Saturday, June 16, 2012

Pastor Kurt Loescher's 25th Anniversary in the Ministry

The kingdom of heaven is all about giving up yourself and your interests, and gaining much, much more.  God gives many more good things than you ever could have earned for yourself.  Today being Father’s Day, we have a ready example of what that might look like.  Fathers give themselves up for their children, because those are God’s little children, and God has charged them with caring for those children.  You fathers out there have given up hobbies to spend more time with your children.  You have spent less time with the guys, you have held yourself back from buying more man-toys—all those boats and snowmobiles and jeeps that you would have if you were not spending your time and money on your children.  Your pastors give themselves up for their congregation, because you are God’s people and God has charged them with caring for you.  They often do what is best for you instead of what they might have liked to do for themselves and their families.  But pastors aren’t the only ones who have to give up everything in God’s kingdom.  God actually calls all of us to give up ourselves for him.  He wants us to surrender every selfish thought and set aside every self-interest because we have a treasure in him.
Jesus told two parables to help us understand that giving ourselves up for him is actually a joyful thing.  The cost is everything, but we get even more, though it might not seem like it now.  On a day when Jesus seemed to be giving up everything and gaining nothing, he told a parable about a treasure and a parable about a pearl. 
That day, he had healed a demon-possessed man, and the Pharisees said that he was driving out demons by the devil’s power.  By the prince of demons this fellow drives out demons.”  Then they asked him for a sign to prove his authority, as if he had not performed enough miraculous signs already.  Mark tells us that even Jesus’ family thought he was out of his mind, and they came to take charge of him.
Jesus had given up the glory of sitting on his throne in heaven.  He gave up the comfortable life that could have been his on earth too—instead of making a living and buying a house to settle down and have a family, he traveled from one city to the next constantly preaching, teaching, and healing; and knowing all along that it would end with a gruesome death on the cross.  He did all of this willingly and gladly, to bring us the treasure of heaven, but most people didn’t understand.  Even the disciples don’t seem to get it.  Even his own family didn’t get it.  They didn’t see the benefit.  All they saw was the loss.
Jesus said,
The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field.
“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls.  When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it.  
                                                                        Matthew 13:44-46
Dear friends in Christ, Pastor Loescher, Dad, all of you who have gathered here today to celebrate this ministry of grace—on this Anniversary Day, noticing the overwhelming profit and the astounding price, and considering the astonishing guarantee, we celebrate 25 years of giving up everything.

“Celebrating 25 years of giving up everything”
1.      An overwhelming profit
2.      An astounding price
3.      An astonishing guarantee

1. Notice the overwhelming profit.
It’s a cure for cancer, a cure for arthritis, even a cure for old age itself.  It restores lost limbs and fading eyesight.  It’s a fix for depression, poverty, and conflict.  And yes, it even removes the toughest stains—the stains of guilt on your conscience.  What fixes all of that?  Baptism does.  The water promises an end to your sinful life and a resurrection to blessed eternal life with Christ.  The Lord’s Supper promises it, by uniting you to the sacrifice of Christ, and uniting you to the forgiveness and life that he purchased for you.  The Word of God fixes all of that, because God has promised that you will all be raised from this sorrowful, painful life to an eternal life where there will be no tears, no death, no mourning, no crying, no pain.   The treasure that is hidden is God’s promise that you will go to heaven through faith in Christ Jesus.  That treasure is hidden now; people can’t see what you have.  They only see you joyfully giving up everything that the world treasures—but you know you have a treasure.  In fact, it’s like a pearl of great value, because it’s worth more than anything else you could spend your life on.
Dad, Pastor Loescher, you have that treasure.  Even as you serve, you are served.  You are immersed in the healing water of Baptism, you feast on Jesus, and his Word permeates you.  God is giving you the treasures of heaven.  Your people show what a priceless treasure that is—because they are here celebrating 25 years of service which look like wasted time to the outside world.  But you yourself would be the first to say that the treasure is your joy, and we celebrate because it is your greater joy to bring that treasure to God’s people under your care. 
People of God, give thanks because this pastor has brought you treasure for 25 years. 
Though you may feel no value in yourself, and even if no one else sees any value in you, your pastor tells you that God has loved you and made himself your best friend forever.  God has loved you more deeply and known you better than any boyfriend or girlfriend would, even better than any husband or wife could—and this God does even though he knows everything about you.  Even if you have no other love, no other relationship; you have this treasure, this one great pearl!
Your pastor has been bringing this treasure to you—That even though you may be old and wasting away to nothing, you have never been more alive.  Paul wrote to the Colossians, “When Christ, who is your life, appears, we too will appear with him in glory.”  That is very close for you!  But it’s hidden—some may look at your life and say you have nothing to show for it, or you may sometimes wish that you had spent it better, but your pastor is here to tell you that you could not have gained more—you have gained eternal life.
Pastor Loescher, Dad, thank you for 25 years of bringing an overwhelming treasure. 

