Sermon for the Third Sunday after Trinity
Text: Luke 15:1–10
Grace, mercy, and peace be unto you from God the Father and Jesus Christ our Lord.
There are many different titles given to the clergy of the church. It says a great deal about a church body and individual Christians which one they choose to use.
Lutherans have never been satisfied with calling the clergy priests. Priest smacks of sacrifice, and Christ alone offers the sacrifice of atonement for our sins. The remaining sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving as well as the love shown to neighbor is not peculiar to the office of the ministry, but belongs to all the faithful. Therefore Lutherans speak of the priesthood of all believers, but not the priesthood of the clergy.
Similarly, though it is earnestly desired that the man who serves a congregation be a believer in Christ and therefore a brother, Lutheran congregations have not referred to God’s called servants in their midst as Brother John, or Brother Frank. It is more common to speak of such a man as Father, than brother among Lutherans, though that also is not exactly common today.
Historically, Lutherans have neither called their church workers simply by their first names. My father attended a Lutheran School through eighth grade and even today when he speaks of the man who taught him he speaks of Teacher Geisler. (I’m not saying that you must do the same with the teachers here, but I will remind you that we confess in the Large Catechism: “To God, to parents, and to teachers we can never offer enough thanks and compensation.” LC I:113)
Lutherans have historically been fine with the term minister, which simply means servant. Yet the image here is not a man who is enslaved to the congregation which has called him, but rather that the man in the office is a servant of Christ to provide Christ's service to the congregation. This is in keeping with Paul’s self-description of being a servant of Christ found throughout his epistles.
The term preacher has also been readily accepted based on the primary task incumbent upon the office of proclaiming the Gospel. Likewise the old German term Seelsorger, or caretakers of souls, is appropriate. But far and away the most common term for the servant of Christ who cares for souls by proclaiming the Gospel in the Lutheran Church today is simply that of pastor.
I don’t bring this up because I have felt disrespected in anyway, but because I am convinced that the two most important considerations in a sermon are the Word of God and the context of the congregation. Today the Word of God which we have before us speaks of the seeking after the lost in the terms of a shepherd searching for a strayed sheep, and this congregation is searching for a pastor. You have not named a priest call committee, or a minister call committee; you are not seeking a brother, or a CEO; you are seeking a pastor, a shepherd—one who will stand before you as Christ’s under-shepherd.
You are seeking God’s will in calling a man to fill the office of seeking the lost, even when you do not realize you are lost. You are calling a man to be faithful in calling you to faithfulness.
The irony in this parable is that Jesus speaks it not to the tax collectors and sinners who were all drawing near to Him, but He speaks it to the Pharisees who grumbled about the way Jesus did His work: “This man receives sinners and eats with them.”
These are the people who need to understand Jesus' work better. Yet we listen to these beloved parables of the Lost Sheep and the Lost Coin, and the third that follows which is not part of today’s text, the Prodigal Son, as though they were meant for us and they are. But they are meant for us not only because they show God’s care for sinners, but they call us to recognize that God’s care, not as we would have it, but with the joy that it gives God to see sinners repent.
Let us first consider how God does not rejoice at repentance. God and the angels in heaven do not rejoice at the repentance of sinners with the attitude that finally I don’t have to deal with their foolishness anymore. Likewise we should not rejoice when a sinner repents because we are now free from the hardship of dealing with their sin. After all, we are to bear the cross with joy as Christ himself did. No, the angels rejoice because sinner who repents is free from sin and death.
God rejoices when you have the life, the freedom, the peace that He intended from the beginning. This causes the angels to rejoice in God’s presence and it ought to cause each of us to rejoice when we see it in our own lives and in the lives of others.
This same joy is God’s desire in this place through the ministry of your next pastor—joy that is shared by the entire congregation as well as with angels and archangels and all the company of heaven as sinners are called to repentance. At times the joy will come when a child of members of this congregation is brought to the font to be made a child of God. There will be times when joy is caused when someone who formerly was an unbeliever hears God’s Word and is brought into the Kingdom. At times it will be you who falls into sin. Maybe you alone are aware of your sin, or maybe it is public and the entire congregation knows what you have done, how long you have stayed away. But when the pastor God called to this place seeks you out and restores you to the fold there will be rejoicing again for you and your neighbors, for your pastor and fellow believers, for the angels and for God Himself.
Do not think that you only need to be called to repentance once. Your pastor’s job is not that easy. And certainly this is not your pastor’s job alone. The entire congregation rebukes and encourages with God’s Word as gently as possible, but as strong as needed.
It is the nature of the shepherd to seek the lost, to bind up the wounded, and to carry the weak. This is the work of a pastor, because this is the work first and foremost of the Good Shepherd. The office has its source in Christ Himself who manifests the work of the Trinity in His flesh.
Early twentieth century pastor George Henry Gerberding traces pastoral care from its source in God’s own activity when he writes:
If sin had not come into the world there would have been no need of reconciliation between God and man. Before the fall there was the most perfect harmony between the two. There was the most intimate relation between heaven and earth. The first chapters of our Bible give us a beautiful picture of unrestrained, free, and filial relationship between the Heavenly Father and His earthly children. But with sin came the breach, the estrangement, the alienation. Man had become suspicious, distrustful, hostile, and impure. Had he been left to himself in this state of alienation and sin he would have never have returned to fellowship with God, but would have wandered ever further, sunk ever deeper, until he would have become a very demon and part of the kingdom of darkness.
But God did not leave him to himself. When man hid himself, God sought him, called him, promised him redemption, and, at once, began that great redeeming and reconciling work which was finished in Christ when the fullness of time had come. Thus God first came to fallen man, through His calling, enlightening, and saving Word. That Word of Reconciliation was first brought to man by God Himself. He himself was the first shepherd or pastor to go out after lost sheep. So we find Him dealing directly with Adam, Cain, Noah, and others. Afterward, in the patriarchal age, we meet with the various theophanies, or corporeal manifestations of God, which foreshadowed the incarnation of Christ.
If you want a pastor who faithfully carries out the duties of his office, you want a pastor who will follow in Christ’s footsteps and pursue you and your neighbor and rejoice whenever the Word of God does its work of bringing sinners to repentance. A friendly demeanor, clever wit, youthful energy, and mature experience can all be beneficial attributes, but what is essential is the faithful proclamation of God’s Word—the Law in all its severity and the Gospel in all its sweetness. Not the Law for your neighbor and the Gospel for You as the Pharisees would have it, but the faithful application of all the Scripture in every context--that is the mark of a true pastor.
Through His calling, enlightening, and saving Word, God still comes to you. I will fail, the pastor whom God calls through you will fail, but the Word of God does not fail.
The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost. Believe that and you will delight in the Law that shows you your sin and you will rejoice at the Gospel that brings you to Christ.
Not only that, but the angels in Heaven will rejoice over you who have been given new Life in Christ, that crucified and risen Savior, who never stops seeking after you.
The peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.
Soli Deo Gloria