I got here today by turning right out of my driveway on HWY C, turning right onto HWY M, then driving into New Lisbon. I then turned left onto HWY 12/16, grabbed a cup of coffee and a donut, the breakfast of champion preachers, and went down HWY A to Allen road. When I saw the beautiful brick building I turned into the driveway, finished my donut and walked inside.
But it goes a little deeper than that. How did it come to be that I wear a robe on Sunday, that I have the right to announce to you the forgiveness of your sins? How did I get here?
You did. Five years ago, yesterday, Pastor Tom Fricke installed me as your pastor. You are the reason I am standing here right now. You called me. But it wasn’t just you. In fact, your Savior Jesus called me through you. Paul recognized the same thing when he wrote that “it was he (God) who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers” (Ephesians 4:11). And the Lord of the church still works through his church to call church workers today.
Sometime this week the District Presidents will meet with certain faculty members of our seminary in a room above the archway at the seminary. We call it the Holy Ghost Room. These District Presidents come with their needs in their districts, each candidate is talked about, and placed where the men believe he would best fit. They don’t look for signs in the heavens, they don’t wait for divine revelation, they don’t throw darts at a board. They try to match ministry needs with gifts and abilities. This Thursday our Seminary graduates find out where Jesus will put them. It’s quite a day.
As the District Presidents and others sit in the Holy Ghost room they don’t look for signs, they don’t wait for divine revelation, they don’t spin a wheel and they don’t throw darts at board. They identify the need. They determine the qualifications needed in the call. And they appeal to the Lord.
God’s Word doesn’t dictate exactly how congregations and our Synod should call their spiritual leaders, but our text gives us an example an example of how it was done in the early church. Just a few days after Jesus had ascended into heaven, his followers came together to fill an important ministry position. And this gathering of disciples can rightly be called. A MODEL CALL MEETING. I. They identified the need. II. They determined the qualifications. III. They appealed to the Lord.
But before we sit in on the call meeting, let’s talk about what a “call” is. In a sense every Christian has been called. The apostle Peter, speaking to Christians in general, put it this way: “You are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light” (I Peter 2:9).
You and I have been called out of the darkness of unbelief. Our hearts have been illumined with the light of faith. Every Christian man, woman and child, all of us have been called to be lights in the world (Matthew 5:14), to be God’s witnesses in the world (Acts 1:8), to speak the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15), to serve one another in love (Galatians 5:13).
That is the broad sense of the word. There is a narrow sense for the word call. There are times when God calls individuals to serve on behalf of his people. The term that is most often used to describe this specialized work is the “public ministry.”
Ever hear people talk about feeling like they were called? Some people feel a call to play music in different churches. Other people feel called to go lead a choir, or a Bible Study at New Lisbon Correctional. Often I have walked in with potential Bible Study leaders and I ask how they came to New Lisbon and they all say about the same thing: “I felt a pull to come here.” Or, “I feel a call to be here.” This would be an immediate call, placing themselves on the same level as Elijah, Elijah, Isaiah, Jeremiah. These men didn’t just feel called. No the Lord immediately called them into their positions.
The Lord doesn’t use immediate calls like this today, like he did back then. I have a mediate call, a call from God through you. See the Lord empowers groups of Christians to call individual Christians to serve as their spiritual leaders, to represent them in the congregation, to preach sermons and teach their children and reach the lost. So we could say that the Lord gives some Christians two calls: 1) the broad call to faith and service; and 2) the narrow call to serve in a representative role in the church. It was the desire to extend a very specific call that led the disciples to meet in Jerusalem.
Peter stood up to remind the rest of Jesus’ followers why this meeting was necessary: “Brothers, the Scripture had to be fulfilled which the Holy Spirit spoke long ago through the mouth of David concerning Judas, who served as guide for those who arrested Jesus—he was one of our number and shared in this ministry” (16,17). And then in rather graphic detail Peter explained why their brother Judas would not be coming back: “(With the reward he got for his wickedness, Judas bought a field; there he fell headlong, his body burst open and his intestines spilled out)” (18). And then Peter, quoting the psalms, proposed that they choose someone to fill the position that had been vacated by Judas.
When the disciples decided to add a twelfth apostle they understood that this position would require a uniquely qualified individual. And so instead of just appointing the first person who volunteered they came up with a list of qualifications.
Peter said: “It is necessary to choose one of the men who have been with us the whole time the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, beginning with John’s baptism to the time when Jesus was taken up from us. For one of these must become a witness with us of his resurrection” (21,22).
Before the books of the Bible had been assembled, before the four gospels had been written, the gospel was shared by word of mouth. That’s why the disciples needed a reliable witness, a man who had seen the resurrected Lord, a person who could give eyewitness testimony that Jesus had indeed risen from the dead. They wanted someone who had been with them from the beginning, someone who had walked and talked with Jesus, someone who would not pick up and run at the first sign of trouble.
The disciples identified a need and they took steps to fill it. God has given us the command to “go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation” (Mark 16:15). He tells us what to do, but he doesn’t tell us how to do it. He gives us the responsibility to be his witnesses, but he also gives us the freedom to decide what form our witness will take. Congregations look at the unique opportunities God places before them. That is why congregations may decide to call senior pastors or outreach pastors or Chinese outreach pastors or teachers or staff ministers to seize those opportunities.