2. Notice the astounding price.
Just as it would be wrong to celebrate Easter without remembering also Christ’s suffering and death through Lent and Holy Week, we also recognize the price you have paid to bring us this treasure.  The treasure costs everything you have.  Jesus said the man sold everything he had for this treasure, and the pearl merchant sold everything he had for this pearl.  Jesus also said, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.  Whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me and for the gospel will save it.”
It would have been easy to go to college and get a degree and a job that makes a lot of money, buy a nice house and settle down with your family, then retire someday to enjoy your later years in leisure.  You’ve given up those goals.  You gave yourself for the treasure and you’ve done it joyfully because of its great worth.  The greatness of the treasure overwhelms the price you have paid.
You have given up the American dream of early retirement, and instead have fathered 10 children in the kingdom of God.  Any of you who have children enrolled in one of our Lutheran grade schools or Kettle Moraine know that sending 10 children through those schools is not a good retirement plan.   Dad, I recognize the sacrifice you have made for the Kingdom of God.  I don’t feel sorry for you though, and don’t any of you feel sorry for him.  He does it out of pure joy for the treasure.  Give thanks for the overwhelming treasure.
For 25 years this pastor has been on call 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year, including his days off, including holidays, including his vacations.  He will get up in the middle of the night and go to the hospital for you.  Don’t feel sorry for him, though.  He does it out of pure joy for the treasure.  Give thanks for the overwhelming treasure.
But he is not the only one who must give up himself for the treasure.  There is nothing in these parables—or in the whole Bible—that limits self-sacrifice to pastors.  Jesus meant everybody.  If you want to thank your pastor for giving himself to you, give yourself to him.  Have you ever told your children, or have you ever heard from your parents, “All I want for my birthday is a little obedience and cooperation?”  Don’t ask me how I know that parents say that.  If you want to thank your pastor, give yourself to him.  Give up your Sunday morning to take the treasure he brings to you in worship and Bible Class.  Give up a little to help him by serving on committees, by helping to teach Sunday School, or wherever else he may ask for your time.
But is that really giving everything for the treasure?  It’s really a pretty small chunk of yourself.  Even you, Dad, Pastor Loescher—can you really say that you have given up everything you are and everything you want for the treasure?  If I know you, you were probably feeling like you were going to lose your lunch a minute ago when I was talking about all that you’ve given up.  I know you see your faults.  I know that you know you should be giving yourself up in pure joy for the treasure, and you want to.  I also know that you know you have fallen short, just like all of us do.
It’s a good thing that God has not asked any of us to give everything. It’s a good thing because none of us would be willing, unless God give us strength to be willing.  None of us believe in the treasure enough to completely overcome our selfishness.  If the cost of this treasure is everything, then we have not paid enough to get it. 

3. Celebrate because of Christ’s astonishing guarantee.
Christ has given us a guarantee that the treasure is ours, even though our self-sacrificing is stained with selfish resistance.  Christ sold everything he had for the treasure, so that he could give it to us freely.  He gave it all up—his place in heaven to be homeless on earth.  He gave up the praises of angels to be despised by sinful men.  He gave up his unity with his Father to be forsaken by him.  He gave up all, even his life, to purchase this treasure for us.  Now, as Paul wrote to the Galatians, “all of you who have been baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ,” and Christ’s perfect self-sacrifice has been wrapped around our imperfect self-sacrifice, so that the treasure is guaranteed to be ours.
We celebrate today, because this pastor wears Christ’s righteousness.   For 25 years his service has been covered by the Good Shepherd, who gave himself, gave up everything that was comfortable for him, even giving his very life for the sheep.  For 25 years the Good Shepherd’s perfect self-sacrifice has been covering this pastor’s imperfect self-sacrifice, and God in his grace has been exalting the sacrifices he does make for the sake of the kingdom.  He is guaranteed a reward.
Dad, I wasn’t sweet-talking when I spoke of the wonderful self-sacrifice you have made for the kingdom of God.  That’s actually how God sees your service.  Christ’s perfection covers your imperfection.  The blood of Christ washes the selfishness off of your service, and in his grace he lifts up the sacrifices you have made of yourself for him and for his people. 
God does that for all of us, as we imperfectly sacrifice ourselves for the treasure that he has given us.  Christ’s perfection covers us.  His blood washes the selfish stains from our deeds.  In his grace he exalts what we do well.  He guarantees our reward in heaven.

We have every reason to celebrate 25 years of your self-sacrificing service, because of the treasure that is given to us.  God celebrates it.  The apostle John heard a voice from heaven say, “Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.” And the Spirit answered, “Yes, for their deeds will follow them.  God graciously exalts your deeds so that they are remembered in heaven, not only now but also in eternity. As God’s people, we celebrate with him. Today we celebrate, because for 25 years you have been spending yourself for an overwhelming treasure.  We celebrate because of the astounding price you have paid, because you have been given the treasure, and in pure joy you sacrifice everything to bring it to us.  But even more than that, we celebrate because Jesus sacrificed himself, totally and perfectly, to guarantee that the treasure is ours, and these 25 years will not have been a loss.  Because of this overwhelming treasure, the astounding price that has been paid, and the astonishing guarantee Christ has given, we celebrate.   Yes, we celebrate 25 years of giving up everything.  Our celebration is not so much for you, dad, but for what God has done through you.  In the words of the psalmist,
Not unto us, O Lord, not unto us, but to your name be glory, because of your love and faithfulness.” 
And the peace of God, which passes all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus, Amen.