Pastor Matthew Fenn’s Installation
at St. Peter’s Evangelical Lutheran Church, Stratford, Ontario——14 July 2019
Grace, mercy, and peace be to you from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord.
Lips, Ears, and the Office of the Holy Ministry
(Luke 10:16a; Romans 10:17)
Lips—Luke 10:16a: “The one who hears you hears me…”
Ears—Romans 10:17: So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.
Have you ever noticed how physical the Christian faith is? For starters, our saving faith in the one true God—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—involves all five of our senses. With our eyes, we read the Bible. With our ears, we hear the Word preached. With our noses, we smell such things as altar candles and fresh greens placed upon the Advent wreath and sacramental wine. With our sense of touch, we feel baptismal water splashed upon us. And with our tongues, we taste the blessed, holy Body and Blood of our Saviour Jesus.
And there is more to the physicality of the Christian faith. For today, God is placing among you a real, physical man to serve you in the Name of Jesus. In order that you may receive faith and be keep faithful unto death, God has instituted the ministry of teaching the Gospel and administering the Sacraments. Through the Word and Sacraments, you receive the Holy Spirit. It is the Holy Spirit who works faith, when and where it pleases God, in those who hear the good news that God justifies those who believe that they are received into grace for Christ’s sake (see Augsburg Confession, Article V: The Ministry). It is not because of your worthiness but for Christ’s sake that God has sent you a man with a rightly ordered call to publicly teach in the Church and to administer the Sacraments (see Augsburg Confession, Article XIV: Order in the Church).
Today, we pray for both Pastor Fenn and the Church of Christ, especially the congregation Pastor Fenn has been called to serve—St. Peter’s Evangelical Lutheran Church, Stratford. As we pray for God’s blessings upon both pastor and congregation, I invite you to consider the Office of the Holy Ministry and also Pastor Fenn’s ministry here in terms of the physicality of the Christian faith—specifically, in terms of lips and ears.
First, the lips. In Luke’s Gospel, our Lord says to His disciples: The one who hears you hears me (10:16a). Now the first thing to notice about these words is that our Lord wants to be heard. He wants to speak to His people. He is not a silent, mysterious God, so that we have to wonder about who He is and what He desires and what is His will. No, He is a God who speaks. He speaks from the very beginning, when His Word created everything that exists, and He speaks until the very ending, when at His Word the angels are dispatched to gather His faithful into His Kingdom.
Your Lord and Saviour Jesus is a speaking God, and He wants to speak to you. He wants to give to you all that He is and all that He has. To give to you His Word, His Name, and His Presence. And to do that, there must be one who speaks in His stead and by His command. For the Word of God does not come to us from the ruminations or meditations of our own hearts. Rather, in His wisdom, God in Christ has established the Office of the Holy Ministry. To speak His Word to His people, so that the one who hears [the Lord’s called and ordained servant also] hears [the Lord].
To the dear flock of St. Peter’s Evangelical Lutheran Church, the Lord of the Church has given you a pastor to stand in His stead and by His command. A pastor who speaks for the Lord and who gives in the Lord’s Name. A pastor who will be an undershepherd who will follow the example of the Good Shepherd and give of himself to you.
Your pastor, Pastor Fenn, will be here for you and giving to you in the Divine Service. But not only here. He will be with you in the sickroom, in the hospital, in your homes, in the funeral home, wherever you are, to young and old, rich and poor, high and low alike, in joy and in sorrow. And he will speak and give to you all what he has been given to speak and to give by our Lord Jesus Christ. And that is the Word of the Lord. The Word of the Lord in Holy Absolution, the Word of the Lord combined with water in Holy Baptism, the Word of the Lord combined with bread and wine in Holy Communion.
The Lord’s Word and sacraments, Pastor Fenn will give to you whoever you are and wherever you are. But these only can he give. He is not free to speak whatever he wants. He is not free to do whatever he wants. He can only give what he has been given to give. He is not an employee with one hundred or more employers. He is not a hired hand, here today and gone tomorrow. He comes to you in Christ’s stead, as the Lord’s minister for your sake.
There is great wisdom in NOT calling your pastor by his first name, for he is NOT Matt to you. Rather, he is your pastor, the Lord’s undershepherd serving you in the Name and authority of the one Good Shepherd. Make no mistake about it! In your pastor’s giving you the Word of the Lord, you will not be hearing just the voice of a man! The one who hears [the Lord’s called and ordained servant also] hears [the Lord]. You have Jesus’ promise that you will be hearing Him—the Lord Himself—speaking through your pastor. Not because your new pastor is so learned, and not because he is better than you or so pious and holy—but because you have Jesus’ promise. Because Jesus has given you a flesh-and-blood man in the Office of the Holy Ministry that Christ Himself has established.
And so when you hear your new pastor say in the absolution, I forgive you all your sins, you are hearing the voice of your Good Shepherd Jesus. When your new pastor baptizes adults and children, it is your Good Shepherd Jesus making sinners into His children. When your new pastor speaks the Words of the Lord over bread and wine in Holy Communion, it is your Good Shepherd Jesus who is your host and your meal. Luther said: The voice and the hands are those of a man, but it is really and truly the voice and hands of your Shepherd, giving to you. Giving you Himself and all that He is and all that He has.
