What does it mean to discriminate? We all know the negative meaning—to treat someone differently, not because of merit, but because of some trait like skin color, gender, age, or the like. And we know that kind of discrimination is wrong. But there is good discrimination. The real meaning of discrimination is to distinguish the differences between two things. A chef has a discriminating palate, distinguishing between high quality and cheap ingredients. A musician has a discriminating ear, distinguishing between well-practiced performances and someone who hasn’t put in the effort. Today Jesus tells us to be discriminating hearers of the Word because not everyone who preaches or teaches speaks the truth.
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.