7 Pentecost proper B11                        
Rev. D. K. Schroeder
Jeremiah 23:1-6 Sermon                                                
July 19, 2009

Hymns (from The Service Book and Hymnal)::
524 "Saviour Like A Shepherd Lead Us"
530 "The King Of Love My Shepherd Is"
232 "At Even When The Sun Was Set"
285 "O Living Bread From Heaven"


 TEXT (v. 3-4): "'I myself will gather the remnant of my flock out of all the countries where I have driven them and will bring them back to their pasture, where they will be fruitful and increase in number.  I will place shepherds over them who will tend them, and they will no longer be afraid or terrified, nor will any be missing,' declares the Lord." 


            It was not too long ago, just this past January to be exact, that I made a brief reference to what we in the Lutheran Church refer to as "The Doctrine of the Call."  When I did this, I also said that I would talk about it further at a later time.  And I haven't forgotten what I said either.

            Well, this morning that time has come.  The doctrine of the call refers to what you, as Mighty Fortress congregation have extended to me, your pastor.  The doctrine of the call basically defines the relationship we have together, and how all of this plays out in the life of our congregation and the church as a whole.

            To start with, the congregation needs to keep several Bible passages in mind.  First, we look at I Corinthians 14:40 which reads, "But everything should be done in a fitting and orderly way."  Then we look at Romans 10:14-15 which reads, "How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? And how can they preach unless they are sent? As it is written, How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!"  And finally, 1 Peter 4:10 reads, "Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God's grace in its various forms."

            In accordance with this, the Augsburg Confession which is part of the Book of Concord of 1580, which is the confessional standard of our congregation states, "Our churches teach that nobody should preach publicly in the church or administer the sacraments unless he is regularly called." (AC XIV)

            Mighty Fortress is a Christian congregation.  And as such, there are two things that identify it.  First, the Word of God is to be preached and taught in its truth and purity.  And secondly, the sacraments (viz. baptism and the Lord's Supper) are to be administered in accordance with the clear directives of Scripture.  We call these the "marks of the church," which simply stated are "Word and Sacrament."  

            It is the duty of the congregation to see that it faithfully adheres to these marks.  If you or I or anybody else wants to determine whether or not a particular church is one to which we want to belong, these are the two places we look.  We don't judge a congregation by the size of the building, or the number of programs, or how many people are members, or the personal appeal of the preacher.  Word and Sacrament are the benchmarks of the church.  Everything else stems from that.

            With this in mind then, it is the duty and responsibility of the congregation to see that this is carried out in its midst.  This is accomplished through usually one or sometimes more Pastors that the congregation has called to do this on their behalf.  Because the Pastor is called to preach and teach the Word of God and administer the Sacraments on behalf of the congregation, the position the Pastor holds is technically known as "The Office of the Public Ministry."

            So now we know that the congregation has a duty regarding the ministry of Word and Sacrament, and that they need to properly call somebody to do this publicly on their behalf.  What's the next step for the congregation?

            Both Pastor and congregation need to keep one important thing in mind.  The call is something that comes directly from God.  It is not something that is of human design or done according to human reason.  Our text for today, which is our Old Testament Lesson from Jeremiah 23 puts it very clearly.  Verse 4 states,  "I [the Lord] will place shepherds over them who will tend them..."  And Acts chapter 20 verse 28 gives this same reminder to Pastors: "Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood."

            The call is one that definitely comes from God himself.  God works through the calling body, namely the congregation, to carry this out.  The congregation is thereby governed by the specifications God sets forth in his Word.  The Pastor likewise is also governed by the specifications God has set forth for him.

            Let's start with the congregation.  I've seen it happen so many times where a congregation will assemble a "call committee," that has absolutely no clue what their Biblical responsibility is.  They tend to overlook the qualifications God sets forth, and pay more attention to the trivial things.  Is he handsome?  How does he look in an alb?  Does he tell cute stories?   How old is he?  Is he married?  How long has he been in the ministry?   Does he have a family?  If he has a big family, then he won't have time to go out and find new members for us.  Oh, and a big family means he's going to be wanting a big salary!  His health insurance premiums are going to be high.  The parsonage utility bills are going to be a lot more if there are a bunch of kids!

            Let's get him in here to preach a trial sermon.  Let's set him in front of the congregation and give him the third degree.  Let's see just how well he can sell himself to the congregation!

            Unfortunately people tend to be more impressed with a nice "dog and pony show," than they are with somebody who is faithful in the ministry of Word and Sacrament.  It's like the Bible says in 2 Timothy chapter 4 verse 3: "For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear."

            The Pastor has a huge responsibility too.  Titus chapter 1 verses 6-9 is one place in the Bible that gives us a good synopsis.   "An elder must be blameless, the husband of but one wife, a man whose children believe and are not open to the charge of being wild and disobedient. Since an overseer is entrusted with God's work, he must be blameless-not overbearing, not quick-tempered, not given to drunkenness, not violent, not pursuing dishonest gain. Rather he must be hospitable, one who loves what is good, who is self-controlled, upright, holy and disciplined. He must hold firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been taught, so that he can encourage others by sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it."

