Delivered at Messiah Lutheran Church in Lebanon Illinois on May 23:
Ordination Homily for Brian Holle
“Whoever speaks, as the Words of God.” Thus St. Peter wrote in our epistle today. Brian, you may be relieved, then, to know that what God is looking for you to be to the people of Messiah is nothing but a big mouth!
But what He would have coming out from that big mouth is not the product of your own wisdom – considerable as it is – but rather simply what He puts into it. As the Lord said to Jeremiah: “Behold, I have put My words in your mouth!” Or as David prayed: “O Lord, open thou my lips and my mouth shall show forth thy praise.” Said simply: the Lord is putting you here to speak His Words so that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ.
Logia tou theou, not logon tou theou. His WordS, not His Word. For His Words are not one, but two. He would use your mouth to speak to the people of Messiah words both of law and of gospel, of judgment and of hope. Your mouth filled with the Word of God that strips us of our fig leaves and exposes our nakedness, and your mouth filled with the Word of God that clothes us in the righteousness of Another and presents us before the Father, blameless, holy, beloved. You’ll know you have delivered those Words of God aright when all the glory goes to God alone through Jesus Christ, our Lord, and none of the credit goes to your hearers or to the preacher.
Luther said of this verse “whoever speaks, as the Words of God” that “here Peter has closed the pope’s mouth!” The pope at the time, you will recall, wanted to have his own say so added in and counted among the Words of God. Sadly, popes live not only in Rome. They are forever rising up in pastors’ hearts. It happens whenever we try to foist our will and bright ideas on others as though they were actually God’s – when in fact, they’re sadly just our own.
Against such incipient papacy in the hearts of pastors, stand the words “whoever speaks, as the Words of God.” That protects the lambs of Christ’s flock. For though they must indeed follow the injunction of Hebrews: “Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they keep watch over your souls as those who must give an account;” yet to the lambs of Christ’s flock here at Messiah, the Holy Spirit speaking through St. Peter says that in big mouth of your pastor let there be found only the Words of God.
And so should you think that Pastor Holle forgot himself one day and trotted out with some smart ideas of his own which he would lay on you as from God himself – God teaches you to come to him respectfully and earnestly with a simple question. It’s a question Lutheran children are exposed to early and often as they learn their catechism. “Where is this written?” Can you show me from the Words of God? Now, if what he has said is indeed from the Word of God – that ends the discussion. Whether you like or whether you don’t. God has not placed Brian Holle here to tickle itching ears, but to speak the words that kill sinful self-sufficiency and that raise from the dead those who are killed through the forgiveness of sins in Jesus. Jesus warns in today’s Gospel that people can get kind of riled about that – he tells his apostles it just goes with the territory of being His witnesses. God, after all, is God, not us. What He says goes, no matter who objects, no matter what suffering it brings.
But suppose Pastor cannot demonstrate that what he is calling you to do or to believe is from the words of God, then it is he and his pride that have to die and it will be your forgiveness that will raise him to new life. As Peter also said in today’s epistle: “Love covers a multitude of sins.”
“Whoever speaks, as the words of God” is thus the death of the papacy – of any sinful human being trying to have the say so over Christ’s people or over Christ’s ministry. God does not set this man over you as your boss, nor you over him as his boss. Rather, both he and you are under Him who alone is in charge of His Church – the Lord Jesus. And the Lord Jesus plops him down among you to speak His words – and the louder and clearer he speaks them, the better.
And the words God puts into his mouth are not empty sounds. They are not mere information. They live, they crackle with the power of God; they are strong to give what they say.
When he stands in this pulpit and points you to your Jesus, and tells you that all of your sin has been carried away by the Lamb of God, so that the judgment that was against you has fallen squarely on Him and He has borne it for you, so that your sins are forgiven, forgotten, gone that word He preaches to you is alive with the power of God to give faith and to keep faith going.
When he at Christ’s command takes a handful of water and with the name of the Triune God splashes it upon some little heathen’s head, the Word of God does exactly what it says. As we heard in the first reading: that water washes all filthiness away and gives a new heart.
When at Christ’s command he stands before a sinner whose heart is broken over how he has failed God, and Pastor speaks over such a one the word of absolution with the laying of hands, that word is just as valid and certain in heaven as if Christ our dear Lord dealt with us himself.
When at Christ’s command your pastor stands before this holy altar and speaks the words of His Savior over the bread and wine, those words are powerful to bestow what they say: the body and blood of Jesus, which your Jesus offered up for you on Calvary, now in your pastor’s hand and then in your mouth for the forgiveness of all your sins. That’s how the powerful, gifting words of the Lord do their job.
And that is how the Church is sustained – from those Words. Vital, then, that we give them free course among us, that we hear them and let them do their job on us. As Paul spoke to the Ephesian elders: “I commend you to God and to the Word of His grace which is able to build you up and give you an inheritance among all those who are sanctified.”
“Whoever speaks, as the words of God.” Be about it, then, Brian! Open that mouth and fill that mighty chest and sound forth the Words of the Lord in this place! And you, people of Messiah, cling to those words and let them live in you and give you life! Then all the glory will go to God through Jesus Christ for His strong Word. Amen.