For Pastors Only!

Not really. But this is the sermon I preached this morning at our Winkel-Conference, which I hosted. I also served apple fritters, but I can’t send them to you via the blog.

Text of the sermon after the jump. 

Historically, the Sunday sermon is on the Gospel reading. No rule says it has to be. But it does make sense as we gather together to hear the Word and Work of Jesus, that we explain to people that Word and Work directly, rather than the inspired commentary of Saint Paul, or the various wanderings of and warnings to the Israelites – as valuable as that instruction is be for us, on whom the end of the ages has come.

Midweek services provide opportunities to preach on other things – Luther did Saturday evening sermons on the Gospel of John, we have various sermon series for Advent and Lent available each year. The Epistle and Old Testament are always good options as well.

Tomorrow, the second Wednesday Divine Service will be held after our voter’s meeting – that will be a sermon based on the Epistle reading – not cleverly devised myths, but eyewitnesses of his majesty. That gives us the Old Testament to consider today.

Moses veiled his face. We just sang about angels veiling faces. But they veil them – cover their eyes with two wings – to avoid looking directly on the face of God. Moses veils his face not to avoid seeing God, but to avoid the people seeing the results of his conversations with God. He takes the veil off to speak to God, and puts it on when he speaks to the people. We don’t know how long the reflected glory shone on his face – we do know it eventually faded.

The veil over his face is used by Paul to explain why the Jews did not believe. The veil remains, says Saint Paul. It was used in the first place because of hardened hearts. The people did not want to see even the fading glory of God – they were afraid. They had just committed idolatry with the golden calf. God had offered them a deal – he would send an angel to clear out the people of Canaan, Israel would go away from Sinai, God would remain there. They would go away from his presence. The people know it is a great punishment. They repent of their sin. They plead – Moses pleads – for God to go with them – even though it means his wrath if – when – they disobey again. Moses is getting instructions for the tabernacle, and as he goes in to talk to God, and comes out again to deliver the word to the people, they are afraid. But as Paul tells us – it is not a godly fear, as when they refused to go up the mountain with Moses. It is a hardened heart. They want God to go with them, but to keep his distance. Even the reflected glory in Moses face is too much for them. They do not want to see that. In the New Testament, the veil remains because they will not see that Jesus is the Son of God. Those who turn to the Lord have the veil lifted.

The veil of the temple is torn at the death of Jesus. We now have access to the Father through his sacrifice. We are beloved children of God through Holy Baptism, and we call upon God as dear children ask their dear Father.

For those who wish to keep veils in place, who do not want to see the presence of God in Christ Jesus, the Gospel is hidden from view. A pastor’s job is to preach in such a way that the veil is removed – So that people see Christ. The famous painting from the Wittenberg altarpiece comes to mind: At one end of the painting, Luther preaching to the people, at the other end the people hearing. But they are not looking at Luther. They are looking up towards the center where Luther points, in the center is Christ on the cross. A visual representation of “I decided to know nothing among you but Christ and Him crucified.”

That is what removes the veil. The death and resurrection of Christ. The body and blood poured out on the cross for the forgiveness of your sins. Without the Spirit to enlighten our hearts, the veil remains. No one has strength enough to believe on their own. Not the greatest of the apostles or prophets. Even they are subject to death without the Spirit to enlighten their hearts. In Acts, the Ethiopian Eunuch says that he can not understand unless someone explains to him. And so, the deacon Philip explains the words of the prophet Isaiah – how they point to Jesus. It is similar to the way Jesus had to explain his death and resurrection to the disciples on the road to Emmaus – how they could not see that it was him until he broke the bread. Then their eyes were opened. The veil was lifted.

Pastors have a strange task – it is given to them to proclaim, to instruct, to rebuke, encourage, console, all so that the Spirit has opportunity to work faith where and when he wills. But it is not for pastors to remove the veil. It is not for pastors to give faith. They are instruments of God. Working with the means he has given – word, water, bread/wine – so that the gifts of God be given to the people. One faithful pastor is the same as another – they are expendable. All pastors serve either in parishes where others have gone before, or if they found a congregation, where others will follow. A pastor dies, another takes his place. The work continues. The veils are lifted, but that is God’s business. The task of the pastor – to preach the Word purely; to administer the sacraments rightly, according to the institution of Christ. There is a temptation to think that there must be more. There must be some other measure of a pastor and his ministry. But there is not.

Moses – who spoke directly to God, spends his time writing things down, then coming out to repeat it to the people. And we are told none was ever like him speaking directly to God. The rest all receive the word as it is given them, and then pass it on to others. But they themselves don’t really do anything. The occasional miracle. Naaman, an axe head. But the prophet who tries to do the most activity – Jonah – does so in opposition to God. Pastors receive the word, study the word, examine the word, and then speak that word.

The only one with any other work in the entire history of things was Jesus. He’s the only one who had anything else to do. He speaks the word of His Father, to be sure. But he also performs the work of salvation. He goes into death itself. A select few are chosen to give witness to Jesus with their own blood. But mostly, pastors give witness with words. Oh, we have the perennial sayings about the works of pastors, “Preach, sometimes use words…” “They won’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” But the truth is, the pastors task is to speak, so that the Spirit can remove the veil according to his will. The other stuff supports the speaking, not the other way around. Let’s not get confused about what we do. We show love to others, as is the task of any Christian. The pastor helps to arrange that love shown to others on behalf of the church. But the pastor primarily is speaking. Teaching. Using the God-given word so that the Spirit, according to his good pleasure, can lift the veil on the hearts of the people, so that they would repent of their sin, receive by faith the promise, and hold fast to that promise by faith.

It can be a thankless task. The veil can not be lifted by any one pastor or even a group of them. The task is to speak the word, let the spirit worry about the veil status. The temptation for pastors is to get personally invested in the outcome. If it goes well, they become arrogant. If it goes poorly they become despondent – in either case, they turn away from the sure promise of God to their own efforts. Not that pastors aren’t involved. They are not robots – they put their efforts into it, they love the people, and it’s discouraging when the seed gets eaten or trampled, or choked or matted flat.

And sometimes the pastor must – Moses style – show only parts of the glory of God – how many pastors in our synod still patiently instruct, waiting for the day when the veil is lifted regarding the benefits of weekly communion, or closed altars, or even use of the divine liturgy,  or… whatever it is.

It was never about the pastor. It was never about Moses and the veil. It was about bringing the Word to the people, so that their hardened hearts would be broken by that word, so that God could remove the heart of stone and replace it with a heart of flesh. So that a new spirit would be created within them.

Talk about discouraging. Moses is on the mountain literally getting instructions for the tabernacle and the altar of God, when the people get impatient and make a calf and say “This is what saved us from Egypt.” Moses, time and again, is criticized for how he does a job he never wanted and tried to get out of. And yet, he is faithful to the Word and promise of God. He speaks the Word to them. He, even as he preaches, receives from God the forgiveness of sins. When he sins, he repents, and returns to the Lord, humbly accepting correction and rebuke from God. In this, he is example to us.

All Christians must receive from God the forgiveness of sins. Pastors included. Just as Moses, John the Baptist, Elijah, and so on. Only one was ever perfect. He is the one who is the Word. Who went into death. Who did all the work, so that pastors would be able to speak the promise. Thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.


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