Sermon preached for St. Timothy, Pastor and Confessor, 24 January 2010.
Pastors are gifts from God. You might think me arrogant for saying that since I am a Pastor. It is sort of like a nurse saying nurses are gifts from God or a teacher saying the same thing – but wait, haven’t we all received nursing care to bind up and heal our wounds or found the wonder of learning through the guidance of a good teacher? They are gifts of God for what they do for us. Well so are Pastors. I say this not of me but of the work that God works through me and all those set apart by the laying on of hands, prayer, and the Word of God. God gave gifts to His Church, says St. Paul in Ephesians, and among them is the gift of Pastors. Pastors are gifts from God because of what God does through them.
I do not say this to honor me or elevate me. In fact, it is humbling to say this. The Office of Pastor is a gift of God to His Church. Humble and unworthy men are set apart by God through the Church for this great office. The honor flows not from the man to the office but from the office to the man. Sometimes Pastors forget that but we dare not.
Today we think of a Pastor named Timothy of whom St. Paul reminds of the good confession of faith he made within the assembly. But we could just as easily point to Ezra who brought the Torah, or the chief Pastor of the Church, Jesus, who stood in the synagogue and proclaimed the Word of the Lord. Pastors are gifts of God to His Church who serve Him by the proclamation the Word of God and by the service of His Sacraments to His people.
The Pastoral Office was not invented by the Church but is Christ’s institution and His gift to the Church. No Pastor acts on His own but in the person of Christ through the means of grace. No congregation is free to reject the office. Pastors and congregations work do not compete but work together – in different fields and venues, with different calls and services, but in partnership, heeding and fulfilling Christ’s mission. The Pastor brings Christ to the congregation and they bring Christ to the world.
Although we talk a lot about congregations calling Pastors, God calls Pastors. It is a divine call which the Church confirms. The Church discerns God’s calling and prayerfully confirms or denies this divine call. This is not some fine distinction but essential to the office. Pastors serve congregations but they are ultimately accountable to God. That is a statement which ought to stir up some fear in the hearts of those who would be Pastors – I know it does me. The ancient custom of bringing the casket into the church feet first so that the Christian may rise up to meet Christ is reversed for Pastors. They are brought in head first for they must first account for their stewardship of the ministry of Word and Sacrament to God’s people.
We often talk of ministry in muddy ways as if it were merely something we want to do for God or something we like doing for God. Ministry with a capital “M” is the Ministry – the ministry of the means of grace. Our Lutheran Confessions define the Ministry as God working His work of grace and mercy, Law and Gospel, through the means of grace – the Word and the Sacraments. These are not the Pastor’s tools like a carpenters. These are the means through which God is present among us to call, gather, enlighten and sanctify His Church. The Gospel is not what you build with the Word and Sacraments, they are the Gospel.
The authority of this office, indeed its power, is the Word of God. It is not constitution or by-law that give the Pastoral Office its authority but the Word preached and taught. In Ephesians 4, Paul says “Pastors and teachers” but this is not the “and” that connects to different things; it is the “and” that connects two facets of the very same Office. Preaching and teaching are not essentially different things but the same. Preaching and teaching are the arenas in which the authority of the Word is brought to God’s people so that it may accomplish God’s purpose and not return empty to Him.
The domain of the Office is the Word of God. Pastors do a ton of things that have little to do with God’s Word and I suppose that is not so bad unless it gives the Pastor and his people the idea that the Word is not the central arena in which He works. The place or arena for the Pastor’s service is Word.
But not only the Word in the sense of the written Word. It is equally the visible Word of the water of baptism, the oral Word in the voice of absolution, and the visible Word of bread and wine that is Christ’s Body and Blood. The sacraments are not like add ons to the Office of the Ministry or to the Church but part and parcel of the Office and of the life of the Church. Fingers and lungs are both members of the body but you can get along without fingers. You cannot get along without a heart and lungs. The Word proclaimed and visible in the Sacraments are the heart and lungs of the Church. These are the essential focus and purpose of the Pastor’s Ministry.
The mark of a Pastor’s success is usually seen in nickels and noses – how much money comes in the plate and how many people sit in the pews. Sadly, too many Pastors have been driven by this gauge of success to the point that they will do just about anything to improve the numbers. But the mark of a Pastor’s success is ultimately His faithfulness to God’s Word. Earthly esteem and respect are nice but some of the greatest Pastors of the Church were persecuted for the sake of the Gospel and lived a life filled with trouble because they were faithful to God’s calling. They were great because they were faithful to God’s Word. The earthly success may or may not tally up numbers of nickels and noses but God’s barometer of success is faithfulness.
I stand before you today because of the faithful Pastors who washed me in the water of my baptism, who absolved and still absolve me of my sin, who catechized me in the Word and in the faith and still teach me, who fed me the Body and Blood of Christ so that I might feed others the heavenly food of His Holy Supper. But more than this, they raised up the Pastoral Ministry as a noble office and they honored Christian service as the highest of callings. So in humility and weakness I stand before you today to do for you, what these Pastors did for me... preach, teach, and administer the Sacraments...
But I must beg of you to do a couple of things. First, pray for me and for my faithfulness to God’s Word and in this Office committed to my in my ordination. Second, hear me with the informed and discerning ear of those who know God’s Word and can recognize when the Gospel is spoken truly and faithfully... and when it is not. Third, heed the voice of Christ that speaks through the Word and Sacraments – not as obedience rendered to me but as the response of faith to the voice of God and His sacraments.
And one more thing. I must beg of you to honor the Office of Pastor among you – not for my benefit but for those young boys and men who sit among us, whom God may and will call to serve in this Office. Honor the Office of Pastor and encourage these boys and men to aspire to this Office, to listen for the voice of God calling and to submit to the wisdom of the Church in confirming that call. Honor the Office of Pastor not for me but for those whom God raise up and work through when this generation is gone and still there are people who need to hear the Gospel proclaimed, who need to be taught the faith, who need the cleansing touch of baptismal water, who need to hear the consoling voice of absolution, and who need to receive the Body and Blood of Christ to nourish them in grace in both body and soul... Honor the Office and encourage those who aspire to it and there will always be faithful Pastors through whom God works in His Church.
Pastors are gifts of God to His Church... not because they are special or wonderful but because the Lord works through them to bring to You the Jesus who is present with His grace and mercy in His Word and Sacraments and thus equip you to fulfill your baptismal vocation to bring this Christ to the world. Amen.