America's Worthless Pastors And Careless Sheep

Text: Jeremiah 23:16-23

In the name of Jesus. Amen.

There are really a lot of worthless pastors in America right now. You heard that correctly. America is full of a bunch of pathetic, despicable, and useless pastors.

Now, the reason why they are so worthless is not due to an element of incompetence. Their worthlessness is not because they lack organization, communication, or interpersonal relationship skills.  On the contrary, many pastors in America are indeed very professional. Many are organized effective communicators and extremely personable; however, they are still worthless. 

But why are they so worthless?  And why such harsh words towards these worthless pastors?

Dear friends, it is because these worthless pastors do not listen to the Word of God before they preach to you. 

In our reading from the Old Testament book of Jeremiah, we hear about worthless and false preachers. All their babble is nothing more than hot air and lies. The reason being, they make it all up! Not a word they speak comes from God.  These worthless and false preachers have closed ears to God’s Word. 

And so, if a preacher’s ears are closed to God’s Word, then everything he says is nothing more than cotton candy silliness.  Indeed, if a preacher has his ears close to God’s Word - no matter how charismatic, professional, and competent he may be, the preacher is essentially on the same level as a librarian reading fantasy stories to little children. 

This is why our Lutheran Church Missouri Synod is so very particular and demanding of our pastors.  We don’t ordain our pastors online and them a ‘pastor kit’ for $19.99.  But instead, we send our pastors off to four years of seminary to learn the original languages of the Bible and the Bible itself. This is not just silly academic exercises intended to puff up the future pastor’s ego – look at how smart your pastor is!  No, instead, it is intended to get pastors as close to the Bible as possible – to study it diligently and even in the original languages so that the pastor might be entirely captive to the Word of God.  The pastor must be marinated in the Word before he preaches the Word of God to his flock. 

And so, you should expect your pastors to diligently study God’s Word, even in the original languages and within its historical context before he preaches.  And you should expect the pastor to preach off the selected scripture passages for each day of the church calendar. Congregations and Christians should want their pastors close to the Word of God.  You should never expect the pastor to just ‘wing it.’ There is no such thing as an innovative or creative sermon.  The pastor should never do a ‘new thing,’ for God has spoken everything we need to know for our Salvation through His Word.     

Now, while there is nothing wrong with pastors having good communication, organization, and interpersonal relationship skills, you, as the church, must demand that your pastors cling to the Word of God as first importance. The sermons and teachings of the church through the pastor must originate from God’s Holy Word, for if they do not, all is vain – all is empty… everything becomes worthless. You as a church should expect that the pastor's main calling is to be faithful and not necessarily successful. If given a choice, you should demand 30 years of boring and faithful preaching over 30 years of entertaining heretical preaching.

But unfortunately, there is another problem that must be addressed as well.  There are also many careless parishioners in America right now. You heard that correctly. America is full of a bunch of obtuse, sleepy, and neglectful parishioners.

Now, the reason why these parishioners are so careless is not due to a lack of empathy. Their carelessness is not because they lack kindness, love, or gentleness. On the contrary, many parishioners in America are indeed very kind, loving, and gentle; however, they are still careless. 

But why are they so careless?  And why such harsh words towards these careless parishioners?

Dear friends, these careless parishioners have no stomach for solid teaching but only want spiritual junk food. All they want is easy street. They are more concerned with what makes their bellies happy, and their wildest dreams come true than what God has to say in His Word.  Bluntly stated, they have no taste for God and are set in their own ways.  As the Apostle Paul says,

“For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions,

We hear a lot of lament in America these days about how the youth have forsaken the church.  While there are many reasons that contribute to this phenomenon, I believe an older theologian has really pinpointed the problem.  Permit me an opportunity to paraphrase a theologian from 1978, speaking to this issue.

“When youth do not listen to the truth but go looking for what they want to hear, the main problem is not with the youth but with their elders.  If youth are confused, it is mainly because of their parents. For example, if the liturgy is boring to children, it is usually because the parents do not find it very interesting either.  If children saw adults going to receive the Word and Sacraments as the most important activity of their lives, they would respect it too and would never dream of treating it as a pop event, to be tinkered with by every Tom, Dick, and Harry.  A church that has parents captive to the Word of God - particularly fathers - will generally have the devotion of their children too.  But a church that surrenders to the appetites of the gut and the will of the stubborn heart neither deserves God’s Word nor the presence of youth – that is for sure.”[1] 

No wonder why it is so common to see worthless pastors and careless parishioners together; they are two peas of the same pod.  Careless parishioners who rebel and despise God’s Word are happy to hear worthless pastors say, “Don’t worry! All is well!”  And worthless pastors who like being in positions of power and authority are equally glad when parishioners live the way that they want to, for it is then easy to say to these parishioners, “Don’t worry; nothing bad will ever happen to you.”

What does all of this mean for you and me here at St. Paul’s Lutheran Church? 

Quite frankly, we are both in this together.  Today’s readings from Old Testament and Gospel are not only a warning to Pastor Roth and myself, but they are a warning for you too.  We are all in this together.  The Lord is against smooth-tongued pastors who make up their own messages and drift away from the Word of God.  The Lord is also against parishioners who follow their own hearts and plug their ears to His Word. 

And so, it appears today that we must not only repent of the times that we have failed in these areas, but together, we must drop to our knees and cry out for mercy, protection, and discernment.

Baptized Saints, pray for your pastors that we would be faithful to God’s Word, when times are good and when times are bad. Pray for your pastors that we would not turn our backs on truth or be tempted to tickle your ears but be faithful regardless of how full or empty the pews and offering plates may be. 

And I will pray for you. I know Pastor Roth will pray for you as well that the Lord would grant you zeal for the truth, discernment to identify falsehoods, and the integrity to hold your pastors to the faithful confession of the Word. 

And together, let us pray boldly against the devil, the ideologies of the world, and the trickery of our sinful old Adam that attempt to steal us away from God’s Word. May we all receive from the altar of grace: forgiveness, life, and salvation.   

And finally, let Paul’s blessing then also be upon us together:

“And now I commend you to God and the word of his grace, which is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all that are sanctified.”

Grant this, God, unto us all in the name of Jesus, our Good Shepherd.  Amen.

[1] Paraphrase and Adaption of: Kurt Marquart, "Liturgical Commonplaces," Concordia Theological Quarterly: Volume 42, Number 4 (October 1978): 343.

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