The Ordination of the Reverend Larry K. Loree, Jr., Holy Ghost Lutheran Ch
In the Name of the Father and of the +Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
The Word of God is singularly objective, absolute, uncompromising and unbending. It is black and white. Thus it rubs hard against our fallen nature. For we don’t like being put on the spot, being driven to our knees, and emptied of pride. In our weakness we have despised preaching and even been so bold as to say, “Preacher, don’t preach to me.”
But it doesn’t matter what we like or think is more reasonable. We have the Word of God. That sets the agenda. God knows who we really are and what we really need. The Word of God knows best. The godly preacher doesn’t preach his own words or ideas. He is the mouthpiece of God. He doesn’t pick and choose or cast about seeking what itchy ears want to hear. He just preaches what has been handed to Him. Sometimes it stings, but it also liberates and forgives.
The preacher preaches what Jesus Christ has accomplished, that the Lord Jesus became a Man for us, to live and to die and to rise again for the redemption the world. He did this of His own authority. No one took His life from Him. He laid it down of His own accord, from His own power. Likewise He took it up again. Thus He made atonement for the sins of men from His own will to be merciful and gracious. But He, co-equal with the Father and the Spirit, did not do it alone. For to redeem mankind by His self-sacrifice and resurrection is the constant command He received from the Father through the Spirit. Throughout His Ministry He received this same command, these holy orders: Go and die, rescue and restore the earth, buy them back out of Hell.
He was anointed for this out of Mary’s womb with water, blood, and mucus, the result of the curse. He was born into death to kill death, anointed for the life of men. He was also anointed by the Law in the holy sacrament of circumcision. There He was mutilated and shed His first blood, marked as His Father’s, and began the fulfillment of the Law. He was anointed again, and most fully, in the Jordan River. He instituted Holy Baptism by submitting to it. The Holy Spirit lit upon Him. The Father spoke from heaven. We were made His perfect sons through substitution. He was baptized for us. He was prepared also, with perfumed oil and with tears upon His feet, for burial, for being buried and climbing out of the grave again was His mission. The women saw in those dusty feet beauty. Yet-to-be-pierced, those were still the feet that bring Good News. Finally, in the Garden of Gethsemane, where His great anguish and compassion caused blood to ooze out of His pores, His orders were confirmed: Be the Messiah. Lay down Your life for those who hate You that they might be Your brothers by Grace. He was anointed, ordained, sent for this Holy Mission.
He was sent for this with authority and with orders. So also He sent His disciples with authority and with orders, handing to them what they were to preach. Unlike Him, they had no authority of their own. But He sent them with the Holy Spirit and the power to forgive sins. He sent them to deliver what has been accomplished, to take what He has done, His forgiving death and resurrection, to the four corners of a dying world, to go to the highways and byways and invite the least worthy, the least expected, and to offer to them heaven absolutely free. They were sent for nothing more than to forgive sins through baptism and preaching.
Preaching hangs on the Office of the Keys. In preaching, the gates of Hell are unlocked and penitent sinners go free. In preaching, heaven is opened and God’s people walk in unencumbered. In preaching, the hidden God is revealed, His Word opened for His people so that they know Him to be gracious and merciful in sending the Son. That is why the Augsburg Confession calls the Office of the Holy Ministry not “the Absolution office,” “the Baptism office,” or “the Eucharist office,” even though it could rightly be called all those things. The Augsburg Confession calls it the “Preaching office” because that is what it is most essentially, most specifically, most definitively. To despise preaching is to despise nothing other than God’s Word and the vehicle He has established to deliver it to us. To despise preaching is to despise the authority Jesus has ordained. It is a first table offense. Repent. We are all guilty of it, preachers more than others. No one is more conscious of the frailty of the clay, or has as much difficulty believing the supernatural reality and promise in his preaching, than the jars themselves.
Still, to the oft-bored, impatient Apostles, to that glory-seeking, cowardly lot, Jesus gave the power to forgive sins. He ordained them, set them in place, for this holy work. But first – He forgave their sins. For no one receives the Holy Spirit apart from the forgiveness of sins and faith. He breathed upon them this power, this authority, this cosmic, life-changing, Hell-destroying, Heaven-opening gift that they would breathe it back out again upon those to whom they were sent. But before that, He took care of them. He broke their hearts with His impossible Law and then filled the void with His Holy Spirit, with peace, and forgave their sins. They were sent and the demons did submit to them in Jesus’ Name. But they were warned not to rejoice in that, not to rejoice in the power and authority that was theirs by right of office, but rather to rejoice that their names were written in heaven, that Jesus died also for them.
Preachers are ordained and sent not just to talk about the death and resurrection of Our Lord like so many history teachers. But preachers are ordained and sent to actually forgive sins. They bestow the life and death of Jesus Christ in preaching. They say: “You, O Sinner, are forgiven. God loves you. Go in peace.” No if’s, and’s, or but’s; no returns to the Law; no strings, no exceptions, no vague ambiguities, or abstractions. What the preacher says is God’s Word. That is what he has been given to say. God’s Word does what it says, so when the preacher says, “You are forgiven.” You are.
Therefore, O Preacher, convict them of their sin and then set them free. Preach for conversion, for life, every week. Feed them with the Holy Body of Christ given for them. Unite them to Christ and one another by pouring His cleansing Blood down their throats for the remission of their sins. Bury that old Adam in the waters of Baptism and raise them up again through the glory of the Father. That is the work of the Ministry – centered, impowered, and focused upon the Word of God for the forgiveness of sins.
Preach the Word without fear. Speak the Truth. Fill their cups to overflowing and never charge a cent, never make a demand or require proof. That is the courage of the prophets. It is courage to tell the truth and suffer the consequences. For the goal of the Gospel is not that people would behave and make a better life for themselves in this temporary, dying world, or that our congregational rosters would increase and our budgets grow. The goal of the Gospel is the Gospel, that the elect would receive from God the full remission of all their sins through Grace and live with Him forever in perfect bliss.
And above all else, O Preacher, you are to believe that it works – even when it seems that it doesn’t, which is most of the time. For the Gospel works in weakness. It is in dying that we are born. The Gospel changes the cold hearts of men into mangers that bed down the Christ. But those broken down old hearts tend to still look like something that belongs in a barn. The stuff that comes out of them is often barely fit to be food for goats. But still God works. His Word has power. It is not given to us to judge men’s faith, but to preach the wonderfully free salvation available to all. Just preach it. Let God do the work.
Let God do the work also on you. Before He sent the Apostles, He forgave them. They went in forgiveness, forgiven and forgiving. So also you. That is the ultimate reality, the thing that matters. His Word will build your courage, restore your strength, and renew your faith. Because even we preachers are off the hook by Grace. He has done everything for you. His Word never lies. It always does what it says. He loves you. You are forgiven. Go in peace. No synod, no voters, no council, no army, no government, no devil can take that away. You belong to Christ. You will live forever.
Receive the Holy Spirit. He is your authority. Forgive the sins of the penitent. Those are your orders.
In +Jesus’ Name. Amen.
Rev’d David H. Petersen
Redeemer Lutheran Church
Fort Wayne, Indiana