Sermon preached by The Most Rev. Dr. Walter Obare, Archbishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Kenya, on the occasion of the consecration in Helsinki of the Right Rev. Matti Väisänen as Bishop for Finland (20 March 2010) and in Gothenburg/Sweden of the Right Rev. Roland Gustafsson as Presiding Bishop of the Mission Province (27 March 2010).
Text: St. Matthew 28:18-20
Grace and peace to you from Him who is, who was and who is to come, from Jesus Christ, who loves us and has freed us from sin by his blood. Amen.
Our text on this great occasion is the Great Commission given us by the King of kings, the crucified and risen Lord Jesus Christ. I want to divide this sermon text into sub-topics as follows:
- All authority
- Do not disown Jesus and his Gospel
- I am in debt
- And teaching them
May I emphasize these words in the very beginning: “All authority.”
Authority is not from men. It is not from bishops, not from your Presiding Bishop Arne Olsson of the Mission Province who is leading this consecration; not even from me as the Archbishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Kenya. No, the authority is from God the Father, given to his Son Jesus Christ who fulfilled the work of redemption on the Cross and is now the risen Lord.
The King Jesus Christ gives his order to his disciples: “Go and make disciples of all nations!”
Bishop Elect! You are here and now a servant of God. Do not ask any authority from men, neither from civil nor from ecclesiastical authorities, not even from the global world view as most church leaders want to do so these days. You must be a faithful servant of your King and Saviour, which is Jesus Christ alone. He has given to you the sure Means of Grace: Go and baptize, go and preach the Gospel, go and administer the Lord’s Supper to his people.
Don’t Disown Jesus and his Gospel
You are saved by the Gospel. You have heard the most efficient words from the mouth of the preacher of the Gospel when you were told these words: “Your sins are forgiven!” These words were spoken to you at your Baptism, in the words of Absolution and at the altar in Holy Communion. You are saved by these very words, as Dr. Luther – may he rest in peace! – teaches us in his Small Catechism: “Where there is forgiveness of sins, there is also life and salvation.”
The same is said by the Apostle Paul in Romans 1:16: “I am not ashamed of the Gospel, because it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, first for the Jews, then for the Gentiles.” These are the words that will bring salvation to Finland, Sweden, Europe, Africa and even to the ends of the world.
I Am in Debt
Two verses previous to the text I referred to, in Rom. 1:14, Paul writes that he is obligated to preach the Gospel to all, to Greeks and non-Greeks, to the wise and to the foolish, that is, to all people, even to the inhabitants of the capital city of Rome. The famous English theologian and preacher John Stott translates the word “obligated” as “to be in debt." So Paul is in debt to the Romans and to all people.
What Paul meant then, and what I mean today is this: First the Gospel to all nations was preached to the Jews, then to the Roman world; later it was preached to the Scandinavian countries, including Fennoscandia, that is Suomi/Finland too.
And then those who were saved by God’s grace, by the Gospel of Christ’s fulfilled redemptive work, were "in debt." They were obligated to preach the Gospel to other countries, for instance to Africa and hence to us in Kenya. They had received some-thing intended “for all nations” – as the Great Commission clearly states – and it was now their duty to take this treasure and preach the most precious message, the Gospel, to those who had not yet heard it.
In Kenya we had missionaries from all Scandinavian nations and so through them myself and many of my countrymen have received the Gospel and salvation. In behalf of our church body, I am here in turn to pay our debt and so preach the Gospel, God’s power of salvation, to you. Especially your younger generation needs to be helped. They need those who will lead them into the Word of God, not into speculations of our post-modern philosophies and worldviews. Those young men who have a call from God and yet are denied the right to preach the Gospel in their own church bodies, for them I am here today with other bishops to help them to have the possibility to serve their King according to their calling. Let them be faithful servants of Christ and his Church through your work as their bishop and shepherd.
And Teaching Them
The baptized children of God need to be taught to help them obey everything the King Jesus Christ has commanded us. We are living in a time of neo-paganism. Even in the churches of Christ, all the old pagan lifestyles have been re-introduced, such as homosexual behaviour – which is really Baal worship – that is back in the church with full force. Let’s take note of its official approval in the Episcopal Church of America, in the Church of Sweden, in the largest Lutheran church body in Canada, in the Anglican Church etc. And the ELCA is even dropping one of the Lutheran “solas,” “Scripture alone,” from their doctrinal position.
What does it mean that a married pastor divorces his wife whom he has children, in order to get “married” to a person of the same sex? Or that people in a same gender relationship are ordained to the holy ministry or consecrated to serve as bishops?
But to you, my Brother and fellow Bishop, and to all listening to me here and now, clergy and laity, men and women, young and old. Remember that you are called into the priesthood of all believers, to teach and preach faithfully the Word of God: the Law of God, which kills all sinners, and the pure Gospel, which raises up those dead in their sins and gives new life to sinners in Christ the King.
The Great Blessing
The Great Commission of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ is not only a commandment, yes, it is that. But it ends with a great blessing. Jesus himself promised it, and he cannot lie. He said: “And surely I am with you until the end of the age.”
I know that you will have to endure many challenges in your work as a bishop. You will work among people in our paganised world. You may lack resources to run the small church you are called to serve as bishop, but remember the words of Isaiah from the Lord to the kingdom of Judah: “Emmanuel: God with us.”
He is the one promising the blessing of his presence with you to the very end of the age.
Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Ghost. Amen.