Third Sunday in Advent (1 Corinthians 4:1-5)

Bethlehem Lutheran Church & Bethel Lutheran Church, Lebanon & Sweet Home, OR
Third Sunday in Advent (Gaudete) + December 17, 2017
Text: 1 Corinthians 4:1-5
John the Baptist was that voice foretold long before—one crying in the wilderness, a messenger before the Lord’s face, and him who was to come in the spirit and power of Elijah.  His task was to prepare the way for the Lord.
But although he labored in this calling, dressed strangely in a garment of camel’s hair and a leather belt, and spoke boldly about the end of the world, he was not the Messiah Himself, as some suspected.  19 And this is the testimony of John, when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, “Who are you?” 20 He confessed, and did not deny, but confessed, “I am not the Christ.””[1]
In Christian artwork, dating back to the very early icons, through the Middle Ages and the Reformation, John the Baptist is pictured with his pointer finger aimed at Christ.  This is the sum total of His ministry—to point to Christ.
Wouldn’t it be great if we had John the Baptist pointing to Christ in our own day?  Actually, we do.  Listen to the words of the Apostle Paul:
This is how one should regard us, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God. Moreover, it is required of stewards that they be found faithful.
John was a servant to Christ, as he prepared the way by preaching boldly.  The Christ is coming not only as Savior but also end times judge!  The axe is already laid at the root of the tree, therefore bear fruit proper to repentance![2]  Yet John was far from the last servant of Christ.  All of the Apostles served Him, as well as the 72 disciples He sent out, preached and worked signs of the Kingdom.[3]  It continues still in every generation through the pastoral office.  Pastors are servants of Christ, and stewards of the mysteries of God.
Stewards own nothing of what they manage, but they are called upon to administer the property according to the master’s wishes.  In the case of the pastor, His Master has given clear instruction: preach repentance, forgiveness of sins to those who repent, withhold forgiveness as long as they refuse to repent.  Baptize and teach.[4]  A pastor’s work, properly speaking, is the Lord’s work.
Pastors are God’s stewards, entrusted with handling God’s mysteries faithfully.  Although it’s their mouth and their hands, the power doesn’t really come from them.  We do not believe in magic, and pastors are not arcane priests just because they wear long robes, chant, and serve at an altar.
Like John the Baptist, a pastor’s ministry is to point the finger to Christ. In fact, the robes clergy wear and chanting are meant to cover up the man and keep the focus on Christ.  We sophisticated adults should learn from our young children who point at the pastor and say, “Jesus!”
Your pastor is a servant of Christ and entrusted with His heavenly mysteries.  When you are cast down under heavy burdens of your sin, your pastor comes beside you to lift your eyes to the cross.  If you get sick and your life is upended by illness, your pastor brings the powerful medicine of God’s living Word and Christ’s Body and Blood your bedside.  If you are caught in the delusion of sinful security, it is your pastor’s job to call you to repentance.  Administering the Lord’s Supper with closed Communion is also the pastor’s job—to discern as far as humanly possible those who are fit to receive the Body and Blood for the forgiveness of their sins.
Pastors are therefore a gift from God, who deliver His mysteries to you.  That’s why the call between the congregation and her pastor is divine.  It is through this blessed vocation that the Lord continues to tend His flock.
Think of what individuals and congregations lose when they don’t have a pastor—unity of faith, spiritual leadership, and correction from error.  That’s also what happens to a person who stops going to church.  Separated from the Good Shepherd and His servant, they become a wandering sheep, to fall prey to the devil or mired in their own foolishness.
This is God’s intent in giving the 3rd Commandment—“Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy.”  What does this mean? “We should fear and love God so that we do not despise preaching and His Word, but hold it sacred and gladly hear and learn it.”  We are not to despise preaching or His Word by avoiding church.  But we could break the 3rd Commandment even while sitting faithfully in the pew if we despise the preacher.
But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged by you or by any human court. In fact, I do not even judge myself. For I am not aware of anything against myself, but I am not thereby acquitted. It is the Lord who judges me. Therefore do not pronounce judgment before the time, before the Lord comes, who will bring to light the things now hidden in darkness and will disclose the purposes of the heart. Then each one will receive his commendation from God.
Pastors answer to the Lord of the Church for the work that they do.  The Lord calls them to be faithful to Him.  Again, picture John the Baptist: dressed in camel’s hair with a leather belt around his waist, calling people a brood of vipers and that they should repent before the coming wrath of God.  Our modern sensibilities would look down on John for being insensitive, and not meeting the congregation’s felt needs.  John probably would have picked all the hymns you call a “dirge.”  These are the things we think would make for a successful ministry.  The Lord did not call John to “be successful” but to be faithful.
So also pastors are called to be faithful, not successful.  This is really baffling in a world where you answer to the one who cuts your paycheck.  Many congregations fall into the error that the pastor is the employee of the congregation.  In our economic system, some of the language of the business world applies—taxes, health insurance, and payroll.  But it is a dangerous road to travel when you think of your pastor as an employee.
If the employee isn’t meeting expectations, and not fulfilling the job description you have for him, then you take disciplinary action.  You slash his pay, or you threaten to fire him unless he bows to demands of the ruling faction of the congregation.  Congregations have tried to leverage their pastors by denying them health insurance or forcing them out of the parsonage and changing the locks—all because they have forgotten who the pastor really answers to.
It’s called a divine call, not a contract, for a reason.  Because it’s a divine call, Scripture, rather than business practice, determines how a congregation regards and treats their pastor.  We’ve already heard it, but it bears repeating: “This is how one should regard us, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God.”  He also has this instruction from Galatians 6:
Let the one who is taught the word share all good things with the one who teaches. Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life. (Galatians 6:6-8)
The flesh is stuck thinking, “Pastors are expensive!  What makes them worth all that money?!”  The flesh perceives only the material—the building, the offering envelopes, and the monthly figures.  But beware, because Scripture says, “Those who are in the flesh cannot please God.”[5]  Just as the pastor is called to faithfulness, so is the congregation.  The congregation is not called to have a balanced budget, but to be faithful to the Lord’s Word and trust in Him to provide.  “Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.”[6]
The Lord’s saving work cannot be quantified and measured; it is of the Spirit, and the Spirit says, 17 Let the elders [that is, pastors] who rule [lead] well be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in preaching and teaching. 18 For the Scripture says, ‘You shall not muzzle an ox when it treads out the grain,’ and, ‘The laborer deserves his wages.’”[7]  Again, the Word of God says, “the Lord commanded that those who proclaim the gospel should get their living by the gospel.”[8]
So the question for the congregation to ask isn’t, “Are the numbers up?” but instead, “Is our pastor faithful to the Lord in His calling?  Does He preach the Word in its truth and purity and administer the Sacraments according to the Lord’s institution?  Does He pray for us and counsel us with the Word?  Does He catechize our children, offer Bible studies, and encourage us to grow and live out our faith?”  These are the things which the Lord calls faithful in His sight. This pastor will live by what His Lord says, “Blessed is that servant whom his master will find so doing when he comes.”[9] Amen!  Come, Lord Jesus.
[1] John 1:19-20
[2] Luke 3:7-9
[3] Luke 10:1-12
[4] Luke 24:47, John 20:21-23, Matthew 28:19
[5] Romans 8:8
[6] Matthew 6:33
[7] 1 Timothy 5:17-18
[8] 1 Corinthians 9:14
[9] Luke 12:43 (see also Luke 12:35-48)

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