Installation of David Thompson, Pastor, Immanuel Lutheran Church, Audubon, Minnesota, January 8, 2005
Rev. Rolf Preus| (Acts 20:28)
What you see here this afternoon is a group of people. We stand, sit, sing, speak, and listen. One man will stand up here in front of you. He will answer questions and make promises. So will you. What you see here is people engaging in a religious ritual.
But religious rituals aren’t necessarily divine. There’s more idolatry in this world than there is true worship of the true God. People love to engage in religious acts, mostly so that they can bring themselves up to God. Religiosity is a disease that afflicts every sinner born into this world. We need to look beyond whatever human activity we see and hear this afternoon. We need to go to God’s written Word – the Holy Scriptures – in order to understand what is taking place among us today. Listen to the inspired words of St. Paul recorded by St. Luke in Acts 20:28.
Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over which the Holy Ghost has made you overseers, to feed the church of God, which he has purchased with his own blood. Acts 20:28
Everything belongs to God: the man, the word, the church, and the blood.
The man belongs to God. David Thompson didn’t appoint himself as pastor of this congregation. You didn’t hire him. God sent him. This is the clear teaching of God’s Word. The inspired words of our text for this afternoon were spoken by St. Paul the Apostle to the pastors of the Christian congregation in Ephesus. St. Paul says here that the Holy Spirit made them overseers of the congregation. He gave them a single command: feed the church of God.
God sends the pastor. We call it a divine call, but the Bible uses the word send. St. Paul writes in Romans 10:14 – 15:
How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? and how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? and how shall they hear without a preacher? And how shall they preach, unless they are sent?
God sends preachers to preach. Jesus sent the apostles directly. The pastors in Ephesus were not sent directly by Jesus. They were put into office by the church. But St. Paul tells the pastors in Ephesus that the Holy Ghost had them overseers of the church. When God sends His minister through the activity of the church it is no less God sending him than if Jesus spoke directly to him as He did with the apostles who were the original ministers. When a congregation calls a man to be her pastor it is God who is calling that man because God has established the pastoral office and has entrusted that office to His church. It is God who sends this man to you. You know this not because God whispered in your ear and told you to call him or because God whispered in David Thompson’s ear and told him to accept. You know this because God has established the pastoral office in and for His church and has given His church the authority to entrust this office to men who are faithful to His word. Of these men it is as St. Paul says in our text: the Holy Ghost has made them overseers. The man belongs to God.
The word belongs to God. God sends the preachers to preach what God wants them to preach. Why? The purpose of preaching is always faith. I’m not talking about a generic faith that acknowledges the existence of a good god that gives us good things. I’m talking about the Christian faith, the faith that believes that for Christ’s sake all our sins are forgiven, we have peace with God, we stand righteous before Him, and we have eternal life. The reason the preacher must be God’s man is because unless God sends him and defines for him the gospel he is to preach, he will invariably preach whatever it is that people’s itching ears want to hear. Where the gospel is not preached, there can be no faith, no hope, no forgiveness, no eternal life.
Neither the pastor nor the congregation he serves can ever afford to forget that the word the preacher preaches belongs to God. Listen to what Luther says in the Large Catechism about the work of the Holy Spirit. He writes:
Neither you nor I could ever know anything of Christ, or believe in him and take him as our Lord, unless these were first offered to us and bestowed on our hearts through the preaching of the Gospel by the Holy Spirit. The work is finished and completed, Christ has acquired and won the treasure for us by his sufferings, death, and resurrection, etc. But if the work remained hidden and no one knew of it, it would have been all in vain, all lost. In order that this treasure might not be buried but put to use and enjoyed, God has caused the Word to be published and proclaimed, in which he has given the Holy Spirit to offer and apply to us this treasure of salvation.
Where he does not cause the Word to be preached and does not awaken understanding in the heart, all is lost. . . For where Christ is not preached, there is no Holy Spirit to create, call, and gather the Christian church, and outside it no one can come to the Lord Christ.
He is not God’s man if he does not preach God’s word. Faith comes from hearing the word of God. This is why preachers must preach it as God wants it preached. The salvation of souls is at stake.
