My little church had a wonderful organist play for our services during Holy Week. He was amazing! I had never heard our little organ make such wonderful sounds. The walls shook, the people sang with more zeal, it was truly amazing. It was the same organ but it in the hands of this wonderful musician, it was heavenly.
That’s pastors. We are just like my church organ. No pipes, nothing special, sometimes old and out of date. Often times, we need to be replaced with another organ. Or at least, get a bit of a tune-up.
The One who is doing something special is the Lord. He’s playing us. He’s using us for the delivery of His Calvary won gifts. He’s the Shepherd who lays down His life for His Sheep. He feeds them. He speaks to them – through His men.
Just tools. That’s all pastors are. Not special. Not super. No indelible mark. Nothing exceptional. No being a pastor apart from sheep. No sheep without a shepherd. We’re just instruments.
We don’t make the Word special. We aren’t a big deal. The people we serve are – “For the Son of Man didn’t come to be served, but to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45). And forgiveness certainly isn’t made “better” when we deliver it.
Yes, Holy Absolution is unique. The Office of the Keys is unique. Forgiveness between sinners is unique too – it has a human element – an element that is missing when the Office is involved.
But, we mustn’t ever pit the Lord’s forgiveness against His forgiveness. It’s not better. It’s not greater. It’s not surer. Both are gifts from a God who excels at forgiving – any way He can! He’ll deliver it through from a mom to her child or from the pastor to the penitent. Forgiveness doesn’t get stronger or better when a guy in a penguin suit gives it! There is only the Lord’s forgiveness – won on the Cross and delivered through the Word.
I’m a pastor. While I still have no idea why He did it, the Lord in His wisdom called and ordained me into the Office of the Holy Ministry. The great temptation all the time is to think myself to be something. Like all this playing that He’s doing makes me a better organ. It’s hard not to when people think your prayer will be answered and is better than theirs. Or the lady who sees me sitting next to her on the plane says, “Now I know, Father, we are going to have a safe flight.”
No. The plane might go down. I’m just an instrument. So, if the plane begins to fall, He’ll deliver Jesus through my frail voice on the way down. And, if there is time, as the ship is sinking, the Tractate says you might give me a bit of forgiveness too. One to another… same forgiveness – the Lord’s. There is no other.
I try to teach my confirmands to always be aware of what we sinners add to the Word to make it “surer.” The Evangelicals want to add “my personal experience.” The Word + Experience = real religion.”
When the Office of the Holy Ministry has to be added to the Word to make it sure or certain (or better!), we have the same problem. It’s not Jesus plus a Pastor that makes for salvation. The Lord can turn stones into children of Abraham, He just has chosen to use means – the Word, the Water, and His Body and Blood. He can speak through a donkey, but He has chosen in His wisdom to speak through men. Some of them may act like donkeys, but they are still men (thanks Madre!)
The Office is instrumentum secundum – the means of the Means of Grace. The Lord delivers His gifts through His sent ones. The gifts give the Holy Spirit (Augustana V). The Holy Spirit delivers faith, which is nothing more than receiving gifts from God (Apology IV).
Pastors are just the tools, the instruments. Nothing special. Just men in robes. And when our little hearts run out of beats, God will get someone else and put him in our robes and continue the gift-delivery.
Men, just men. Men who fail. Men who can’t do the job given them to do. Men who offend. Men who screw up. Men who blame others for their faults and sometimes think themselves to be more than they are. But, in the end, they are still just men.
And to such men, He entrusts the delivery of His Word (John 20). Just like the old organ at my church, when the Master is playing it, wonderful heavenly sounds come out it! So, too, when the Lord speaks His Gospel through your pastor, Christ is speaking (Luke 10:16). After all, the organ is only as good as the one playing it!
“He who has ears, let him hear! In the name of Jesus.” Amen.
by The Rev. George Borghardt III