What We Do

Video of the Divine Service is here. The sermon begins around the 20:25 mark.

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Today many Lutheran churches are celebrating this as Reformation Sunday, since it’s the closest Sunday to October 31 that’s not All Saints Day. We celebrate it as the beginning of the Reformation of Christ’s Church, even though many of the 95 Theses would seem foreign to Lutherans today, since some of them still assumed that purgatory existed and that indulgences simply needed to be rescued from how they were being abused. And while I think that June 25, the Presentation of the Augsburg Confession is a much bigger deal for us than October 31, still, it’s the most commonly recognized day for the beginning of the Reformation.

So we are reminded once again of the significance of salvation by grace through faith alone, the all-sufficiency of Christ for our justification, and the essential centrality of the written and preached Word of God, which testifies to the Word of God made flesh, Jesus. One of the other things on which we pride ourselves is the Scriptural teaching that human works contribute nothing to our salvation. Our salvation is one hundred percent accomplished and sustained by the work of God, and we receive it in faith. When it comes to the justification of sinners, there is no room for sinners contributing to that justification, because even the smallest contribution means just that much uncertainty about whether our salvation is really complete. This is the free and liberating Gospel of Jesus Christ, that because He has done everything and it really is complete, there is no doubt about whether there’s anything left for us to do to be right before God. You have been clothed with Christ, and you can’t be more perfect than Jesus; you can’t be more pleasing to God than His Son is to Him.

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Bishop and Christian*, July 2017

Why Does the Pastor Read the Readings?

Notice: the title of this is not “Why Must the Pastor Read the Readings.” Which means that this is not about why no one else can or may read the Scriptures in the Divine Service. It is about why I, as the pastor in this place, read them.

It starts with Paul’s instructions to the pastor in Ephesus, with whom I share my name: “Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching” (1 Timothy 4:13). This refers explicitly to the reading of the Scriptures in the assembly of the congregation, as Nehemiah 8:7-8, Acts 13:15, and 2 Corinthians 3:14 make clear. Paul’s instructions in 1 Timothy are certainly enough for me. But, it’s true, Paul does not command that it must be so everywhere and always.

The second half of why I read the readings publicly is—as you probably get tired of hearing from me—vocation, vocation, vocation. Must a nurse be the one to check your blood pressure when you go to the doctor? Must a mechanic be the one to check your oil or fluid levels when you take your car in? Must the plumber be the one to undo the pipe that leads from your sink to the ground? Must the pastor be the one who reads the readings? To all of those “musts,” we must say no. There’s nothing that would prevent anyone from doing any of those things. There’s no command or law that rules any of those things off-limits to someone who hasn’t been trained as a nurse, mechanic, plumber, or pastor.

But that’s not really the point. The point is the realm of responsibility that’s been given to particular people for particular things. The pastor has a very limited sphere of responsibility: the Word and the Sacraments. That’s it. Only when it comes to what is spoken from the Word of God and what pertains directly to that does the pastor have an explicit responsibility. About everything else that happens in a congregation, the pastor may—probably does—have opinions. But the pastor’s opinion has no more weight than anyone else’s about a budget, or the church grounds, or schedules and times, or any number of other things that do not fall within the realm of the Word and the Sacraments.

But why does God call pastors to congregations? Precisely to give His people His Word and His Sacraments. This is why the very first two items on the “Supplement to the Diploma of Vocation[!]” that you sent me when you called me to be your pastor say “In the name of the Triune God and by His authority, in order that we may carry out His mission to the world, we hereby authorize and obligate you: To administer the Word of God in its full truth and purity as contained in the Sacred Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments and as set forth in the confessional writings of the Evangelical Lutheran Church as found in the Book of Concord; To administer the holy sacraments in accordance with their divine institution.”

That’s my goal: to do what you called me to do the best that I can do it. The “administer[ing of] the Word of God” includes reading that Word publicly and regularly in the Divine Service. I do not read the Scriptures out of a misplaced sense of having to be in control, or having to be in front, or having to be seen. If you know me, you know that the last thing I like is drawing attention to myself. (Ask my wife: if we have the music up loud in the car, I have to have the windows closed so the people around won’t look at us.) I simply want to carry out my vocation among you: to give you the Word and Sacraments that are Christ’s life for you as you go out each week to do the responsibilities of your vocations.

God has given us each unique, though sometimes overlapping, vocations. Let’s rejoice together in the way that God distributes His gifts to all the members of Christ’s Body, and the ways that He serves all of us through each of us.

Pr. Winterstein

*St. Augustine (354-430 AD), Bishop of Hippo in North Africa, said, “For you I am a bishop [overseer]; with you I am a Christian.”

Bishop and Christian*, January 2015

As we begin another calendar year, the Church is already in full celebration mode, with the Circumcision and Name of Jesus (Jan. 1), Epiphany (Jan. 6), and the Baptism of Our Lord (celebrated Jan. 11).

Everywhere, people are talking about New Year’s Resolutions, which no one expects to keep and which no one really wants to, anyway. They are generally distasteful things, which is why we always say things like, “When the holidays are over, then I’ll…”; they are things which we do not want to begin until there’s nothing better to do in the winter months of January and February.

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