16 July 2008

Son (and Father) of Encouragement

It’s a little late for St. Barnabas, but I just finished listening to a sermon by brother Cwirla, delivered at the 2006 St. John Chrysostom Preachers’ Retreat in Canada. I trust I’ll be listening to something from brother Weedon fairly soon. I encourage you to do the same.

Since it seems odd for me to find my name listed among so many “Marquee” brothers (let the hearer of Cwirla’s sermon understand), I decided to provide – as my inaugural offering – some fatherly ruminations, hopefully in the spirit of St. Barnabas, for encouragement to “Dads” and their beloved children everywhere.

This past Sunday marked my twenty first year as pastor of Good Shepherd Lutheran Church in Brandon, MS. God be praised for His faithfulness! I remember the days when people in this community would smile at a young man straight out of the seminary and ask me, "Are you the youth pastor at Good Shepherd?" When I said, “No,” they’d ask, incredulously, “Are you the ONLY pastor at Good Shepherd?”

My youth hasn’t seemed to be an issue now for a good decade or more. One of my parishioners even calls me "Dad." This is her way of rejoicing that her pastor is also her father in the faith. I think it may also reflect a few graying hairs on my head!

I had the joy of baptizing this woman's first grandchild Sunday. Little Elizabeth Annrose was buried and raised again in Christ, wrapped in the Name that is above every name, dressed up in Jesus, acceptable and pleasing to the Father.

It seems, at times, that we rush past the blessings of Holy Baptism – the way it seems I’ve rushed past the years of my service in this place. I decided to slow things down a bit this Sunday and savor the miracle and mystery. After about a week's worth of conversation with brothers in the Office (some of them gathered here), I decided we would have a chanted Invocation, a chanted Lord's Prayer. I also chanted the exorcism, the blessings, as well as the prayers of the rite, including Luther's Flood Prayer. I chanted the Gospel according to St. Mark. Oh yes, I chanted Elizabeth's baptism and the anointing afterward.

Her baptism sounded as sweet as it smelled, with myrrh-scented oil on her head and the voices of saints and angels blended in singing.

Over the years at Good Shepherd, we have grown into the practice of having baptisms and confirmations at the Vigil of Easter. Sunday was a little Easter, and it sounded like the Vigil to me. It was a glad marking of 21 years.

The blessed woman who calls me "Dad" rejoiced to see her granddaughter baptized. Another blessed woman approached the Altar with tears as well, for a different reason. Twenty one years ago this past weekend, the day I was installed, I received a phone call telling me her son had been hit on his motorcycle. A seventeen year old boy lay dying on my installation day. I spent the morning at the hospital. I spent the hours and days following my installation in the same place. On the Saturday before my first Sunday as pastor here I performed my first funeral. Todd Watts, baptized in Jesus, buried at peace in Jesus, soon to be raised from the dead in Jesus.

Twenty one years came back in a flood for me this weekend.

Todd’s mother watched me baptize another mother's child on Sunday. Then she walked past the font and knelt at the Lord's altar, with angels, archangels and all the company of heaven. It all sounded and smelled so sweet, and tasted even better. Some of it was bittersweet, but all of it was wrapped up in the Gospel, in the Promises of God for us in Jesus.

I remember coming here, so long ago, it seems, not knowing what encouragement the Lord would bring to others through me, and what encouragement He would provide me through them. I remember thinking I should be moving on after the first couple of years. I hadn’t lived in one place for more than a couple of years at a time since I graduated from high school. Now, I’ve been father to the same family of believers for more than two decades; only slightly longer than I’ve been a father to my own two daughters, and only slightly less than I’ve been a husband to my wife.

I wonder when men move on so quickly, before they have grown into the marriage the Lord begins when He provides a pastor to a congregation. We grow into marriage with our wives and into fatherhood with our children. We grow into the same with the people who call us “Pastor.” Or “Dad.”

By God's good grace, I will see little Elizabeth come to the Lord's Table – in a few short years. Perhaps I will baptize her children. That part of my service here is just beginning; marrying those I have baptized and confirmed. Even declaring Life in the face of their death. How much more awaits this Barnabas in my third and fourth decades, God will pour out as He wills.

One young man, who was waist high to me when I first came to Mississippi now towers over me – in more ways than one. He is heading off for his vicarage with his new bride next month. In a couple of years, he will learn what it means to be the husband and the father of the family God provides him to serve as pastor; as a Son - and Father - of Encouragement. At first, they may ask if he is the youth pastor in that place. As the years go by, I pray he gets to hear them call him, “Dad.”

I pray that for all the young men on whom the Lord chooses to place the mantle of Father. Such a blessing when both Father and children grow up together.


Pastor Foy said...

How very nicely said and its encouragement is well received. I agree, that all too often men move to soon, before they have had a chance to truly be husband to the wife, father to the children, and all too frequently the wives shun their husbands and children flee their fathers. We "fathers" do require great patience as we learn the role of fatherhood and although there are some tremendous resources such as that of St. Gregory, we must still learn somethings the more difficult way.

