Do not Neglect the Gift
Hurrying back from vacation, I rested at home, made a few hospital visits and sick calls, and prepared to run off again. This time, it would be “business” as well as “pleasure.” One of my oldest and dearest friends (I’ll call him “Ted,” since that’s his name) accepted the call of the Holy Ghost to become pastor of a congregation in Kansas. After wrapping up a few loose ends, I made my way to preach his installation sermon.
I like installations (and ordinations). Pomp and pageantry, ceremony and celebration — these fascinate me and raise my spirits. Harold Arlen’s song, I Love a Parade sometimes comes to mind as I process with brother clergy, marching to a common goal for a common purpose.
I like installations because they include reminders from Scripture and sermon of the nature of the Divine Call: It is from God, not man; it is to an Office, not a lifestyle; it exists as a divine means of forgiving and saving sinners, not as an avenue of sinfully glorifying the pastor. Likewise, the rite reminds the congregation both of the blessings and the obligations attendant to having a pastor. Scripture speaks of the “beautiful feet” (see Isaiah 52:7) of the messenger of good news, who proclaims God’s peace to receiving, believing saints.
However, the Word also warns and admonishes the congregation. It commands respect, honor, and obedience toward our pastors. It reminds the Church that Ted and his brother pastors not only are to speak gently to repentant, hurting believers but also firmly to rejecting, neglecting sinners. As we know from the Scriptures, each of us is both sinner and saint and each of us needs both the Law’s threatening commands and the Gospel’s comforting promises.
I preached on 1 Timothy 4:11-16. Ted and his new congregation heard the apostle: “Do not neglect the gift you have, which was given you by prophecy when the council of elders laid their hands on you. (v. 14)” The Holy Spirit gives this gift of interpreting, teaching, and proclaiming Scripture to Christ’s pastors. This gift of forgiveness and new life they, in turn, give to Christ’s Church. As I prepared to preach, I also pondered and puzzled: How have I used the gift? Have I made it freely available to all who need it? Have I preached the full council of God, confronting sin and comforting sinners?
Paul closed this section by saying, “Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers. (v. 16)” He didn’t mean that by doing the deed the pastor is automatically allowed into heaven any more than a person is saved by sitting in the pew on Sunday morning. However, when the pastor is in the Word, striving for pure doctrine and loving practice, he preaches not only to the flock, but to himself. He is saved by the same grace he speaks to others, for the same Savior died for him and for the flock entrusted to his care.
Now you can see a bit more why I like installations. They’re one more place to go for the forgiveness of sins and for guidance on the way to heaven. They remind me of the sacred origins of my vocation and of the strength to fulfill this office that comes from Christ and not from self. When done according to Scripture and the rites of the Church, they serve to bring pastor and congregation together in a common bond of mutual support and service, of grace given and grace received.
Hands graphic taken from a greeting card at Art from the Soul, a showcase of the excellent work of Julie Rodriguez Jones.
Scripture quoted from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version™, © 2001 by Crossway Bibles.
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Walter Snyder is the pastor of Holy Cross Lutheran Church, Emma, Missouri and coauthor of the book What Do Lutherans Believe.
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