Sunday, July 24, 2011

Sermon - Matthew 13:44-51 - Pentecost 6

Matthew 13:44-51
Pentecost 6
July 24th, 2011
“A Keeper”

Growing up in Baltimore, near the Chesapeake Bay, we would on occasion go “crabbing”. There are various ways to catch Maryland Blue Crabs, but one way is in basket-trap. You bait it, and then you come back later and pull it up.

But you can't just keep whatever you find in that crab-pot. Sometimes you have to throw the females back, during a certain season of the year. And for the males, there's a minimum size of 5 inches from point to point. I'm sure when you go fishing for other kinds of fish, similar rules apply. But when you get that one that meets the requirements, you can consider your fishing or crabbing excursion a success. It's a keeper!

We continue with a series of Jesus' Parables from Matthew 13. Today we have several shorter parables. The Hidden Treasure, the Pearl, the Parable of the Net, and the New Treasures and Old. In all of these, the parable hinges on the idea of a “keeper” - that is, what is so valuable that it is kept – sometimes at great cost.

In the first two parables, which are very similar, a man goes to any possible lengths to obtain that which is so valuable to him. A treasure in the field, or a pearl of great worth. And you can imagine that the man knew to take care of his newly purchased property. It was his keeper.

In the parable of the fish in the net, the good fish are the keepers, and the others are thrown back. Again something of value is found, identified, and kept.

Finally the man who brings out his new and old treasures – he has accumulated these keepers over the years. He wants to show how much he has, how valuable it is. He sets them out on display, for others to enjoy.

What is Jesus getting at here? What are we supposed to take away from these parables about the “keepers”?

One wrong direction often taken here is when the preacher decides that the kingdom of heaven is the great treasure in the story. That we should do whatever it takes to get Jesus, and keep him. That we should sell our possessions, and everything of value, and that our faith is what is really most important. So, come on you people, make God first in your life!

But that doesn't really work. First of all it doesn't work because we can't and don't do it. But more importantly, that's all law talk. And Jesus is getting at so much more.

It's true. We SHOULD put God first in our lives, and we don't. It's true, we do take our faith for granted. We do fail to treasure the treasure that is his forgiveness, life and salvation. We let other things distract us, and we're very good at rationalizing it all away. Yes, we're sinners. Poor and miserable. If we only acted like the people God has made us in baptism. If we'd only live up to that name that has been placed on us. If we could only be like Jesus. But we can't. Which is why we need him.

The real point of these parables, like all of Scripture, is not what you do or should do (even though you fail to do it). The real point is what Jesus Christ does, and does for you.

Jesus finds you. He's the main character here, the one who finds and keeps the thing of value. Just like the shepherd goes looking for the lost sheep. Just like the woman sweeps her house looking for the lost coin. He takes the initiative in finding you. You don't find Jesus. He isn't lost, you are. He seeks you out, finds you, and claims you, not the other way around.

And you are the thing of value to him. No, you have no value in and of yourself. If you look in the mirror, you'll see your sins. You don't see a treasure, you see a pile of dirt. You don't see a pearl, you see something an oyster spat up. But Jesus sees the real value. Not the value intrinsic to you in your sin, but the value he imparts. You are worth everything to him.

So much so, that he “sold all that he had”. Yes, he gave up his heavenly throne. Yes, he gave up earthly pleasures and luxuries, and lived a poor, humble life. And most importantly, he gave up his life. He shed his blood, to purchase and win you from sin, death, and hell. So that you may be his own, and live under him in his kingdom, in perfect righteousness, innocence and blessedness, forever.

You might be wondering, as you read your bulletin today, what that strange picture is next to the Gospel reading. And what is it doing there? I don't know the artist or exactly what he was thinking, but it was the suggested graphic for this reading, and I think I know why. That's a coffin. It's a coffin that has been buried in the field. Presumably there's a body inside it. Maybe it even stinks. But Jesus sees a stinky corpse, like you, and he sees one bought and paid for by his blood. And he doesn't leave you to the grave. He sells everything he has to get you – and to keep you – and to raise you to life and to eternal life. Such is the strangeness of the kingdom of God. So is his wonderful blessing.

And these last two parables – the fish in the net – much like the parable of the weeds from last week. Here we see, again, God separates the keepers from the wicked – and the wicked are cast away. It's another reminder of the coming judgment, and that in that judgment we are not cast away.