I recall penning a letter to my father one father's day when I had been a father for only 3 years. I told that him that I now knew as a father what it meant to be a son and I was sorry that I had been such a poor one. Our spiritual children are the same and they will never be fathers. So we must be patient even as we ask their forebearance of our fauxpas. May the Lord have mercy on us all and come quickly. Amen.

Rev. Rick Sawyer said...

Yes, you bring up the other side, of which I was mindful when I wrote. Children do not often appreciate their fathers, and wives often flee their husbands. What a gracious Lord we have, that He so looks past our sins and suffers our rebellion!

I remember when my elder daughter penned - with my wife's help - these words when she was only five: "Daddy, you are mean!"

I have often given thanks that, in the home, children can speak so bluntly about their disliking Dad, and maybe Dad can even retort, with a bit of a smile, "Well, you're no McDonald's Happy Meal, either!" And still, daughter isn't running down the street to find a nicer Daddy, and Daddy's arms are still available to give the reconciling hug.

I wonder what our Synod would reclaim if only our people understood themselves as children and their pastors as dear Fathers.

I wonder what we Fathers would pass by in patience if we understood that sometimes children vent against authority, stomp their feet, and call us mean!

Seems there's much for us to reclaim from Luther's treatment of the Fourth Commandment in the Large Catechism, respecting the Office as one of spiritual fatherhood.

Pastor Foy said...

I began here as a vicar the same day the pastor of 20+ years retired. I had an off site and nearly non existanct supervisor for six months and then another off site but somewhat more attentive supervisor the last six months. I then finished sem via commute while still serving here and was then called and ordained here. The former pastor and I are different in many ways not the least of which are liturgical ones.

He allowed for being called by his first name. The first week I was here as a vicar a member called to ask me how I was to be called, I answered the phone, "This is vicar Foy, may I help you?" To which this older and very devout woman said, no you just answered my question and I am glad you are bringing some dignity back to the office. Now, of course, I did take that with a grain of salt and did not allow for the disparaging of the former pastor who was a very faithful man who endured much more than I would have stayed in town for. Nonetheless, I know that there is a need across the board for a repristinated understanding of the office and the expectations the flock should have of the man who fills that office by the command and in the stead of Christ.

Again, as in my own post dear brother, I have met this boggy man who is concerned that certain teachings may be wrongly interpreted as self-serving, i.e. the respect of the office as a power grab by the new pastor.

We as a nation have lost nearly all respect for authority, and we again as a nation do not truly know the meaning of sacrifice. Because of this it makes for interesting teaching on the authority of the church and her ordained servants.

How have you taught these things in addition to 20+ years of example so that not only might people respect the authority of the office but in that then, they too might receive the comfort of the absolution even more comforting if you will, for they truly understand who is speaking to them, Jesus, through the mouth house that is serving in that place?

Rev. Rick Sawyer said...

You ask, "How have you taught these things in addition to 20+ years of example so that not only might people respect the authority of the office but in that then, they too might receive the comfort of the absolution even more comforting if you will, for they truly understand who is speaking to them, Jesus, through the mouth house that is serving in that place?"

I am still teaching, and still learning, believe me!

One thing I keep in mind is what I learned from Father Korby, who seemed to me to raise the office of the baptized as he raised the Office of the Holy Ministry.

I recall a story he told in a class I took with him about an incident around his dinner table. Perhaps others recall it too.

In the story, he told how he had reprimanded his daughter so gruffly once that she got physically ill and had to leave the table. Korby, with tears I believe, related how her little brother turned and said, "Daddy, you sinned against her."

Korby told that story so that we knew repentance comes to us even through our little ones, the baptized, who are to speak the Lord's forgiveness in their vocations as they have learned to live from it through the Holy Office.

My little ones - in the home and in the congregation - bring me to repentance. Sometimes I resist, being the sinner I am. By God's grace, I can do no other than say what David did to Nathan, "I have sinned against the Lord."

When a little one is involved, I need to hear that person say: "I forgive you, Dad." Such a one is not speaking as a holder of the Holy Office, but as one who lives from it.

So, they need to be living from it, confessing before God and hearing through their pastor what the Lord has to say. That way, the next time someone makes THEM physically ill - or sad or upset or whatever . . . they know how to say: "I forgive you."

Rev. Rick Stuckwisch said...

Thank you, Brother Sawyer, for this profound post; and to both you and Brother Foy for your helpful follow-up conversation.

I have on numerous occasions noted the spiritual legacy of encouragment that Father Korby bequeathed to many sons in the Office of the Holy Ministry. What a treasure he has handed over, which continues to serve the church so well in these years following his death (in 2006).

There is something significant in a pastor remaining with the congregation to which he was first "wed." There are surely times when moving to the pastoral care of another flock is called for, and the Lord is no less at work to serve His sheep well in such cases. But the relationship that develops between pastor and people in the course of time, as they live together in the preaching and hearing of the Gospel, in the giving and receiving of the means of grace, is a precious paternal bond. I might add that it is most evident and most fruitful for pastoral care in the regular practice of Confession and Absolution. After twelve years of it, I am still growing into that practice of care in ways that I would not have been able to envision in the past.