This call to apostleship was special, but then again every call into the public ministry is unique. And every call comes with its own unique list of qualifications. Not everyone has the confidence to stand in front a large group of people. Not everyone is apt to teach. Not everyone has the patience to be in a room with sixteen three-year-olds. And so when the church extends calls the Lord expects us to use our God given wisdom to match ministry needs with ministerial gifts.
The year my class graduated, we went all over the world. One went to Russia, one to Bulgaria, one to Texas, two to Nebraska. Some stayed in Wisconsin, others went to Michigan. One went to Brazil. Guess where the Spanish speaking guys went: To Spanish speaking countries. Guess where the language geniuses went: To Russia, Bulgaria. Call it common sense, but also call it utilizing the gifts God gives to carry out his work.
The disciples carefully worked through the qualifications before they called a twelfth apostle, but they also recognized that they were not acting independently. And 21st century Christians would do well to pay attention to this 1st century example.
If we start thinking that we are in control, when we start believing that our “success” depends on the implementing the right program or picking the right people, then we need to revisit the apostolic model. The disciples identified a need. They determined the qualifications. But finally and most importantly, they appealed to the Lord.
This appeal came in the form of a prayer: “Lord, you know everyone’s heart. Show us which of these two (Joseph or Matthias) you have chosen to take over this apostolic ministry” (24,25). The disciples knew that God had already handpicked a replacement for Judas. The purpose of the meeting was to let everyone else know which man he had chosen.
It is likely that the disciples used the Old Testament method of casting lots. They probably put the names of Joseph and Matthias into a bag and shook it vigorously until one of them popped out. And when the name “Matthias” was read, he became the twelfth apostle. Normally, we associate the casting of lots with games of chance. If you pick the right numbers, you are lucky. If you draw the short straw, you are unlucky. But with God there is no such thing as luck. Proverbs 16:33 says: “The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the Lord.” Every choice, every apparent coincidence, every event, everything that happens in this world is a perfectly fitted piece in God’s master plan of salvation. He devised that plan before the creation of the world. He executed that plan when he sent his one and only Son into the world. He announces the success of that plan as he calls and sends workers to share the gospel in every corner of the world.
That work started in Jerusalem. It began with people like Peter and James and John…and Matthias. They announced: “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins” (Acts 2:38). They declared: “God raised him (Jesus) from the dead. We are witnesses of this” (Acts 3:15). And two thousand years later the Lord of the church calls called workers through the church to proclaim that life giving message.
It is rare to devote an entire sermon to the doctrine of the call. It’s the first time I’ve done it in almost 15 years. But it is worth it. May this model call meeting in Acts has given you a better understanding of and a deeper appreciation for this important teaching. And I pray that as you leave today you will give thanks. Give thanks for the twelve disciples of Jesus. Give thanks because you are called to be his disciple. Give thanks to God for the men and women God has called to preach, teach, and equip you for works of service. Amen.
A Big Reason to Give Thanks
During this Thanksgiving time of the year, may we remember to give our Lord thanks for the abundant blessings of our Lutheran heritage. Read the thoughts below from someone who has journeyed from Evangelicalism to confessional Lutheranism.
What follows is the blog of a self-described “disgruntled Evangelical” named Doug Cohenour, who had left Evangelicalism in search of a new church home. His and his family’s search from church to church finally ended at a confessional Lutheran church. Mr. Cohenour publishes a Christ-centered response to those who have become “disgruntled” with Lutheranism. Here’s an excerpt… (From The Shepherd’s Study, website maintained by Jeremiah Gumm, a WELS pastor. http://shepherdstudy.wordpress.com.)
Search for Christ
“You have probably heard it before, but it bears repeating; there are no perfect churches. As long as there are people involved, there will always be something that we can find to be unhappy about. Lutheranism, for all of its faults, is one of the last refuges of truth in our day and age. The church at large is disintegrating. It is on the decline. If you care about the church, about doctrine, about fidelity to God’s Word, about faith in Christ alone for salvation, and about all of the things that mark the true church, you are in the minority. I have seen enough evidence of this trend over the last 20 years to convince me that we live in a time of decline for the church.
Jesus said that the gates of hell would not prevail against the church. I believe this. But He also wondered if He would find faith on the earth when He returned again. I wonder this myself. Before you reject Lutheranism, maybe it deserves a fresh look. Perhaps you are disgruntled because you do not really know what your church teaches. It may be that if you gain a fresh perspective on the doctrines of the Reformation, the Lutheran Confessions, The Word of God, and the finished work of Jesus Christ on your behalf, that the Lutheran church will not seem like such a bad place to be after all.
It’s really all about Jesus Christ and what He has done. It’s not about you, or professional clergy and their vision, or synods and their decisions, or the politics of your local church. Your personal worship preferences are not relevant, and neither are your felt needs. Being turned inward on yourself leads to being disgruntled. Search for Christ instead. Look for the place where you get the most of Christ, Jesus, in all of His fullness, crucified for you.
You will find this in the churches of the Reformation. You will find this in confessional Lutheranism. For where Jesus is, there is life and salvation.”
Pastor Martin Luchterhand