Cruce Tectum

Cruce tectum, hidden under the cross, a blog for Epiphany Lutheran Church, Dorr, Michigan

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Location: Moscow, Idaho

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

A Faithful Watchman

Pastor’s Window for October 2008

A Faithful Watchman

Beloved in the Lord,

Several weeks ago in our Old Testament Lesson we heard the Word of the Lord to Ezekiel (33:7-9; ESV): “So you, son of man, I have made a watchman for the house of Israel. Whenever you hear a word from my mouth, you shall give them warning from me. If I say to the wicked, O wicked one, you shall surely die, and you do not speak to warn the wicked to turn from his way, that wicked person shall die in his iniquity, but his blood I will require at your hand. But if you warn the wicked to turn from his way, and he does not turn from his way, that person shall die in his iniquity, but you will have delivered your soul.”

This pericope (section of Scripture) has been the source of several conversations since it was read in worship on September 7th. The question that surfaced more than once is, “What does this mean about my responsibility to my neighbor?”

First of all, every Christian does have a responsibility to warn his neighbor about sin and God’s will. This is called “admonishing.” Jesus says, “If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him” (Luke 17:3). St. Paul adds, “we urge you, brothers, admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all” (1 Thess. 5:14).

But this pericope from Ezekiel is not addressed to you. It is addressed to the prophet in his prophetic office. A prophet is to be a watchman for the house of Israel. That means that a prophet is to warn the Israelites when they fall into sin. If a prophet receives a Word from God and he does not warn the wicked to repent, that wicked person’s guilt is also applied to the prophet. If the prophet faithfully admonishes the wicked person, and the wicked person still does not repent, the wicked person remains guilty, but the prophet is absolved. He has fulfilled his obligation as a faithful watchman.

We no longer have the office of Old Testament prophet in the Church today, and the nation of Israel is no longer synonymous with the Church. But the Church is the new spiritual Israel, and the watchmen of the Church are the Christian pastors. So there is an application to be made here. Christian pastors are faithfully to speak the Word of the Lord, even when such faithful speaking requires the pastor to warn his congregation, and groups or individuals within that congregation, against sin.

This is never easy. Pastors don’t like to warn against sin. It doesn’t make them popular. This is true particularly when a pastor has to call a specific group or a specific individual to repentance over a specific sin. The reason is that our fallen human nature always goes on the defensive. We don’t like to be called to repentance. It’s okay when repentance is proclaimed in a general way in the sermon, but when Pastor points out my specific sins, this really irritates me. The problem is that we aren’t honest with ourselves about our sinful nature. We give lip service to the general truth of our sinfulness, but when it comes to confessing actual sins, we’d rather not talk about it. (I suspect this is also why so many shy away from private confession and absolution… It calls upon us to name the sin in our lives.)

The goal of pastoral admonition, however, is always the forgiveness of sins. Why was Ezekiel commanded to warn against sin in Israel? So that sinners would repent and be forgiven. Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, admonishing individuals is perhaps the toughest part of my ministry among you. I confess that I am not always good at this. But I ask you to remember, that such admonishing is always for the good of the one being admonished, with the goal of repentance and forgiveness. Nobody likes it, neither the pastor nor the person being admonished. But as we see from the Old Testament lesson above, it’s in the job description. A pastor is judged unfaithful if he does not warn against sin.

The best part of the ministry, however, is the privilege of saying to a repentant sinner, “In the stead and by the command of my Lord Jesus Christ, I forgive you all your sins, in the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.”

Pastor Krenz

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