Transfiguration Sunday Yr B
February 20, 2009 2 Comments
Transfiguration Yr B, 22/02/2009
II Cor 4:3-6
Rev. Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson
Pastor of Grace Lutheran Church, &
Chaplain of The Good Samaritan Society’s
South Ridge Village, Medicine Hat, Alberta
“For we do not proclaim ourselves”
Preachers and preaching. In today’s second lesson, the apostle Paul is speaking of himself and his co-workers. He says: “For we do not proclaim ourselves; we proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord and ourselves as your slaves for Jesus’ sake.” Paul and his co-workers are facing charges from some in the Corinthian congregation. The charges seem to be that Paul and his co-workers are not genuine preachers and their preaching is not authentic. In response to the charges Paul insists that he and his co-workers are genuine and their preaching is authentic.
From the beginning of the Christian Church, right up to the present day there have been charlatan preachers preaching deceitfully. I don’t know if you’re like me, but on occasion, I have heard a few preachers so egotistic that their sermon was all about themselves. Every story in the sermon was from their life or a member of their family. If I were the preacher’s spouse or family member I’d have felt rather embarrassed and perhaps even resentful about such stories. A preacher needs to practice discernment and ask permission from family members before he or she tells family stories from the pulpit.
Some preachers are tempted by fame and status. They covet being the most popular preacher in the world. Or they become obsessed with climbing the social ladder; desiring to hobnob with the rich and famous. Worldly gain is their game; some making millions of dollars a year by distorting Jesus and the gospel into an entrepreneurial empire. Their affluent lifestyle is on public display for us to see as if they were saying: “Look how rich and successful I am!” Their theme song is “How great I art.” I wonder what Jesus thinks of such preachers?
Other preachers are hooked on Hollywood. They strive to be the Rev. Entertainer; the single, most important criteria for their preaching is the question: “Are my sermons entertaining?” For them, wowing us with dramatics is cool. They may compromise their moral-ethical integrity to preach manipulative, emotionally stirring sermons to get what they want for their own selfish ends. Preachers who tip the scales too far this way may be tempted to develop a cultic or sectarian following like some of the Televangelists. Cultic and sectarian followers are brainwashed, programmed to do almost anything for their leader who has absolute authority and control over them. In recent times, we’ve witnessed how such cultic and sectarian followers have killed and committed suicide in God’s name because they’ve been brainwashed by their leaders.
How radically different are genuine preachers! Paul says you can tell a genuine preacher from a charlatan. He says a genuine preacher does not preach herself or himself. No. Rather, he or she preaches Jesus Christ as Lord and himself or herself as slaves for Jesus’ sake. Or in the words of The Message: “Remember, our Message is not about ourselves; we’re proclaiming Jesus Christ, the Master. All we are is messengers, errand runners from Jesus for you.” I like that—we’re messengers, errand runners from Jesus for you. If I am going to be a reliable messenger I need to listen very closely to the message I’ve been given to share it with you accurately. I need to learn the message and communicate it well for you. I also need to take orders willingly from Jesus so that I can run the errands he gives me. I need to be in shape spiritually to run his errands. So an authentic preacher feeds daily and deeply on God’s Word. Unless I feed daily and deeply on the Bible, how can I feed you spiritually? An authentic preacher also listens to Christ speaking through prayer. Without listening to Christ in prayer, I cannot feed you.
When I read and study the Bible and feed deeply on it; when I listen to Christ in prayer I, like Paul will strive to preach the message that Jesus is Lord. At the heart and core of all Christian sermons is the earliest confession and creed: “Jesus is Lord.” What does it mean to preach and confess Jesus as Lord?
Well, it means several things. Jesus as Lord means that his power and authority is the highest power and authority of all. No human being, no human institution has a higher claim on our loyalty if Jesus is Lord. Our loyalty to Jesus as Lord is greater than our loyalty to family. Jesus as King of kings and Lord of lords has a claim on our loyalty that is higher than our loyalty to any political party, government, or nation. Preaching and confessing Jesus is Lord means that his claims on us to be loyal to him are higher than the claims of race, class, or gender. The confidence of Christian preachers in preaching Jesus is Lord gives them courage and their people courage to confess Jesus as their Lord even in the face of the most powerful forces and authorities on earth.
On the scaffold in a Nazi prison, within months of the end of the Second World War, Dietrich Bonhoeffer was superior to the might of Adolf Hitler because he knew that Jesus is Lord. This is the testimony of countless witnesses and martyrs throughout the ages, some known to us and many unknown to us. This is the witness when, on our deathbeds, in our dying moments, the faithful in Christ triumph over the failures of medicine and of the body, because we say and we know that Jesus is Lord. Who is Jesus? Jesus is Lord; and as long as there are people in the world who, in the worst of times under the most dangerous of circumstances, yet declare that Jesus is Lord, this world and all of its powers will never ever have the last word.1
We preachers and you listeners who follow Jesus continue to place all of our hopes and fears, sufferings and triumphs in the One whom we confess to be: Jesus is Lord. We believe with our whole being that if Jesus is Lord then, come what may, we shall endure it for he is always with us right up to the end of this life and into the open door of eternity. Fear not brothers and sisters in Christ, for Jesus is Lord!
Coming back to what Paul is saying to the Corinthians and us today, because genuine preachers preach Jesus is Lord, they are “your slaves for Jesus’ sake.” In the New Testament Greek, the word doulos can be translated both as slave or servant. The word slave today may have negative connotations—since we in the Western world worked hard and even fought to end slavery. I think what Paul is driving at here is not the negative realities of slavery. Rather, I think what he means here is something like this: because Jesus has a claim on us preachers as Lord, we are compelled to give of ourselves in love as he did for the people we serve. The self-giving love of Jesus will pour into us if we are called to be preachers so that we can give this same self-giving love to those we serve.
In making personal sacrifices as preachers, we discover, more often than not, the truth of Jesus’ words: “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” For Paul, it means putting the needs of others first by serving them. A colleague and friend of mine of blessed memory, the Rev. Dr. K-Henry Reitze, inspired me with putting others first by serving them. Whenever we gathered together for a meal at church, he would go to the end of the line and insist on being last. We are your slaves for Jesus’ sake. We are here to serve you. I don’t think Paul meant that as slaves we serve out of fear. Nor do I think he meant we serve as hirelings. Moreover, I don’t think that Paul equates slave here with abuse or misuse. Rather, I believe Paul meant that as slaves for Jesus’ sake we serve out of his love. The love we receive from Christ is not horded and kept to ourselves; it is shared with you whom we serve. In serving you, we serve Christ himself, which is the highest privilege that I can think of in this life.
So, thank you for granting me the privilege of serving you. Most of all, thank God through our Lord Jesus Christ for the privilege of serving him and for giving us the Gospel, the Good News, which is meant to be shared with you and all people. Whether we are ordained or laity, we are all called to spread the Good News in word and deed. May the Holy Spirit give us grace to make us willing to share this Good News. Amen.
1 Peter J. Gomes, Strength for the Journey (New York: HarperCollins & HarperSanFrancisco Publishers, Inc., 2003), pp. 213-214.