Installation Sermon For Pastor Tim Richholt at Wetaskiwin, Alberta / February 9th, 2014 / Pastor Terry Defoe
Our sermon text this afternoon is found in Second Corinthians, chapter 2. I’m reading verses 1 through 5. The Apostle Paul says:
1…When I came to you, I did not come with eloquence or human wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God. 2 For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. 3 I came to you in weakness with great fear and trembling. 4 My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, 5 so that your faith might not rest on human wisdom, but on God’s power. (N.I.V.)
Let me begin by saying that it’s a great pleasure to stand in this pulpit once again. Brother Tim, you and I have been friends for a good long time. Both of us have served congregations in this Wetaskiwin circuit in years past, yourself at Rocky Mountain House and me here at Zion. In the last decade, you and Melissa have been in Montana, and Kathleen and I have been in Saskatchewan. Our family enjoyed our 11 years in Wetaskiwin. We thank God for relationships established, friendships made, blessings given and received. I am thrilled that the Lord has brought you back to this circuit again and I pray that God would richly bless your time here at Zion. I have chosen as the basis of my message this afternoon the epistle text chosen for today. I pray that God would richly bless the time we spend his word this day.
Historians tell us that the apostle Paul had been preaching for more than 15 years when he arrived at the Greek city of Corinth. By this time, Paul had already founded congregations in several provinces. Corinth was a seaport town known for two things – its wealth and its wickedness. Corinth was the location of the Isthmian games, and it hosted temples to the Greek gods Aphrodite and Apollo. Historians tell us that many Roman veterans lived in Corinth, so there was a strong Roman influence there. All in all, Corinth was a cosmopolitan city – I would compare it to Vancouver, B.C. – an interesting mixture of races, and creeds, languages and cultures. For 18 months, Paul labored in Corinth.
But the Corinthian congregation was a church divided. The issues that divided these people are familiar in our day, too: there were disagreements about baptism, about the Lord’s supper, about issues of ministry and worship. The apostle Paul had heard that some individuals in Corinth were proud of what they considered to be their superior knowledge and their exclusive access to spiritual truths. In the process, the spotlight had been turned away from the cross of Christ to other things – to less important things. The congregation at Corinth was badly in need of healing – and renewal – and reconciliation.
When the Apostle Paul arrived in Corinth, he had his work cut out for him. He knew that the task was more than any mortal could accomplish. But he also knew something else – something critically important. He knew what the Holy Spirit had done in his own life, and he knew that Holy Spirit, working through God’s Word and the sacraments, would bring about the healing and reconciliation to this congregation just as it had done for him.
In his letter to the Roman Christians, the apostle Paul had said (Romans 1:16):
… I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile.
In his preaching at Corinth, and wherever he went, Paul made it his highest priority to focus attention, not on himself, but on Jesus Christ and him crucified. He knew that this message would be, as he himself put it, a stumbling block to the Jews and foolishness to the Gentiles, but he also knew that this was the message that God had commanded him to preach. Paul knew that many people Corinth were very much impressed with worldly wisdom. Many people there were impressed by eloquent speakers proclaiming elaborate philosophical arguments. But, in his preaching, Paul avoided all of that. He chose to focus instead on Christ and on the cross. Paul publicly admitted that he didn’t come to Corinth with great eloquence or worldly wisdom. As far as the apostle Paul was concerned, eloquence and human wisdom, without the Holy Spirit and His power, are just empty words. They are words without power — words without the power required to transform human hearts and rescue people from the curse of sin.
According to Paul, worldly wisdom wasn’t just a hindrance to the Gospel, it could be downright destructive to it. Paul said that “the rulers of this age” put their worldly “wisdom” on display when they crucified Jesus. Over the years, the Jewish leaders had lost touch with God’s Word – with God’s wisdom – and had substituted a wisdom of their own. Worldly wisdom had slowly eroded their faith and, eventually, caused them to reject their own Messiah. That worldly wisdom eventually turned their religion into a religion without grace – a religion of do’s and don’ts, a religion of countless rules and regulations, a religion of threats and intimidation and fear. That, of course, was the kind of religion Paul had grown up in. He didn’t want to go back to it again.
