Zion Lutheran Church, Harbine, Nebraska
"Preaching the Law Is Part of the Call"
Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost—Fifth Sunday in St. Laurence' Tide
September 4, 2011
IN NOMINE JESU
There are many things I like doing as a pastor. I like leading a congregation through the Divine Service, taking the flock through the Liturgy of the Church, as God acts toward us through His Word. I love to administer the Sacraments. I get a thrill out of baptizing someone, and I enjoy giving the Lord's body and blood to you as you are gathered around our Lord's Table. I appreciate the opportunity to visit shut-ins. Some of our older brothers and sisters in Christ have marvelous stories to tell, and I love to see their lips move when we are praying parts of the Liturgy they have known since their youth. I crave the opportunity to teach the faith to our younger brothers and sisters in Christ, especially when I see their faces as they have an "aha" moment, when that one article of the faith that they haven't been able to understand finally and suddenly becomes clear to them. I also love being in the pulpit and preaching the Gospel, proclaiming to you that God loves you so much that He sent His Son Jesus to the cross to die for your sins, so that you would live with Him in heaven forever. What I love about being a pastor is doing those things that involve God giving His people His gifts. There are two things that are at the very bottom of the list of things I like to do as a pastor. I'm not a fan of attending meetings in general. Some meetings I've attended could have been great cures for insomnia—if I wasn't already trying to fight falling asleep. The other thing I really don't like doing is preaching God's Law, reminding sinners like you and me that, unless we repent of our sins, we risk spending eternity in hell.
Preaching the Law is not something pastors like to do, but it something they must do. A pastor cannot be an effective preacher if he delivers a watered-down Law that little effect on his hearers, or if he preaches no Law at all and leaves secure and smug sinners secure in their sins, or if he mixes Law and Gospel together instead of keeping them distinct in his sermon. To do that would turn Law into Gospel and Gospel into Law. The results of such preaching are disastrous to the hearers' souls, for which the pastor, God's undershepherd in that place, must give an account to his Pastor, Jesus, the Good Shepherd and Lord of the Church. But, quite frankly, preaching the Law is not much fun at all. A lot of us pastors would rather skip it altogether and just give a bunch of illustrations or tell a lot of jokes. Unfortunately, many do. The Law isn't very nice. We want people to come back. We want them to feel good about themselves. We want to make sure we still have a job next Sunday. We want to be friendly and loving. The truth of the matter is that a pastor can literally love a person straight into hell if he does NOT preach the Law in all its severity…as well as the Gospel in all its sweetness. It is sad to note that many pastors seem to think they have to be either friendly or faithful, as if one cannot be both. Two of my favorite pastors that have been my pastors are men who are as friendly and loving as one will ever encounter, but they are still faithful in their preaching Law and Gospel. Such pastors remember very well what the blessed apostle St. Paul wrote, under inspiration from the Holy Spirit, to the young pastor St. Timothy:
I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by His appearing and His kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry. [2 Tim. 4:1-5]
In other words, Timothy (and all pastors) are to preach God's Law AND Gospel, whether it is convenient or not or even if it's politically incorrect or seemingly insensitive to do so. We pastors would rather be of the Gospel. But preaching the Law is part of the call that pastors have from God, whether we like it or not. Do you remember the story of Jonah? He was supposed to preach the Law to the people of Nineveh. What did he do? He ran away. He thought he could outrun God. He thought he could shirk that part of his call. God reminded him of his call as Jonah sat in the belly of that great fish for three days. Jonah then carried out his call and preached to the Ninevites as God had commanded him. That's what all pastors need to do because the salvation of their hearers' souls is at stake. This is nothing to be taken lightly. Pastors are responsible for their members' souls and must give an account to God for them. This means that, while we pastors need to preach the Law, you need to hear the Law, too.
