Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Pssssst. There's Jesus!

Many years ago while having a struggle with a Postmaster who did not like our bulk mailing practices, I stood at the counter of the Post Office and wanted to scream.  A member of the Church walked in with her 3 year old.  The little girl kept smiling at me while hiding behind her mommy.  She pulled and pulled at her until the mother bent down to listen to what the three year old had to say.  "Pssssst... There's Jesus!" she said.  And then Mom said it out loud so that both the Postmaster and I could hear what she said.  The Postmaster looked at me with a scowl on his face.  "Pretty close," I said with a grin.

The point?  The little girl had it right.  The Pastor represents Christ to the people.  She identified me with Jesus and that is the whole point of the Office of the Ministry.  It is not that the Pastor is Jesus incarnate but that the ministry of the Pastor is Jesus' ministry and not his.  It is not Larry Peters who forgives their sins on Sunday morning but Jesus speaking through the voice of Larry Peters.  It is not Larry Peters' opinions that people come to hear from the pulpit but the Word of Christ proclaimed in all its truth and purity.  It is not Larry Peters' table to set or decide who should or should not be there but Christ's table which He sets in the presence of our enemies, through which He feeds us on His own precious Body and Blood, and He has determined those who are welcomed to this Table and admitted to this Sacrament (which the Pastor is bound to follow within the boundaries of human frailty).

No one sees the Pastor as Jesus in the same way as He was seen in the manger or on the cross, but the whole point of the Pastoral Ministry is to bring Jesus to His people through Word and Sacrament, the means of grace.  The sooner Pastors get this, the better Pastors they are.  It is not their agenda but Christ's, not their goals but Christ's, not their personality, but the person of Christ who works through the Pastor, complete with all his failings and frailty, sin and unworthiness.

Lest we miss the rest of the point, this also applies to the Christian in the world.  Luther called Christians "Little Christs" whom the Father has placed in their homes, neighborhoods, communities, workplaces, etc. to represent Him to those around them -- again, not by their own righteousness but through the righteousness of Christ worn in baptism, where they were set apart for this priesthood shared by all baptized believers. 

Pastors do not represent Christ because of their personal righteousness or even faith, but by their faithfulness to Christ's Word and Sacraments.  The efficacy of the Word and Sacraments is not determined by the holiness of the office bearer but by the Word proclaimed by the unworthy and unholy man whom Christ has chosen to work through to do His bidding.  The only holiness and righteousness the Pastor can boast about is the very same righteousness and holiness each Christ wears by baptism and faith.

In the same way the baptized do not represent their own holiness or righteousness or even faith to the world.  No, they represent Christ to the world through the Word spoken and acted out in their daily lives -- which is one reason why forgiveness is such an important treasure in the Church (both the absolution that takes place in Church (public and private) and the absolution that takes place in the home between husband and wife, parent and child --- and by extension into the neighborhood and community and workplace, etc.

That little girl has to be about 25 years old now... but what she said so long ago is still true.  Now some will probably read more into this than I am saying and get their dander up about Pastors who believe they are Jesus (and not in the sense that I have written about above).  I do not say this to justify or promote the kind of clerical arrogance in which Pastors rule instead of serve.  Just the opposite, the only authority a Pastor has is the authority Christ has given him through the Church's election, laying on of hands, and prayer -- that is the authority of the Word and Sacrament, the exercise of which is to be in Christ's name and according to Christ's prescriptions.  Where Pastor and people understand this, God is glorified, the Church grows and fulfills her purpose, sinners glimpse Christ, and the Spirit calls them to faith....


Janis Williams said...

Fr. Peters,

Welcome back!

Thanks be to God that there are still ministers who know the place of their office. Too many (dare I say most?) focus their congregation not on our Risen Lord, but on themselves with Jesus as the route to get what they want. Even worse, many don't even believe in the Christ they are supposed to be representing in their pulpit.

May God increase your tribe.

Pr. Kurt Hagen said...