Originally, I wanted to preach on this Sunday’s Old Testament reading, Amos 7:7-15, because of how the pericope applies to the pastoral office. Yet I had already preached on the pastoral office this past Sunday from Mark 6:1-13 as a sort of introduction to me as my congregation’s new associate pastor. So, I decided I’ll be preaching on the next Gospel pericope, Mark 6:14-29, to continue the story being told of Jesus’ earthly ministry. As I was preparing for this Sunday’s service, the pericope from Amos struck my heart again and I thought it best to write something short on it. Here’s the selected reading:
This is what the Lord God showed me: behold, the Lord was standing beside a wall built with a plumb line, with a plumb line in His hand. And Yahweh said to me, “Amos, what do you see?” And I said, “A plumb line.” Then the Lord said, “Behold, I am setting a plumb line in the midst of my people Israel; I will never again pass by them; the high places of Isaac shall be made desolate, and the sanctuaries of Israel shall be laid waste, and I will rise against the house of Jeroboam with the sword.” Then Amaziah the priest of Bethel sent to Jeroboam king of Israel, saying, “Amos has conspired against you in the midst of the house of Israel. The land is not able to bear all his words. For thus Amos has said, “‘Jeroboam shall die by the sword, and Israel must go into exile away from his land.'” And Amaziah said to Amos, O seer, go, flee away to the land of Judah, and eat bread there, and prophesy there, but never again prophesy at Bethel, for it is the king’s sanctuary, and it is a temple of the kingdom.” Then Amos answered and said to Amaziah, “I was no prophet, nor a prophet’s son, but I was a herdsman and a dresser of sycamore figs. But Yahweh took me from following the flock, and Yahweh said to me, ‘Go, prophesy to My people Israel.'”Amos 7:7-15
There’s a lot going on in this text, but the essence of what’s happening is that Amos preached the Word God gave him—that God is going to rise against Jeroboam and exile Israel. We know Amos proclaimed this Word from God because Amaziah warns King Jeroboam about what Amos prophesied, albeit paraphrased. Amos’ response is honourable. He essentially says, “I was not a prophet nor the son of a prophet. I was simply a herdsman and a dresser of sycamore figs. Yet Yahweh called me from my flock to go and prophesy to His people. I’m just doing what He sent me to do.”
This is true of all pastors. Speaking for myself, I was not born a pastor (that much should be obvious). Neither am I the son of a pastor. Before seminary, I was simply a professional musician in the Army Bands uplifting the morale of my fellow soldiers as well as the people of whatever community I served in. Yet this past April, the Lord called me to serve as associate pastor at Zion Lutheran Church in Mount Pleasant, Michigan to prophesy (proclaim) His Word to His people.
Again, this is true of all pastors. Before you received your pastor, he was simply a man doing something else. Some of them are military veterans, some were engineers, or teachers, businessmen, farmers, factory workers, and so on. Granted, there are a lot of pastors in our synod who, unlike me, are sons of pastors and even have a decent family history of pastors, but even they’re just men. To be sure, each pastor has been examined by other pastors during our seminary training according to the high, divine requirements of 1 Timothy 3 before being certified by the synod. Still, though, your pastor is just a man.
One of the common misperceptions of pastors is that they’re holier than the average Christian or are closer to God. This is a myth. We are just normal men chosen by God whom He calls to serve His people in the Word and Sacraments. Through the Holy Spirit, the pastor is chosen by the church to be the guy who faithfully gives them the Word and Sacraments. As Rev. Dr. Joel Biermann likes to call the pastor, he is the Absolution Man. Your pastor is an ordinary man to whom you can go to receive the means of grace in the Word and Sacraments for the forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation. If you are ever in doubt of these things, you can go to your pastor, the Absolution Man, to receive absolute assurance that Christ has absolved your sins.
Because your pastor is just an ordinary man, he needs your prayers. Like you, we are also simultaneously saint and sinner. We have our own struggles in our personal lives, and on top of this, the struggles of ministry. There are certainly many joys in these things, but your pastor always needs your prayers. As we pastors often like to say, when you become a Christian, the devil puts a target on your back; when you’re baptised, he colours in the lines; and if a man becomes a pastor, he sets the target on fire. At the same time, however, as one of my brother pastors put it once, when a man becomes a pastor it is also a big middle finger to the devil because the church has received another pastor to distribute God’s gifts!
In last Sunday’s sermon I preached, as well as this Sunday’s sermon, there’s a theme in Mark 6 of God’s Word being offensive to people. When Jesus proclaimed His Word in His hometown Nazareth, the people were offended, or literally, “scandalised” (Mark 6:3), and Luke’s Gospel gives us more detail that His hometown people tried to kill Him because they were so offended (Luke 4:16-30). A similar thing happens in Mark 6:14-29 with John the Baptiser. He proclaims God’s Word to Herod who violated the 10th Commandment by coveting another man’s wife (his brother’s wife, Herodias) and marries her (thus also violating the 6th Commandment, adultery). This offends Herodias, she has an opportunity to kill him, and her conspiracy works. In Amos, God’s Word was offensive to Amaziah and, of course, Jeroboam.
When I preached on Mark 6:1-13 last week, I briefly talked about how God’s Word can offend us and that when this happens, it is God’s Law working in our hearts to bring us to repentance so that we might trust in the Gospel for the forgiveness of our sins (see Ap XII, 12-29).
This, too, is true of all pastors. Sometimes, your pastor will preach a Word of Law that offends you, and this is a good thing. When God’s Word offends you, this means you’ve transgressed in some way and need forgiveness. So, when your pastor preaches a Word of God that offends you (assuming he’s not also being a jerk about it), don’t take it out on him. He’s just doing what God sent him to do. Rather, recognise that there is likely some sin in your life that you need to repent of, and do so! Thankfully, you have an opportunity to receive forgiveness right after the sermon in the Lord’s Supper.
So, remember: your pastor is just a man whom God has sent to you to do what God has ordained, mainly, to preach repentance and to give you forgiveness of sins in the Word and Sacraments. Pray for your pastor, and trust in the good gifts God gives you through him.