Desperately Needing Jesus, Every Day
A sermon preached at the installation of Pastor Sam Fink at Heart of the Shepherd Lutheran Church, Howell, Michigan, 12 March 2023.
By Justin Rossow
Introduction: A Question of Expectations
Grace, mercy, and peace be to you from God our Father, and from our Lord Jesus Christ!
On this high and holy day, this special moment in the life of a congregation and in the life of a pastor’s family, I thought we might go to God’s Word with a question of expectations in mind.
I mean, Sam and Kelsey, Heart of the Shepherd will have a lot of expectations of you two as pastor and pastor’s wife. Some of those expectations will be very overt and, dare I say, very biblical. And some of those expectations will seem at least peculiar, or maybe even impossible to meet.
And Heart of the Shepherd, your new pastor and his wife will also have a lot of expectations of you; some will be very overt and, dare I say, very biblical. And some of those expectations will seem at least peculiar, or maybe even impossible to meet.
All those expectations can be quite a burden! So in the midst of all the good and godly things—and all the other things—that could possibly be part of the relationship between a pastor’s family and a congregation, what is essential?
Answer 1: Moses
What is essential? With that question in mind, we turn to our Deuteronomy reading, where we find another special day of transition. Deuteronomy, as you know, is the farewell sermon of Moses, right before the people of Israel finally enter into the Promised Land after 40 years of wandering in the wilderness.
Moses is looking ahead to a time when the people of Israel will be established in the land and decide they need a king, like all the other nations around them. Now, Moses knows, the only true King of Israel is Yahweh; but Moses also knows how stubborn these beautiful, but broken, people of God can be.
So Moses includes these instructions.
When [the King] sits on the throne of his kingdom,
he shall write for himself in a book a copy of this law, approved by the Levitical priests. And it shall be with him, and he shall read in it all the days of his life…
I think that’s an amazing directive for a king. In a day and age when the ability to read was in short supply, and you couldn’t simply log into Amazon.com and order your own personal copy of the ESV (or the KJV, or the NIV, or the NIRV, or the NASB), the king was supposed to write out, by hand, a personal copy of the law.
A few months back, I asked my friend, Sam Fink, to do some research on this text with me. It looks like “the law” in this case could be the whole book of Deuteronomy, or maybe even the Torah, the first five books of Moses—in fact, everything that counted as Holy Scripture at this point in the story.
In a time and culture where reading the Bible was difficult for two reasons—reading, and having a Bible—Moses left instructions to take care of both. The king had to practice reading and writing to copy out the Bible, and when he was done, he would actually have something we kind of take for granted, but was almost unheard of in the ancient world: a personal copy of the Bible.
That concern for daily engaging God’s Word is right in line with the rest of this farewell sermon. Just a few chapters earlier, Moses already stresses the importance of an ongoing dependence on God and on God’s Word. Moses says:
Remember how the LORD your God led you through the wilderness for these forty years, humbling you and testing you to prove your character, and to find out whether or not you would obey his commands. Yes, he humbled you by letting you go hungry and then feeding you with manna, a food previously unknown to you and your ancestors.
He did it to teach you that people do not live by bread alone; rather, we live by every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD.
Deuteronomy 8:2-3 (NLT)
After 40 years of wandering, God’s people were supposed to know an intimate, daily dependence on the Word of God.
But Moses says, when you finally get around to having a king, you might forget that daily dependence. In fact, choosing a human king could mean you have already forgotten that Yahweh is your only true king. To help you all remember:
[The King] shall write for himself in a book a copy of this law, approved by the Levitical priests. And it shall be with him, and he shall read in it all the days of his life.
Now, Sam, I think pretty highly of you. But I don’t think you are a king. And this text about a king ascending the throne is really not that close a parallel to a new pastor being installed … except for the reason Moses says the king needs to write out his own personal copy of the Bible and keep it close and read it every day:
[The king] shall read in it all the days of his life,
that he may learn to fear the Lord his God by keeping all the words of this law and these statutes, and doing them, that his heart may not be lifted up above his brothers.
Deuteronomy 17:18-20 (ESV)
The king shows daily dependence on God by reading the Scriptures every day, so that the king doesn’t start thinking he’s better than the people he has been called to lead and serve.
The pastor is not the king of the congregation. But the king and the pastor do have at least one thing in common. It’s what we all have in common.
We, as God’s wandering people—beautiful and broken—desperately need the presence of our True King. We need the presence of God in God’s Word. We need Jesus, the Son of David, the King of Israel. We need Jesus, the Word made flesh, Yahweh made flesh; the true bread from heaven who gives himself for the life of the world.
We need Jesus, every single day.
That’s why a church needs a pastor.
That’s why a pastor needs the church.
That what fundamentally reshapes and refocuses all our expectations.
We need each other because we desperately need Jesus.
Answer 2: Bonhoeffer
Sam, just as we were getting to know each other, we were both reading Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s book Life Together. Do you remember?
Bonhoeffer was writing to an all-male seminary community, so it makes sense to update his language a little. But in that book Bonhoeffer says (with some minor modifications):
God has put this Word into the mouth of others
in order that it may be communicated to us.