And finally, the scribe who is trained, that is, the one who becomes a disciple. He brings out his treasures, new and old. The believer in Christ treasures what Christ has done. Even as Christ has treasured us, loved us, by sacrificing all. Setting out the treasures happens here in the Divine Service, as we read his word, as we receive his sacrament, as we preach and hear the sermon, as sins are forgiven, and hymns and prayers respond. It happens when we live our lives in repentance and faith, and confess in word and action the love he has already shown us.

He has found you and he values you. He treasures you, and gave himself, his all, for you. And he will always keep you. Finders keepers – in Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

He Must Be... Hospitable

1 Timothy 3:2, in the midst of a long list of qualifications for the office of overseer (i.e., bishop, i.e. pastor), mentions that he must be "hospitable". So says the English translation.

In the course of a conversation with my lovely wife, we got to talking about what exactly this means for a pastor and pastor's wife. Perhaps it was my foggy recollection of what life was like in the home of Martin Luther, in which his wife Katie was often frustrated by Martin's liberal hospitality - and on her fell the burden to feed the frequent guests at their table. For instance, there's this passage from the historical fiction novel, "Kitty, My Rib":
Even the mealtime offered no opportunity for them to talk to each other because the table was always surrounded by students and visitors. The discussions at mealtime were nearly always of a theological nature, with Luther talking and the students, wide-eyed, hanging on his every word.

Katherine finally concluded that parsonage life was not conducive to a normal, happy family life. A parsonage couple had to work harder than other married people to remain happy and be close to each other.

Luther would even pawn wedding gifts to give money to the beggars at his door. Today, I doubt many would do the same. Well, my wife would kill me. And rightly so, for such a picture of life in the pastor's home, if accurate, certainly doesn't seem balanced. After all, a pastor has a vocation to be a husband and father as well. "Kitty, My Rib" makes it seem like Dr. Luther got the balance wrong here.

Nevertheless, times do change. Much of what was expected of a pastor then and there is different than here and now. But that doesn't change the words of Holy Scripture. A pastor is to be hospitable. So, Lutherans, "what does this mean?"

The Greek word from 1 Timothy 3, "Philo-nemos" literally means, "lover of strangers". Forms of it are also used in Titus 1:8 (a parallel passage to this one) and Romans 12:13 "contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality" (more on this later).

Jesus emphasizes this in Matthew 25 (the Sheep and the Goats), "I was a stranger and you welcomed me". Likewise Abraham showed hospitality to the strangers who visited him. There are other Old Testament examples.

The Lutheran Study Bible offers the following note on the 1 Timothy passage:
"hospitable - Not one who merely likes to entertain, but, in the first century, one who would take in Christian strangers who were traveling or fleeing from persecution".

Professor Buls collects some excellent commentary on "hospitality":
"Entertain strangers" literally means "love of strangers." The world is not inclined to love a stranger. In fact in many cases it is not inclined to love the one who is well known.

Lenski: Public hotels and lodging places were unknown at this time.

Guthrie: In the environment of the early church it was essential, since alternative facilities for travellers were such that Christians would not choose to make use of them. Wayfarer's hostels, where they existed, were notorious for immorality.

Kretzmann: The hospitality of the early Christians was commented upon favorably even by heathen writers.

Bruce: In the New Testament hospitality is incumbent on all Christians, and Christian leaders in particular must be 'given to hospitality, 1 Timothy 3:2, Titus 1:8.

Christians should open their homes to each other. This was a common practice in the early days of the Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod. Pastors, with their whole families, would often stop at each other's houses and even spend the night or two with each other. In those days people would often spend Sunday afternoons visiting each other. Modern living has curtailed much of earlier hospitality.

The second part of verse 2 explains the first part. That is the purpose of the word "for."

Lenski: In Genesis 18:3 Abraham, and in Genesis 19:2, Lot actually entertained angels unawares.

Bruce: The incidents of Gideon, Judges 6:11ff, and Monoah, Judges 13:3ff, and Tobit, Tobit 3:17ff; 5:4ff, at a later date, may also have been in our author's mind.

There are two important points in this verse: kindness to strangers and the blessing which God may have in store for us.

Lenski: It is sufficient to say that, as some were unexpectedly blessed by receiving strangers, so we, too, may be thus blessed. Matthew 25:38, 40.

Bengel: An unknown guest is often more worthy than he appears, and has angels as attendants, although they are unseen. Matthew 25:40, 45.

Love for strangers is not limited to welcoming people into our houses. Love for strangers can be exercised just about any place.

So it seems clear that our modern American connotation of "hospitality", that we would welcome people into our home, doesn't quite get at the heart of it.

Romans 12:13 seems to be the key. Here we have a "this and that" sort of phrase, a polarity - between the "needs of the saints" and "seek to show hospitality". In other words, help those you know, and those you don't. Love the congregation as well as the stranger.

