Posted by: Johnold Strey | September 10, 2017

Sermon for KMLHS Celebration of Ministry Service

KML LogoOn Friday morning, September 8, 2017, Kettle Moraine Lutheran High School (my alma mater) held its annual “Celebration of Ministry” service, in which the new faculty members were installed into their positions of service. This was the first year the service was held in conjunction with a regular school day, so that the student body would be present for the rite of installation. It was also KML’s annual “Pastors’ Day,” at which the pastors of the congregation in KML’s federation were present to interact with the students from their congregations and to learn about the latest news and ministry plans from KMLHS. I had the privilege of serving as the guest preacher for the occasion and to perform the rite of installation for the new faculty members at KMLHS this year. Here is the brief sermon from the service.

WORKING FOR THE LORD

Based on Colossians 3:23-24

Sitting on the pavement with his back against the store front, he hung his head down and covered his eyes with his hands. This is what his foolish ways had earned him. After getting moderately good grades in high school, he headed off to college to study for what could have become a good-paying future career, but instead he treated college like it was a non-stop night club. His grades plummeted. His parents threatened to stop paying his tuition, room, and board because he wasn’t taking his studies seriously, and eventually they carried out their threat. Despite the pleas of family, faculty, and friends, he drank and partied and slept away the time that he should have been working and studying. Finally, the official notice came from the Dean of students: His enrollment was discontinued. Without financial help from mom and dad, and without a good education or a good reputation, he found himself on the street, staring at a cold sidewalk on a cold day as passers-by hustled their way to their downtown jobs.

Suddenly a pair of wingtips stood in his peripheral vision. “You okay, kid?” the man’s voice asked. “You need some help?” He seemed genuinely concerned, so he poured out his heart and acknowledged his mistakes to this total stranger. “Follow me,” the man told him, and he walked alongside this well-dressed stranger into a downtown office complex where it just so happened that this kindhearted man operated his successful business. The young man went from sitting on the cold payment to sitting across from the benevolent stranger in a leather boardroom chair. The man said, “Son, I’m going to give you a second chance at life. We’re going to find you an apartment, set up a bank account with needed funds, take you shopping to get some decent clothes, and line you up with a job in the company. You’re not going to live life on the streets. You don’t owe me anything. Just learn the job, work faithfully, and you and I will both be glad that you’re not living on the street.”

If you were that kid, how do you think you would work? Would give it your best shot? Would you jump at the kindness of a total stranger who owes you nothing but wants to give you a second chance? Do you think you might work with all your heart—your very grateful heart? 

You are that kid. So am I. You and I were rescued from a fate even worse being kicked out of school and home and living life on cold, hard city sidewalks. You and I were rescued from hell! You and I were rescued from being deserted by God forever because of our sins and our foolish ways that assumed Satan’s party was somehow better than God’s paradise. Jesus Christ wasn’t content to let you be lost forever, and so he stooped down to our level. The CEO of the universe took a job lower than the night shift janitor. Jesus suffered the hell our sins deserved in our place and rose from the dead to assure us of something better than a job with a Fortune 500 company. Jesus’ resurrection assures us of eternal life in heaven. He washed us from our filthy sin and clothed us in a perfectly-pressed pinstripe suit of his righteousness at our baptism.

In our reading for today, Paul helps us to see our daily work from that perspective. Whatever we do in life, we carry it out as if are working for the Lord. Whatever we do? Really? Yes!

One of the Bible truths that Martin Luther helped to restore to the Christian Church was the teaching called vocation. Vocation is the Bible teaching that we serve God just by carrying out our duties in whatever place of life we find ourselves in. Luther blasted the church of his day for teaching people that they were serving God by removing themselves from family and society in a life of solitude as a monk or nun. He pointed out that the way we serve God—and the way that God serves the world—is when we carry out our vocations in life as a child or parent, teacher or student, spouse, employee, citizen, church member, and so on.

That means as students, you are working for the Lord when you memorize your Latin verb conjugations, or when you dissect a frog in biology class, or when you learn your algebra equations, or when you drill notes in choir and band, or when you memorize your Bible verses for religion class, or even when you’re outlining your next eight-page paper for Mr. Haferman. You do your best not because you’re afraid of bad grades or even because you’re striving for a college scholarship; you do your best because in all those things you are working for the Lord whose Son worked out your salvation and secured your spot in heaven.

“Working for the Lord” isn’t only an appropriate thought to consider in chapel for the week of Labor Day. It’s also an appropriate thought today as we formally install the largest group of new faculty members KMLHS has ever welcomed at the start of a new school year. For you who are called to teach in this school are serving the Lord in two senses—you work for him as you faithfully carry out your responsibilities like any Christian would, but you also work for him as his servant in the public ministry. That’s one reason why we take the time today to have this service in which we formally install you into your unique ministry calls here at KML.

That truth is easy to remember today, but it’s easy to forget tomorrow. It’s easy to forget that you were called by the Lord and are working for the Lord when original sin shows up in student behavior, or when parents are quick to find fault with you, or you feel overwhelmed with the load of responsibilities that pile up on you, or appreciation seems thin and the crosses you carry seem to weigh down on you even more than before. Those are times when we need St. Paul’s words to echo in our minds: You work for the Lord! You work for the One who carried out his work for you to perfection, the One who buried all your impatience and imperfections in his grave, the One whom God the Father called from death to life on Easter morning, the One who has now called you from spiritual death to life and from meaninglessness to meaningful service in the teaching ministry.

Whether you are a pastor, teacher, staff member, student, parent, or just an interested guest today, whether you serve in a regular vocation or in the public ministry, whether you become a stay-at-home mom or a CEO, the reason to work faithfully at whatever you do is because in whatever you do, you work for the Lord. You are driven not by guilt but by grace, not by self-advancement but self-denial that serves the One who did not come to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many. So study, teach, prepare, and work each day with this encouragement from St. Paul: “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving” (Colossians 3:23-24).

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