Rev. Jacob Sutton, Pastor
+ In the Name of Jesus +
“Grant to us, Lord, the Spirit to think and do always such things as are right, that we, who cannot do anything that is good without You, may be enabled by You to live according to Your will…” (Collect of the Day)
Today we pray that the Holy Spirit enable us to think and do always “such things as are right” – because without God’s help, we would do such things as are wrong. Our own efforts will not produce good fruit, no matter how hard we try – by nature, we are sinful and unclean in our thoughts, words, and deeds. Sin stains and poisons and corrupts everything we are and do, we are our own false prophet, following after voices contrary to God’s Word, according to our sinful flesh.
But the new man in each of us that lives in repentance and faith asks God to enable us to walk humbly in the light of His Word, always inwardly and outwardly following all of God’s commands.
You pray for the Holy Spirit to bring about in our lives “such things as are right” all the time, actually, when each day and night you pray for God’s Kingdom to come: that our Heavenly Father give us His Holy Spirit, so that by His grace we believe His Holy Word, and lead godly lives here in time and there in eternity.
We are taught by the Bible that the Lord brings His Holy Spirit and His Kingdom on the wings of His preached Word:
“Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved,” Paul writes. “How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!’ But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, ‘Lord, who has believed what he has heard from us?’ So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.” (Romans 10:13-17; ESV)
The Lord answers our prayer for His Will to be done and His Kingdom to come to us by sending preachers of His Word. Our Alleluia Verse before the Gospel from Psalm 78 was this command from God:
Give ear, O my people, to my teaching, incline your ears to the words of my mouth!
God’s prophets of old preached the Law of God to the unrepentant, and set before God’s people the hope of a new life to come in the promised Messiah. Now in these last days, God’s Son Himself has spoken at the cross: His saving work stands finished, once and for all. The Father has declared His Son, and through Him all of us, “not guilty” in Jesus’ resurrection on the third day. The good news of our redemption in Christ is now spoken through His apostles and their witness of Jesus. Today pastors hold the vocation of proclaiming God’s Law and Gospel, preaching the prophetic and apostolic witness of the just Law of God that crushes the sinner to repentance, and the sweet comfort of the saving Gospel of Christ that brings light and life and forgiveness and saving faith.
How can there be a preacher to preach that Word of God that preaches “things that are right,” calling sinners to repentance, and proclaiming that life-giving Gospel that brings about God’s Kingdom – unless a preacher is sent? To send a preacher, God raises up men from His Church, and through His Church He trains them and sends them forth.
This brings us to today. Our congregation is given the privilege and joy of helping the Church at large to train up another man as a preacher of the Gospel and overseer of God’s people. It is a privilege and responsibility which all of us take seriously, and take a lot of joy in at the same time. We welcome Brian Christopher Johnston into our midst today, and look forward to working with him in the course of this year.
One question which we have to answer about Brian Christopher, however, is this: will he be a false prophet, a wolf in sheep’s clothing, who refuses to comfort the people with the sweetness of the Gospel, and instead only wants to devour the flock for his own gain? Or will he preach and teach rightly the saving Word of Christ, and not just use the Lord’s name for his own advantage?
This seems to be an apt question today. Jesus’ words in today’s Gospel are about those who are “peaching such things as are wrong”. False preaching works against God’s Kingdom, preaches people into an unjust, unholy, unrighteous way of life. The diseased tree produces bad fruit.
So we are to keep an eye out for false prophets, false preachers, those voices within and without. Keep them in front of you, know where they are, and avoid them.
CFW Walther, the founding father of our LC-MS, states in his lectures, The Proper Distinction of Law and Gospel, “A pastor who is not focused in his preaching preaches himself rather than Christ. But anyone preaching himself preaches people into hell, even when they say of his preaching: ‘Ah, that was beautiful! That man is an orator!’ …For any sermon is wrong that does not present all that is necessary for a person’s salvation.” (Thesis I, Law and Gospel: A Reader’s Edition, CPH, p.29)
There are a whole lot of people out there preaching themselves and for themselves. Ravenous wolves devour, they are parasites and leeches – they eat, take, and take some more, and more after that from their hearers. They take away the comfort of the Gospel, and replace it with the burden of the Law. They take away Jesus, and replace it with their own wisdom, and their own gain. Their sole purpose is to prop themselves up, make themselves look good, sound good, and feel good. Their words always lead to idolatry of the self, to depending upon one’s own obedience. Their fruit is rotten, poisonous to saving faith in Christ, and leads to spiritual death.