That's hospitality, in the biblical sense. It's not about the people you know, it's about the people you don't. It's just another application of the second greatest commandment, "Love your neighbor as yourself". Only this time it is the neighbor you've just met. The stranger.

Sometimes this might mean opening your home for them to stay. Maybe even feeding or clothing them. But neither is the Christian a doormat, to be taken advantage of by those whose needs aren't real (see 2 Thessalonians 3:10). Today there are many and various ways of "helping the stranger" that do not entail turning one's home into a bed and breakfast. Hospitality might not even have anything to do with your home - for "loving the stranger" can be done out and about in various places we go.

And yet, with all that said, we will still fail. The daunting list of qualifications for a pastor are just as much accusatory as the pointing finger of the Ten Commandments are to every sinner. Here too, the pastor and his family have an opportunity to model Christian living by repentance.

We pray the Lord to forgive our lack of love for strangers, and by His Spirit work to make us more like Christ. That our eyes would be opened to the true needs of others, and how we can serve them.

For Jesus Christ has done us the greatest service, and offers us the ultimate welcome - strangers that we were, separated from him by our sin. In Jesus we go from, "depart from me I never knew you" to "enter into your rest, those who are blessed by my Father". By his cross and resurrection we go from being outsiders, aliens and even enemies - to dearly beloved children of God.

So Lord, help us to love our neighbors - the ones we know, and the ones we don't. Help us, pastors and people, to be hospitable - to love the stranger.

Do I still think it's a good idea for a pastor and his family to be "welcoming"? Yes. Does that mean we are like Luther, with an open house every night? No.
A pastor who is standoffish and inaccessible doesn't serve his sheep as well as he could. But a pastor who is a husband and father must see to his family's needs as well. For everything there is a season, a time, and a purpose under heaven.

Common sense, experience, and your wife's elbow in your ribs (apologies to Kitty) will go a long way to finding the right balance.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Sermon - Matthew 13:24-30,36-43 - Pentecost 5

Matthew 13:24-30,36-43
Pentecost 5
July 17th, 2011

We're in the green season of the church, and the parables are showing it. Last week we heard the parable of the sower – about how the Word of God is spread to all sorts of different “ground”, and received or not received by various people. Some reject, some believe and then fall away, and some receive it and produce a great harvest. By the grace of God alone we count ourselves as part of that harvest, and pray the seed we spread will find more good soil.

Today another agricultural parable about seeds – and this time the point is different. This time more attention is given to the weeds. Again, Jesus decodes the parable for us, he tells us who all the elements represent. And the parable helps to explain to us why things are the way they are in his kingdom. And the parable gives us hope that Christ will sort it out in the end. So let's look at it more closely...

Why so many weeds? I often wonder that when mowing my lawn. I understand the dandelion is an invasive species that came over from Europe – so maybe we can blame it on them. Or maybe I can look into a neighbor's yard and see the creeping charlie creeping over to mine. But what if someone was sneaking into my yard and actually, purposefully, planting them there at night? That's the ridiculous scenario Jesus paints in his parable. It's laughable, but it's true. It's not just an accident of nature that there are weeds in my field. There's an enemy. And he's out to make my life miserable.

Your life is the same. There is someone out to get you. Someone who doesn't like that you belong to Christ. Someone who can't have you, so wants to make your life bitter and painful. Oh he would uproot you and choke away your faith if he could. His misery loves company. But since he can't, he'll settle for what misery he can get for you. He is the old evil foe who seeks to do us deadly woe.

I don't say this to make you paranoid. Nor did Jesus. Nor did St. Paul, when he said, “our struggle is not against flesh and blood”. No, we contend with the spiritual forces of evil. Sin, death and the devil – spreading their seeds of weeds into your life. So the pain may be physical, but the danger is spiritual.

And we look around and are amazed. There's so many weeds around us. But then we wonder, why doesn't God just spray the lawn? Why doesn't he just make sure all the bad people get what's coming to them? And why doesn't he get rid of all the trouble and hardship? Why doesn't he take away my bad memories? Why won't he make my boss treat me nicer? Where's that job I've been praying for? Why won't the cancer treatments work? When will I get over the death of my spouse? Why is it so hard to get out of bed each day? Why doesn't he just stop all evil right now?

Life is short and full of misery. Man is like a flower of the field that comes up one day and is cut down the next. And to make it worse, there's all these weeds around and about. Yes, even in the church, in the kingdom of God.

