Thanks for responding. I have posted your response to my blog. I am glad for the conversation. I still don't know that I agree with your position a hundred percent. But I do understand it better, and it makes more sense now. Perhaps, if nothing else our conversation has had the effect of clearing up the message, for greater understanding.
But here is my hard hang up. Feed my sheep. Law or Gospel. I can't help to agree with you that there is implied gospel here. Christ wouldn't trust someone to feed his sheep, who he doesn't love, forgive etc. Got that, but that there is an implied "forgive you behind it," there is still a "Go and do" and that is the law. Perhaps I don't listen to my brothers enough. I don't know any who debate that God has entrusted his church, the forgiven sheep with the message of reconciliation. I do know many who labor painstakingly to do this, and are tired and worn, and do not see the results they would like. And the implied gospel in this statement is not enough, because they have failed the go and do part too many times. That is me. I have failed too many times. I have even failed to feed the sheep entrusted to my care at times. I don't think Peter was receiving absolution there. He was receiving law, a command. A law we fail to do, even as my son often fails to come to the dinner table in a timely manner. So when I hear Feed my sheep, I hear law, I remember failures. What I need to here and what many of my brothers need to here is Christ forgives them for even those failures.
Thanks for getting back to me so quickly. I am glad that this conversation back and forth is making some progress. That was my assumption in writing back to you the first time. Your critique ran underneath the surface a strong current of serving our Lord in all fidelity, confidence, and love.
I couldn’t agree with you more when you remind me of how much we pastors and missionaries beat ourselves up. We never do enough and we know it. We seem to carry around a huge bag filled with the small and large stones of sin, missteps, negligence, discouragement, inability, fear . . . It makes it hard to run the race of faith carrying a large sack of rocks. I don’t need to tell you that. I hear it in every word that you write. Brother, the only thing that drowns out the sound of your own growning and panting is the sound of my own. What often makes this bag so heavy is we carry it by ourselves, that is we carry it alone. We so easily forget that Christ carried it for us. We forget because it is our nature to forget. Lutheran theology recognizes and confesses that reality. That is why we cling to the “extra nos” character of the Gospel. To be extra nos, by definition, the Gospel must come to you or me by someone else. So who brings you the Gospel? I do not mean occasionally but often. Missionary/pastors like yourself are especially prone to “carrying the bag” alone. By choice (obedience to the Gospel) you labor in places far away (geographically and spiritually) from the Gospel offered in the church main.
Now, to talk about the Feed my Lambs paradox: Law or Gospel. Answer, Yes. What do I mean? Consider St. Peter as John 21 opens. “I am going fishing” Or, getting under the larger context: I quit! I have no choice but to go back to those things I was doing before He found us the first time and called us to follow Him. I failed. I failed miserably and I can’t fix that. I know that He is alive, we’ve all seen Him. But you guys need to understand something, I failed Him. The question on the table is not about His faithfulness, but mine. And I proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that I am unfaithful. I denied Him not once, not twice, but three times. How much clearer does it have to be?
It is that human and pastoral context into which the resurrected Lord walked that morning. Note this Easter vignette in light of all of the Easter story. The story’s opening finds saints running to Jesus’ Tomb in order to attend to His needs in death. The rest of the story finds Jesus running to each of the saints where they are stuck in their own “tombs” whether those be dug by grief, ignorance of “what has been written”, doubt, or, in Peter’s case, guilt. In each case Jesus spoke a very clear word of Gospel, I’m not sure in any case that it was with the word Forgive. Nevertheless He was, in His person, proclaiming the purest fullest Gospel possible to each of them. The Gospel makes all things new and that is what the resurrected Lord did in each and every case.
So now Peter. Trapped in his sins, he quit doing what Jesus had called him (by grace alone) to do. His sin knocked him out of the saddle. The Law is not going to put him back into it. Only the Gospel can do that.
Again, Bror, the words, Feed my Lambs are Law just as is Love your neighbor. So, you are absolutely right the words as words are not Gospel. They are Law. However, Jesus was speaking them not to tell Peter what to do but to restore him to something he could not restore himself. It took a word, a Gospel word, outside himself and from God Himself to put him back in the saddle. That is the Gospel. Do not forget who is speaking it. Christ Himself.
Bror, your call into the ministry to feed lambs and to seek the lost and the erring is purest Gospel. No, it does not save you. It has nothing to do with being Born anew, or being eternally alive. But it is God’s statement to you everyday of who you are as his son and as his son what he delights in having you do as part of His Kingdom. His call to you to feed sheep is a call that is not about your good works or your failures and sins. It is about a God who calls you out of His unconditional love. Every night you fall into bed a failure. Every morning He wakes you up and says, “Son, get up, we have a lot of work to do. No sleeping in, I really need you in the barn, or field, or …” You get the point. His nudging you on the shoulder every morning and waking you to a new day of service in His Kingdom with all of the good works (Third use of the Law) that He has foreordained that you should walk in” is more than forgiveness. It is complete restoration to sonship and as such co-owner of the family business.