Too many of our fellow Christians, even some of my fellow pastors, think they can “take what is best” and “leave the rest” from false prophets. Some years ago, there were a rash of pastors in our own Synod who were convinced they could do that with Rick Warren’s “The Purpose Driven Life” and some still try this with other trendy books and preachers that arise up, even though they contain false doctrine – but why would you take and use such books, just to have to work to make it sound “Lutheran”? Why do that when we already have so much good fruit from so many faithful Lutheran pastors and theologians to read, study, and share with one’s congregation?
Another example: we are careful to sing our good, solid hymnody in our Divine Service. Yet, there is a desire to sing every song out there in our churches because they are popular with people, they appeal to their emotions, even though they contain poor theology and even false doctrine. At the same time, people are led to ignore the faithful and Scriptural hymnal we have been given that is full of solid hymns that preach Christ crucified fully and rightly.
Jesus says, “Do people gather ripe grapes from thorns, or figs from thistles?” No! Of course not. One cannot expect to find something good from what is inherently bad. Christians should stick to sound teaching, and insist on preachers who preach right doctrine, who are not ashamed of the Gospel of Christ, who preach Christ crucified for sinners. Anything else should be put away, avoided, turned off – and that includes all the false preaching out there on the television and in other media. Every bad tree makes bad fruit. A rotten tree is not able to make good fruit. Not everyone who says, “Lord, Lord” will be going into the Kingdom of Heaven, nor are they all preaching people there either.
And, from conception, every pastor is a sinner. This sad sack of worms is that, and except by God’s grace would certainly bring things to ruin if left to myself. And you will not see perfection in our new vicar or any other preacher this side of heaven.
All is not lost. There is a true preacher, one who does the will of the Father who is in heaven. A true preacher is not ravenous. He doesn’t take from his hearers. He gives. He gives of himself for the benefit of others. He cares not for himself, but for others. His fruit nourishes, feeds, and fills you up. The true preacher sacrifices himself. (Credit: Rev. Jason Braaten, Gottesdienst Online: “Thoughts on a mixed metaphor: Trinity 8”; 7/25/12)
The Lord Jesus Christ is that one, true preacher, the good tree bearing good fruit. He did not come to take from you, but to give Himself up for you, a ransom for you to purchase you and win you out of the jaws of the ravenous wolf called Satan. He gave of Himself for your benefit. He who knew no sin became sin for you, bearing the wrath and condemnation over sin that you deserved, that you might be called the righteousness of God, that you would be reconciled to your Father in heaven and be able to stand before Him for all eternity, to be sons of God, led by the Holy Spirit, able to call God your Father.
By His grace, the risen Lord Jesus Christ raises up men for the harvest fields, gives them His Holy Spirit, and blesses His Word that good fruit abounds, His Kingdom comes, that we Christians think and do always such things as are right, just, and holy. There are preachers of His Word, thanks be to God, who live from Him and His life-giving fruit, and so, save themselves and their hearers, since the Words of His mouth give life and life to the full.
Here, for many years, from faithful preachers speaking the Word about Christ, you have been blessed with saving faith, you have been led in the Baptismal life of repentance and faith through this valley of death, you have been directed to sit as His table of life and forgiveness to eat and drink Christ’s own Body and Blood given and shed for your forgiveness.
Jesus then delivers the good fruit to the world through you – sending you forth to confess your faith and do His works of mercy and love for your neighbors who need them – sending you forth to do the will of His Father in heaven. To think and do always such things as are right for your neighbor, who need your good works, who need to see your light shine, that they too might give glory to God the Father in heaven.
+ In the Name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit +