“Above All Else : The Ministry” – Ephesians 4:11-13
1. Cars and sermons
Last week, I was having oasis with a table full of you, and I was telling the story of buying a new car 13 years ago. Kia had just come out with a new model called the Soul, and I thought that’s the perfect name for the car of a pastor. I even thought I could get a black one and add a little white rectangle on the hood to represent my clergy shirt. After all, in German, the word ‘seelsorger’ is a synonym for pastor. That word literally means the caretaker of souls. Alas, we ended up buying a Nissan Cube, which isn’t so bad either because, if you have read Revelation 21 lately, the length, width and height of the heavenly city of Jerusalem are all the same measurement… it is a perfect Cube!! But alas, it’s Deanna’s car, not mine!! That conversation last week, and a brief mention in the sermon foreshadowed the subject of this week’s message – the ministry, the pastoral ministry within the church. So, let’s get at it.
2. Pizzas and pastors
But first, another diversion… pizza!! In the olden days, most pizza restaurants would offer home delivery, especially on Friday and Saturday nights. People didn’t want to go out to get their pizza. They were happy for it to arrive hot at their door. Now you have all kinds of companies that specialize in delivering ANYTHING to your door. But in those olden days, the restaurant would hire people whose job was to take the pizza to customers’ homes. The delivery people didn’t make the pizza, they just delivered it. Without them, you wouldn’t get your pizza.
Pastors are basically delivery people… but they don’t deliver pizza. They deliver the gifts and the grace of God to His people. They don’t mix the ingredients of God’s grace together in a bowl and bake it in an oven. God has wrapped His gifts in different ways. He wraps new spiritual life in the word and promises connected with the water of Holy Baptism. He wraps forgiveness, life and salvation in the word and promises connected with the bread and wine of Holy Communion. He wraps spoken forgiveness in the words of Holy Absolution that God gives to His people. All of these gifts God has chosen to deliver through pastors – his delivery people.
3. The Qualifications
In order to deliver pizza, an applicant needs to meet certain requirements. At the least, he/she needs a valid driver’s license and the use of a reliable vehicle. In the olden days, they would need to be able to read directions on a map. Now, they just need to follow Google directions. And they may need to count out change or use a credit card machine accurately. It also helps to be able to keep the pizzas right side up!!
In the same way, the Lord of the Church – remember, we talked about the Church last week, and Jesus is the Lord of the Church, the Head of the Church – the Lord of the Church has established certain requirements for those who are delivering His gifts to His people. In the Bible, there are several words that are close to being synonyms for the role of pastor. ‘Poimen’ is translated as ‘pastor’ but it literally means ‘shepherd’ and often refers to that role of caring for sheep. ‘Presbuteros’ is often translated as ‘elder.’ ‘Episkopos’ is usually translated as ‘overseer’ or ‘bishop.’ But they can all refer to that role of pastor.
If we look at the Biblical qualifications for any or all of those roles, we see that a pastor is to be: hospitable, self-controlled, respectable, upright, holy, above reproach and the husband of one wife. He needs to be able to rightly handle the word of truth, the law and the gospel, keeping the pizza right side up. In contrast, a pastor is NOT to be: a drunkard, violent, arrogant, quick-tempered, or greedy for gain.
Somebody here has the habit of calling me “your holiness” – to which I ought to respond “yes” and “no.” “Yes” – because I, like all of you, am declared holy and righteous by virtue of Jesus’ forgiveness won on the cross for us. “No” – because, like all of you, I am still sinful, and I sin every day. That’s why a pastor will wear a white gown – to declare that his human sinfulness has been covered with the purity and the holiness of Christ.
Besides the Biblical qualifications, the Lutheran Church has imposed some educational qualifications – a Bachelor’s degree, and then four years of theological education at a seminary, where a candidate for the pastoral ministry studies many subjects like how to interpret the Bible, preaching, teaching, leading worship, counseling, evangelism, and more. That means that, under normal circumstances, not just anyone is qualified to step behind the pulpit to preach, or step behind the altar to administer the Lord’s Supper. You have to learn to be a delivery man before you are given the responsibility to deliver God’s gifts of grace.
