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St. Titus Day Sermon – Titus 1,1-9

February 13, 2014

January 26, 2014 at Calvary Evangelical Lutheran Church – Mechanicsburg, PA

“He must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it.”

Paul’s letter to Titus begins with a solemn charge. Titus has a task to fulfill. The apostle makes it very plain: “This is why I left you in Crete, so that you might put what remained into order, and appoint elders in every town as I directed you….” This is Titus’ mission objective. It’s not just a friendly reminder. Rather, it’s a repetition of the assignment. It’s made plain for Titus to know. Even more importantly, it’s made plain, so that everyone who would experience the work that Titus was doing on the island of Crete would know that he had been given the authority to accomplish it.

But Paul’s letter to Titus includes more than instructions. The apostle calls Titus “my true child in a common faith.” Titus was Paul’s assistant, friend, fellow disciple, even a student and son. The two share the same faith. They have been called to belief in the same Lord. They have the same “hope of eternal life, which God, who never lies, promised before the ages began and at the proper time manifested in His word through the preaching.” And this common bond underlies the task that Titus had been given to accomplish in Crete.

The Church commemorates Titus as Bishop and Confessor, a man called by Jesus 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 Jesus 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 Jesus’ peace to sinners whom He had reconciled by His death and resurrection.

“Teach them to observe everything that I have commanded you.” That is the charge which Jesus gave to His apostles. It is also the charge that the apostles handed down to those who followed in their office. That’s what Titus was to do among the people of Crete, as he had also done in Corinth and Ephesus. As Paul’s representative—even more importantly as the ambassador of the Risen and Ascended Jesus—Titus 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’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 an overseer. Who should Titus appoint as elders in every town in Crete? Who should take up the responsibility of “making disciples”? Paul gives several qualifications that mark one as eligible for the office: “If anyone is above reproach, the husband of one wife, and his children are believers and not open to the charge of debauchery or insubordination. For an overseer, as God’s steward, must be above reproach. He must not be arrogant or quick-tempered or a drunkard or violent or greedy for gain, but hospitable, a lover of good, self-controlled, upright, holy, and disciplined.” These are all very important criteria. It is understandable how those who lack them will be problematic. But even the proper personal characteristics of the elders aren’t enough. There is one more that Paul lists, the one that you heard in the last verse of the Epistle Reading: “He must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it.”

“He must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught….” Without that, there is no making of disciples. Someone who can’t keep hold of the teaching of Jesus can’t instruct others to observe everything that He commands. Someone who loses grip of the teachings handed down to him loses “what is trustworthy,” and has no lasting foundation for conducting his ministry. Instead, he becomes the steward of his own ideas or philosophy, and no longer “God’s steward.” Instead of proclaiming that the everlasting kingdom of God has come near, such leaders would be building up their own temporary, humanly originated fiefdoms. That is why it was so important that we prayed together in the Collect of the Day: “Make all shepherds of Your flock diligent in preaching Your holy Word so that the whole world may know the immeasurable riches of our Savior, Jesus Christ.” It is why we so frequently ask in the Prayer of the Church for divine aid to be given to the Church’s clergy around the world.

But what Paul identifies in that last quality of an elder is not meant solely for the clergy. Certainly the task of overseeing the Church is, as well as being the stewards of Jesus’ mysteries are the tasks of the clergy, whether they’re called bishops, presbyters, pastors, or elders. We do pray as Jesus instructed: “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few. Therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest.” These laborers who will proclaim Jesus’ trustworthy word are needed and necessary. But holding on to Jesus’ trustworthy word and testament as taught is a universal instruction given to all people who are His disciples. Observing everything that has been commanded—that is what your Lord Jesus demands that you keep and obey. For in that “trustworthy word” that comes from Jesus’ mouth, your salvation is found.

So it is that why when you assemble together as the congregation of Jesus’ disciples here on the commemoration day of Titus, you are present to hear “the trustworthy word.” Gathered together in Jesus’ name, you have Him in your midst. You have Him present here with His forgiveness, life, and salvation for us. That is what His “trustworthy word” carries. It is the power that Jesus’ word brings, especially the testimony of promise that He attaches to the simple things of this creation to bear heavenly things for your benefit.

As Lutherans, you rightly 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—that is what Paul refers to in his instruction to Titus: “He must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it.” As a bishop himself, Titus must cling to what Jesus 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 and “putting what remained into order.” 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 Jesus and carry salvation to others.

This is what you have received now, as bishops and elders have taken up the responsibility and duty that Titus was given and which he gave. The trustworthy word of Jesus is in your midst. It hits you as the sharp two-edged sword that cuts between bone and marrow. Through those whom He has appointed, the LORD speaks and you 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. That trustworthy word has driven you to admit your guilt, to speak in response to it that you are a poor, miserable sinner who confesses all your sins and iniquities that the LORD’s word notes has offended Him.

But the trustworthy word of Jesus does more. It also binds and heals. Through those whom He has appointed and sent, Jesus speaks the greeting to you: “Peace be with you,” and you are reconciled to Him. Jesus 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 Son of God speaks in your midst: “He who believes and is baptized shall be saved,” and you are marked for everlasting life. The Crucified and Risen Jesus states: “This is My body given for you…. This is My blood shed for you for the forgiveness of sins,” and so you feed on the Bread of Heaven and receive the sacrifice given for your sins, so that He may abide in you and you in Him for eternity. These statements have come from the Incarnate Word’s own lips, spoken by Him who does not lie. It is the “trustworthy word as taught” that has been carried by bishops and elders, and brought to your own hearing.

This is what Titus entrusted to those he appointed in Crete, just as happens everywhere Jesus provides ministers for His Church. It is not an empty gesture or a pointless action. No, the “trustworthy word as taught” is entrusted to another place and time, so that disciples are made. It is spoken, so that Jesus’ salvation is brought to sinners who need it, but who also have been chosen from before the ages began to receive it. That’s what happened in Crete. And it has happened here in Mechanicsburg and in every town where elders have been appointed to their task. Together with them, you have a share in the common faith that was established between Paul and Titus, Titus and the people in Crete, the believers in Crete and the members of Jesus’ Church around the world.

In the proper time, God has manifested the hope of eternal life through the preaching of those who had a firm grasp of the trustworthy word as taught. This preaching happens, so that you may be Jesus’ disciples who have a firm grasp on His trustworthy word that conveys forgiveness, life, and salvation. That is why it is still spoken and why elders are appointed to speak it. Through that, the hope of eternal life is made yours, even in the face of opposition. Receiving that trustworthy word, the eternal kingdom of God has come near to you and you are made part of it.

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

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