Benedictus (farewell sermon for Pr. Marcus Zill)

Nativity of St. John the Baptist, transferred (June 22, 2014)
St. Andrew’s Lutheran Church
Laramie, Wyoming
Rev. Todd A. Peperkorn
(Luke 1:57–80)
Farewell Service for Pastor Marcus Zill

TITLE: “Benedictus”

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord, Jesus Christ. Amen. Our text for today is the Gospel just read from St. Luke chapter one, the song of Zechariah.

In 1998, Bill Clinton was president of the United States. A.L. Barry was president of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, and there was this crazy fad hitting the country call the Internet. This past fall’s freshmen were right around 3 or 4 years old at the time. Sterling was but a wee pup, and Grant was a twinkle in his father’s eye. Bethany, Pastor Zill tells me, is as beautiful today as she was then. There was no Barack Obama in the White House. There wasn’t even a Bush or a Cheney in the White House! There was no 9/11, there was no second Iraq War, there was no Afganistan. In 1998, most of us hadn’t heard of this upstart rebel named Osama bin Laden. Matthew Shepherd was murdered in October of 1998, just a couple months before Pastor Zill arrived here. Pastor Zill’s favorite movie of the time wasn’t Godzilla, it was The Big Lebowski. (Okay, I just made that up, but it might be true…)

In just shy of sixteen years, Pastor Zill has done countless Baptisms and Weddings, a few funerals I expect, and by my reckoning, about 930 sermons. I leave it up to Pastor Zill to tell you whether he just repeated the sermons every four years or so. Maybe we can get that out of him later.

So in those years and time, Pastor Zill has carried out his duties here at St. Andrew’s Lutheran Church. While I suppose we could talk about Higher THings, Christ on Campus, and this little project of his called LCMS-U, all of those really serve the ministry of the Gospel in this place. This is where things matter and find their purpose as a Lutheran pastor: pulpit, font, altar. This place, after all, is about God delivering His gifts ot His people in season and out of season. This place is about the forgiveness of sins in Jesus’ name, by water and Word, meal and the living voice of the Gospel. God creates faith in Jesus Christ here, has done so for generations, and will continue to do so long after Pastor Zill is gone. Our Lutheran forebearers put it this way:

1 So that we may obtain this faith, the ministry of teaching the Gospel and administering the Sacraments was instituted. 2 Through the Word and Sacraments, as through instruments, the Holy Spirit is given [John 20:22]. He works faith, when and where it pleases God [John 3:8], in those who hear the good news that God justifies those who believe that they are received into grace for Christ’s sake. 3 This happens not through our own merits, but for Christ’s sake. (AC V)

What this means in plain English, Pastor Zill, is that it’s not about you. It’s about Christ, and what He does for His people through sinners like you and me and all these vested Knights of the clerical table here. It means that St. Andrew’s will go on, because of Christ’s promise to continue to bless and visit His people.

And as for you, dear flock at St. Andrew’s, there is life after Pastor Zill. I know, crazy to think of, isn’t it? Losing a beloved pastor, well, it really stinks. Some of you probably feel betrayed. Most are grieving. A few of you may be rejoicing. Change does that to all of us. It is what this campus church goes through every spring and fall, only this time, it is your pastor who is leaving over the summer. What a strange thing!

But God has a remarkable way of giving His Church just what she needs at just the right time. In our text for this afternoon, we hear the story of how God provided a son, John, for Zechariah and Elizabeth.

God showed mercy on Elizabeth and gave her a son. God will provide a son for you, too, that he may be a father and an undershepherd for you. I, for one, am really looking forward to seeing what great things God has in store for you here.

One other thing is worth nothing. This is not a “move up” for Pastor Zill. I hope you know that. He is giving up his pulpit, font and altar because he believes so strongly in the ministry of the Gospel on our nation’s college and university campuses. He’s giving up the things he loves for do the most, so that many more may come into Christ’s kingdom. Frankly, I think he’s crazy. But you probably already knew that. He’s always looking on the bright side of life, even when they are more than a little crazy.

Zechariah confessed his faith in the God who keeps His promises. Hear the words again, for they are the heart of who we are as God’s people:

““Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he has visited and redeemed his people and has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David, as he spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets from of old, that we should be saved from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us; to show the mercy promised to our fathers and to remember his holy covenant, the oath that he swore to our father Abraham, to grant us that we, being delivered from the hand of our enemies, might serve him without fear, in holiness and righteousness before him all our days.” (Luke 1:68–75 ESV)

Beloved of God, let us rejoice in His great mercies in sending us His Son, in sending faithful pastors and undershepherds, and in knowing that God will always give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death. Your future is secure, whether it be in Laramie, or Alburquerque, or wherever the Lord may lead. God is faithful. He will do it.

Believe it for Jesus’ sake. Amen.

And now the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in true faith to life everlasting. Amen.

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