The Reverend Roland G. Riechmann is Pastor of Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church, Jacksonville, Florida, where he has ministered since 1954. Ordained in 1935 by the Illinois Synod of the United Lutheran Church in America, he formerly served churches in Missouri and Illinois. In Decatur, Illinois. he was elected “Father of the Year.” He holds the B.A. degree from Carthage Lutheran College and the B.D. from Chicago Lutheran Theological Seminary. An avid bowler and golfer, he is also President of the Jacksonville Ministerial Alliance and a member of Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary’s governing board.
The sermon on “The Christian Ministry” differs from others in CHRISTIANITY TODAY’S Select Sermon Series in that it is a commencement address. No theme could be more appropriate for seminarians ready to move to their new frontiers.
Professor Richard Carl Hoefler, who nominated the sermon, makes his evaluative overcomments elsewhere in this issue. The sermon was preached last May at the commencement exercises of Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary held in Ebenezer Lutheran Church of Columbia, South Carolina. This month a new contingent of reserves will move from Protestant seminaries to churches scattered across the land. Numerically they are inadequate to fill the need for workers. Pastor Riechmann’s great concern is their spiritual preparedness for a task that will require divine undergirding.
Twenty-five years ago, I sat as you are sitting, awaiting graduation and the reception of a B.D. degree that would permit me to be ordained a few days later. Then I could begin the ministry to which I had been called: a tiny mission church of 35 members, meeting over a tavern in what had been a lodge hall, and at the astronomical salary of $1,040 per year. From the depths of my heart I congratulate you today not only upon your graduation but most especially upon your entrance into the Christian ministry, for I have found it to be a glorious calling: a holy, rewarding, and most exacting calling. To this I would direct your attention.
A GLORIOUS CALLING
The Christian ministry is a glorious calling—glorious because we serve and are led by the King of kings and Lord of lords. He has no superior. He is glorious in his own Person, as well as through his great might and power. “I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and his train filled the temple. Above it stood the seraphims.… And one cried unto another, and said, Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory” (Isa. 6:1–2). That glory surrounds us in our ministry, if we will it, if we permit it.
On Easter Sunday morning I arose before six o’clock to watch the local sunrise Easter Service on television. As I watched, I thought of the many similar services being conducted around the world. It seemed suddenly as though Jesus himself were confronting me. I noted his tears and asked him, “Why are you weeping? All over the world men are singing glad hosannas for this is your day of Resurrection. There is joy, not sadness in the world today.” He said nothing, but his piercing glance conveyed to my mind the words of William How, “I died for you, my children, and will you treat me so?”
Two hours later, as the choirs of the church lined up before the service was to begin, my heart was still heavy. The organ soared into a triumphant prelude and I wondered how I could lift my voice in joy as we entered the church. Then the hand of Kay, a charming 10-year-old, tugged at the sleeve of my robe. “Pastor, I have brought some money I want to give to some special project of the church. Where should I give it? During Lent I did without desserts at school and saved the money for the church.” She opened her purse and showed me the pennies, nickels, and dimes. I named two or three projects and after a moment of consideration she made her choice. She placed the money in an envelope, the choirs moved forward, and we lifted our voices together in worship and praise. The risen Christ was in the heart and life of a 10-year-old, and I realized that he was rejoicing with me because once again a little child had led the way and had revealed him.
A HOLY CALLING
The Christian ministry is a holy calling. “I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, or come to Him,” said Martin Luther, “but the Holy Ghost has called me through the Gospel, enlightened me by his gifts, and sanctified and preserved me in the true faith.” “You have not chosen me, I have chosen you,” says Christ.
God has called us, as he called Moses and Aaron, Isaiah and Jeremiah, Amos and Hosea, Abraham and Jacob, Luther and Wesley. We march where saints have trod. We preach the same message that rang from the lips of the apostles. A glorious and a holy company of witnesses surrounds us in Christian ministry.
When I entered the ministry I had few fears. I felt I was doing the Lord’s work where the Lord had called me, at a price the Lord was willing to pay. You would call me naïve today. We no longer seem to believe that the Lord calls us. “Presidents of synods are the fellows to know; congregations are the ones to be influenced!” Thus are our futures assured and secured. Well, there will always be some politics, even in the Lord’s work, but I continue to be naïve enough to be led by his Spirit. Christ will gain his way despite the interferences placed before him, if the cause is his Church and his ministry.