In Jeremiah, chapter 9, verses 22 and 23, God’s prophet says:
Let not the wise glory in their wisdom;
let not the mighty glory in their might;
let not those who are rich glory in their riches…
But let them glory in this –
that they understand and know that I am the Lord
and that I practice love, justice, and righteousness in the earth,
for in these things I delight. (N.I.V.)
According to Paul, and this is a critical part of the text we’re considering this afternoon, God’s wisdom is known – and can only be known – through the work of the Holy Spirit. God’s wisdom is hidden from normal human perception. It is only known by means of the Holy Spirit, working through God’s Word and the Sacraments. The content of Paul’s preaching was very different from what the Corinthians expected. And the presentation of his message was, too. Paul admitted that his preaching was conducted ”in weakness, with great fear and trembling” That meant that any success Paul had was not due to his eloquence, or his outstanding communication skills. Any success he had was entirely due to the work of the Holy Spirit.
In this letter to the Corinthian Christians, Paul contrasts his personal weakness with the amazing power of God. Most Bible scholars agree that, contrary to what most people think, Paul was not a great orator or powerful preacher. But where he was weak, the Holy Spirit was strong. Of all people, the apostle Paul knew that without the holy Spirit, there would be no church, no forgiveness of sins, no promise of eternal life, and no believers in Christ. Paul went out of his way to make the point that God’s wisdom cannot be known by the normal process of human perception. Paul was proclaiming spiritual wisdom, and, as such, it had to be spiritually discerned. It wasn’t mathematics. It wasn’t biology. It wasn’t engineering. The wisdom he was proclaiming had been in the mind of God from the beginning of time. It had now been manifested through Christ, through His ministry, through a cross and an empty tomb.
So, says Paul, when it comes to God’s plan of salvation, the human eye cannot see it. As a matter of fact, human beings are blind to it. The human ear cannot hear it – we are deaf to it. Why is that? Because these things are spiritually discerned. We can only know these things when God opens our minds to understand his word. God has prepared salvation for us through His Son. For those who trust Jesus, a place in heaven has been reserved. Those who trust Jesus live an abundant life in the here and now.
God’s Spirit communicates this knowledge to His people through the means of grace. Brother Tim, our task as preachers is to receive the Word from God and then to pass it along, unchanged. The Holy Spirit does the heavy lifting. It is amazing to think that the Holy Spirit communicates to us the very thoughts and mind of God. So what does God’s message of salvation sound like to those without the Holy Spirit? To them, it sounds like foolishness. It doesn’t seem to be related in any way to real life. It may even be perceived as harmful. Brother Tim, you and I both know that without the work of the Holy Spirit, a preacher’s words would fall on deaf ears.
Brother Tim, you know that God’s Word works. As the theologians like to say, God’s word is efficacious. The Holy Spirit, working through the Word and the sacraments, delivers God’s grace in Christ to us. A thermometer measures the temperature in a particular environment. It reflects what’s going on around it, but has no influence on its environment. A thermostat, on the other hand, is very different. Rather than merely reflecting what’s going on around it, it has the power to change things. In a similar way, God’s Word doesn’t just reflect what is going on in its environment – it changes things. The bottom line? God’s Word works.
Speaking through his prophet Isaiah, God says, in chapter 55, verse 11:
“… My word… will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.” (N.I.V.)
Jesus Christ is the Word of God made flesh. He is the One who has now appeared and is dwelling among us. Our faith doesn’t rest on clever human reasoning, but on the power of God. All the glory goes to God. Martin Luther said that
“Christian people are recognized by their possession of the holy word of God.”