Pastor Fenn, remember always in whose stead you are standing. Who you are representing. And whose words you are speaking. It will not always be easy. It will sometimes take great courage. And it will sometimes bring you hardship and heartache as you worry about God’s people. Preaching will be both a joy for you and a struggle, as you wrestle with the Word of God and how to proclaim it faithfully, with both clarity and love. Prayer, meditation, and tribulation will make you a theologian and a pastor. But this promise of Christ that we hear today is not only for your flock, but also for you. To reassure you that the one who hears you hears [the Lord Jesus Himself]. That you know that Christ will work through you and will bless your efforts. And those blessings may be in ways that are not always easy to see. It may sometimes seem as if your work is unappreciated and not making any difference at all! But as you remain faithful, the Lord’s Word will do its work. His Word is making an everlasting difference in the lives of those who hear and believe.
When it comes to the physicality of the Christian faith in this congregation, the lips of Pastor Fenn are crucial. For the lips of your pastor must continually be speaking in [the Lord’s] stead and by His command, calling sinners to repent; proclaiming forgiveness, life, and salvation in Jesus’ Name; connecting the Word to water, wine, and bread—all so that you receive faith and remain faithful unto death. Yes, the faithful lips of Pastor Fenn will be vital to the well-being of this congregation. But there is another body part that must be active in Pastor Fenn’s ministry and in the life of this congregation. Of course, I am speaking of the ears. For as St. Paul writes in Romans: So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ (10:17).
Your new pastor will need to spend much time each week hearing—listening to—the word of Christ. Here at St. Peter’s, you have designated a room for Pastor Fenn to work. I would encourage you to refer to that room not as Pastor’s office but as Pastor’s study. In common use, the word “office” denotes a place where business gets done. But the word “study” better reflects what your pastor needs to be busy doing every day—studying, meditating upon, listening to, praying over, and taking to heart the Word of Christ that he is called to preach to you. Please give your pastor the quiet space and time each week to have his own faith renewed through the joy of hearing—listening to—the Word of the Lord.
And then, of course, for the well-being of this entire congregation, it is vital that everyone devotes themselves to the hearing of the word of Christ preached by your pastor. Faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ. And so, do not neglect the gathering together of the saints on the Lord’s Day. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if 100 percent of the baptized membership—minus the sick and shut-in and those on vacation—were in the Lord’s house every Lord’s day? But every pastor knows the same sad reality—that on any given Sunday, many of the flock will be absent. Dearly beloved saints of St. Peter and of all congregations represented here today, one of the greatest things you can do to encourage your pastors in their ministry is to come every Lord’s Day to hear the Lord’s Word and to feast on His true Body and Blood, given and shed for you to forgive you!
Today, as Pastor Fenn is installed as pastor here at St. Peter’s, we take note of the physicality of the Christian faith. That God has decreed the sending of rightly called, ordained, flesh-and blood men as servants of the Word. And that the life of the Church requires the use of body parts—the pastor’s lips to speak for Christ and the pastor’s and the people’s ears to hear the Word of Christ. And of course, the Lord provides ways for even those with impaired sight and hearing to access the Word, so that no one is left out. Above all, the pastor’s speaking and our hearing must be rooted in hearts devoted to Christ.
Without hearts devoted to Christ, our speaking and our hearing the Lord’s Word would be in vain. Our Lord judged the Pharisees and scribes for paying lip-service to God: This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me (Matthew 15:8). And He also condemns those who [only] hear [the Word], but as they go on their way they are choked by the cares and riches and pleasures of life, and their fruit does not mature (Luke 8:14). Dear saints in Christ, often have our hearts strayed far from the Lord, choked by this life’s cares and riches and pleasures. God grant us all the gift of repentance, so that, like St. Mary, we may treasure up the Lord’s Word in our hearts (see Luke 2:19). And remember that to all who confess Christ not just with lips but with the heart, our Lord Jesus gives this great promise, which cannot be broken: Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life (John 5:24).
Dear saints of St. Peter’s Evangelical Lutheran Church, the Lord of the Church has given you Pastor Fenn so that through his speaking and your hearing the Word of Christ, you may pass over from death to life. Thank God for giving to His Church another flesh-and-blood called and ordained servant of the Word—Pastor Fenn!
Do you see how physical the Christian faith is? The faith involves the use of all your five senses and of lips, ears, and heart, and also the calling of a flesh-and-blood man. And there is even more to the physicality of the Christian faith. For God so loved the world—so loved you—that He gave His only-begotten Son to be conceived of the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary—to be God-in-the-flesh for you.
Consider what the Lord’s body endured out of love for you. His head was pierced with a crown of thorns; His face was defiled by the spit of Roman soldiers; His ears were greeted with the insults of sinners; His mouth was made to drink the vinegar and the gall; His hands and feet were extended on the cross and pierced with nails; His body was scourged and pierced with a spear; His eyes were darkened in death. The only part of the Lord’s body that remained uninjured was His tongue, so that He might pray for those who crucified Him—so that He might pray for you: Father, forgive (Luke 23:34). (See Johnann Gerhard’s Sacred Meditations: Meditation 2: “An Exercise of Repentance from Our Lord’s Passion”.)
Do you see? The physicality of the Church and of saving faith is rooted in the physicality of the Incarnate Son of the living God, come to save you from your sins, come to give you eternal life, come to serve you through your flesh-and blood pastor. Thanks be to God! Amen.
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*The section on the lips was adapted from a sermon by Rev. James Douthwaite.