13 May 2014

The Lamb at the Center

Let’s face it, St. Paul was a workhorse.  And you know guys who are like that, who put to shame, not only your laziness, but even you best efforts.  Maybe you’re a workhorse, too; or, maybe not so much.  But the question is not how long and hard you work, nor how efficiently and effectively.  Rather, who and what has the Lord called you to be?  And what has He called you to do?

Pastors are called upon to care for others; and that is not simply a matter of your job description, but really your identity in relation to Christ’s Church.  You are a spiritual father to God’s children; and your responsibility for those children is also like “a mother’s tender care,” on call 24/7, both day and night, sometimes with tears, often in humility, facing trials and temptations all the time.

You are called to shepherd the flock, to guard and defend the lambs and sheep of Christ; to feed and nourish them, and to lead and guide them with His Word.  It is hard work, and you know as well or better than anyone how important and necessary it is.  So there is a constant struggle with pride and self-conceit, on the one hand, and with shame and nagging regret on the other hand.

You are called to preach and teach, to testify and live according to the counsel of God, which is to speak of, and to practice, daily repentance and constant faith in Christ.  To do so, not relying on yourself, but in the confidence that He will guard and keep you, and build you up in His love.

There is joy and satisfaction in this calling, but it is exhausting work.  Sometimes it drives you to the point of burning out, and sometimes it drives you to the verge of despair, to give up and quit, or to get by with whatever you can, and hope to God that no one notices your shortfall.

Your care and concern for the Church involves a weight and weariness of duty, which becomes all the more discouraging and disappointing when you seem to be doing no good nor making any difference.  When you have worked so hard and done your best, and you perceive no results, nor even a response, is it all for nothing?  And what about those days and weeks, sometimes months on end, when you haven’t done all that you should, nor even all that you could have done?  Then the weight of the Office and its vital importance falls hard and heavy on your failure.

As if that were not enough, the Lord Himself and His Holy Apostles have repeatedly warned you of the dangers that will beset both you and the flock you are called to care for.  Enemies within and without will not simply ignore or despise your work, but hate you and hurt you on account of it.

So you are tempted, in subtle and obvious ways, to shrink back from the preaching and practice that will lead to persecution, affliction, and that most dreaded of crosses to bear, unpopularity.  It hardly seems worth it, anyway, when your best is never good enough, and, in fact, you know yourself to be unworthy and incapable of the duties laid upon you.  If it were left up to you, Luther had it right, it would be all for rack and ruin.  Therefore, nothing ventured, nothing lost.

But let us return to the real question: Who and what has the Lord called you to be, and what has He given you to do?  The answers are daunting, sometimes frightening, yet they are clear enough.

Only stop looking at yourself and at your hopes and fears and aspirations, and consider the goal and purpose of your calling.  It is not that you must save yourself or anyone else by your efforts; though it is true, indeed, that the Ministry of the Gospel to which you are called is the means of salvation for those who preach and those who hear the Word of Christ, for everyone who believes.

But, no, you are called to your office and station in life, so that Christ be praised and worshiped in your work, in what you do and suffer and receive in His Name.  Not to glorify yourself, but to be glorified in Him, and He in you, by the way and means of His Cross.

That Cross, which is laid upon you — the weight and worry of the Office; the discouragement and disappointment; the apparent failures, and the pressing fears — these, too, will have their way with you to the glory of God in Christ.  Not that He is making sport of you, nor extracting a pound of flesh to profit at your expense.  But that you would repent with the repentance you are called to preach and teach.  And that you would be taught and learn the faith of Christ, by which you call on the Name of the Lord, find grace to help in time of need, and are saved by the mercies of God.

Take heart.  The comfort and encouragement of the Gospel are also for you.  Repentance and faith in the Lord Jesus are not simply the content of your preaching, but the life to which you also are called by this same Lord Jesus Christ, who loves you, who has been crucified and is risen for you; that you should be, not only a shepherd of His flock, but a sheep of His pasture.

It is this, first of all, that you are called to be: a sheep of the Good Shepherd.  As He Himself, the great Shepherd of the Sheep, the Pastor and Bishop of your body and your soul, has become the Lamb of God, who has taken away the sins of the world.  He is the Lamb at the Center of His one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church in heaven and on earth, this Lamb who has been slain, and yet, behold, He is alive and life-giving.  He is the Crucified and Risen One, who lives and reigns at the center of the Apostles & Prophets, Elders & Evangelists, Pastors & Teachers, and sheep alike.

It is to Himself that He calls you, into this place of abundance, where He abides with you and all His sheep as the One Shepherd of One Flock.  The Cross by which He brings you into this Holy Communion of heaven and earth, by the way and means of His own sacrifice, aims not at your destruction, but to cleanse and purify your body and soul, as silver and gold are purified by fire.

As He has passed through the fire and the water on your behalf, and as He now dwells in the midst of His people, and so also with you in your suffering, your labors are not in vain.  For He brings you through the great tribulation into the gracious and glorious presence of God, to dwell with Him there, and to worship Him day and night.  So does He feed your hunger and quench your thirst; He dries your tears, shelters you from the scorching heat, and clothes you in His Righteousness by the cleansing of His Blood.

In the Name + of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

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