You'd think that here, at church, would be a haven from weeds. That the people here would always get along and treat our neighbors with love. But we don't. You'd think that only the true believers would hang around, get involved and run the place. But you never know. Sometimes the weeds grow right alongside the good plants. And the thing is – you can't even tell them apart! Only the farmer can.

What's worse is that we all have quite a bit of weed in us. And really what is a weed, anyway, but a plant that you don't want? That which is undesirable. It's an apt metaphor for sin. There is much in us that we don't want. We do the evil we hate, and not the good we desire. Until that final day, the weeds are so close to us, they adhere to us, they are in this sinful nature that constantly struggles against the Spirit.

There is much in us that God doesn't want – and can't stand. He hates sins, and will have no part of it. In the end he takes the sinners - the weeds - and throws them into the fire.

But we are not cast away. Instead, he changes us. He forgives the weed out of us. He washes the sin away from us. He plants the good seed in us, the seed of his word, the seed of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. He waters us in Holy Baptism. He feeds us with Holy Communion. And by his Spirit he grows us and makes us fruitful. We're a changed plant. We are ready for the harvest.

So the new creation begins with us, even now. Jesus Christ dies on the tree of the cross to save us from the pile of weeds to be burned. He endured the fire of God's wrath for all. And his life reclaimed is our life restored. We will never be uprooted, when we are rooted in him. We are grafted into the true vine, who always sustains us.

But there are still weeds. There are those who reject Christ, and persecute his people. Troublemakers and evildoers, yes, even appearing in the midst of the church. Sons of the evil one. God will deal with them when the time is right. And yes, there are the devil and all the spiritual forces of evil. And these too will receive what is coming to them. When we feel the injustice of it all, when we wonder why the wicked prosper while the child of God suffers. Remember this parable. The farmer has a reason.

In the parable, the farmer planned to separate the harvest from the weeds at the end, so as not to accidentally uproot any good plants before the proper time. And in the kingdom, our wise Lord has his reasons for dealing with evil in his way, and on his timetable. We don't know all the whys and wherefores, but we believe that God knows best. Faith trusts him to do all things better than we could. Rather than look at the weeds and despair, trust the sower to grow us and harvest us and keep us always in his possession. He has his reasons, and we have his promise to make it right, at the right time. Trust the farmer. Don't worry about the weeds. In Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Come Slowly, Lord Jesus?

A question for my fellow pastors, especially:

We regularly use the LCMS "Let Us Pray" resource for our Prayer of the Church.

This Sunday, Pentecost 5 year A, the provided prayer includes this petition:

P For those outside the Christian faith, that God would remain patient with them and delay Judgment Day so that the Holy Spirit may have opportunity to bring them into God’s family of believers, let us pray to the Lord:

C Lord, have mercy.

Does it strike anyone else as possibly inconsistent that we would pray that God would delay the Judgment Day - even for the sake of unbelievers?

Is this another instance of "mission-mindedness" gone overboard, which ignores God's promise that none of the elect will be lost (single predestination)?

Isn't such a sentiment inconsistent with the ancient prayer of the church, echoing the words of Revelation 22:20, "Even so, come quickly, Lord Jesus, Amen"?

Or is this one of those Lutheran paradoxes? Can we pray God's patience for the sake of the unbeliever, while also praying that day to come quickly for the sake of the believer?

Monday, July 11, 2011

Take They Our Wife...

12 years ago today I was installed as Associate Pastor at Grace Lutheran Church, Racine, Wisconsin.

The time has flown, and yet in some ways has crept. There have been many joys, as well as some times of frustration. Overall I am thankful for the blessings God has bestowed on me, and I pray I have been of service to these people.

As I think back on the day of my installation, I don't remember too much. I know it was a fairly typical installation service (and it was hot!). Then District President Ron Meyer preached, using the "beautiful feet" text from Isaiah. Other clergy members were in attendance, including the one older pastor whose first words to me we're, "You're YOUNG!" And we sang "Thy Strong Word" and "A Mighty Fortress".

I will always remember singing "A Mighty Fortress" on that day - our recessional hymn. These words were especially poignant for me: "Take they our life, goods, fame, child and wife, let these all be gone, they yet have nothing won, the kingdom ours remaineth"

At the time, my wife Brenda wasn't able to attend the installation, as she lay in a hospital bed in St. Louis. Under treatment for cancer, it really was touch and go for a while. The future was uncertain.

But one thing was certain. "The kingdom ours remaineth" in Christ. For me, and for her, this life's troubles were not worth considering, compared to the glory to be revealed.

God is good. Brenda recovered fully. She very soon joined me in Wisconsin and it's been all downhill since. The congregation was very kind to us, and years later, people still inquire particularly about her health. Three children and 12 great years later, we've hardly looked back.

