Monday, June 1, 2015

Isn't that the pastor's job?


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SUPPOSE a visitor from another planet looked at these Cleveland churches.  He would have no assumptions about what a church should be.  He would see a lot of movement going on, various groups, official boards and auxiliary organizations, having an endless stream of meetings.  It doesn't bewilder us, because we're used to it.  A church that is stirred up is active.  Do you know what getting stirred up is?  That's the fire station when the bell rings.  It's the barracks when the sergeant walks in.  It's the ground crew after the fifth inning.  It's when your husband comes home at 6:30 and tells you that his boss is coming for dinner at 7:00; and it is our worship service.  We believe that we enter into the very Presence of God.  He calls us to enter His throne room.  He wants us to believe that we have every right to be there.  In Bible class we do something similar.  God wants to visit with us here; He wants us to seek Him here.

Neither should we be surprised when this same text warns us not to neglect this assembly.  Didn't we learn as children that we should fear and love God that we may not despise preaching and His Word, but hold it sacred and gladly hear and learn it?  Worship obviously is part of this, but what about the rest?  Does the Third Commandment mean we need a Board of Stewardship?  Does it mean I have to teach Sunday School, or work at fundraisers, or help decorate for Christmas?  God knows that no one person can do everything, but all of His work is important, including attending the nursery; and God blesses work done for Him, whether it is part of the congregation's organized efforts, or your own free lance participation during the week.  We live in times that are unfriendly to the Christian faith.  Institutional busy work does not make you holy, but we need more Christian association in these times than Sunday morning alone.  We need divine encouragement from many sources.

Nor can we leave all this to the pastor.  The pastor can't go to Bible class for you, or say the prayers you're supposed to say.  You also can't leave admonishing and encouraging members to the pastor alone.  You see, the real God is here.  He wants to be part of your life, your conversation, your plans and projects.  Do you think He needs the pastor for an interpreter?  Do you feel so far from God that you can only approach Him through a pastor?  In Moses' time God required a Mediator.  He had an inner chamber built in the sanctuary which only the High Priest could enter.  It was the holiest place of all.  He had Moses put the Ark of the Covenant in there, and hang curtains all around it so nobody could see inside.  Many years later, the Second Temple was laid out that same way, even though there was no Ark.  At the exact moment of Jesus' death there was an earthquake tearing that curtain from top to bottom.  God was telling us that Jesus had fulfilled all the sacrifices of the Law.  People were still sinners, but all sinners had a perfect way to come to God, by coming to His Son.  Do you think that only the pastor is a child of God?  Hardly!  It is true that the pastor does in public what Christians do in private -- warning and comforting sinners, baptizing, forgiving sins, performing marriages.  Furthermore, as a steward of the mysteries of God, the pastor performs the ceremony that consecrates Holy Communion.  That is never done privately because it is intended for the entire Body of Christ.  Every child of God comes to Him.  He gives the pastor authority, although the congregation designates him as an individual to perform the office.  Admonishing and encouraging are an important part of that office.  Because the pastor's functions are public, it is necessary that he know what he's doing.  Only one who has that aptitude should be designated as  pastor.

Our Lord Jesus ripped open the external veil, but we have veils in our minds that keep us from drawing near with a true heart.  What are these veils?  Let's start with, "I don't want to worship with a bunch of hypocrites!"  Why not?  Jesus did.  Search the world over and tell me if you ever see a church without hypocrites.  Do you think you are the only one who is not?  Another internal veil is the idea that you aren't good enough for the Lord.  It is true you are a sinner, but it isn't your call whether you are good enough for the Lord.  He is, after all, gracious.  The reason He wants you here is to forgive you.  By Holy Baptism Christ Himself cleansed you from all your sins.  By human merit, no one would ever be worthy to come here, but the same Christ who broke the external veils breaks this one by calling you His friend.  He urges you to get stirred up.

In the divine service on the Lord's Day we come to the mountaintop.  We come to receive the food that sustains our courage as we face the devil's threats and temptations all week long.  God serves us by proclaiming the Law and the Gospel, and by stirring us up to loving action.  We serve God with thanksgiving and praise, and we serve one another by being here, expressing our fellowship with you, and stirring you up.  Here we all serve each other by praying publicly for our common needs.  At the summit is the Feast of the Sacrifice of Redemption, the point where we drink from the Fountain of Life, where we let ourselves be served by the Servant King.  Then we serve Him by doing our duty.

As Judgment Day draws near, the bad times that precede it are coming even faster.  We are going to have to fight the good fight of faith, which can be a hard one.  Our internal church discipline, the admonishing that we do - in several different forms - may  upset you when it happens, but the church has to do it.  Does it get you stirred up?  Oh, it gets you angry at us. Well, at least you heard reveille, at least you are involved at that point.  Does a lesson on stewardship send the hand to guard the wallet?  Of course it does, it's getting you stirred up.  We have veils in our minds that these things tear down.  Jesus was torn down Himself to unblock the veils which keep God's blessings from us.  He humiliates Himself.  Of course it's hard to let Jesus wash your feet, but He alone can get them clean.  Let Him tear down all the veils.  Draw near with a true heart, drink from the Fountain of Life, and see how stirring that can be.  AMEN.

Rev. Lloyd E. Gross

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