I am going to close this note with a quote from a paper I wrote last summer for a convocation. It may very well muddy the waters. If so then, let’s keep writing. Actually, I would like to sit and talk about these things over a beer or two. But we will continue talking in any event. God bless you brother.
For some time now folks in our synod have been arguing over the Mission of God and our participation in it: Is it by Law or Gospel? The question is not whether Christ’s Mission to save the world is Law or Gospel. Christ’s Mission is the Gospel for the world. The question is strictly about our participation in God’s Mission. Do we enter it by Law or Promise, by obligation or gift? St. Paul answers that it is by Promise entered into by faith alone. Such faith does not even ask the question of whether our participation in the Mission is Law or Gospel. Hear the Confessors’ voice,
For as Dr. Luther writes in the preface to St. Paul’s Epistle to the Romans, “Faith is a divine work in us which changes us and makes us to be born anew of God, [1 John 1:12-12]. It kills the old ‘Adam’ and makes us all together different people, in heart and spirit and mind and all powers; and it brings with it the Holy Spirit. O, it is a living, busy, active, mighty thing, this faith. It is impossible for it not to be doing good works incessantly. It does not ask whether good works are to be done, but before the question is asked, it has already done them, and is constantly doing them. Whoever does not do such good works, however, is an unbeliever, who gropes and looks around for faith and good works, but knows neither what faith is nor what good works are. Yet such a person talks and talks, with many words, about faith and good works. Faith is a living, daring confidence in God’s grace, so sure and certain that the believer would stake life on it a thousand times. This knowledge of and confidence in God’s grace makes people glad and bold and happy in dealing God and with all creatures. And this is the work which the Holy Spirit performs by faith. Because of it, without compulsion, a person is ready and glad to do good to everyone, to serve everyone, to suffer everything, out of love and praise to God, who has shown this grace. Thus, it is impossible to separate works from faith, quite as impossible as to separate heat and light from fire (FC SD Article IV).
How we answer the question of our participation in the Missio Dei reveals finally on how we understand our relationship to God. What is it and how is it ours, by Law or by Gospel? These greater questions underlie Jesus’ stories of the lost sheep, the lost coin and the lost sons.
We know the context for Jesus telling the three “lost and found” stories in Luke 15. Scribes and Pharisees—we should assume very pious and serious adherents of God’s Word—were grumbling, “This man receives sinners and eats with them.” If the mood of the stories is any indication, Jesus not only ate with sinners, He had a jolly good time doing so. It was party time. In each of the three stories Jesus pressed home the related points of celebration and personal possession. “Which man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he loses one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open field and go after the one that is lost, until he finds it? Or what woman, having ten silver coins, if she loses one coin, does not light a lamp and sweep the house and seek diligently until she finds it?” Why did the man and woman deliberately and diligently seek that which was lost until they found it? And why did they celebrate so heartily when they found what was lost? Simple. That which was lost belonged to them and was, therefore, precious to them. Jesus brought the point home finally in his story of the lost son. The older son grumbled because his father chose to celebrate the finding of the younger son who had been lost. “How dare you eat with sinners!” Listen to Jesus’ response to the older son’s complaint: It was fitting to celebrate and be glad, for this your brother was dead, and is alive; he was lost, and is found. Note that Jesus did not say, “This my son was lost,” but rather “This your brother. . .” Note the shared ownership of the lost boy.
The real problem, however, was not in the older brother’s inability to accept that he was brother to the prodigal son, but that he was son to the gracious father and that as his son he was full heir of all that his father possessed, including his prodigal brother now returned. Listen to his bitter complaint, “Look, these many years I have served you, and I never disobeyed your command, yet, you never gave me [as much as] a young goat, that I might celebrate with my friends.” He talked of himself as a slave not a son, a laborer not a co-owner of the ranch. And though he served faithfully many, many years he never received even as much as a kid in order to throw a dinner party. That’s where he didn’t get it. Why did he think that his father had to give him a goat in order to throw a party? Didn’t he already own the goat? Didn’t he already own all of the goats? After all, he was the father’s son. What belonged to his father belonged also to him. He wasted all those years slaving for his father out of servile obligation rather than serving with his father as son and co-owner. Not understanding or choosing to disbelieve that he was the gracious father’s son closed his heart to celebrating his brother’s return. How would the older son answer the question, “Is participation in Christ’s mission by Law or by Gospel?” How would the gracious father answer it?