In the Interest of Full Disclosure
I've preached on this text several times applying it to all Christians. However, in the interest of full disclosure, that application ignores who is really being spoken to, and the Holy Spirit leaves no doubt to whom Jesus speaks. Our text comes from a discourse which opens with, "These 12 Jesus sent out instructing them," and it closes with, "When Jesus had finished instructing His 12 disciples." This passage can be applied to all Christians even as all Scripture can be, but this passage is specifically about the office of public ministry and those who receive it.
In the interest of full disclosure, I tell you the ministry is deadly. Paul bluntly says, "So death works in us" in the office of the ministry. You'd have to conclude this from Jesus' words here, wouldn't you? He tells the 12 right before sending them out that in His name, into His ministry, they will know constant conflict. "I did not come to bring peace, but a sword." Swords cause division and death.
A pastor has to live with division in relationships that shouldn't be divided. Father split from son, daughter from mother; a bride from her mother-in-law. "A man's enemies will be the members of his own house." Surely you know this happens in the realms of politics and sports, and you know what? We accept this! We accept that 2 uncles won't stay in the same room because one is a Republican and the other a Democrat. We accept that there are Aggie and Longhorn fans that won't shake after a game. We accept that there are people who take politics or sports which have no eternal consequences so seriously that they will separate from others. But we won't accept the reality pastors live with day in and day out: The eternal Jesus and His eternal Words require people who can't agree on them not to share altars or pulpits but separate.
People allow anyone to be absolutely certain in the realm of politics or sports; they even admire it. But how dare I be certain about Jesus and His Words. No, in religion I must bow before the god of interpretation; I must worship at the altar of opinion; peace at any cost is to be what pastors pursue. Sorry, Jesus says, "I haven't come to bring peace but a sword."
In the interest of full disclosure, death is at work in pastors. They must endure constant conflict and constant unworthiness. After telling the 12 about the divisions they must expect and endure, Jesus says, "Anyone who loves father, mother, son, or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me. Anyone who doesn't take his cross and follow Me isn't worthy of Me." Let me tell you, I'm not worthy of Him. Paul said the same. He styled himself the "chief of sinners." He called himself the "least of the apostles," "an abortion" not worthy to be an apostle because he persecuted Christians. When Paul asks the rhetorical question about the ministry, "Who is sufficient for these things" His implied answer sure isn't, "I am."
The ministry is deadly. Death is at work in us. Paul says in 2 Cor. 4:10, pastors are "always carrying about in the body the dying of Jesus," and in I Cor. 4: 9, "God has exhibited us apostles last of all, as men condemned to death." He tells the hostile Corinthians, "I die daily." What else should one expect if he lives with constant conflict, constant unworthiness, and constant destruction? Do you understand when Jesus tells the 12, "Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for My sake will find it," He is telling them one way or another they die? As a pastor if you find your life you literally "destroy' it not "lose" it, and the alternative is to "destroy" it, same Greek word, for Jesus' sake. So either way you die.
Your idea of a good pastor is one who is nice, confident, and vibrant. 1 Cor. 4 describes those in the pastoral office as: "the scum of the world, the dregs of all things." Your idea of a good pastor is one who is peaceful, worthy, and has it altogether while Jesus describes us as conflicted, unworthy, and destroyed one way or the other. Many of you have noted the 6 men we've sent to seminary, and asked me about it. Well, in the interest of full disclosure, what I've just preached to you, I told them from the get goand yet still they went.
Why? Partly because the corollary to having constant conflict, unworthiness, and death in life is having constant peace, worthiness, and life in Jesus. On Maundy Thursday Jesus tells the 12, "In the world you have constant tribulation, but in Me you have peace." In 2 Cor. after concluding no one is sufficient for the ministry, Paul says, "Our sufficiency is from God." After saying in 1 Cor. 15 that he "dies daily," Pastor Paul says in 2 Cor. 6: "In all things we commend ourselves as ministers of God: in much patience, in tribulations, in needs, in distresses, in stripes, in imprisonments, in tumults, in labors, in sleeplessness, in fastingas dying, yet behold we live!"