But it's good to remember those moments of uncertainty - when life stands on a precipice. With hindsight, we can more easily see God's hand of blessing at work . And this can help us look forward with faith, and trust his promises. We know that nothing, not height nor depth, nor angels nor demons, nor hospital beds, nor unemployment, nor natural disaster, no not even death itself, can separate us from God's love in Jesus Christ. The kingdom ours remaineth.

Friday, July 08, 2011

“God of the Prophets, Bless the Prophets' Sons”

-Pastor as Prophet, Priest and King


While in many ways the Office of the Holy Ministry is diminished or undermined in modern Christian circles, there are still those of us who cherish this precious gift of Christ to His Church, for the purposes of preaching His word and administering His sacraments. No, everyone is not a minister, at least not everyone holds the Holy Office of the Ministry. Not everyone is given to preach and teach, and exercise the Power of the Keys.

But in seeking to defend the Office, we must not do so for the sake of the Office itself. For the Office only exists to serve Christ and His people, and in service to the Gospel. Therefore it is good to avoid the opposite error of “putting too much into the Office”, or ascribing to it honors and powers which our Lord himself does not. All too often our sinful nature would twist God's good gifts. It's very tempting for the pastor to allow his authority to become “power” and to wield it for selfish purposes.

With that in mind, however, I offer a perspective on the Office which incorporates the three-fold Office of Prophet, Priest, and King. What I mean to demonstrate, is that these Old Testament offices are reflected in the New Testament and modern day Office of the Holy Ministry, not only in its functions, but in its connection to the three-fold Office of Christ himself. This is not to add functions or aspects to the Ministry, but to recognize that which has always been there and draw out connections for a deeper understanding of this precious gift Christ gives to His church.

God of the Prophets, Bless the Prophet's Sons”

Perhaps at an ordination of installation of a pastor, or on some other occasion, you've sung the 1884 hymn by Reformed pastor Denis Wortman:

God of the prophets! Bless the prophets’ sons,
Elijah's mantle, o'er Elisha cast.
Each age its solemn task may claim but once;
Make each one nobler, stronger, than the last.

Anoint them prophets! Make their ears attent
To Thy divinest speech; their hearts awake
To human need; their lips make eloquent
To gird the right and every evil break.

Anoint them priests! Strong intercessors, they
For pardon, and for charity and peace.
Ah, if with them the world might, now astray,
Find in our Lord from all its woes release!

Anoint them kings; aye, kingly kings, O Lord.
Anoint them with the Spirit of Thy Son.
Theirs not a jeweled crown, a blood stained sword;
Theirs, by sweet love, for Christ a kingdom won.

Make them apostles, heralds of Thy cross,
Forth may they go to tell all realms Thy grace;
Inspired of Thee, may they count all but loss,
And stand at last with joy before Thy face.

O mighty age of prophet kings, return!
O truth, O faith, enrich our urgent time!
Lord Jesus Christ, again with us sojourn;
A weary world awaits Thy reign sublime.

The hymn can be found in the current Lutheran Service Book hymnal at #682. The language has been updated and the last verse omitted, no doubt to avoid any chiliastic confusion:

God of the prophets, bless the prophets' sons;

Elijah's mantle o'er Elisha cast.
Each age its solemn task may claim but once;
Make each one nobler, stronger than the last.

Anoint them prophets, men who are intent
To be your witnesses in word and deed,
Their hearts aflame, their lips made eloquent,
Their eyes awake to every human need.

Anoint them priests, strong intercessors they,
For pardon and for love and hope and peace,
That, through their pleading, guilty sinners may
Find Jesus' mercy and from sin release.

Anoint them kings, yes, kingly kings, O Lord.
Anoint them with the Spirit of Your Son.
Theirs not a jeweled crown, a blood-stained sword;
Theirs, by sweet love, for Christ a kingdom won.

Make them apostles, heralds of your cross;
Forth let them go to tell the world of grace.
Inspired by You, may they count all but loss
And stand at last with joy before Your face.

History of the threefold office distinction

We must note that the three-fold office of Christ, as an idea, does not originate with Lutheran theologians.

E.F. Karl Miller writes:

From the earliest times Jesus has been recognized as the representative of a twofold and yet unitary theocratic function, as king and priest. The spiritual kingdom of the Messiah has its foundation in the sacrifice of his life (Matt. xvi. 16-25, xx. 25-28). This thought may be traced f rom the second century to the time of the Reformation. But as early as Eusebius a threefold office is ascribed to Christ, that of prophet, priest, and king, and this is traceable to Jewish sources.

