a fool – at least to the so-called “wise” of the world for the rest of your days. And maybe the fool you are. With your God-given intelligence and skill set, you could say, No thanks, go downtown and get a real job and pull in six figures in a matter of weeks. But like a fool, at your Ordination and here at your Installation you,
• encouraged by the people of God around you, • by your promise
• you have tied yourself to a mast from which you promise never to move…
• the mast of true doctrine and straight teaching…
and then… let me give you a heads up, for the rest of your borne days are going to have to deal with those same people who encouraged you to tie yourself to this mast…
• your going to be encouraged to move from the mast…
• to bend and to stretch, to other less foolish, even wiser ways than those to which you have bound yourself.
But if I couldn’t talk you out of it at vicarage, I’m sure not going to be able to talk you out of it now.
And so, for your encouragement, I offer you the Holy Spirit inspired words of Paul.
Greeks seek wisdom… and the wise among the Greeks saw absolutely no sense in this word of the cross. They deemed it beneath them, foolishness (mo-ria the Greek says, moronic.) Paul was writing to the Corinthians and ironically, not a single great philosopher came from Corinth, but it was full of amateurs… wise Greeks wanting a rational explanation of the universe and everything in it. Now, there’s nothing wrong with that but these “wise ones” has a pretty high view of themselves and they saw the message of the cross as beneath them. To the Greeks, this whole business about a Messiah who dies saving His people was silliness. Thinking this way is what happens when your brain gets overheated by the hot middle-eastern sun. You hallucinate about religious things.
Although the Greeks, to whom Paul wrote, lived 2000 years ago, their spirit still lives on in the lives of all sorts of people today.
You’ve heard the Greek reaction of people today:
• Have you ever heard anything so preposterous and gross… It’s embarrassing… Washed in the blood of Jesus… it give me the creeps!
• Or rejecting the good news of the Gospel, people embrace postmodernism. If it works for you, great. But it doesn’t work for me and so you go find truth for yourself and I’ll go find my own truth.
• Then there will be the comments you’ll overhear people say about other people who finally come to Jesus. They’ll make comments about others, but the comments will be directed at you. They’ll say, Some church has roped poor Jim in; got him giving his money to the; doing free labor for them. Bunch of snake handlers, all of ‘em. Con men. Just look at the palaces they call churches that they build for themselves.
Rejecting the news of the Gospel, these so-called “wise ones” are on their way to God’s condemnation - For the word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing.
The Greeks search for wisdom and the Jews ask for signs.
The Jews were skeptics, too… skeptical about Jesus as the Messiah and Savior for reasons other than the Greeks. The Jews possessed an inspired Old Testament and in that Testament, God had promised great signs that would be connected to the Messiah’s coming.
Well, Jesus not only had the right Messianic credentials, He also did signs. In fact, enough signs that He was able to say to His detractors, If you do not believe my words, believe Me because of the works that I do. They bear witness of Me. But no, they wanted signs of their own choosing. They weren’t impressed by the lame walking, the blind seeing and the dead being raised four days after they’d died. No, they wanted a military miracle. Get rid of the Romans occupying our land and we’ll accept you as Messiah. Or perhaps if you’d rearrange the stars in the heavens, make the moon and the stars play hide-and-seek, or walk across Herod’s swimming pool. And the only sign Jesus would give them at that point was the sign of the cross. The leaders demanded a sign to prove His authority, and Jesus gave them one. He told them He would die and rise again. That would be the sign.
The sign of His dead body hanging on a tree.
Paul was right in what he preached. The fact that the Messiah ended up crucified on a cross became a very large stumbling block… a scandalon to his fellow Jews.
In Scripture, a scandalon is deadly.
• A scandalon is something you trip over and head first onto the rocks below.
• A scandalon is that sharpened stick in an animal trap that, when the trap is sprung, stabs the trapped animal and kills it.
And that’s precisely what the cross was to the Jew of Jesus’ day. That the Great King of the Universe and of Israel in particular,
• came down to earth in human flesh,
• to be spit on, made fun of,
• twiddled for the amusement of a few sadistic Roman soldiers garrisoned in the boonies of the Empire,
• and finally to be nailed to a cross for everyone to laugh at… impossible!
No Messiah, especially a heavenly Messiah who is God in the flesh in Person, would ever stand for that! Besides, Paul’s opponents would say, Doesn’t the Old Testament say that anyone who ends up hanged on a tree is under the curse of God?
And that answer is, Yes, it does. And the Jew would say, Aha! Then whoever the Messiah is, He will not end up nailed to a cross! And Paul would respond… Ah, contraire. Jesus was a cursed man, only it was our curse He bore, not His own. And whoever doesn’t accept the fact that the cross bore their Messiah, that cross will be like the death-stick in an animal trap… it will kill them.
Paul preached to people 2000 years ago, but the spirit of these people lives on in the world today.
• All I want is for God to show Himself to me… some way… any way, but some way for sure!
• All I want is for God to do this miracle or that and I’ll believe.
Pastor Rhode, the only sign God gives, is, you preaching His crucified and risen Son from this pulpit. Pretty pathetic in the eyes of the world.
• Want to impress the world? Don’t preach this! Don’t placard Christ crucified in your liturgy, your hymns and your sermons.
• Want to amaze the planet? Don’t be foolish. Don’t say something unwise. Tell them something they want to hear … don’t announce Christ having been crucified and risen from the dead for the forgiveness of sins, for free every Sunday! People already know that. Get on to other more important things. Good Christians are going to get bored with Gospel preaching.