            Is a Pastor to be perfect?  Of course not, and it would be completely unreasonable to think that one has ever existed.  Only one perfect person ever walked the face of this earth, and him they crucified.  I fully admit that I can go down the list and see where I have failed.  And you know only too well that I have.  Does committing a sin or falling short in one or several points automatically disqualify a person for the ministry?

            It would, if there was no such thing as repentance and forgiveness.  When Paul wrote to Titus in the section of verse 1 I just read, verse 9 begins with the words, "He must hold firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been taught...." 

            Remember that as we now look at Paul's second letter to Timothy, chapter 2 verse 15: "Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth."

            A Pastor not only needs to know sound doctrine, but also needs to know how to put it into practice, especially in his own life.  A congregation needs to know that a Pastor has indeed studied to show himself approved.  In Lutheran circles, that involves a seminary education for ordained clergy.  And before a Pastor can become a candidate for ordination, he has to agree with the inerrancy of Scripture, and hold a quia subscription to the Book of Concord of 1580 because it faithfully presents Biblical doctrine.  That's in accordance with our own congregation's constitution and statement of faith.

            But it has to go deeper than just what a Pastor knows.  It's something that he needs to take to heart and put into practice as well.

            When the Word of truth is rightly divided, we can quickly apply this to the teaching of Law and Gospel.  If a Pastor cannot apply this to himself, then it would be very difficult if not impossible to base his ministry upon it.  How can a troubled soul be comforted with the Gospel if the Pastor has not received that comfort himself?

            We can see how sin affects both congregation and Pastor.  And that's what makes the ministry of Word and Sacrament so important.  The entire mission of Jesus upon this earth was to save sinners.  Through simple faith alone, Jesus confers the forgiveness he won on the cross and the righteousness that comes through faith upon all who believe.  The Gospel is something that is for everybody too, because Jesus died to save all people, and he paid for each and every sin with his holy and precious blood.

            A congregation is a group of believers gathered around Word and Sacrament.  They call a Pastor to publicly preach and teach the Word and administer the Sacraments on their behalf.  Every repentant sinner needs to hear the Gospel over and over again, like nourishment for a starving soul.  The words of forgiveness and life are there for not only the members of the congregation, but for the Pastor himself.

            Back in Jeremiah's day, there were many unfaithful shepherds of God's flock that scattered them and threatened to destroy their faith.  But God promised to send them a faithful shepherd that would lead them in the way he wants them to go.  God promised that he would bring them back into his pasture, where they would be fruitful and increase in number.  That's the way it goes with the ministry of Word and Sacrament.  That's what happens when God's people are gathered around the means of grace.

            Congregations are to look for Pastors who will be faithful in their ministry of Word and Sacrament.  An entertaining "dog and pony show" cannot be a trade-off for sound doctrine, just like a prostitute cannot be a trade-off for a faithful wife.  A congregation needs to have their priorities straight in order for God to bless their work.

            So how does a congregation go about properly calling a Pastor?  It's a process that takes a lot of prayer and study.  Congregations usually go through a District President or a Bishop, who will suggest names of qualified individuals.  If the Bishop or D. P. is doing the job they're supposed to, they will know both the personality of the congregation and the Pastoral candidates. They can be of a great deal of assistance in acquainting a congregation with a potential Pastor.

            Or, the congregation may vote to take a candidate directly from the seminary.  If this is the case, then the congregation turns the matter over to the seminary assignment committee, asking the committee to make the selection for them.  Once this is done, then the congregation issues a call to the person selected on their behalf.

            The Bishop or D. P. might also suggest that the congregation remain vacant without a regular Pastor for awhile, in order to work out internal problems or other issues.  In this case, an interim or vacancy Pastor is temporarily called to continue the work of the ministry.

            However the congregation has the right to call whomever they wish, irrespective of the opinions of Bishops, Presidents, or Synods.  As long as the person is qualified according to God's standards, they can be called.

            The voters of the congregation are ultimately the ones who decide who gets the call.  The vote however must be unanimous; and if a unanimous vote cannot be obtained in the first several ballots, then the name should be removed from the list of those being considered.  It is not fair for a new Pastor to come into a congregation where the people are on opposing sides regarding his ministry.

            The Pastor approaches the divine call with all humility as well.  There's an old saying that goes, "The call seeks the man; the man does not seek the call."  The Pastor can be certain that he is in a particular place because God wants him there, and his particular gifts can be used in the building of God's kingdom.  God always has a purpose, even when we can't clearly understand what it might be. 

            So what happens if a Pastor receives another call while he is serving a congregation?  He can be assured that his ministry is also needed in a new place.  So when this happens, he shouldn't keep the matter to himself, but share this with his current congregation in order to get their input.  He should also seek the advice of other brethren in the ministry, his friends, and his family.  Throughout all this, prayer is an important ingredient.

            But at the end of the day when the dust has settled and the smoke has cleared, the one question a Pastor considering a call has to answer, "Where is the kingdom of God best served?"  God will indeed make that clear.

            There's a lot of substance to the doctrine of the call, no doubt.  But the most important thing is that the ministry of Word and Sacrament is brought to God's people in the way he has designed, through called shepherds.  It is the responsibility of both the congregation and the Pastor to see that this is done according to God's will.  And God's will is best summarized in 1 Timothy chapter 2 verse 4, which says that God  "...wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth."