This is not actually only for pastors. It is the sermon I preached at the monthly Winkel-Conference on March 11. I had not intended to share this, as it is a personal sermon for pastors, colleagues, friends. But a facebook post yesterday brought it to mind, and I think it may offer comfort to other pastors. So, I offer it as the personal reflections of a pastor regarding the holy things, the holy office, and the forgiveness of sins. (As always, after the jump.)
Feast Yesterday, Feast Tomorrow. Today, nothing. If you look deep into the liturgical calendar, you discover that today is the day of Saint Eulogius. Bishop-elect of CordobaSpain, who was martyred by the Islamic government for the crime of insulting the prophet. But to find propers for his feast day, is near impossible. Perhaps in a few years we will around this time of March, commemorate the 33 unnamed Christians killed in North Korea last week. But then, pick a day on the calendar, and you could find a martyr for it, whether an official canonized saint or not.
But, here we are, stuck with the readings from Sunday. We’re in the unique position of two out of three readings being the same no matter what lectionary you’re in, so that means we all preached on – or at least studied before preaching on one of the other readings – the temptation of Jesus. We all read of our first parents, who didn’t fare so well against the serpent. We all read of Jesus, who did. It seems so easy for him. Satan actually left him. So, if I quote three bible verses, will he leave me alone. Because no matter how much I try and defy him with my stellar knowledge of theology, he still lurks in the corners, whispering, until the inevitable fall. The inevitable sin.
There are many things about being a pastor that non-pastors never quite get. The most secret, the one we don’t want anyone to know, is how very, very sinful we are. How very much we struggle against temptation, only to lose time and again. We project a very pious exterior. Paul demands it, or we lose our source of income. But we are bitter, angry, resentful, lustful, greedy, glory-mongers in exactly the same percentages as the general population. And we are addicted to our pet sins, whether they are in the Psychological dictionary as addictions or not. We struggle, and hope no one ever finds out. Because if they did, we’d be finished.
God calls men into the office who are just as fallible as anyone else. And the gift given with the laying on of hands, doesn’t really seem to do too much when Satan comes calling. Oh the thinks we can think. But they aren’t good thoughts. Perhaps we are a little better than average at restraining our baser impulses, and keeping them as only thoughts. Perhaps we are just better at making it seem like we can, because we don’t brag about it publicly. We find quiet dark places for the sin.
We need Jesus just as much as the next guy. We need to be rescued from this body of death just as much as anyone else. And our biggest fear, is that our people know it. Or that somehow they will find it out.
Jesus: Crazed with hunger, Satan tempts him with the needs of the body. He could have gone before a twenty year old Jesus with a playboy magazine. Effect would have been the same. Crazed man who needs to fulfill his bodily desires. In this case, forty days of hunger. Starvation.
The temple. No temptation to jump from the top of this church. But false teaching – it’s tempting. So much easier to compromise here, give a little there. And of course, we have to, or we don’t survive. Well, it serves the Gospel. It is really an external thing. We can do it just this once. We’ve all been there.
And if we give a little, then maybe we can have the people pour in. We don’t need all nations of the world, but it would be nice if people in our own towns respected and looked up to us. Fifty years ago they would have. The pastor. An important member of the community. Now, they avert there eyes. Our wives aren’t asked to serve on the exclusive committees anymore. They have trouble making friends. Conflict of interest with congregants. No one outside the church wants to talk. Satan gets at us through the family. That’s the easiest way. We will gladly sacrifice our selves, our fortunes and our sacred honor for the sake of Christ and his church. Satan can attack all of those, and we say, so what. Bring on the martyrdom. But Satan rarely takes those on. So much easier to get at us through our loved ones. God you better leave my family alone. There are days when we wonder if Rome has a point about the married clergy thing. That’s something else to store up for when – and if – we go to confession.
We could commiserate all day, flog ourselves until our proverbial backs are bloody. We know our sins. We know it seems, better than anyone else, how good Satan is at his job. We’ve got the scars to prove it.
Of course, the problem for the good Lutheran pastor is not that we think we are so far above and beyond with our sanctification. The problem is believing that the forgiveness is for us as well. We say it. We know it applies to ourselves in the general sense. We confess. We hear the absolution when we get the chance. We receive the same body and blood.
But we handle holy things. We know the risks. And there are days we wonder if, as we go up to the altar, we will end up like Nadab and Abihu. Consumed by the Lord’s wrath.
How do we dare speak the word of Jesus, touch his body and blood, hold the cup up and offer forgiveness to others, when we are so very guilty. The word is hard to believe. It’s just as hard to believe that it applies to ourselves. Because Satan is working overtime on that one.
Anyone who hasn’t replayed the sins of the day before while holding the chalice and wondering if fire from heaven will fall? Anyone who hasn’t said, “How can hands that have touched the body of Christ do the things mine have done” How can lips that have spoken what my lips have spoken also speak Christ’s word and cause the presence of Christ among the people?”
But now you’ve fallen for the temptation. You’ve gone beyond what the Word of God says. You’ve given into the temptation to believe that you are important. It’s the one that got Moses, “How many times do I have to give you water?” It’s the subtlest temptation of all. The presence of Christ for your people isn’t there because of you. You didn’t cause him to be there. He is there because of his promise and his word. You don’t speak a magical formula to which he is bound. You speak his words and he is present in and with them because of who he is, and because of his love for his people.
And if Jesus won’t abandon his sheep that stray, If no one can snatch those sheep out of his hand. Than how much more will he stand by one who has spoken his word, who has made known that salvation to others. Who has handled the holy things – knowing the risk – but has done so in love for the one who sent him. Who labors in the word, who spots, and fights the wolves wherever they may appear in the midst of the sheep. Who does so with reckless disregard for his own safety. And who does it – yes imperfectly. Yes who fails, and sins, and falls, and falls again, and is kept up at night with his failures. But one who speaks the word of Absolution. Who lives his life dealing in the forgiveness of sins. Do not doubt that you are also forgiven.
It’s not about how sorry you are for the sin, and how committed you are to making up for it. That’s the Judas approach. It’s about the faith that grabs hold the promise. You sinned against God, you denied your Lord. But like Peter, the Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. Jesus forgave Peter not after he was raised from the dead, as a way of saying, see everything is alright. Jesus forgave him with the look. This is why I must die. Because of these moments. Because of these sins. Do not doubt, Peter.
It would be nice if temptation was easy to fight off. If it was, if it was something we could just overcome by force of will. If Satan was that easy to defeat, then Jesus died for nothing. Jesus died for real sins. He died for yours. Because of his love for you. Do not be faithless, but believe.