In the Church there is a Latin phrase often used when discussing the Divine Service and its conduct. That phrase is Lex orandi, lex credendi, lex vivendi; loosely translated and applied, the way you worship reflects what you believe, and what you believe shows itself in how you live. Though this phrase finds its natural home in the things of the Church, it applies well to all other areas of our life as well. If you believe it’s important to drive safely, you will teach others to drive safely and you naturally do so yourself. But the problem arises when you say it’s important to drive safely, tell others to be safe on the road, and yet drive like you’re in a demolition derby—your phone in one hand, coffee in the other, and your knees steering the car. Obviously what you say you believe you don’t believe because your life reflects something different.
Everyone is looking for peace. In the end, that’s what each of us wants. Think about the commercials you watch on TV. Their end goal is to get you to buy their product, their service, their pill because, whether they say it or not, their claim is that it will give you peace. Buying Old Navy’s clothes will help your child who is new to their school fit in. Alex Trebek tells you that purchasing more life insurance through Colonial Pen for only cents a day will give you and your loved ones more financial peace. The dizzying parade of prescriptions will ease your restless legs, lower your cholesterol, eliminate your double chin, lift your sagging eyelids, enhance your memory, mood, and stamina, and give you the happy, peaceful life you’ve always wanted while you watch the sunset on the beach as your grandkids play in the background. But all of these things give you the kind of peace that only the world can give, and if it’s a peace the world can give, the world can take it away. Those Old Navy jeans won’t help your child find peace at their new school when all of the kids are obsessing about jeans from the next store over. Life insurance won’t give you any peace if you can’t afford the premiums. Pills won’t give you peace when your medicine cabinet is full of the next round of drugs up for class action lawsuits. Like Jerusalem, we are so often chasing after what we think will give us peace, when what—or really, Who—will give us peace is right in front of us. The will of God is to give us peace that passes our understanding, and that peace is given in Jesus Christ Our Lord.
In the sixth chapter of the Gospel according to St. John we are presented with the struggle between faith and unbelief, or, the struggle between trusting in God to strengthen our faith, the gift we need the most, and relying on the things of this world. The chapter begins with the miracle of Jesus feeding the five thousand. The people who witnessed and ate wanted to make Jesus their king because He satisfied their physical hunger. As we read on in the rest of the chapter, we find that the people weren’t very interested in Jesus as their spiritual Bread. They wanted to be comfortable in this life. They wanted someone to feed them, to make them wealthy and comfortable. They wanted a bread king. So when Jesus tells them that He came to give eternal life, to reveal the temporary nature of this world, to awaken a hunger and thirst for eternal righteousness in the Kingdom of God, they reject Him. He tells the people that the bread He fed them in the wilderness will not keep them alive, but whoever eats of Him, that is, whoever believes in Him, will live forever. The people’s response was “This is a hard saying; who can understand it” and then many were offended and walked with Him no more. But the Twelve understood a little bit. St. Peter confesses, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” But before he made that good confession he spoke words that instruct us still today: “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the Words of eternal life.”
If you take today’s Gospel, the Parable of the Unjust Manager, at face value and compare it to today’s Catechism quote, you would find that they don’t seem to go together. It seems like Jesus commends the unjust manager, who does the opposite of helping his neighbor to improve and protect his possessions and income. So, does Jesus want us to waste people’s money and con our employers out of their money to bribe our neighbor so they will treat us kindly when we get fired? Not quite. We have to remember how we read the Parables. The Parables are always about how things work in God’s Kingdom, which is different from how they operate in the earthly kingdom. Parables always reveal something about God’s relationship to us. Though this Parable may seem to teach us lessons contrary to Christianity, Jesus uses it to reveal the vast mercy and grace of our God.
We aren’t strangers to Luther’s Table of Duties from the Small Catechism. We hear those verses of Scripture that speak to our responsibilities as Baptized Christians during our time in the Catechism before the Service starts. And just a few weeks ago the section we read together was entitled, “What Hearers Owe Their Pastors.” The best summary of Scripture’s list of what hearers owe their Pastors is listening ears and respect. But I think Luther missed an opportunity to elaborate. How is it that you hearers should listen to us Pastors? You should listen with a discerning ear. You should listen while your eyes study the Scriptures. Your job as a hearer in this regard was summed up well by St. John in his first Epistle where he said: “Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world” (1 Jn. 4:1). That’s not to say you should listen with suspicion. My job isn’t to sprinkle in a heresy or two just to make sure you’re on your toes. In fact, I made vows to do the exact opposite of that! Instead, you should listen to make sure what I say is in accord with what God’s Word teaches and with the summary of the faith as found in the Small Catechism. Sadly, not every Pastor is faithful to Scripture. Just as God revealed through the Prophet Jeremiah in today’s Old Testament Reading, some people go out claiming to be from God and preach lies that are contrary to the Scriptures or claim to be sent by God when they go out only by their own dreams and imagination. So, you as hearers owe it to your Pastors to be diligent studiers of the Scriptures so you can grow in faith and knowledge and encourage us to do the same. But you don’t just owe that to us; you owe it to yourself to be a student of the Scriptures, to immerse yourself in the living and active Word by which the Holy Spirit increases your faith and prepares you for the life to come. Immersing yourself in the Word will never, ever be a bad thing for you to do.
Why does the Pastor preach? Scripture explains that the role of preaching the Word of God is how saving faith is created: “How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in Him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!’ … So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the Word of Christ” (Romans 10:14-17). The Augsburg Confession, seeing this connection between the Preaching Office and saving faith, summarizes Scripture on the Office of the Holy Ministry in this way: “To obtain [saving, justifying] faith, God instituted the Office of Preaching, giving the Gospel and the Sacraments. Through these, as through means, He gives the Holy Spirit who produces faith, where and when He wills, in those who hear the Gospel. It teaches that we have a gracious God, not through our merit but through Christ’s merit, when we so believe” (AC V 1-3). The whole reason the Pastor preaches is so saving faith can be created, so we know that “we have a gracious God” who loves us and has saved us from our sin by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.