Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Sermon for first mid-week Lent service - Table of Duties: Pastors and Hearers

                                                                                    Mid-Lent 1
                                                                                    Table of Duties: Pastors                                                                                     and Hearers

            I have no doubt that James Peterson is experiencing right now, the same thing I did during my time at the seminary.  The seminary is not like any other place.  You have at the seminary a dense concentration of people who are very serious about the Christian faith.  These are all people who have dedicated their lives to service in Christ’s Church.  It is hard not to be encouraged by the presence of so many committed Christians. 
            And they are there to study God’s Word – to learn about the theology derived from it and practiced in the Church.  This is done in a fashion that goes beyond anything they have experienced before.  The combination of the spiritual meaning of the content and the thrill of discovery as you learn new things about the faith is hard to describe.
            But sometimes, that discovery comes in unexpected places.  That was certainly the case for me when it came to the Small Catechism.  When I arrived at the seminary I learned that Small Catechism was not really what I thought it was. I would have identified the Small Catechism as being this book that I had used in Confirmation class.  This is the copy I used – a two hundred page volume. 
            However, I soon learned that the book only contained the Small Catechism.  The vast majority of it was in fact an explanation of the Small Catechism that had been provided by the synod.  The Small Catechism itself is in fact … small.  You can print it in little pamphlet.
            I also learned that while the Small Catechism was smaller than I thought, it turned out that it was also bigger than I recognized.   I had always been taught to speak about the “six chief parts.”  But it turned out that Martin Luther had included two other parts that I had never really heard about. The first was the Daily Prayer section which describes prayer at the beginning and ending of the day, and also before and after a meal.  And the second was the Table of Duties.  For Luther, these two parts were just as much part of the Small Catechism as the prior six parts. They described how the faith, that created and nourished by the first six parts, prays and lives.
            This is the first of our mid-week Lent services.  Lent is about repentance as we reflect on why our Lord died on the cross for us. But Lent is also about catechesis, because Lent is a baptismal season.  Lent moves towards the Vigil of Easter when catechumens are baptized and we remember our own baptism.  Our Lord commanded us to make disciples by baptizing and teaching. These two always go hand in hand. Where there is baptism, there is teaching. And where there is remembrance of baptism, there is continued teaching.
            That is why the Lutheran church has historically used Lent as a season when preaching focuses on catechesis.  This year we are returning to this theme.  And we are going to focus on this most practical part of the Small Catechism – the Table of Duties. In this list of Bible passages, we find a description of how we live out our faith in Jesus Christ.  In his writings Martin Luther endlessly returns to the theme of faith in Christ and love for our neighbor.  It is faith alone, in Christ alone, that saves.  But where this Spirit worked gift is present, there will flow forth love for our neighbor.  Martin Luther pointed out that God doesn’t need your love.  Instead, your neighbor does, and God wants to use you as the means by which he cares for those around you.
            To do this, God has created various vocations, or callings.  He instituted stations in life that we occupy, and God uses us in these positions to care for others.  The Table of Duties is divided up according to these holy orders and positions. And so tonight we consider the first pair, the verse that deal with “T Bishops, Pastors and Preachers” and “What the Hearers Owe Their Pastors.”
            We were reminded this past Sunday that when there is no pastor, Christ’s gifts don’t get delivered as they normally are.  Because there was no pastor, you did not hear Christ speak his forgiveness in the direct and unique form of Holy Absolution.  You did not hear Christ’s Words of Institution in the Sacrament of the Altar and did not receive his body and blood. And while I am very grateful to Frank Glaub for reading my sermon, we of course realize that if there is no pastor then no sermon gets written.
            None of the Means of Grace happen on their own. And so God has not only provided the Means of Grace, he has also provided the means by which the Means of Grace are given to his people.  He has instituted the Office of the Holy Ministry.  This is the vocation into which pastors are called.  It is God’s Office.  No one can take the Office for himself.  Instead, God must call a man through the work of His Church.  And God tells us the requirements for the office in 1 Timothy 3: “The overseer must be above reproach, the husband of but one wife, temperate, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not given to drunkenness, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. He must manage his own family well and see that his children obey him with proper respect.”