He also said:
“Among all gifts, the gift of the word of God is the most valuable. For if you take this away, it is like taking the sun away from the earth.”
Christians are found wherever God’s word is preached and believed, professed and lived. We Christians are people of the word. We proclaim it and, in that proclamation, God is at work adopting people as his children. He claims them as his own. Brother Tim, we pastors are often thought of as salesmen for the Gospel. But, in truth we are far more than that. We pastors are satisfied customers. We know the gospel. We have personally experienced its power in our own lives. We’ve seen the power of the Word at work in Holy Baptism. We’ve seen it at work in the Rite of Confirmation. We have seen the Word at work when a man and a woman stand at the Lord’s altar and promise to be faithful to each other. And we pastors have seen the power of the Word at work at the bedside of a dying Christian as they prepare to leave this world and take their place in heaven.
Brother Tim, you know God’s Word works. You know that it brings order into lives ruined by the effects of sin. The story is told of an old lighthouse located prominently on a rocky shoreline, placed there to keep ships from being destroyed on the rocks. One day, the lighthouse keeper got sick and a temporary substitute was brought in. While that individual was tending the lighthouse, a huge storm blew in. Sand and branches and all kinds of debris flew around in the wind, and pelted that lighthouse. So that inexperienced lighthouse keeper decided to temporarily cover up the lantern with a large piece of canvas so that it wouldn’t get wet or damaged in the storm. That night, a ship was blown off course, landed on the rocky shore, and sank.
God’s Holy Word is the light this world needs in order to avoid destruction on the jagged rocks of sin. Our task as pastors, is to make sure that light is not obscured in any way. Our job is to make sure that God’s light in Christ shines into the darkest recesses of human lives and hearts bringing forgiveness of sin and the promise of eternal life.
Paul’s understanding of the Holy spirit was quite different from that of some of the Corinthians. Paul emphasized that the Holy Spirit, rather than producing miracles that dazzle and impress, enables people to understand God’s word and to be transformed by it. In his letter to the Romans, in chapter 12, verse 2, Paul said –
“Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.”
This renewing of the mind is what the Holy Spirit wants to do. By means of God’s Word and the sacraments, the Holy Spirit invades and disrupts our sinful reality. As God’s law is preached, the Holy Spirit convicts us of our sin. As the Holy Spirit works, for the first time, we understand what sin is. We recognize it in our own lives. We understand what it has done to us and to others. But, as his word is preached, God transforms the old order of things. As His word is preached, we are set free from our sins. Set free to live an abundant life. Set free to worship God. We see things with new eyes. We hear things with new ears. And we are motivated to share with others what we have received.
In 2 Corinthians, chapter 5, verses 16 and 17, Paul says:
Even though we once regarded Christ from a human point of view, we regard him thus no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has passed away, behold, the new has come.
In John’s Gospel, chapter 8, and verse 47, Jesus Himself said:
Whoever belongs to God hears what God says. The reason you do not hear is that you do not belong to God.
“The clenched fist can receive nothing,” states an old Chinese proverb. Neither can a closed mind or a hardened heart. Paul was critical of the spiritually arrogant people in the congregation at Corinth. He was critical of their wrongful pride and their spiritual one-upmanship. But Paul knew, however, from his own life and experience, that the Holy Spirit has the power to open that clenched fist. The Holy Spirit has the power to open that closed mind. After all, that’s what the Spirit did for him. And that’s what the Holy Spirit has done for us. Amen.
Let’s Pray: DEAR HEAVENLY FATHER – We thank you for the work of your Holy Spirit in our midst: bringing us to faith, enabling us to hear your word, to understand it, and to put it into practice. We pray that you would richly bless Pastor Tim Richholt as he begins his work here in Wetaskiwin. May Your Holy Spirit, working through the means of grace, bring renewal and healing, peace and great joy to many people. In Jesus’ most holy and precious name we pray. Amen.