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St. Titus Day Sermon — Titus 1:1-9

January 26, 2010

January 26, 2010 at Philadelphia Circuit Conference – Blue Bell, PA

“In due time, God revealed His word through the proclamation with which I have been entrusted by the command of God our Savior. . . . [A bishop] must have a firm grasp of the word that is trustworthy in accordance with the teaching, so that he may be able both to preach with sound doctrine and to refute those who contradict it.”

The letter the Apostle Paul sends to Titus begins with a solemn charge. Titus had been given a task to fulfill. And Paul doesn’t let Titus forget that: “I left you behind in Crete for this reason, so that you should put in order what remained to be done, and should appoint elders in every town, as I directed you.” It’s a bit more than just a friendly reminder. Rather, it’s a repetition of the assignment. Titus’ duty is restated for emphasis. By hearing it again, Titus will be motivated to fulfill his charge, and everyone who would encounter Titus’ doing so would know that he had been given the authority to accomplish it.

But there is more in Paul’s words than instructions. Paul calls Titus “my loyal child in the faith we share.” Whether he had been negligent or faithful in “appointing elders in every town,” Titus still was Paul’s assistant, friend, fellow disciple, even student and son. The two share the same faith. They have been called to belief in the same Lord, the One who “revealed His word in due time.” And it is this common bond that underlies the task that Titus had been given to accomplish in Crete.

We commemorate Titus as Bishop and Confessor, a man called by Christ through His apostles to be a bearer of His word, a witness to His salvific work, a public defender of what had been handed down from Christ Himself. Like the Eleven on the Galilean mountain, Matthias in the Upper Room, and Paul on the Damascus road, Titus had been given the charge: “Make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you.” Like the Seventy-Two in today’s Gospel Reading, Titus was sent to proclaim Christ’s peace to sinners whom He had reconciled by His death and resurrection.

“Teach them to obey everything that I have commanded you.” So Titus did among the people of Crete. And as Paul’s own representative, even as the ambassador of the Risen and Ascended Christ Himself, this bishop was to entrust others with the same task and duty. Others were to take up this responsibility, so that the “making of disciples” could take place on that Mediterranean island, so people of that nation would be marked as the Lord God’s people, His holy name etched on their heads and hearts, minds and souls.

Ultimately, such a task is wrapped up in what Paul describes as the qualifications of a bishop. Who should Titus appoint? Who can take up the responsibility of “making disciples”? There are several qualifications that mark one as eligible for the office. But it boils down to the major criteria, the one that was found in the last verse of our Epistle Reading: “[A bishop] must have a firm grasp of the word that is trustworthy in accordance with the teaching, so that he may be able both to preach with sound doctrine and to refute those who contradict it.”

“A firm grasp of the word.” Without it, there is no making of disciples. He who cannot keep hold of the teaching of Jesus can never instruct others to obey everything that He commands. He who loses grip of the teachings handed down to him loses “what is trustworthy,” and has no lasting foundation for conducting his ministry. He becomes the steward of his own ideas or philosophy, no longer “God’s steward.” That is true even for you who have been so appointed to be bishops and stewards.

Yet what Paul identifies as the qualities of a bishop is not meant solely for the clergy. Certainly the task of overseeing the Church is, as well as being the stewards of Christ’s mysteries are a bishop’s task. But holding on to Christ’s trustworthy word and testament is universal to all who are His disciples. Everything that has been commanded: that is what our Lord demands that we keep and obey. For in that—and nothing else—salvation is found.

So while we have assembled here for a conference of Circuit pastors on the commemoration day of St. Titus, we hear “the word that is trustworthy,” the word we are to declare to the people put under our charge, so they may keep and obey it. Gathered together in Christ’s name, we have Him in our midst. We have Him present here and in our congregations with His forgiveness, life, and salvation for us. That is what His teaching carries. It is the power that His word of the Gospel brings, even the testimony of promise that our Lord Jesus attaches to simple things of this earth to bear heavenly things for our benefit.

As Lutherans, we hold on to the great motto of the Reformation, the words of Isaiah emblazoned on coats of arms: “Verbum Dei manet in aeternum: the Word of the Lord endures forever.” An everlasting word, an eternal word—that is what Paul refers to in his instruction to Titus: “[A bishop] must have a firm grasp of the word that is trustworthy in accordance with the teaching.” As a bishop himself, Titus must cling to what Christ had entrusted to Paul and what Paul had, in turn, passed down to him. Equipped with that, Titus can go on with the task of “making disciples” in Crete. But he can do more; he can hand over that trustworthy word to a new generation of apostles, so that they can take up the mantle of bearing witness to Christ and carry salvation to others.

This is what we have received in our day. As bishops and elders, we have taken up the responsibility and duty that Titus was given and which he gave. The trustworthy word of Christ is what we have been entrusted with to deliver to the saints—both old and new—in our parishes. It continues to be present and active in our midst. It hits us as the sharp two-edged sword that cuts between bone and marrow. The Lord God speaks and we stand condemned. He speaks an indictment of substance, accurate in all counts. It crushes the bones; it leaves no one room to stand as the record of iniquity is read out. His testimony declares: “You have been measured and found wanting.” And that is most certainly true.

And yet, the trustworthy word of Christ conveys more. It also binds and heals. He speaks the greeting: “Peace be with you,” and you are reconciled to Him. Our Lord says: “I have called you by name,” and you belong to Him. Jesus declares: “Your sins are forgiven you,” and salvation becomes your possession. The eternal Christ speaks in our midst: “This bread is My body; this wine is My blood; both given and shed for you,” and you feed on the Bread of Heaven who continues to abide in you and you in Him for everlasting life. These statements are trustworthy and true, coming from the Son of God’s own lips. They have been carried by bishops and elders and brought to your own ears. And as you have been charged to declare these same trustworthy words, they are brought to the ears of those who hear you.

This is what Titus entrusted to those he appointed in Crete, just as happens everywhere Christ provides ministers for His Church. It is not an empty gesture or a pointless action. No, the trustworthy word is entrusted to another place and time, so that disciples are made, so that Christ’s salvation is brought to sinners who need it, who have been chosen from before time began to receive it. So it happened in Crete, as it has happened here in Blue Bell, PA and in every place that is represented in these pews.

In due time, God has revealed His truth through the proclamation of those who had a firm grasp of that word which is trustworthy, even today. It has been revealed even to you, so that you, His disciples, may have a firm grasp on that word which conveys forgiveness, life, and salvation. So it has been given to you, so may you hear it, believe it, and firmly grasp it. Then may you go and speak it with Christ’s own authority, as you have been charged to do.

T In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.


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