• Don’t announce what God did for sinners about 2000 years ago, on a Friday, at about 3 o’clock in the afternoon on hill just outside of Jerusalem.
• Don’t tell them about the injustice that happened there, where Christ Jesus died the death you and I deserve. You’ve got to have something more practical to say than that. They don’t talk about that at Rock Harbor, Saddleback or the Crystal Cathedral… and those are successful places. Model your preaching after their motivational talks. Then you’ll be successful.
Pastor Rhode, there is nothing more practical than Gospel preaching. Nothing more practical because by the promise of God, the preaching of the word of the cross produces faith in doomed children of Adam. It produces faith, not just crowds.
The Bible says, Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved. The only problem with that is that I can’t do this and you can’t either. As Adam’s children, we’re born at enmity with God… we wouldn’t believe God if our lives counted on it. But God’s foolish methods (the preaching of His Gospel, the washing of Holy Baptism and receiving Christ Jesus by the mouth in the Lord’s Supper) make us unwilling ones willing. Luther said, God looks into our hearts and finds no faith in Christ whatsoever. He creates in us faith in Christ as he created the heavens and the earth: that is, out of nothing!
• God placed the world into His grand universe, surrounded it with His creative glory on every side… and what was the result in the hearts of humankind? Nothing! Zero! God doesn’t exist!
• God tenderly cares for this world with His providential care – my guess averting far more disasters than He allows… and what does humankind think of Him? They’re indifferent at best.
But God does more by the foolishness of preaching Christ than the world has ever accomplished with all its wisdom. In God’s gracious, good pleasure He took the last thing anyone would ever expect Him to take, (an old rugged cross and RH typeable blood) and used it to forgive us of all of our sin! And in doing this, God made a joke out of the arrogant wisdom of the wise of this world.
Think of it! A simple missionary or a Pastor tells the story of the incarnation and the voluntary suffering and death of Jesus for the forgiveness of sin – and that changes the heart of hearers in a way that none of the wisdom of the world ever could do.
• It saves them,
• it reconciles them to God,
• it causes them to be adopted as children of the heavenly Father…
• in a word, it justifies them before God for Jesus’ sake.
• It succeeds in making rebels believe what this story says.
Foolishness, don’t you think? As Luther said in one of his Christmas sermons, Why if I have been God, I wouldn’t have done it that way! I would have just taken the devil and twisted his nose and said, Let my people go! And that makes sense.
Preach sermons that point people to practical things.
• Things they have control over.
• Things where they can see their own progress.
• Sermons that deal with problems only rich Americans seem to have.
• Bits of fabulous advise for maintaining health, finding a purpose and increasing wealth.
• Bits of wisdom for those -- who plan never to die.
But those aren’t sermons. I don’t know what they are, but they’re not sermons.
• A sermon is about the depth of your sin and mine.
• A sermon is about Christ’s atoning blood freely given to redeem you and me from that sin.
• A sermon is about Jesus as the only merit we have and that that merit of Jesus is freely and fully reckoned to our account.
Pastor Rhode, you’re here because you preach sermons… and we pray you do that as long as God grants you health and strength to do it.
• You are going to placard before this congregation and those who visit usa Christ, as God’s only way of saving people: God the Father’s Son nailed to a cross as our Great Substitute.
• You are going to pour simple tap water on the heads of adults and babies alike and God’s word is going to work in that water and wash away their sins.
• You are going to put bread into people’s mouths and wine on their lips and you’re going to tell them, Take eat. This is the true body of Christ given into death for your sin. Take, drink. This is the true blood of Christ shed for you.
And through all of this, God’s Word will create faith in your hearer’s hearts – faith that trusts and clings to the belief that this nailed man’s body and blood will take them to heaven. And it will take them to heaven. It will even take you.
I say that about you not because I know a secret about you. No. There are going to come times in your life when you’re going to be tempted to not believe this. There are going to come dark nights in the pastor’s soul where all the promises of Scripture will seems to be like chaff, like dust, like foolish babble. That’s the way it’s going to look sometimes. Believe me, I know. Pastor Rhode, there is nothing more debilitating than the continuous handling of sacred things. I know that, too. There’s just something about the holy that sucks the life out of you.
When those days come - you need to hear for yourself the foolish words that create faith in dead hearts…
• a Pastor, perhaps, who will tell you this
• members of your congregation who minister to your dry soul in those dark hours.
• You need to hear these words of Scripture…
• and you (congregation) need to remind Pastor Rhode and myself of these things as well.
“The Son of Man came not to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.” (Matthew 20:28)
“Come to Me, all you who are heavy laden. Take My yoke upon you, for My yoke is easy and My burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28)
“And He, when He comes, will neither break the bruised reed, nor quench the smoldering wick.” (Matthew 12:20)
“Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us . . .” (Galatians 3:13)
“For by grace you are saved, through faith, and that [faith in Jesus is] not of yourselves, but it is a gift of God, lest any man should boast.” (Ephesians 2:8)
“And to the man who does not work but trusts the One who justifies the wicked, his faith is counted as if it were righteousness.” (Romans 4:5)
“For we maintain that a man is justified by faith, apart from works of the law.” (Romans 3:28)
“But now a righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, . . . the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. (Romans 3:21)
“Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” (Romans 5:1)
“There is now, therefore, no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” (Romans 8:1)
So, Pastor Rhode,
“Be of good cheer, my son. Your sins are forgiven.” (Matthew 9:2)
“It is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” (Luke 12:32)