Irwin Enke

11 Pentecost Proper A12
Rev. D. K. Schroeder
Matthew 13:31-33; 44-52 Sermon
July 27, 2008

Hymns (from the Service Book and Hymnal):
375 "My Faith Looks Up To Thee"
478 "He Leadeth Me"
326 "I Love To Tell The Story"
195 "On Our Way Rejoicing"


TEXT (vs. 51-52): [Jesus asked his disciples] "'have you understood all these things?' ‘Yes,' they replied. He said to them, ‘Therefore every teacher of the law who has been instructed about the kingdom of heaven is like the owner of a house who brings out of his storeroom new treasures as well as old.'"

When I was growing up in Emerson, Nebraska, we had a very special hardware store in town by the name of B and E Hardware. The store was operated by an older gentleman by the name of Irwin Enke. His partner Bill Bonderson did the plumbing and electrical work, fixed mowers, windows, screens, and the stuff in the back. But Irwin was the brains in the outfit. He ran the store and Bill's wife Tillie worked for him. The store was very special because I don't think I've ever seen anything like it anyplace else.

This was one of those long narrow stores with wooden floors that creaked when you walked on them. Even though there was a bell on the door, it wasn't necessary because you could hear somebody coming in even if you were way in the back of the store.

Irwin Enke had an office situated toward the back. It was this square sort of cubicle next to the rickety old elevator. The skylight in the roof illuminated Irwin's huge roll top desk piled high with papers and various catalogues and books; and perched someplace amidst all of the papers was an old black telephone.

Irwin sat on an old wooden swivel chair at that desk. There were various file cabinets in there too; and beside the desk was another table with a big adding machine with a handle you'd pull down to make it operate. Amidst all of this there was an old manual typewriter as well.

If you think Irwin's office was something, you should have seen the store. It was jam-packed full of almost everything imaginable. From one end to the other, he had things ranging from the most modern and up-to-date, to things that were hard to find and even obsolete. And under the store was a full basement which was just as full as the upstairs was.

Irwin Enke was probably one of the most gifted businessmen around. He loved people, he knew everybody, and he was an all-around nice guy. He was an older gentleman, with a predominant pear shape. He was dressed neat but casual and he always wore braces to keep his pants up. He wore plastic and wire glasses and he had a full head of wavy silver hair. He always had a twinkle in his eye and an infectious smile. And every time someone would finish a transaction with him, he would say his famous catch phrase, "Good-bye and please hurry back."

The most impressive thing about Irwin Enke, was that he knew exactly what he had, and he knew exactly where it was. People would phone him looking for stuff, and he would go down into the basement and find it, and have it ready for them when they came in. And if you wanted something he didn't have on hand, he could get it in a matter of a few days. When people did business with Irwin Enke, they didn't need to go anyplace else. And his prices were always fair and reasonable too. He had a very stable clientele.

This morning as we look at our Gospel lesson, we are bringing to a close our focus upon Matthew chapter 13. Just to recap a bit from last week, we have had seven parables presented by Jesus both to a crowd of people, and later in a private session with his disciples in a house. Two weeks ago, we began with the parable of the sower. Then last week we focused upon the parable of the weeds amongst the wheat.

Today however we have a total of five parables in our Gospel reading, namely: The parable of the mustard seed, the parable of the yeast, the parable of the hidden treasure, the parable of the pearl of great price, and the parable of the fish in the net.

I'll deal with most of these at least a little bit; but today I'm focusing on the final two verses of the Gospel lesson, which are Jesus' final words to the disciples following all of these parables. He asks the disciples if they understood what he had told them. They indicated that they did indeed understand. Then in verse 52 Jesus says: "...Therefore every teacher of the law who has been instructed about the kingdom of heaven is like the owner of a house who brings out of his storeroom new treasures as well as old."

This isn't really a parable; it's more of a simple metaphor Jesus is using. In effect, he's describing the actual work of the public ministry. In one simple sentence, he describes what faithful pastors spend their entire ministry doing.

Think about my friend Irwin Enke again. When someone came into his store, he knew his inventory so well that he could pull both new and old treasures from his stock. By doing this, he could provide the people with exactly what they needed. He had amassed such a trove of things, and he knew people so well, that he could be the "go-to" man in just about every situation.

In our text today, Jesus specifically addresses his disciples, and makes direct reference to people who have been theologically trained. He calls them "teachers of the law who have been instructed about the kingdom of heaven."