            As one who acts in the stead and place of Jesus Christ, the pastor is a man.  A candidate for this office must be someone who reflects Christ in the way he lives.  No Christian is perfect.  No pastor is perfect.  All live by the forgiveness that Jesus Christ won by his death and resurrection.  Yet as those who shepherd Christ’s flock, we do hold pastors to a higher standard. That is why Paul cautions in the second verse that, “He must not be a recent convert, or he may become conceited and fall under the same judgment as the devil.”  Instead pastors are to be examples to the church, and so we call those who have lived in the church for some time.
            The pastor in Office of the Holy Ministry attends to the work of the Gospel.  This is a work that takes place in the world.  But the pastor must also be able to live in the world, and so in the first three verses under “What the Hearers Owe Their Pastors” we learn that hearers provide for a pastor.  Paul says in 1 Corinthians 9, “The Lord has commanded that those who preach the Gospel should receive their living from the Gospel.”  He says in Galatians 6, “Anyone who receives instruction in the word must share all good things with his instructor. Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked.  A man reaps what he sows.”
            Pastors and their wives are tempted to want more than daily bread. They covet what others have … even the things of congregation members.  They can complain that they don’t receive more, when God is in fact already providing all he has promised.  And at the same time congregation members can look to get pastoral care “on the cheap.”  They can be stingy as they deal with a pastor who they know has no real option except to take what they give. For this, both pastors and congregation members must repent.  And where a congregation faithfully provides for her pastor, such as here at Good Shepherd, one can only give thanks that by God’s grace the means are available and hearts are moved by the Holy Spirit to act in faith.
            Paul makes it clear that the pastor is not there to speak his own ideas or opinions. Instead he instructs in Titus 1 that, “He must hold firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been taught, so that he can encourage others by sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it.”  He must teach what is true and correct what it false.  Yet this discernment goes beyond simple doctrinal statements.  It takes in how the faith is confessed - or denied – by the way we live.
            Here it is crucial that we remember again whose Office of the Ministry it is – it is God’s.  And we need to remember how the pastor came to serve in that place.  He did not put himself there.  Instead God did, working through his Church. That is why Paul told the pastors gathered at Miletus: “Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood.”  For the same reason Peter called the members of a congregation those who have been “allotted” to the pastor.
            Because of this Paul wrote in 1 Thessalonians 5: “We ask you brothers, respect those who work hard among you, who are over you in the Lord and who admonish you.  Hold them in the highest regard in love because of their work.  Live in peace with each other.”  Because of this the writer to the Hebrews wrote: “Obey your leaders and submit to their authority. They keep watch over you as men who must give an account.  Obey them so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no advantage to you.”
            As we live in a world that is becoming more and more like the first century world of the New Testament a pressing challenge faces both pastors and congregation members.  Will pastors be willing to speak the truth?  Will they say that Christ alone is the way to salvation? Will they say that sex outside of marriage is sin, and refuse to marry couples that live together? Will they say that homosexuality is sin, and that a man or woman cannot deny the bodily creation God has given by “deciding” that they are opposite sex?  And for congregation members, will they be willing to hear, believe and accept these things … even when it pertains to their own son, daughter or family member?     
            This is the great challenge that faces pastors and hearers.  But we do not face this by our own powers.  Instead, we face these things secure in the knowledge that Christ who was crucified on Good Friday, rose on Easter.  The risen Lord through his Spirit enables us to live in the confidence of his resurrection.  He causes us to be different from the world, because he has called us out of the world.  He gives us eyes to recognize his Church – pastors and people; shepherds and sheep – as the place where his forgiveness reigns and gives life that will never end.


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