The Law that I preach is intended for you—and for me—to hear. Yes, I must include myself among my hearers, for, like Isaiah, I too am a man of unclean lips and, like you, I confessed this morning that "we are by nature sinful and unclean. We have sinned against [God] in thought, word, and deed, by what we have done and by what we have left undone. We have not loved [God] with our whole heart; we have not loved our neighbors as ourselves. We justly deserve [God's] present and eternal punishment" (LSB p. 151). We deserve it because we are by nature spiritually blind, dead, and enemies of God. We do not fear, love, and trust in Him above all things. We are in league with the devil, the world, and our own sinful nature. To pose the Lutheran question: What does this mean? It means that we are all sinners, and as sinners, we sin…a lot. The problem is not that we're human. Remember that Adam and Eve were human as well, holy and sinless before the Fall in the Garden of Eden. The problem is that we are sinners, just as our first parents were when they ate of the forbidden fruit. What is sin? It is our doing what God forbids and our not doing what He commands. That's why we confess what we have done and what we have left undone. This is what St. Paul is confessing in Romans 7, when he calls himself a wretched man. And that is what we are: wretched. Before God Almighty we in our sinful nature stand before Him as naked, ugly sinners who deserve to be thrown into hell forever, eternally separated from God, and tortured by Satan and his minions forever, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. So that we would not meet such a dismal end, we must repent.
Repentance—that is the goal of the preaching of the Law. The Law stands to condemn us in our sins to the point that we are in sorrow over them and repentant of them. God does not desire the death of the sinner, but that we would turn from our evil ways and live…living in the light of Christ. God does not like to condemn sinners, but sure dearly loves to forgive them. This is why He calls pastors to preach the Law: to bring sinners to repentance, so that He would, "for the sake of [His] Son, Jesus Christ, have mercy on us." More literally, we are asking God to look at us not as the naked, ugly sinners that we are (as we heard earlier) but through the blood of His Son, that the blood of Jesus would be our "atonement cover," that Jesus' blood would cover our sins, and that our heavenly Father would declare us forgiven for Jesus' sake. The word repent means "to turn around." When we repent, we are asking God to send us His Holy Spirit, in order that we would be able to turn on our sins—to turn our backs on them. We are asking Him to "forgive us, renew us, and lead us, so that we may delight in [His] will and walk in [His] ways to the glory of [His] holy Name."
To delight in God's will means that we get to hear the Word of God and keep it, to treasure it, to love it, and to live it. To this end, God sends us pastors to preach the Word of God, both God's Law AND God's Gospel, that we would also hear the good news that Jesus Christ died for us. In doing so, we, moved by the Holy Spirit, walk in God's ways. The way that God had His Son walk was the way of the cross; it took Him to the cross on Mt. Calvary, where He bled and He died to win the forgiveness of your sins and mine, where His crucified and pierced body defeated the devil. That same way took His lifeless body to the tomb, from whence He rose to defeat death for us. That same way took the crucified and risen Lord into heaven, where He has prepared a place for each of us who believe in Him. That same way brought our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ back to earth to be present in His Word and Sacraments, to prepare us for our walk in His ways.
That way our God has prepared for us has led us to the baptismal font, where our sins were washed away and our sinful nature was drowned and killed. Though it comes back and attacks us each day, it is killed again and again in the daily confession of our sins, and the new man—the new creation—daily emerges and arises to live before God in righteousness and purity forever! The way our God has prepared for us has taken us to the pews where we're seated. It is there that we hear that our sins are forgiven for Christ's sake; we hear it in Holy Absolution and in Holy Scripture, both read and preached, for your sake, that you would hear of God's great love for you in Christ Jesus, that "Almighty God in His mercy has given His Son to die for you and forgives you all your sins." That same way our God has prepared for us brings us around His Table, as it will in a few moments, when He feeds us on the body His Son gave on the cross and the blood Jesus shed there for the forgiveness of all your sins. The way Jesus took—the way of the cross—won our forgiveness. The way our God has prepared for us—the way of His Word and Sacraments—is where He gives us that forgiveness. This is the message I love to proclaim; these are the gifts Christ freely gives, God's gifts given for our lives lived in heaven with Him forever and ever. God grant this in Jesus' Name and for His sake. Amen.
SOLI DEO GLORIA
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