October 13, 2019, Pastor Kurt Lantz
Dear beloved children,
Grace, mercy, and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord.
“It is the hard-working farmer who ought to have the first share of the crops.” St. Paul uses this illustration along with those of a soldier and an athlete to tell Timothy something about living out his calling in sincere faith.
Last Sunday we noted that Paul gave thanks for the sincere faith that was in Timothy due first of all to his grandmother and mother exercising their sincere faith in their family vocations, and secondly also to Paul and other witnesses who testified of the grace of God in Jesus Christ to Timothy according to their callings as apostle, pastors, and preachers.
In today’s Epistle Reading, Paul goes on to encourage Timothy to remain firm in the faith and calling that the Lord had imparted to him, even with the bleak prospect of sharing in the sufferings of Paul and others who were being persecuted for the Christian faith and would end up as martyrs, giving bold witness to their faith in the resurrection as they were killed. It is for the sake of stimulating Timothy to fan into flame the faith that had been imparted to him for his calling that Paul said, “It is the hard-working farmer who ought ot have the first share of the crops.”
On this Thanksgiving Sunday, we think of all the produce of the earth that the Lord has graciously provided. We have a display of foods to remind us that these also are gifts of the Lord as surely as the gift of faith. Our daily bread sustains our bodies from day to day. Our faith also needs daily sustenance lest we become spiritually weak, sick, and die. We notice in our bodies when we have gone without a meal or two, or if we are deficient in some protein, or if we have eaten something incompatible with our digestive system. The same thing happens to our spiritual life although we are not so acute to pick up on the symptoms.
If we go without Word and Sacrament we lose not only the forgiveness of sins given there, but also the nurture of the Holy Spirit through those means. Our catechism explains on the Third Article of the Creed: “The Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith.” He does this through the Word and Sacraments proclaimed and administered in the Church. That is why the Creed confesses the work of the Holy Spirit along with its confession of the Church. Our confession of the one holy Christian and apostolic Church is our confession of the work of the Holy Spirit.
You cannot be so naive as to believe that missing a Sunday at church will have no ill effect. It is like missing a meal, and if you don’t feel any effect, you’re likely not to worry about missing another and another until some serious malady becomes evident. Sometimes, only when a proper regular diet is restored do you realize how awful things had become and how sick and weak you were.
As our bodies may become deficient in some vitamin or protein or enzyme, so we can become deficient in some parts of God’s Word if we don’t receive the nourishment of the whole council of God. That means hearing the things from God’s Word that we may not like to hear. It may even go down like fish oil. This is why it is important not to try to go it alone with just you and God’s Word. You will begin to avoid those parts you don’t want to hear. Similarly, if a church simply chooses what to proclaim its own chosen topics from week to week you are likely to get a narrow diet of whatever the current social issue happens to be and not much else.
In our church we follow a series of readings called a Lectionary, that originated in the early centuries of the church and has been adapted throughout the history of the church, endeavouring to take us through the whole council of God in the Scriptures. This is why pastors can be somewhat reluctant to abandon the readings and theme of the Sunday of the Church Year, in order to mark special interest days like Christians Education Sunday, Seminary Sunday, LWML Sunday, Thanksgiving Sunday, Reformation Sunday, and All Saints’ Sunday. They are all worthy interests to mark and celebrate in the church, but consideration must also be given to what may be missed if they are allowed to displace the regular diet of the Lectionary readings entirely, and week after week after week.
Our health is also compromised when we partake of something incompatible with our bodies. That can happen in our spiritual life as well. There are teachings and rites and practices out there which are indeed harmful and are incompatible with the faith once for all delivered to the saints. In order to encourage Timothy to live out the faith in the calling that the Lord had given to him, Paul not only encouraged Timothy to keep a steady diet of what he had heard from Paul in the presence of many witnesses, but also to avoid and dismiss those who would teach something different than the apostolic faith given by our Lord and his ministers.
In explanation of all of this Paul used the image of a farmer and his produce, something that is much on our minds this Thanksgiving Sunday. “It is the hard-working farmer who ought to have the first share of the crops.” Our English translation could state it even more strongly: “It is necessary for the hard-working farmer to first partake of the crops.”