4. The Office and the Authority
We sometimes refer to that Pastoral role as the Office of the Holy Ministry. What is an “office?”
Let me explain with some examples of some other “offices.” Not everyone can pull you over for speeding in your car and write you a ticket. Only someone who has been given that office has the authority to do that. A police officer is just such a person who has been given the office, the responsibility and the authority to do the things an officer of the law must do. If you have not been given this office, you will get into trouble if you try to do things that police officers are supposed to do. Impersonating a police officer is a serious offense. In the same way, not everyone can write a prescription for what ails you… only a person with the office of doctor can do that. Not everyone can speak on behalf of Canada to another country… only a person with the office of ambassador can do that. Not everyone can hand down a sentence for a crime committed… only a person with the office of judge can do that.
Jesus Christ instituted the Office of the Holy Ministry within the church to deliver His gifts within the context of the entire church. Every believer in Christ is a member of the Church, the Body of Christ. That’s what we heard last Sunday. That’s the white cords on the tassels – made holy by Jesus. Every believer in Christ is also a priest of the Lord. That’s the blue cord on the tassels – representing the face and the presence of God to the world. When, in his first letter, Peter wrote “you are a royal priesthood” he’s not just referring to pastors. He’s referring to ALL God’s people.
But Jesus, Himself, gave a special role to some within the whole. After Peter made his great confession – “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God” – Jesus said: “I give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” On Easter evening, the risen Jesus breathed on His disciples and said: “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.” When Jesus speaks of giving the keys of heaven, or opening or closing heaven, of binding or loosing things on earth, it is figurative language for the authority to forgive or to withhold forgiveness of sins. The Lord gives and entrusts His full power and authority to the church to speak His Gospel of forgiveness to repentant sinners. The church calls and appoints pastors to exercise that authority publicly. The church does not surrender its rights and responsibilities when it calls a pastor. Rather it assigns those responsibilities to the pastor so that things may be done in an orderly way, for God is a God of order. We heard last Sunday from Ephesians 4 where it says, “God gave some to be… pastors and teachers, to prepare God’s people for works of service so that the body of Christ may be built up.” So, pastors are truly the Lord’s servants in that public ministry. The Seminary motto for training pastors was, maybe still is, from 2 Corinthians 4 – “We do not preach ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake.” “Servants for Jesus’ sake…” – that’s the office and the authority of a pastor.
5. What does a pastor do?
But we do need to ask – what does a pastor do? Someone here has the habit of commenting that I only work this one hour a week – to which I ought to respond “yes” and “no.” “Yes” because that’s what most people see of me publicly, this one hour or so of preaching and leading public worship. “No” because 98% of what I do is behind the scenes, and only a few people at a time see that. Let me unpack some of that 98%, with reference – where applicable – to today’s Bible readings.
Let me start with that phrase from Ephesians 4 – “God gave some to be pastors and teachers to prepare God’s people for works of service…” Remember that the word pastor can mean shepherd, and in German ‘seelsorger’ (soul caretaker). Jesus is the Good Shepherd of His flock, but pastors can be considered ‘under-shepherds’ – carrying out that shepherding role personally on behalf of Jesus. That is an important aspect of a pastor’s work – to care for people spiritually, and that might include listening, counseling, encouraging, answering their questions about God. Sometimes that happens briefly in a conversation after a Sunday service. Other times it happens during a phone call or in a pastoral visit. Some of those pastoral visits happen at a care home or in a hospital room. But just as Jesus brought the Kingdom of God into people’s lives by healing them physically, emotionally, spiritually, so a pastor leads people to wholeness by pointing them to the Great Healer of souls. And these days, the scope of a pastor’s spiritual care and influence is not limited to the congregation or the immediate community. I have responded to spiritual inquiries from people in various parts of the globe.