The knowing of God’s will, as opposed to our own desires, or the will of others: of synodical presidents and officials, of parents, friends, family, professors, or even of congregations, will be one of the difficult and necessary questions facing us as long as we live. The ability to distinguish requires a lifetime of prayer and presence before the living Lord. A secret to the solution is perhaps best found in a story illustrating aptly what we are to do. A southern janitor who was working for a landlady known for her meanness was asked, “How do you get along with her?” “I puts my mind in neutral and lets her shove me around,” he said. Put your mind in neutral and say, “Here I am, Lord, use me. Put me where you want me, where my talents and abilities will be best used.” God in his divine wisdom and all-powerful might will do the rest.
A REWARDING CALLING
The Christian ministry is a most rewarding calling. You know already I am not talking about financial returns, although they have improved. Twenty dollars a week was not much 25 years ago. One of my members said one day that he became angry every time he saw my salary figure, and that he had to debate whether to send his check to me or the church.
Working with God and for God is the reward. Will power does not change men. Christ does! Time does not change men. Christ does! How then to get Christ into the everyday lives of our people? It is really very simple: Get him to dwell in your life! If men see Christ in you they will be moved to want him for themselves.
If you try to offer Christ to others when you do not possess him, or more rightly put, “are not possessed by him,” you sound like clanging cymbals and sounding brass to your hearers, not like a prophet of Christ. Luther exhorted his people to be “little Christs” to their fellow man. The pastor, of all men, must be a “little Christ” to all men, or he is both faithless to his God and to his calling.
“Be an example” we are commanded: “Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus …” (Phil. 2:5). Be possessed of Christ and by Christ. Let Christ glow from your eyes, shine from your face, flow from your lips, heal from your hands, lift with your heart interest. Moses had to cover his face after being in the presence of God. What a boon and a blessing we can be to self and others when we return from the presence of God. Spend hours in prayer, meditation, devotion, Bible reading, study. You are not going to overcome the world. Christ will! Get close to him.
AN EXACTING CALLING
The Christian ministry is an exacting calling. We serve God through Christ: not an ideal, but the ideal. Every prayer, every sermon, every address should show signs of work, toil, prayer; each one a bit better than the previous. During college and seminary days I marveled that my home pastor could preach Sunday after Sunday, and never in some eight years did we hear a poor sermon. My pastor never served a large parish, he spent most of his ministry as a “mission developer”; but his sermons were always models of good preaching. Would that the same could be said of yours and mine. Phillips translates 1 Corinthians 3:10 following: “Let the builder be careful how he builds. The foundation is laid already, and no one can lay another, for it is Jesus Christ, himself. But any man who builds on the foundation … must know that each man’s work will one day be shown for what it is.” This is directed at you and me!
The ministry calls from us with unceasing demand, love. “Love is the fulfilling of the Law.” “God is love.” “God so loved that he gave.” How then can we, as ambassadors of the Almighty, the God of love, be loveless? And yet often we are just that.
There are so many conditions in the ministry that tend to make us loveless: stubbornness, obstinate church councils; alcoholics, neurotics, bosses in the church, pettiness, lack of cooperation (the capable refuse, the inept volunteer), choirs. “No rest or relief from daily tasks set free.”
In spite of our “ministerial afflictions” we are to love as Christ first loved us and never cease loving. “Where love is, God is, and where God is, we must be. Lavish it on the poor, upon the rich, who often need it most; upon our equals, where it is most difficult, and where we are most apt to love the least. Give pleasure, lose no opportunity of giving pleasure for that is the ceaseless triumph of a loving spirit. It is better not to live than not to love,” says Henry Drummond (The Greatest Thing In The World).
One of the wonderful rewards of living in the south as a minister of the Gospel is the love showered on you by your congregation.
Today we in the ministry face some real battles, some problems so perplexing that the most saintly among us do not know even a part of the answer, much less the complete solution. How shall I, as a minister of Jesus Christ, stand on the race question? In the south your people will want you to take one stand; if you serve in the north, the opposite position. There is only one answer for a servant of Jesus Christ. “I shall stand where Christ stands.” “Where does he stand?” “Where love is found.”
The servant of Christ is against all hatred, bitterness, selfishness, evil intention, unrighteousness, injustice. We too must be against them in fact and in act. And when we are not sure how Christ would act—don’t move until he makes his way clear. If we temper all we feel and do with love, then we shall not be far from the road Christ is traveling. His way will prevail, will conquer. Stop unseemly strife! It is not his way, of this we can be certain.
Comment On The Sermon
The sermon “The Christian Ministry” was nominated forCHRISTIANITY TODAY’SSelect Sermon Series by Dr. Richard Carl Hoefler, Professor of Homiletics and Liturgics in Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary. Dr. Hoefler’s overcomment follows:
The sermon was chosen for this series not because it is the greatest sermon I have ever heard but because it contains the basic elements that a sermon should possess if it is to be called “great preaching.”