Theological training amongst pastors, at least in our circles is no overnight process. It takes a four year college degree, plus four years in the graduate school we call seminary-three years of classroom work, and a year of vicarage or internship. The seminary courses have these funny sounding names too, like: homiletics, dogmatics, isagogics, exegesis, apologetics, symbolics, liturgics, etc. etc. What this boils down to, is that future pastors are being instructed about the kingdom of heaven so we can function in the office of the public ministry.

It's a humbling experience really. A person walks through the door of the seminary thinking he knows everything, and it doesn't take too long before he realizes how much he doesn't know.

And when it is all said and done, and the pastor is ready to go to his first call in his first congregation, his head is about as jam-packed full as Irwin Enke's hardware store. There's a whole lot of stuff swimming around in a young pastor's brain; now what's he supposed to do with it?

Let's look at what he's NOT supposed to do. A pastor cannot use his education to be arrogant or to act superior to those around him. Jesus himself certainly didn't do this. Nor can a pastor just open his mouth and regurgitate all of this information he has swimming around in his head. That wouldn't do people a whole lot of good.

Let's look at the example of the hardware store again. If you were to go into the hardware store, you could walk around and look at stuff. If you're familiar with the store, you can probably find many things you need on your own. However if you're seeking some special item, you could wander around for days by yourself amongst the stuff in that store and not find it. But if you go and talk to Irwin Enke, he can pull from his old and new treasures, and give you exactly what you need.

Jesus is telling us in our text for today that those who are theologically trained are to be like Irwin Enke's of the Bible, so-to-speak. A pastor needs to be able to apply the age-old truths of God's Word in today's society. A pastor needs to not only preach the text, but also apply it. If a person can't apply that Biblical truth to themselves in their own lives, then it doesn't do them much good at all.

Why is all this so important? If we consider all of the parables in Matthew 13, Jesus makes it clear that God wants all the people of the earth to be part of his kingdom. The Word has power to convert, to nourish, and to sustain. The faith in a person's heart, even though it may be as small as a mustard seed, is still a saving faith and therefore very precious indeed.

Two of the parables in today's Gospel lesson bring home the importance of the work of the ministry in a very big way. These two parables are the hidden treasure in the field, and the pearl of great price. What does the hidden treasure and the pearl represent?

They represent you and me, members of the human race. Even though we are sinners, even though we have transgressed God's law in many ways, even though we've tried to completely shut him out of our lives, yet he still loves us. He considers our souls as valuable treasures.

In both instances, the man who discovers the treasure and the pearl goes and gives up everything he has in order to obtain them. That's exactly what Jesus has done for us.

Jesus gave up everything to buy us. He came to this earth and set aside his divine glory. He lived the life we could not, and died the sinner's death in our place. He even separated himself from his heavenly Father and gave up his own life. He gave everything to buy us from sin, death, and the devil. He did this because he loves us.

And then he gives us faith. He gives us the faith to accept Jesus as our Saviour. He gives us the faith so that we are willing to make Jesus the Lord of our lives. He gives us the faith so that through it we will be permanent residents of heaven for all eternity.

That faith may be as small as a mustard seed. That faith may be as insignificant as a few grains of yeast. But a faith that is nourished and continually fed will grow like that mustard shrub from that tiny seed, or increase in abundance like the yeast does throughout the whole batch of dough.

This morning, I used the example of Irwin Enke the hardware man to illustrate what it means to pull things from old treasures and new treasures in order to give the people what they need. That's what made him a successful businessman. That's what kept people coming back to him.

So what happened to Irwin Enke? Somewhere in the mid 1960's, he rented the Legion Hall across the street from his store where he set up rows and rows of tables. He then cleaned out the basement of his store, and he had one of the biggest garage sales I've ever seen. There were things like pins for old horse buggy curtains, brake rod anti-rattlers for Model T Fords, parts for kerosene lamps, pant leg clips to keep trouser legs from getting caught in bicycle chains, and all sorts of treasures. And not too many years later, Irwin Enke retired and sold his business. He died in 1986 at the age of 86. Even though the store remained, it just wasn't the same.

Thankfully that's not the way God operates. He never will retire, and the storehouse of his truth will always be open. Even though those truths are old and ancient, they are very much relevant and current with today's world. And when we continually draw upon the treasures of what God has provided us, we will have exactly what we need.

Therefore we can say with the hymn writer Katherine Hankey (who incidentally is a shirt-tail relative of mine): "And when in scenes of glory, I sing the new, new song; ‘twill be the old, old story, that I have loved so long."

Dorothy Irwin Catherine Enke

With special thanks to Catherine Enke Turcer for the photographs.