Miller goes on to explain that at the time of the Reformation, Christ as priest and king was roundly accepted. But John Calvin led the charge in adding the prophetic office back into the formulation. For some time there was debate in Lutheran circles as to the propriety of speaking in terms of the three-fold office. Later Lutherans, particularly Paul Gerhard, began to embrace the framework of the three-fold office.

Today, the casting of Christ in his three-fold office is regularly taught among Calvinists, Roman Catholics and Lutherans, alike.

Luther's Small Catechism with Explanation, published by CPH (and the go-to textbook for most of our LCMS catechetical instruction) devotes several pages to an explanation of the three-fold office of Christ.


While I can't disagree with any of our textbook definitions, it might also be helpful to add some other thoughts concerning each office and its role or function:

Prophet – We are shown that Christ preached, and still preaches, through the Gospel. So, the chief function of the prophet is to bear a message. Though modern connotations of prophecy entail “predicting the future”, just as often, prophets speak a word concerning the present reality. In all cases, the prophet speaks what he is given to speak, and therefore serves as a representative.

I've found it useful to use a “downward arrow” in describing the prophet's role of representing (speaking for) God to the people.

Priest – Our textbook explains that Christ is priest, in that he fulfilled the law in our stead, died in our place, and pleads for us before God. All well and good, and again, representative functions. In his active and passive obedience, he is our vicarious Atoner. His intercessory prayer “represents” us to the Father. Indeed, there is but one Mediator between God and man, the man Jesus Christ.

But here, it is an “upward arrow”. As the priest offers up sacrifices and prayers, he also stands between God and man, but this time as representative of people to God.

So in a way, the priest is the opposite of the prophet. Or perhaps we could say they are complementary.

King- Modern American conceptions of monarchy are laden with negative connotations, mostly having to do with the power of law (and, in sinful hands, the abuse of such). Of course, Christ's kingly office holds no such negativity.

Our textbook outlines the “three kingdoms” of power, grace and glory, over which Christ the King reigns. Again, without disagreeing, I offer another understanding of this office through the lens of “Law and Gospel”, informed by the example of the Old Testament kings.

The Law function is obvious – rulership and authority. But how does a king function in a “good news” sort of way? The king, especially in Old Testament times, was expected to defend the kingdom. So David would ride to battle with his armies (and when he shirked this duty found himself in trouble with Bathsheba!) The king would even lay down his life to defend his kingdom, his people, from the enemy.

Likewise, the way Scripture speaks of the Old Testament kings as the “Shepherds of Israel”, clues us in. A shepherd protects the sheep, even as he leads and guides them. He drives off the predators, and provides for the sheep to be well-fed and watered. Here Christ is, of course, rightly seen as the Good Shepherd – a kingly function, for the leading and protecting (Law and Gospel) of His sheep.

One clue then, of Christ's desire for his ministers to reflect these same functions is his charge to Peter, “feed my sheep”. And so Lutheran ministers rightly are called “pastor”, that is, shepherd.

The Office of the Ministry as representative of Christ

Without re-establishing everything Lutherans teach about the Office of the Holy Ministry, we can first approach its exercise of the three-fold office by understanding that the Ministry is derived from Christ's own office(s). The 1981 CTCR document, “The Ministry - Offices, Procedures and Nomenclature” explains:

    2. The office of the public ministry is grounded in the ministry of Christ and is an extension of the apostolate established by Him.

    The office of the public ministry of the church is rooted and grounded in the ministry of Christ. He was the Suffering Servant, the God-man, who not only taught about God's love but completely satisfied the demands of God's holy Law by vicariously living a perfect life and dying a sacrificial death for our transgressions of God's Law. His priestly, prophetic, and royal actions (emphasis mine) are the essential content and power of the ministry of the church. God not only provided salvation and declared the whole world just for the sake of Christ, but He also provided the means of grace and the ministry of the Word and sacrament "to offer and apply to us this treasure of salvation" (LC II, 38).

Similarly, Jesus says, “he who receives you, receives me”. Also our liturgy confesses this connection when the pastor absolves, “in the stead and by the command of my Lord Jesus Christ...” The pastor is a “little Christ” to his congregation, and in accord with his office, exercises rightful authority. But the authority of Christ is always used to serve others, not self. It is even the call to die for the sheep, if needed.

With all this in mind, let us consider:

The Pastor as Prophet – Perhaps the Old Testament office most easily aligned with the pastor, for its concern to speak the Word of God is the same. While an Old Testament prophet received that Word in “many and various ways”, we constrain ourselves to the canonical books of the Bible. But in his preaching, the faithful, prophetic pastor proclaims that word he is given – for the present and the future – and points always to the ultimate prophet, even the Living Word, himself, Jesus Christ.