The minister doesn’t decide what his job is. The congregation doesn’t decide what the minister’s job is. God has already decided. After Jesus died on the cross to take away the sin of the world He purchased treasures. He rose from the dead on the third day with treasures to give. These treasures are forgiveness of sins, peace with God, freedom from guilt, deliverance from death and every evil and everlasting life in heaven. Jesus has given these treasures to His church on earth. They belong to every single Christian. Jesus also established the office of preaching the gospel and administering the sacraments of Christ. The man to whom this office is entrusted is called a pastor, but the Bible uses various titles to refer to the pastor and the job isn’t about titles, anyway. It’s about preaching, teaching, guiding, convincing, warning, rebuking, encouraging, and comforting God’s people with God’s word. It is an office of oversight. The pastor is to watch over the entire flock. The authority of this office is nothing more and nothing less that the word that belongs to God.
The church belongs to God. Pastor Thompson, this is not your church. Members of Immanuel, this is not your church. This is Christ’s church. He is the one who bought it. When the pastor thinks the church belongs to him he will impose his own will on the congregation, confusing his will with the will of God. When the people of the congregation think that they own the church simply because they own the property where the church gathers together they will impose their will on the pastor, thinking that the church is a democracy instead of the body of Christ. No, the church doesn’t belong to herself and she doesn’t belong to the pastor. She belongs to Him who bought her.
Much of the conflict within congregations or between pastors and parishioners comes about because people ignore this fundamental truth. For the pastor the fact that the church belongs to Christ and not to the pastor means that he will always subordinate his own personal notions, ideas, goals or preferences to what is it the best interests of the congregation. For the congregation the fact that the church belongs to Christ and not to herself means that they will honor the pastor who feeds them with Christ’s holy word and sacraments and will not judge him by whether or not he meets this or that social or personal need. The church isn’t a religious social club for likeminded individuals. It is the body of Christ. He bought her. She belongs to Him as a bride to her husband because He purchased her with His own blood.
The blood belongs to God. What a wonderful truth! It is deeply offensive to this world, but a precious doctrine for souls that cry out for pardon and yearn for the forgiveness of sins. The blood belongs to God. Jesus is no mere man. His crucifixion on the cross was the crucifixion of God. God chose to be shamed before His creation. Think of it! This is what the church is worth! It has the value of God’s own blood.
God has no blood. He is a spirit. Men have blood, not God. But when God the Son became a man – when He was incarnate by the Holy Ghost of the Virgin Mary and was made man – a personal union took place. God joined Himself to our flesh and blood. Jesus is true God and true man. He cannot be divided into two persons. He is one Lord Jesus Christ. Mary is the mother of God. God died on the cross. A man stilled the storm, raised the dead, and fed the five thousand. All that Jesus did and does was done and is done by Him who is truly God and truly a man.
God shed His blood for you. Why? Why would He shame Himself before the world? For one reason: to bear your guilt and to take it away. Guilt is far, far, worse than shame. It doesn’t seem that way, but it is so. Shame gains its strength from the attitudes of men. We are shamed when people look at us with contempt and stand in judgment of us. Shame deals with how the world sees us. We love the love of the world and so we run from shame. But guilt gains its strength from the attitude of God. We are guilty when God looks at us and sees our sin and stands in judgment of us. Guilt deals with how God sees us. But since we cannot see God we think that we can cover up our guilt from Him. We foolishly think that by denying it we are avoiding it. But it cannot be denied.
This is what God’s man must preach God’s law to God’s church gathered here in this place. He must preach it with painful specificity and the full severity of God’s offended majesty. He must do so because it’s not enough that we appear good before our neighbors. We must be righteous before our Creator. And it is only for sinners that God’s blood was shed, and so it is only sinners who know they are sinners who can receive the forgiveness that flows from that blood.
It will be to convicted and guilty sinners that Pastor Thompson will proclaim the blood and righteousness of Jesus Christ from this pulpit Sunday after Sunday. And you will come. You will come with your sins burdening your conscience. God will forgive you and forgive you and forgive you again. He will do so through His words spoken by His man appointed to watch over His church. Those words will convey to you the benefits of God’s blood, even as you will join your pastor at the altar to eat and to drink the body and blood by which we are all set free from guilt. Honor this man that God sends to you.
Pastor Thompson, don’t forget why you are here. God sent you here to speak His words to His church. Preach the blood shed for the forgiveness of sins, and know that that blood was shed for you. No man deserves the honor of serving as a pastor in Christ’s church. But God makes us worthy to be ministers of the New Testament, not engraved in stone, but sealed by the blood of God. Amen.