What A Farewell!
Fourth Sunday of Easter Trinity Lutheran Church
17 April 2016 Murdock, NE
+Jesu Juva +
Farewells. Well, you hear that and you immediately think of L.A. Laker star Kobe Bryant. Wednesday night he played his final game as a professional and said goodbyes to the NBA and his fans for good. Ending a 20-year career. You’re used to farewells – especially by professional athletes: Cal Ripken. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar or Derek Jeter. Then there are the never ending farewell tours of the rock bands like Kiss, the Rolling Stones, the Eagles, Mötley Crüe, Phil Collins, Ozzy Osbourne and last but not least –Cher! Yes, all that’s etched forever in your minds. Seriously, who can forget Ozzy’s rendition of “Mama I’m Coming Home” in his live 1992 concert at Seattle entitled “No More Tours.” Every time you hear that song on 92.9 The Eagle the memories come flooding in, don’t they? Sure they do. You know I’m right.
However, there’s one farewell that you probably missed along the way. One you never ever hear of. This farewell totally slipped under the radar as you were riveted to Sports Center, Entertainment Tonight or Netflix. About whose farewell am I speaking?
Well, just one of the greatest pastors and missionaries the world has probably ever seen. One of the most unlikeliest converts to Christianity ever. Who’s that? Paul. The former persecutor and hater of Christians turned pastor gives his farewell sermon to the church at Ephesus at which he labored day and night with “tears” for three intense years.
It’s time for all of us to learn from this apostolic farewell. Really! Seriously. May what we hear today lead us to repentance, faith and holy living. So that the Lord Jesus will continue to have good use of us here at Trinity in bearing witness to Him so that He gathers more and more hangers on from our communities around this pulpit and altar.
Paul is headed to Jerusalem “not knowing what will happen to me there.” So it’s adieu to the precious Christian congregation at Ephesus. Flat out he declares that “I did not shrink from declaring to you anything that was profitable, and teaching you in public and from house to house, testifying both to Jews and to Greeks or repentance toward God and of faith in our Lord Jesus Christ.”
The farewell recalls Paul’s missionary ministry among the Christians at Ephesus. It is a pastorate marked by … (are you ready for this?) 1) FIDELITY or FAITHFULNESS to the Lord Jesus — “serving the Lord” – and 2) HUMILITY toward others while serving as a pastor/missionary in very dangerous and perilous times — in the midst of many “tears” and “trials.”
Many times I make the comment that religion is big business. Every year thousands of Americans are bilked, deceived and swindled by self-proclaimed false preachers that have become multi-millionaires. America has perfected religion for profit. So too in Paul’s day.
However, Paul wasn’t in the ministry for money. He wouldn’t compromise the faith for cash. He was a servant. A servant of Jesus. Stewarding the gospel for the sake of others. He was all about giving. Even if it meant giving everything away if need be. No one could ever claim that Paul got in to the ministry to get rich and take advantage of people Listen to his honest farewell: “I coveted no one’s silver or gold or apparel. You yourselves know that these hands ministered to my necessities and to those who were with me. In all things I have shown you that by working hard in this way we must help the weak and remember the words of the Lord, how he himself said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.”
Well, Paul’s attention turns to the future once he leaves Ephesus. It’s dark. He suspects that he faces “imprisonment and afflictions.” Yes, being a Christian and also being a Christian pastor in those days was a double whammy. Demonized. Hated. It went with the territory. He ought to know. After all, he used to hunt down and murder Christians in his ugly past.
But now, he thinks only about the precious Christians in Ephesus. “But I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus.” Remarkable! His desire is simply to remain faithful – to be a faithful pastor – for the sake of the church — until the end. To “testify to the gospel of the grace of God.” Now that’s a pastor! What pastoral care! Giving them Jesus! The grace of God in the flesh!
The congregation’s future will be full of challenges. Big time spiritual tests. The flock will face the onslaught of both foe and traitor. “Fierce wolves” / false teachers will bare their teeth and try to devour the flock. “From among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them.” False teachers and false doctrine always raise their ugly heads when Jesus has a church. The church is always under attack.
So, Paul tells the other pastors at Ephesus, the “elders” to be alert and vigilant in their holy office just like Paul himself. Pastors protect and give high pastoral care to their congregations when they watch and protect doctrine. In 1 Timothy 4:16 Paul put it this way to Pastor Timothy: “Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by doing so you will save both yourself and your hearers.” Some mistakenly label that kind of pastoral care as “lording it over the church” and that this is a cause for the pastor to be removed. We need to repent of that and rejoice is pastors that preach and teach God’s Word faithfully.
Paul gives the elders/pastors and the congregation at Ephesus the Word of life – the gospel – faithfully and fully. “I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God.” No one at Ephesus can blame Paul for any false teaching that may arise. No one can blame Paul for anyone going to hell because of his unfaithfulness in office: “I am innocent of the blood of all of you.”
Paul’s charge to the remaining pastors/elders at Ephesus has been sober and uncompromising. He gives them the heart and strength to carry out their office faithfully for the sake of the dear congregation. “I commend you to God and to the Word of his grace which is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified.”
Now that’s a farewell! As it bore much fruit with the congregation at Ephesus so it bears with you here at Trinity. You too live on the gospel of Jesus Christ – His forgiveness won for you by His Good Friday cross – especially in the Lord’s Supper today. You have hope for the future here as a congregation. “Not even the gates of hell will prevail against my church” Jesus promises. No matter the wolves. No matter the hatred of the world. One more of Jesus’ promises for good measure. It comes from today’s gospel reading: “My sheep hear my voice and I know them and they follow me. I give them eternal life and they will never perish and no one will snatch them out of my hand.”
In the Name of Jesus