It has come to my attention recently that my name is known among the movers and shakers in our synod. I’m really sad to discover that. I have always considered myself unimportant, and content to remain so. According to what I have heard, I am considered arrogant, filled with self-importance. But such thoughts can only be applied to me by those who do not know me. I will admit to being terrible at poker. My feelings are instantly expressed on my face. I tend to react strongly to things. This can be off-putting, I suppose. I also tend to have a rather uncomfortable honesty about things. Not that I am indiscreet (pastors must be able to keep a confidence), but I speak more openly about my own flaws than most are accustomed to. I own those things. And, like all nerds, I have the ability to say the wrong thing at the wrong time in social situations. So, I am either embarrassing myself, or sitting uncomfortably silent. This doesn’t come off very well at parties.
But arrogant? No. I really am not.
The prophet’s job is to speak the truth, unafraid and unflinchingly. When someone publicly teaches error, I will publicly rebuke, as I am sworn to do according to the Lutheran Confessions. I “must” do so, according to the 8th commandment, so that others will be warned against error.
But I know that I am entirely expendable. As I’ve said to my parish in bible class, at some point (old age, call, collision with cattle truck) I will no longer be serving as pastor of this parish. Unless it is because our Lord returns, the parish will call someone else. He will (DV) preach the same things, and teach the same things. If things go as they should, the only differences will be the height, weight, hair color, etc. But the message will be the same. I could be plucked out of my parish by a flaming chariot today, and the District President would have someone here tomorrow to preach who would be indistinguishable from myself.
I was gone for a week once, and they had a guest preacher. When I returned, my bible class said, “Pastor, you were right. He said the same things you do.” Yup. That’s how it works. He is a few inches shorter, but the teaching/preaching was the same.
Pastors are always insignificant. Scripture tells us that there were only two exceptions to the rule. Moses – who spoke with God like no one else before or since, and Jesus, who is God. Even Elijah, who went to heaven without dying, was only repeating something done before by another (Enoch). Pastors come and go. Someday I will as well. That may be soon, or far off. I don’t know. God knows, and I’ll let him tell me when the time is right.
I’m not arrogant. I speak forcefully, as do all faithful pastors. Not because we think we have some greatness in ourselves, but because we are to preach with authority. We speak the word of Jesus himself to people. And that word is useful for correcting, rebuking, and encouraging. Faithful pastors do that fearlessly. To the lowliest of members, or the greatest of kings. And yes, even to the highest of synodical officers. In our world of sensitive feelings, and bureaucratic red tape, that can come off as arrogance. It is not.
I am nothing, really. I don’t have my own word to bring, and I am only to bring the word I have been given. I’m a messenger boy in the pulpit. And I’m a waiter at the table. I have no power in our synod. I don’t want any. I’m not after some great office. And when asked about names for offices, I have a long list of people who aren’t me. Because I am not about me. I am about Christ. It is his message I bring. His food I serve. And THAT IS IMPORTANT.
So, I will apologize and seek forgiveness for my own faults – and I have many. (My wife has to live with me. She is very loving and forgiving.) But I will not apologize for the word I bring. And no, I will not “tone it down” to fit in better.
I saw an article the other day about a company that sent a messenger to another company dressed as a medieval town crier. He was paid to do it that way. If he arrived in a more normal outfit, and talked in modern words, he would actually have failed in the task for which he was sent. So also pastors. We are sent to bring the Word of God to people, to do so with reckless abandon, with the full authority of God behind us, and to do it without apology. Anything less would be unfaithful.If that doesn’t fit in with today’s modern sensibilities, we rest in the knowledge that it didn’t fit in well in the time of Noah, or Elijah, or John the Baptist, or Jesus, or the Holy Apostles, or Luther, or Walther, or Pieper, or Preus. We do it anyway. Because that is what we are called by God to do.
And there are worse ways to live and die than that.