Friday, September 20, 2013

Chapel Devotion at Huron Valley Lutheran High School (September 17, 2013)

HEBREWS 13:7,17
Respect Your Christian Leaders.
(Chapel at Huron Valley Lutheran High School; Westland, MI)

            Remember your leaders who have spoken God’s word to you.  As you carefully observe the outcome of their lives, imitate their faith.
            Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they keep watch over your souls as those who will give an account, so that they can do this with joy and not with grief, for that would be unprofitable to you. (HCSB)

            Why do you go to church?  Why do you read your Bible?
            To know how to act?  How to serve others?  How to live well?
            You don’t have to go to church for that.  Even pagans know how to behave.  Many godless people are still nice people.  And those who do not believe in Jesus still believe that it is honorable to put in an honest day’s work, to contribute time and money to charities, and to help their neighbors when they have need.  They do not need to go to church to know that these things are right and good.  So you don’t need to go to church for that reason either.  And you don’t even need a Bible to know that these are good things.
            Why do you need a pastor?
            To offer advice?  Dr. Phil can do that.
            To give you some encouragement?  A coach or a parent can do that.
            We like to think that churches and pastors are unique because they give us moral guidance and sound advice and loving admonition.  And though pastors generally do that, so do others.  That is not what makes your church different from the world or your pastor different from a mentor or a psychologist.
            So why do you need a pastor?  Why does he deserve honor and obedience from you?
            You will find your answer in the liturgy.  In The Lutheran Hymnal (that’s the old hymnal that your teachers grew up with), the pastor spoke these words Sunday after Sunday: “…and in the stead and by the command of my Lord Jesus Christ, I forgive you in the name of the Father and of the Son + and of the Holy Spirit.”
            Whenever our Lord revealed himself to his people, he always veiled himself and hid his glory.  That was especially true of our Lord Jesus Christ.  He is God who hid himself in flesh and blood.  In humility he spoke, acted, served, suffered, and died.  This is where God revealed his saving mercy to the world.  And this flesh and blood God has called flesh and blood, weak and frail men to be his ministers to proclaim, deliver, and dispense that divine mercy in his stead and by his command.
            Your pastor was called by your congregation to stand, to speak, to listen, and to act in the stead of Christ.  He is there to dispense God’s mercy and forgiveness.  He is Christ’s mouth who calls you to repent and calls you to put all your trust in Jesus Christ for your salvation.  He is Christ’s hands who pours water on those being baptized.  He is Christ’s ears who hears your confession and Christ’s mouth who proclaims absolution upon you.  He is Christ’s hands who administers the body and blood of Christ to the penitent.  You will not get that from any coach or mentor or from Dr. Phil.  But your pastor has been given to you for just this purpose.  He stands in the stead of Christ to distribute the gifts of Christ.
            That is why the writer to the Hebrews urges you to obey your leaders who speak the word of God to you. 
            Once again, you may get the idea that obeying your leaders means being good, being nice, and behaving yourself.  But you do not need your pastor for that.  As we already considered, even atheists can do these things.  Yes, your pastor wants you to live a godly life and he will encourage that.  But you obey your pastor best by doing this one thing: coming to receive God’s mercy and forgiveness in the word and sacraments.
            Your pastor will not be surprised that you sin.  He knows that you are a sinner.  (He is a sinner who has his own sins to confess, too.)  Your pastor knows you need forgiveness, comfort, and salvation.  And that is why he is grieved if you are not flocking to the Divine Service.  He is gravely concerned for you, as he must give an account for his watch over you.  And he is gravely concerned for your salvation if you are not making word and sacrament your highest priority.  And he is gravely concerned if you are not gravely concerned about your own salvation.  And he will tell you so.
            It is not profitable if you despise your pastor’s office; for he stands in the stead of Christ.  It is not profitable if you ignore your pastor’s preaching; for he proclaims the word of Christ.  And it is not profitable to you if you neglect preaching and his word.  You’ve memorized that: “We should regard it as holy and gladly hear and learn it.” (Luther’s explanation of the 3rd Commandment)  That’s because your salvation is found there.
            You will always have temptations and other struggles.  You will also fall into temptation and be grieved by these struggles.  Your pastor will not be surprised at that.  He, too, is flesh and blood.  He knows what it is to be a sinner.  But he has been given to you to point you your Savior, Jesus Christ and to absolve you in his name.
It brings great joy to the pastor to see the people in his charge coming to hear God’s word, to confess their sins, to receive absolution, and to partake in the Lord’s Supper.  He speaks and acts in the stead of Christ to dispense God’s forgiveness and deliver his salvation.  These things are most profitable to you.  They bring everlasting joy to you who receive them.  It brings great joy to your pastor to deliver them to you.  And Jesus and the angels in heaven rejoice too.

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

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