Pastors know no peace, worthiness, or life except in Jesus. Their preaching, teaching, and living can bring them no peace, worthiness, or life because it remains sinful, fallen, dying. Jesus preached, taught, and lived perfectly. He could be at peace after He preached or taught because it was always perfect. He could feel He was worthy of the praise of God and man because He always was. He was vibrant, living, alive because He was God in flesh and blood and God is Life. So in Jesus' preaching, teaching and living the pastor says, " Though I'm not these things. Jesus is, and in Jesus before God I am too."
But what about my sin of expecting the ministry of the sword to bring me peace, my attempting to find worthiness in me, and my determination not to die but live in the ministry? Such rank unbelief, pride, and rebellion only deserves one thing: punishment, here in time and forever in eternity. But whom do I find so punished? Jesus, not me. Jesus endured the conflict, unworthiness, and death I run from and deserve. Rather than focus on what I can't do; I can lose myself in the wounds of Jesus and find the life He left me there: one of peace and worthiness in Him.
In the interest of full disclosure, Jesus says the ministry is deadly for those in it, but He also says it is life to those who receive it. Let me finish the quote I used above. Pastor Paul says not only, "Death works in us," but goes on to say, "life in you." Right after Jesus tells the apostles one way or the other they die, He says, "He who receives you receives Me, and he who receives Me receives the One who sent Me."
One of you recently saw this Roman Catholic bumper sticker, "Looking for Jesus? Try talking to His Mom." This text says, "Looking for Jesus? Try listening to the ministry." When the Pastor says, "I baptize you""; I forgive you"; "This is My Body and My Blood," you should hear Jesus' speaking and know the Father sent Him to speak these words to you. When you receive the pastoral ministry, you receive nothing less than the ministry of the Father and the Son and that ministry is life-giving.
You'd think that would be enough for everyone to beat a path to the door of the pastoral ministry, but there's more. Jesus says when you receive a pastor as prophet, as one with God's authority to apply the eternal Word of God to your life, you not he receives a prophet's reward. Do you know what Jesus said the most common reward of a prophet was? Death. The pastor doesn't receive it because he's already dead. No, death is the reward you get when you receive your pastor as a prophet sent from God. It's a reward because it's a joy to be dead to the conflict, the unworthiness, the death that is all you can really know in your own life.
There's more. Jesus says, "Anyone who receives a righteous man because he is a righteous man will receive a righteous man's reward." The problem with Jesus' office of the ministry is that He puts sinners into the office. Guilty sinners just like you. Unlike the Catholics, we don't think ordination makes a pastor better, above, or even different than you. He remains a sinner. To regard him as righteous because he is covered by the blood, sweat, and tears Jesus shed on the cross; to regard his sin-tainted ministry as righteous is a miracle, and it brings to you not me the reward of a righteous man. What's the reward of a righteous man? That of Jesus, the truly Righteous Man. To be able to walk through life as Jesus did after Easter: confident all sins are paid for, not hounded by death, unafraid of the Devil.
In the interest of full disclosure, I tell you it is in your eternal interest to receive the ministry of the one Jesus puts in the office of the pastor. Jesus goes out of His way to make this inviting. As if a prophet's reward was not enough, as if a righteous person's reward is not enough, Jesus says not the smallest thing done for a pastor will be forgotten in all eternity. Jesus' remembers the widow's mites. Jesus remembers Mary anointing Him, and Jesus remembers the smallest of things you've ever done for a pastor.
You know why? Because it's a downright miracle if you do anything at all. People help the popular, the successful, the ones the world admires. But remember Paul calls pastors "the scum of the world, the dregs of all things." The world uses water to flush scum and to wash dregs away; it doesn't give them water to drink. It's an out and out miracle that you give me so very much more than a cup of cold water. And Jesus says emphatically, "You will certainly not lose your reward."
Why not? Because you do it literally "in the name of a disciple." My name, the name of any pastor, even the apostles' names says Paul are nothing. Doing something in the name of a disciple that is something because it's doing something in Jesus' name. Do you see the circle? From the ministry you get the name of Jesus on you in Baptism, over you in Absolution, and in you by Communion. This name of Jesus makes your receiving of the ministry life-giving, reward-able, and unforgettable.
Truthfully, it has not been in the interest of full disclosure that I've disclosed all this, but in your interest and mine to the glory of Jesus. Amen.
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
The Sixth Sunday after Pentecost (20080622); Matthew 10:34-42