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.”

What Do We Do and Why Do We Do It? (part 1)

On the liturgy, Preparation through Gloria in Excelsis.

[meant to have video; no power cord.  meant to press record; forgot.]


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

I think it was Jaroslav Pelikan who said something to the effect that traditionalism is the dead faith of the living, while tradition is the living faith of the dead. Traditionalism is doing something simply because it was always done; tradition is doing what has been handed down to us, because it has become ours. Traditionalism very often leads to the opposite error: doing things simply because they aren’t what we’ve always done, always doing what is new and contemporary. But the fact that something is “contemporary” is not a reason to do anything. All it means is that it is being done now, at the same time that we are alive. What matters is not when something was produced, or when it was made, but what it is and what it does. A high school history teacher of mine once asked a class of sophomores, “What makes something a classic?” I don’t remember all the answers that were given, but I remember one answer: Something that stands the test of time. There are lots of things that are made and done and written and heard, but most are forgotten, most are forgettable, most are not able to stand the brutal test of history as it shifts, changes, and moves through place and time. One thing that has stood the test of time, even as it has developed and moved through very different languages, cultures, and places, is the liturgy of the Church. Granted, the Church has not had only one liturgy in her history, but it is astounding to consider how much the liturgies of the Church have in common across time and space. For the next few weeks, I’m going “preach through the liturgy” as we dig deeper and hear better this great gift as it has been handed down to us for hundreds, even thousands, of years.

Continue reading

Bishop and Christian*, June 2015

Summer is upon us, and we take vacations from all sorts of things: school, work, regular routines and schedules, etc. Our bodies, created by God, require rest and relaxation—which is the primary reason God instituted the Sabbath in the Old Testament. We normally need a day off from work (which also means making sure that, if we have them, those who work for us receive a day off each week), and occasionally we need more time to visit family and friends. These things are all good, and we should give thanks to God for these blessings, which all come from Him.

At the same time we sometimes, even without thinking it through, take a vacation from those things that we need to live. Which would be a strange thing to do. Normally, we do not take vacations from food, or water, or sleep. Nor do we take vacations from relatively less necessary things such as love and care for our families, or being good stewards of what God has given us, or doing the things required of us by the government. Imagine taking a vacation from drinking water. Imagine taking a vacation from serving your wife, or from telling your husband that you love him. Imagine taking a vacation from obeying traffic signals. And yet, we often take vacations from things that are no less necessary—in fact, far more necessary. Things like hearing the Word of God; receiving Christ’s Body and Blood in the Supper; raising our children in the fear and instruction of the Lord; studying the Bible and praying. These are far greater gifts of God than even bodily gifts, because they, unlike food or government, are eternal. They give us eternal life and forgiveness of sins, and keep us safe from the devil, the temptations of the world, and our own sinful flesh, because they are Jesus’ own ways of coming to us. It can only be a callous, faithless heart, or a mind captive to the devil or the flesh, that would despise these gifts by taking a vacation from them.

Wherever you find yourselves this summer, seek out a congregation with which we are in fellowship (The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod [LCMS] or The American Association of Lutheran Churches [TAALC]) and rejoice that God never takes a vacation from giving you all of the fruits of Christ’s death, resurrection, and ascension for you in the forms of Word and Sacrament!

The Hymn of the Month for June is Lutheran Service Book 594, “God’s Own Child, I Gladly Say It.” This hymn is a good reminder to us of our fundamental identity: “I am baptized into Christ!” Sin cannot disturb our souls any longer; Satan must hear and give way; even death cannot end our gladness. It sings the full-throated hope of our resurrection: “Open-eyed my grave is staring: even there I’ll sleep secure. Though my flesh awaits its raising, still my soul continues praising: I am baptized into Christ; I’m a child of paradise!” (stanza 5). I suspect that this hymn might have you humming along throughout the summer.

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.”