It is more than a statement about what is fair. It is not only fair that the farmer get to have the first share. It is necessary, because he is a hard-working farmer. He needs to be sustained in his hard work or no one gets to eat. If the farmer is not sustained by a good solid diet, he will not have the strength and energy for his hard work in the fields to plant, water, and harvest.
The first of the harvest is returned to God. He doesn’t need to eat but we always need to be reminded that it is God, and He only, who causes the growth. The farmer needs a priority share because he has to eat so that he can do the work of his vocation in order to feed others. Paul makes the same point to Timothy about his particular vocation as pastor, teacher, and bishop. Timothy needs to make sure that he is partaking of God’s Word and the holy Sacraments or he will not be able to do the hard work of the ministry and deliver these to others.
This is one of those things of which we need to remind our pastors. Just as there may be so much work to do that someone would skip a meal in order to try to get it done, there is so much for pastors to do in teaching and preaching and evangelizing and administering the sacraments that it is a great temptation for them to skip those opportunities when they would be fed. After all, it seems only a personal sacrifice for the sake of the people entrusted to their care. But an ill-fed farmer cannot do the work required to produce a good harvest, and so Paul reminds Timothy that it is because the task is so important that he must be sure to be fed himself, first. “It is the hard-working farmer who ought to have the first share of the crops”.
If you have ever flown on of an airplane, you know the instructions about what to do if the oxygen masks deploy from above the seats. “Put your own mask on first before helping children or those around you.” If you don’t secure your own supply of oxygen, then you’ll pass out and won’t be able to help your children or anyone else. Remember to think of that in terms of your vocation to provide spiritual food and nourishment for your family and others entrusted to your care. This is what enabled Timothy’s grandmother and mother to instill the faith into him.
This spiritual nourishment includes the Gospel of Jesus Christ. “You then, my child, be strengthened by the grace that is in Christ Jesus.” In that grace there is strength for body and soul. In that grace is forgiveness for sins and renewal for living out our vocations in faithfulness. By God’s grace in giving His Son to suffer and die for your sins and to rise again to give you new life, your sins of neglecting your own spiritual health are forgiven. Your sins of compromising your ability to raise your children and help others in the faith are forgiven. And the needed nourishment for a renewal of life is yours.
“Remember Christ Jesus, risen from the dead,” St. Paul exhorted Timothy. Remember that the Lord Jesus has paid for all of your sins. They are completely covered and full atonement has been made. He Himself told you to do something in remembrance of Him. On the night He instituted the holy supper He said, “Do this in remembrance of Me.” Take and eat His holy body given for you. Take and drink His precious blood which has established a new testament for the forgiveness of sins. By thus remembering Christ Jesus, risen from the dead, you are strengthened by His grace.
We need that grace of forgiveness and renewal for the task that is appointed to us. In our vocations we will face the same threats and challenges that are faced by all of the faithful, those faced by Timothy and Paul as well. We are called to share in suffering as we face opposition to the faithful fulfillment of our callings. We have to share in suffering as good soldiers of Christ Jesus, and to strive within the rules laid out by God, like an athlete who does not want to be disqualified. But we labour also like hard-working farmers who ought to have the first share of the crops, to first be fed and nourished by the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Jesus has provided us with His Word and Sacraments to forgive, strengthen, and uphold us in the vocations he has given, whether they be parent or grandparent, pastor or teacher, soldier, athlete, or farmer. We can depend on Him for He is faithful. “If we have died with Him [through Baptism], will also live with Him [in righteousness]; if we endure [suffering and persecution], we will also reign with Him [in glorious victory]; if we deny Him [by abstaining from the means of grace He has given], He also will deny us [on the Day of Judgment]; if we are faithless [not looking to Him for the strength needed for our Christian calling], He remains faithful [always ready to forgive those who repent]—for He cannot deny Himself.” He is called to be our Saviour. He is faithful to forgive, strengthen, and uphold you. Like a hard-working farmer, first partake of His grace for you.
The Lord be with your spirit. Grace be with you.