The pastor is the under-prophet of the Ultimate Prophet, and always subjects his word to the Living Word.

The Pastor as Priest - “strong intercessors, they” they hymn declares. As priest, the pastor speaks the prayers of the people in representative fashion during the public services, in the liturgy. In fact, any time the pastor faces the altar, back to the congregation, it is not to be rude – but likely to express the priestly character of his actions at that point - representing you to God.

But his intercession does not stop there, as the faithful pastor prays for his sheep in all their troubles and circumstances. There's no indication in Scripture that the prayers of a pastor have any more weight than of the laity (though, “the prayer of a righteous man has great effect”). A pastor must be careful not to play in to this cultural misnomer. But as a man of God called to care for a flock, it only makes sense that he would pay particular attention to prayer on their behalf, whether they know it or not.

And while he can not personally stand in their place, coram deo, for salvation – he does sacrifice worldly comforts to bring the sheep to the great High Priest, who offered Himself on the cross. Here, perhaps, we see the greatest fulfillment of priestliness, a model we do well to reflect in our showing of love to the people in our flock.

The pastor is the under-priest of the Great High Priest, of the Order of Melchizedek.

The Pastor as King – Yes, a pastor is a king. But like Christ, whose kingdom is not of this world. Following Christ, who taught that only the rulers of this world “lord it over” others, but, “not so with you!”. So putting aside our cautions about misused kingly authority, how is a pastor a king?

He handles the law, administering it. He speaks a word that curbs, shows sin, and rules. In his preaching, he points to that which God expects of us, and demands of us. Of course, we fail. And this may incite in us rebellion against the law-giver, killing the messenger because the message so hurts. But no matter. Kings have a solemn duty to uphold the law, and so will a faithful pastor.

But he will also protect the people. He will fight for them. He will identify the enemy (or enemies) and lead the charge. Our enemies are not flesh and blood, but the Devil the world, and our own sinful nature. Our defenses are given only by God (Ephesians 6). The breastplate of righteousness, the shield of faith, the helmet of salvation, etc.

And our only offensive weapon is the sword of his word. As a king, the pastor wields the sword – not of the government to punish wrongdoers (Romans 13), but the sword of the spirit, which is the word of God. It is that sword which issues from the mouth of Christ (Revelation 1). It is the Gospel, the power of God for salvation.

The pastor as king employs both Law and Gospel, in the pulpit, and in his dealings with those of the Kingdom. The pastor is an under-king of the King of Kings, and serves all in accord with His purposes.

Finally, just as with Christ, there is overlap and complementary function in the three offices, so too, it is with the pastor. But that is because the office of pastor is derived from the office of Christ, as a whole, not in three separate parts. These are simply a framework or a lens by which to view what Christ does in Himself, and how He serves His people through the Office He establishes.

Royal Priesthood?

Luther himself emphasized the Royal (kingly) Priesthood of all believers. Unfortunately this has often been used as a club over against the Holy Office. But that's not fair to either Luther or Holy Scripture.

The reality and importance of the Priesthood of All Believers does not negate the reality and importance of the Office of the Holy Ministry.

I would submit that within each Christian's vocation, he too has kingly, priestly, and even prophetic opportunities. But the chief distinction is that the pastor is called to exercise his authority publicly, on behalf of all. The individual Christian operates within the private realm, according to his own calling or station.

You may have occasion to witness (prophetic), or to protect another (kingly). Certainly, the priestly Christian intercedes for others- praying at all times for those in authority, for the sick, for any who are in need, even for unbelievers. In all these things, the same Christ who works through the Public Office works in the lives of his people.

For example, the Christian parent is prophet, priest and king to his child. The Christian husband is the same to his wife. Even as friends and neighbors we can find these Christ-like functions peeking through as we serve others in various ways.

Christ the Apostle/Pastor as Apostle

One final connected idea – brought about by verse 5 of our hymn, apostleship. Here we can find another useful office for understanding Christ, his pastors, and his people. While the narrow definition of “apostle” includes those specifically commissioned by Jesus (the 12, plus St. Paul), still there is an apostolic character to the Office of Pastor. The word, “apostle”, meaning, “sent one”, really should point us first of all to Christ – who was “sent” by the Father on his mission of redemption. Likewise the Holy Spirit is “sent” by the Father and Son according to his purposes, but especially to testify to Christ. The 12 apostles were sent, not only at the Great Commission, but also with authority to preach and cast out demons during Jesus' public ministry. In fact, the Christian church, as a whole, is “apostolic”, not only in its adherence to the teaching of the apostles, but also in that we are “sent” to the world with the Gospel.

