[Picture: Concordia Publishing House]
The following sermon was preached by Reverend Dr. Scott Bruzek on the occasion of the installation of Pastor James Hopkins at the First Lutheran Church of Boston. Rev. Bruzek is the Senior Pastor of St. John Lutheran Church in Wheaton, Illinois. The text for the sermon is John 14, verses 15-21.
I am guessing that everybody is just a little nervous right now. I know I am. I have never played at Fenway before. And you all as a congregation are probably a little nervous too, because you are in the middle of a great big change. I thought that only Jesus Himself had served here longer than Pastor Dutzmann – until I met this other distinguished man in the first row (Pastor Reuning).
And now you’ve got yourself this fabulous, new young guy, who is very talented and very kind, with a brilliant wife and a wonderful family. But then, in the back of your head, you remember that he is coming at you more like a Supreme Court Justice than a Senator, so when things get dicey here – and at some point, they will get dicey – because, you know – the devil, the world, and our sinful flesh – when things get dicey, you can’t just vote him out. You’ve got to plead your case in the Holy Name of Jesus – and love him. And love is so horribly inefficient.
And you, Pr. Hopkins, if you are not just a little bit nervous right now, then you are a crazy man. Sure, you’ve got all the tools and a good heart, but look around – this is a clever, sophisticated, accomplished bunch, so expectations will be high inside this place – and outside too. It is just as St. Paul said –
Who is sufficient for such things? 2 Cor 2:16
So it is fortunate that Jesus has gathered us around his gifts on the Eve of Pentecost – a day when we learn that we are all nervous for nothing.
Pentecost was the day the Lord made his church from misfits, from a bunch of folks with no spectacular talents, a run of failures, and not much to commend them personally or professionally. These are the ones who fought Jesus all along the Way about – Who’s the greatest? I’m the greatest! – and – God forbid! You are never going to the cross! – and – Let’s call down fire from heaven to torch our foes!
These are the ones who were his guests at the Last Supper, but then abandoned him on the way to Golgotha.
But in spite of this, Jesus does not, after his victory, build up his church from a new selection of better or more promising people. He takes the same apostles, forgives them, and sends them out into the world as his instruments. [Gustaf Wingren, Credo: The Christian View of Faith and Life, 141.]
It is just as Luther said: The Lord rides a lame horse and shoots with a crooked bow – and so often, we are the lame and crooked. But add a bit of wind and fire to that lot – and to us – and suddenly we are good to go. Suddenly Jesus has himself a Church.
As he once put himself into the flesh of our Blessed Virgin Mother, he now puts himself into ink and paper and water and bread and wine – and from that, his Church is born. As he once came to the cross and the tomb and the resurrection, and then to Mary Magdalene, to Peter and John, and to the lovely Thomas, to the apostles and the 500 and eventually to us – from that, the Church lives.
Suddenly our group of misfits is glorious – glorious in the most technical sense of the word – where glory – is the holiness of heaven that comes to earth – so at Jesus’ birth, the angels sang – Glory to God in the highest, and peace to his people on earth – because when that glory touches us, through the wind and fire of the Spirit, a Holy Spirit who bears and bestows the flesh and blood of Jesus, its holiness does not destroy us, it forgives us – it makes us holy too – saving us, and making you all a congregation, and you, James, as pastor, and me fit for his divine work.
And that is what we are doing here today. We have come today to see and to touch the wind and fire – the Spirit and the holiness – the flesh and the blood – of our Risen Lord. But don’t be nervous – it will all shake out for our good.
In Acts chapter 2, those who were once so nervous that they were hidden away in an upper room, those who were once so frightened, so like us – in the days after the wind and fire of Pentecost, devoted themselves to Scripture, and Prayer, to the Liturgy and Eucharist, to Tithing and Alms, to thorough Mercy, and a winsome Witness, to an obedient life, orbiting Christ, and the witness of their orbit drew an astounding number of others into the Church.
It happened just as Jesus promised in the Gospel appointed for this day. If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And they did love him – and they did keep his commandments – and the Church exploded in joy and numbers.
But by now you know it wasn’t really them – just like it isn’t ever really you all – or you, James – or me. We are nothing but given to! We live only by divine gifts!
It was that Fire, who purifies us, and that Spirit, who resurrects and illumines and leads us, that Helper – verse 16 – who stays with us forever, that Spirit—verse 17 – of otherworldly Truth, who dwells outside us, so we are always safe, and inside us, so we are never alone, and never unloved, that Spirit who empowers and encourages us so that our Lord can have his very best use of us – and God knows, for that, you, James, need to be a pastor, and you, all together, need to be a congregation “because” – verse 17 – “the world cannot receive him… it neither sees nor know him” – so without you (James) – and without you (all) – how will they see, and how will they know Jesus and love Jesus?
They will see and they will know and they will love if you let the wind and fire have their way with you – if you love and obey – and if you hear the words “love” and “obey” as the ultimate gift – and joy – and freedom. Love and obey are Gospel words.
That is why our Lord has himself a Church on Pentecost and a congregation in Boston. So – the game’s almost over, and I’m not nervous anymore. Besides, I’ve got a flight out of here tomorrow. And – you all don’t need to be nervous either.
You all are strong, and blessed, and by the power of the Holy Spirit, Jesus has given you a new pastor. You’ve got nothing to worry about.
And you, James – you’ll be fine to if you just tend the parts of you that are showing outside your vestments right now. The Lord has given you feet to go to them, and hands to serve them, and a mouth for Law and Gospel, so if you go – and serve – and speak to them – kindly and patiently – in holiness – and love – and truth – and obedience – there is no need for worry.
Instead, you can all look forward – to living together – in a Acts 2 community –pulled into orbit around Christ – as a brilliant witness to Jesus treasuring up his otherworldly gifts – wind and fire and Spirit and truth and life and joy – here, now, not just for us in here, but also for them out there – as Jesus continues his long run of service here among you.