God has willed that we should seek and find his living Word
in the witness of a neighbor, in the mouth of an ordinary human being.
Therefore, as a Christian, you need another Christian who speaks God’s Word to you.
You need your neighbor again and again when you become uncertain and discouraged, for by yourself you cannot help yourself without belying the truth.
You need your neighbor as a bearer and proclaimer of the divine word of salvation.
You need your neighbor solely because of Jesus Christ.
The Christ in your own heart is weaker than the Christ in the word of your neighbor; your own heart is uncertain, your neighbor’s [word] is sure.
To say it another way: God put the divine Word on the lips of ordinary people—People I know! People in my ordinary life!—so that I can have access to God’s Word of divine promise where I need it most: in my ordinary life.
In worship and in small groups, in Bible study and prayer, in our marriages and friendships and families, we need each other because we desperately need Jesus, every day.
Sam and Kelsey, you have a set of expectations, spoken and unspoken, about what it will mean to be husband and wife, pastor and pastor’s wife at a new congregation. As you work through those expectations, what you need most from each other is what we all need: help desperately needing Jesus, every day.
Your kids are old enough to have their own expectations, too. They knew implicitly what it meant to be a pastor’s family at St. John’s, Orchard Park; they will grow into what it means to be a PK in Howell, MI. What they need most from you in, with, and under the parenting, and the book reading and the household chores and family devotions is what we all need: help desperately needing Jesus, every day.
What your new congregation actually needs most from you—Heart of the Shepherd, what Pastor Fink and his family actually need most from you—along with all the other expectations that go along with ministry in broken yet beautiful world, is the one thing God’s people wandering in the wilderness have always needed most from one another: help desperately needing Jesus, every day.
Answer 3: The Spirit who Conforms you to Jesus
And if desperately needing Jesus starts to feel like a burden,
if desperately needing Jesus becomes a new law you are constantly trying to police,
if desperately needing Jesus is the new bar you set for yourself that makes you ask, again and again, “Am I desperately needing Jesus enough? Or am I supposed to be desperately needing Jesus even more??”—
as soon as it crosses your mind or your heart that, while I may not be desperately needing Jesus every day, at least I am desperately needing Jesus more than some people I could mention around here—
then you have gotten the whole thing upside down.
Desperately needing Jesus, every day is not meant to be a burden for you to carry.
Desperately needing Jesus, every day is not how you try harder to get out of your ordinary life and get yourself up, closer to God.
Desperately needing Jesus, every day is a gift, given to you in love, for your good and for your joy.
In your desperately needing Jesus, every day, God comes down, into your ordinary life, to draw closer to you.
For those God foreknew he also predestined
to be conformed to the image of his Son …
Romans 8:29 (NIV)
Jesus, in his own time of testing in the wilderness, quotes Moses. Do you remember?
“It is written, ‘Man shall not live on bread alone,
but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”
Jesus, as the Word made flesh, lived out true dependence on God’s Word. When the disciple Philip asks Jesus, in the Upper Room, on the night he was betrayed, to see the Father, Jesus replies:
Don’t you believe that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in me? The words I say to you I do not speak on my own authority. Rather, it is the Father, living in me, who is doing his work.
John 14:10 (NIV)
That same Jesus, crucified and risen, breathes on those same disciples, maybe in the same Upper Rooms, and gives them—gives us!—his Spirit, the Spirit who shapes us more and more to look like Jesus who with joy lived out dependence on the Word and work of the Father.
The Spirit descends on you again today and shapes the dependence of Jesus in you, as a gift.
So on a day full of expectations, in the midst of all the good and godly things (and all the other things) that could possibly be part of the relationship between a pastor’s family and a congregation, what is essential? Because all those expectations can be quite a burden!
I’m not sure I have a definitive answer. But I’m pretty sure the most important expectation somehow has to involve cultivating and receiving with joy the gift of desperately needing Jesus, every day.
Sam and Kelsey, as you begin your ministry at Heart of the Shepherd, will you remember that for us, and remind us of that gift when we forget?
We’ll keep trying to remember that, too. And, as the Spirit shapes us to be like Jesus, we’ll also try to remind you when you forget.
That’s why I wanted to give you both something today: to help you remember how desperately you need Jesus. You each get a blank book. [Give Sam and Kelsey their books.]
Now, I’m not going to say you have to write out your own copy of the entire Torah by hand (preferably in Hebrew), and read it every day, because, well, Sam, you’re not a king. But even pastors—and pastors’ wives—desperately need Jesus, every day.
Use this book to capture the Word of God you need for today. And keep it close; and read it again and again, so that your hearts will not be lifted up above your brothers and sisters. And God will bless your ministry among these people you have been called to love, and lead, and serve.
At Next Step Press we like to say, “We follow Jesus better when we follow him together.” The truth is, whether you are a pastor or a pastor’s wife, a founding member of Heart of the Shepherd or just visiting today, we all desperately need each other on this journey of faith.
We need each other for a purpose: to help each other desperately need Jesus, every day.
Grant this, Lord, unto us all. Amen.