So, too, the pastor is apostolic. He is sent. He is sent by God, by the Holy Spirit, by means of the external call of the congregation, to be pastor in a certain place. He is sent, and given an authority that is not his own, but belongs to Christ (as does all authority). He is sent to a certain people, a certain congregation, particularly. And in his sent-ness there is comfort for him, that his labor is not in vain. And in his sent-ness there is comfort for his sheep, that they receive Him who sent him.


Jesus Christ, our prophet, priest, and king – now rules from heaven, intercedes for us before God, and yet still proclaims His word to the lost world He once died to save. Through His pastors, He publicly exercises these same functions, for the good of His people. Lutherans need not shun this way of describing the work of God in our midst, for through the prism of these biblical offices, we gain greater appreciation of Christ who does all things well, and for us, and of the ministers he sends to stand in his stead. And rejoicing in the Gospel, give thanks to Him for these, among so many other good gifts.


Dr. Carl Fickenscher on Issues, Etc. "The Three-fold Office of Christ: Prophet, Priest and King"

For an Orthodox Presbyterian take on “Pastor as Prophet, Priest and King”

A sermon by Rev. Brian Vos, “Why are You Called a Christian?” (United Reformed Church)

Friday, July 01, 2011

Thoughts on the 4th

I was reading, again, the Declaration of Independence.

One observation I've often made, as a Lutheran Pastor commenting on the role of civil governments, is that Holy Scripture speaks more in terms of responsibilities than of rights. Perhaps we could even say it more forcefully; Holy Scripture nowhere speaks of our rights.

I suppose it's a matter of orientation. If I am concerned about how I am being treated, I consider my "rights". What I am owed. What belongs to me. If I am concerned, rather, how I should treat my neighbor - then it's not his rights, but my duty or responsibility that matters.

But having said that, what of the "inalienable rights" of the Declaration?

Life - certainly, it is our responsibility to uphold the sanctity of human life. The 5th commandment, "Thou Shalt Not Murder" and its many applications teach this plainly.

Liberty - less certain. While I cherish my freedoms, and would have more not less of them, I don't believe a biblical worldview sees freedom as the ultimate value it has become for American culture. In the Bible, we serve a master (or, one of two masters). And yet there is talk of freedom from sin, death and punishment in Christ. Absolute freedom, expressed as "Do as thou wilt", is the motto of Satanist Aleister Crowley, not the worldview of the Christian.

The Pursuit of Happiness - even less is Scripture concerned with happiness, per se. Still I am taught not to steal from my neighbor, or make his life bitter, but help him and serve him. I suppose restricting his pursuit of happiness could stand in the way of that. But sometimes loving one's neighbor means tough love, and making him un-happy. So this value isn't absolute for the Christian either. I've seen it argued that "the pursuit of happiness" actually means, primarily, property rights. And while Scripture affirms these, they are also not absolute. Much inspired ink is spilled warning about wealth and materialism. Jesus teaches us to pay taxes to Caesar.

The Declaration does say something interesting, also, regarding "self-evident" truths. These truths, these values, need no proof. They speak for themselves. It's obvious that they come from the Creator. (Oh, and so the document affirms Creation, as well!) I wonder how many today would agree with the idea of self-evident, universal moral principles. A Christian would say this is the Law of God written on the heart. A Christian knows "the heavens declare the glory of the Lord".

"All men are created equal" - here I'll quibble less. Equality of personhood, of value, of standing before God as a redeemed sinner bought by the blood of Christ, yes! But God also makes certain distinctions between people, not of value, but of calling. Sometimes a distinction of calling is cast as a devaluing of a person, which is never the case. All are created in the image of God; all have sinned and fall short, and are redeemed freely in Christ. But not all are called to be pastors, fathers, mothers, husbands, wives, government officials, etc.

"Deriving their power from the consent of the governed". Romans 13 teaches that the government is an agent of God, not of the people. That the government official is a servant of God and of the people - to approve of what is good and to punish evil. Perhaps the consent of the governed - as a whole - is important to establish the legitimacy of a governmental authority, but the power derives from God.

I suppose it's analogous to the authority of the pastor. The authority derives from God, and yet is conferred through the church. The church must respect this authority, rightfully exercised. But a pastor is put out of office in cases of persistent false teaching, scandalous life, or neglect/abuse of office.

Does the long list of grievances, which makes up the bulk of the declaration, provide sufficient cause for the government's (the king's) "removal from office"?