To begin with, such a sermon must come freely from the sincere conviction of the preacher. This conviction is not just what he believes intellectually about a certain passage of Holy Scripture but it is a conviction that reflects a struggle—a struggle of the total man who has been confronted by God’s Holy Word in the midst of an active participation with life. If a man is to write and preach a great sermon, he must be first a pastor. He must enter his study to prepare the sermon concerned not only with the Word of God but also with the World of Dying Men. Each sermon thereby becomes a focal point where God and the World of Men meet. In the quiet of the study the preacher must struggle at this meeting place of Word and world, as Jacob did with the angel. He must wrestle until he is blessed—blessed by divine guidance and insight. For then, and only then, can he leave his study and go to the pulpit as a man who has seen a vision that must be shared, and has received a message that must be told.
Secondly, a sermon that is to be called “great” must be directed to where men are. The Word of God was never spoken in a vacuum. It was always a word spoken to particular people—at a particular time—in a particular place. Therefore, the sermon must be relevant, personal, and direct. But this requirement must be fulfilled in the complete realization that people are not where they should be. The sermon begins where man is, but immediately lifts and directs him to where he should be and can be by God’s grace and power.
This demands that the preacher have courage and humility, but above all an attitude of expectancy. He must enter the pulpit believing that when God’s Word is proclaimed something is going to happen. And this will happen not because of his own talents, or clever ideas, not because he forces or compels the people to a certain action by his logical line of argumentation, but because he is a witness to what God has done, is doing, and will do.
The third element of the sermon that is to be called “great” is clarity. Clarity begins in the mind of the preacher. My practice is to require each student to establish a theme before he writes or presents a sermon. This theme is a single statement which spells out, in his own words, what he believes God intends for him to say. Secondly I demand that every sermon have an outline—not hidden under clever verbiage, but brittle and sharp like the edge of a razor so that even the attention of the most careless listener cannot escape being cut at least once during the development of the sermon.
Great preaching comes in the process of attempting the impossible. To speak God’s Word is impossible for man. God and God alone must do it, but as we strive humbly and earnestly to do that which we know is impossible for us to do, God does it in us.
The sermon fulfills the challenge of greatness, not necessarily as you will read it and analyze its structure but as its effect continues to work in the lives of 30 young pastors who began their ministry with its words on their hearts.
A startling comment one Sunday by a stranger as he left church set us thinking about successful ministries and unsuccessful ones. “I like to hear your sermons, you believe what you preach.” It never occurred to me that any man could or would stand in the pulpit of our Lord Jesus Christ and utter what he himself did not fully believe. But men do! And Christ’s body is crucified again—the church of Jesus Christ and his great cause of salvation for all men is hurt or restricted!
As I rode one day with the pastor of a great church, we talked of the cardinal doctrines of Christianity. He said to me, “I would give anything if I could believe what you believe and as you believe.” “Thus saith the Lord” must be your authority. “Rooted and grounded in the Scriptures,” not in the philosophies of men, nor simply in the principles of science, but in the word of the Lord—both Christ and his holy Word.
Science and philosophy will be valuable to you in your ministry, but you preach Christ, crucified and risen from the dead, and let the “isms” preach human ethics and philosophies.
H. Grady Davis in his fine book, Design for Preaching (Muhlenberg Press, 1958), reports that Christian leaders in Europe had to learn anew how to read, preach, and hear the Word as God’s Word. Preaching had become only a religious discourse, a “sacred oratory.” One such leader confessed, “We found that we had only been presenting considerations about the Gospel. We had not been presenting the Gospel itself as God’s message.”
Dr. Davis added, “We must proclaim whatever the King gives us to proclaim. A man does not merely ‘preach.’ He preaches the Kings’ message. A man preaches ‘The Gospel of God,’ ‘The Gospel of Christ’ for the purpose of reaching and reclaiming the lost.”
In The Sermon and the Propers (Concordia, 1958), Dr. Fred H. Lindemann has written, “We have the sign of the cross on our forehead and breast from holy baptism; how far have we driven it into our daily life, into our business and profession, into our school life? How far have we carried it into our community? How deeply have we impressed it on our environment? These questions we, the ministers of God, must daily answer!” Would to God that none of us fail Christ, his Church, his cause!
It is a glorious ministry that you are entering. It is a holy calling with an unusual compensation, for you walk with Christ. With the rewards come unusual demands, that you are to love others as Christ loved you. Your entrance into Christ’s ministry signifies your willingness to fulfill the demands. God grant you the faith, the courage, and the steadfastness so to do.
Samuel M. Shoemaker is the author of a number of popular books and the gifted Rector of Calvary Episcopal Church in Pittsburgh. He is known for his effective leadership of laymen and his deeply spiritual approach to all vital issues.
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