For ten years I was a Lutheran preacher. That was my vocation. And that’s what I did, preached, a lot. And Pentecost was always an interesting Sunday. As much as I hate to admit it, it’s hard to read an account like that without questioning one’s ministry. I mean, just once, couldn’t I have a Pentecost Sunday? Or couldn’t we compromise? Maybe not thousands, and, fine, not hundreds, or even dozens, but maybe a handful would come to faith and be baptized? It’s hard to imagine what it must have felt like Peter, preaching a sermon and having such immediate results.
I think I preached Peter’s sermon many times. No, I’m no St. Peter. And, no, I never lifted his sermon and preached it as my own. But in its basic content, law and gospel, I did my best, week in and week out. I’m not saying I’m a Luther or Walther or anything like that when it comes to law and gospel, and there are plenty of better preachers, but I do think on the whole, with some glaring exceptions, I made a faithful attempt to let the law do its work and the gospel its own. I tried to dig into texts and preach textual sermons with applications to my people, who I knew well and loved.
That is harder now as a preacher, speaking to my audience where they are, with that special connection that comes with being someone’s pastor. I’m a pinch hitter. Sure, I preach chapel every other week sometimes, and I know a lot of the people there, but even then, I don’t have the same relationship. I haven’t heard their confessions (at least not most of them). I haven’t seen them in shambles or restored to nearly the same extent.
I am a professor. I profess, I teach. That is my chief vocation. And, as a professor, on Pentecost Sunday, at least for all three years so far, I sit in the pews and listen. And as I do, I sometimes wonder, does my pastor or the pastor at whose church I’m that Sunday maybe, just maybe, feel what I felt on Pentecost Sunday, that longing?
This is where my perspective has changed. In the pulpit, as the pastor, I was thinking about the masses, yes, those in the pew, but also those around us in the community. I was eager to experience what Peter did, to see the church grow, to see people baptized, to shepherd souls on their way to heaven. Now, in the pew, I’ve come to realize that my pastor brings me Pentecost every Pentecost Sunday, and, for the most part, every Sunday. As with every pastor, not every sermon is a home run, but no one is called to hit them out every time he picks up a bat. That being said, I don’t think I’ve ever left without Pentecost, without the Spirit coming to me through Word and Sacrament, without my old many drowned in Absolution and my new man fed and nourished, whether I came to be fed and nourished or not, poor a hearer as I can be sometimes.
Pastors, have your Pentecost this Pentecost Sunday. Don’t worry about numbers. Don’t swing for the fences. Go to the plate confident, knowing that you had what Peter had and that it will do what it does, whether we see it or not at the moment, whether there is empty space in the pews or not. Long story short, the church is never stronger when Christ isn’t preached, when Peter’s preachment isn’t our model. Success isn’t measured with statistical reports, although we certainly rejoice with God in heaven when a sinner repents. Rather, success comes with the Gifts are delivered, when the law is loosed to accuse and to kill and the gospel is proclaimed to loose and to enliven.
Those of you with me in the pews. I pray you have a gospel preacher. If you don’t, find one. It’s the whole point of the church. And if you do, enjoy Pentecost. Join the Jerusalem throng in marveling in the fact for you, even for you, whose sins brought the Lord of Glory death, Christ has given Himself, not to leave you in slavery, whether to sin or the obedience of the flesh, but to set you free, to make you His own, to let you loose, as one loosed, in a world given back to you.
*The picture above is a picture of all the sermons Wade preached at his former parish during his ten years there (well, not all, cause toward the end he used outlines a lot more than manuscripts, but you get the point).