The second word in that Ephesians 4 passage was teacher. That, too, is a significant role of a pastor. A week ago, I spent the mornings teaching some 60 children about the Palm Sunday to Easter Sunday week in the life of Jesus. I have led a LOT of adult Bible studies – some to lead people to faith in Jesus for the first time, some to lead people to a deeper faith and maturity… attaining the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. My call documents as a pastor also authorize me to teach the Confirmation students. And at this congregation, I have had the privilege, from time to time, of teaching school children – either at chapel services or in some classroom lessons. I think for me it has helped that my first (short) career was as a school teacher.
Another aspect of a pastor’s work is what I would call Pastoral Ministries – Baptisms, weddings, funerals. I had a wedding on Friday… most of you wouldn’t know the couple, and it’s too long of a story to tell. I just had another inquiry about a Baptism last week, so it looks like my last Baptism at Hope will be next Sunday. Funerals… well, I hope there are no funerals in the next three weeks. But each one of those responsibilities is important for the families involved, and they each require either advance or post-event ministry… marriage preparation classes, instruction for Baptism, or follow-up grief care.
Church administration is another role of a pastor. I remember even taking an entire class at Seminary on church administration. In the olden days, when church ministry was pretty simple – preach, teach and visit people – there wasn’t a lot of church administration… maybe mostly keeping accurate membership records. But in these newen days, I find that I spend quite a bit of time on church administration – yes, keeping records of all those pastoral ministry events, but also meeting with various boards and committees and teams and equipping them for their roles, and overseeing their service. I suspect you wouldn’t be surprised at how many e-mails I receive and send per day. Chalk those up to administration, something that a 50 years ago pastor wouldn’t be doing. And while that may be a good thing – multiplying the ministry through technology – I have to admit that it limits the number of personal visitations I make.
Prayer is something a pastor does weekly, daily. Besides leading the congregation in public prayers during the worship services, a pastor prays personally for and with the people of his congregation. This is the pastor role we encountered in the both the Old Testament and Gospel readings. In Genesis 18, Abraham was acting in a very pastoral way. He was praying, interceding for his nephew Lot who lived in the evil city of Sodom. He bargained God from “I will spare the city if I find 50 righteous people there,” down to “For the sake of 10 I will not destroy it.” In Luke 11, in response to a question from the disciples, Jesus teaches them and us about prayer, giving us the Lord’s Prayer.
The Colossians 2 reading warns us about being seduced by philosophy and empty deceit. That’s a pastoral role, too, pointing people away from falsehood instead to the reality and the truth that is found in Jesus Christ. A pastor is called to promote and guide the mission activity of the congregation, and to train workers and guide them in sharing their faith in Jesus with others.
So, do I work one hour a week? You bet I do!! In what I shared in these last couple of minutes, I hope you have come to appreciate the broader work of a pastor… both me, and the pastor that will serve Hope during the vacancy of the next few weeks, and the full-time pastor who God will bring to Hope at some point in the not-to-distant future. But know, please know and remember that the first two responsibilities in a pastor’s call documents – first in order, and also first in importance – the first two responsibilities are to preach the Word of God, and to administer the Holy Sacraments. And yes, that’s the one hour on Sunday morning role. Those responsibilities are about delivering the pizza, the gifts of God – the Word of God, especially the forgiveness of sins won for YOU by Jesus on the cross. So hear that clearly… YOU are forgiven by Jesus, on the cross. YOU are God’s precious, holy and dearly loved child!! You don’t get served those gifts anywhere else in the world! Those pastoral responsibilities – preaching the Word, administering the Sacraments – are about being the ‘seelsorger,’ the caretaker of souls, so that each and every one of you can end up in the cube, the holy and heavenly city of Jerusalem. Amen.