Sermon for the Installation of Rev. Jeffrey King

preached at Our Shepherd Lutheran Church in Searcy, AR on August 21, 2021

Text: Ezekiel 33:1-16

In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

“As surely as I live,” God said,
“I would not see the sinner dead.
I want him turned from error’s ways,
Repentant, living endless days.”

So goes the first stanza of Nicolas Herman’s great hymn on confession and absolution. God does not desire the death of sinners. This is why he sends watchmen such as Ezekiel to them. Their watchmen – their prophets, that is – are sent to them to proclaim the Word of God. Specifically, they are to warn the Israelites that if they do not repent of their sin and turn to him, then they will suffer the consequences.

If the watchman fails to warn the people as God instructs him, them the watchman himself will suffer the consequences. If the watchman does his job, that is, if he actually preaches the Word of God to his people, and the people don’t heed his words, then the people will suffer the consequences. Maybe we think when hear God’s Law that that’s what he wants. One might think that God wants sinners to suffer the consequences for their sins and die, that he takes pleasure in the death of the wicked like some sort of villain that we see in the movies.

Such despair in the Israelites evident in Ezekiel 33:10. “Surely our transgressions and our sins are upon us, and we rot away because of them. How then can we live?” they say. There is a hopelessness in those words. It’s the same sort of hopelessness that’s expressed by Jesus’ disciples in Matthew 19 after Jesus says that it’s easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of heaven. The disciples respond to this by saying, “Who, then, can be saved?” Jesus response to this is “With man it is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”

Ezekiel says the same. Righteous deeds won’t save a man. Why? Because no matter how righteous they are, there’s always something that ruins it. There’s always one more righteous deed that should have been done but wasn’t. One evil thing done by a good person ruins any of the righteous deeds they may have done before that. The inverse is true as well. When the wicked one turns away from his sin, seeking the forgiveness of God, his wicked deeds are remembered no more. This is a rather simple message. Our own righteousness will never be enough to save us. Only the righteousness of Christ is enough. Only the forgiveness, life, and salvation that he won for us in his death and resurrection are adequate to bring about our redemption. In verse 16, the Lord says, “He (that is, the sinner) has done what is just and right; he shall surely live.” How remarkable! The sinner has done what is just and right! Of course, we know better, right? We know that we haven’t done what is just and right. But this is the beauty of God’s forgiveness. We are clothed in the righteousness of Jesus so that that statement is actually true. Jesus does all the work and we get all the credit.

This is the message that your new watchman, Pastor King, is here to deliver. Everything that your pastor does for you is based upon the forgiveness of sins. The section of Luther’s Small Catechism that we look to to learn about this is that on the Office of the Keys. The Office of the Keys is that special authority which Christ has given to his church on earth to forgive the sins of repentant sinners but to withhold forgiveness from the unrepentant as long as they do not repent.

As your watchman, Pastor King is here to make use of these keys for your benefit. Sometimes he’ll have to use the binding key. That is, he’ll have to withhold forgiveness from unrepentant sinners as long as they do not repent. This may sound harsh to our ears, but it is truly a loving thing to do. This is precisely what the Lord called Ezekiel to do. He called him to proclaim the Word of God in all of its fullness and not hold back any of it. It can certainly be tempting to withhold some of God’s Word. After all, no one wants to be the bearer of bad news. No one wants to tell someone that they are a sinner and are in danger of damaging or ruining their faith. But this is what God calls his watchmen to do. He calls them to tell the truth and to proclaim his Word to his people even when that Word is a Word of damning Law. This withholding of forgiveness is never done because the pastor enjoys making people suffer. Rather, it is done so that the sinner may be led to repentance. The end goal is the sinner turn from his evil and live. For Christ came for this reason: to seek and to save the lost.

That brings us to the loosing key. That’s the key that Pastor King uses when he forgives your sin. This is the key he wants to use. The use of this key brings pastors the greatest joy. This is when you hear the sweet words of forgiveness from the pastor’s lips. But, even better than that, you know that the words your pastor is speaking are not his words, but they are the Words of Christ himself. As Herman puts it in the hymn:

The words which absolution give
Are His who died that we might live;
The minister whom Christ has sent
Is but His humble instrument.
When ministers lay on their hands,
Absolved by Christ the sinner stands;
He who by grace the Word believes
The purchase of His blood receives.

Dear friends in Christ, may you find much joy in the ministry of Pastor King among you as he gives you the gifts that Christ won for you on the cross in Word and Sacrament. Pastor King, may you, likewise, find joy in giving these gifts to the dear saints here at Our Shepherd.

In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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