In an odd couple of paragraphs in a January 2015 article in The Lutheran, authored by the President of Lutheran Theological Seminary at Gettysburg, PA, we heard a story of what a bishop once asked of people as he installed their new pastor in their parish. "When will the day come that you should urge your new pastor to leave and take another call?"
According to the author, the congregation was shocked at the question on such an occasion. The bishop then answered his own question: "You should ask her or him to leave when you realize you go home after worship every Sunday and find yourself in agreement with everything the pastor said in the sermon..."
For my part, I assume that nearly every pastor and every person in the pew hopes for such a day when there is true unity of faith and unanimity on the living out of that faith within the struggles and challenges of the world. Apparently I was wrong. . .
According to the article, the point of the bishop's question was that the people should be continually stretched in new directions, that the point of the sermon is to not only to coax us to live outside our comfort zones but to thrive there. I get the point. But it worries me still.
The premise of the sermon is not to be prophetic, to ruffle feathers, to upset folks, but to preach faithfully God's Word, the whole counsel of the Law in all its accusatory sharpness and the Gospel in all its sweetness and comfort. Yes, if we do this, it will unsettle both preacher and hearer for that is the way the Word works. But this unsettling is not a matter of agreement or disagreement but the bite of the Word that calls the wayward to repentance, the sinner to confession, the complacent to witness and service, the suffering to patience and endurance, and the despairing to hope again.
Agreement and disagreement seems far too shallow a way of putting it. In addition, it would seem today that people and pastors look for too many reasons to leave and not enough to stick it out for the long haul. I hardly think that people should be appraised of the day when their pastor might be asked to leave -- ever -- but especially on the installation day.
Growth in faith and life in Christ is not a mere matter of agreement or disagreement but daily repentance and renewal -- which is unsettling enough. Fresh perspectives are needed now and again but the freshness is hardly ever new and different but what do we believe, confess, and teach. Indeed, the freshest perspective for the church, for the preacher, and for the hearer is always fidelity in a fast changing world. I am amazed at how new faithfulness and orthodoxy is -- in confession as well as in practice. If we endeavor to be faithful and orthodox in and out of the pulpit, the Lord will do the rest -- whether we agree with that or not.