Dr. Ristau Installation Sermon as Assisting Pastor at Mount Hope Lutheran Church

April 28, 2024
Mount Hope Lutheran Church
Rev. Dr. Christian A. Preus

Text: John 21:15-19, especially Jesus’ words to Peter, “Feed my sheep.”

Dear friends in Christ, especially you Pastor Ristau and members of Mount Hope Lutheran Church, visitors and fellow pastors from our sister congregations, grace to you and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

Harold, you love the people under your care by loving the Lord who bought them. That’s it. Whether it’s the staff at the college, fellow professors, the members here at Mount Hope or at Trinity, future students, donors, supporters, they belong to Jesus, Jesus purchased them with His life, He sought them out, rescued them from sin and death and hell, gave them His name and His Spirit, and He loves them dearly.

Sometimes they will be easy to love and the command of your Lord to feed them will be like the command of the pastor at the end of the wedding, “You may kiss the bride.” Happily. It is an easy thing to love fellow Christians when they sing bass to your tenor and thank you for being faithful and encourage you in your work and show you and your family love and appreciation. It’s easy to love professors who teach well and students who study hard and live like Christians and donors who give lots of money. I pray God that this is your experience the overwhelming majority of the time. But when the sheep are not easy to love, when they seem ungrateful, when they are lazy or rude or disrespectful, or just don’t understand, then remember your Lord’s words, “Do you love Me?” Because the reason you feed His sheep and take care of them is not first of all because you love them, it’s first of all because you love Him, and He loves them.

This is the constant task of the pastor, to return to the basis, the foundation, the reason why anyone would ever want to be a pastor, and that is because we love the Lord Jesus Christ. And you love Him because He has first loved you. You have not denied like Peter – it’s a bit much too try to preach the law and say to all you out there, you’ve all done what Peter did: you’ve denied Jesus – not like Peter. No, Peter openly, emphatically, vocally denied his Lord. Peter fell from the faith, became a child of the devil because he was a sniveling coward, and cowards are first in the line of those who go to hell.

You have not denied the Lord like Peter did, but you would if your Savior was not with you, if He did not constantly guide you by His Spirit: “What do you have that you did not receive?” And what have you received that is good and pure and beautiful, except what has come from the hands of your Savior? He has kept you faithful. He has given you the courage to preach and teach in season and out of season. He has given you the strength to confess even when government and church leaders alike told you to keep quiet. He has given you the love for His Word and the love for His people that has made you travel across the world. And He has kept you faithful because He has planted the Gospel deep in your heart, and this is your love, that He has lain down His life for you and borne your sin and faced your death and won you to His Father. In short, He has loved you.

So you love Him and you obey His command: feed My sheep. They are His sheep and they feed on His words. Their pasture, Luther says, is the Word of Jesus.

You are involved in all sorts of administrative tasks, with securing proper facilities, with raising money, with making sure that everyone’s doing their jobs, in admissions, in academics, in finance, in development, in building and grounds. And it will be easy to imagine that this is somehow disconnected from feeding Jesus’ lambs. Especially since you won’t start teaching students for another year.

But you know it’s not. You would not be here if you thought you would be simply an administrator. The fact is that everything you do as president of Luther Classical College is so that Jesus’ lambs will hear the Word of their shepherd and so live before Him in righteousness and purity forever. Remind yourself of this daily. Do not become overwhelmed with finances, whether those are good numbers or bad, with enrollment, with facilities, do your job in all this, but know why you do all these things, and the tasks will be happy.

Because in the end, these aren’t properly your tasks. It is God who works in you. As this congregation belongs to the Lord and not to us, so the college which you are called to serve as President belongs to the Lord and not to you. Its success will depend on His blessing. He will use your hard work, your teaching, your preaching, your leadership, but unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labor in vain. So work hard, but know it does not depend on you. If God wants to raise up a flourishing college, He will do so, so pray for it – everyone, not just Dr. Ristau, everyone, pray for it – it is a good thing, and He loves to give good things to His children, and work for it, it is a beautiful thing, and He is a beautiful Savior, but pray also daily, “Thy will be done,” and God will accomplish things more wonderful than our reason can comprehend.

We don’t want things to depend on us. We would ruin it all. We want things to depend on our Savior. He has preserved His Church for two thousand years and He has preserved it here among us in Casper and in Wyoming. He has given us what no money could possibly buy. We have here the truth of the Lutheran confession, the pure preaching of the atonement of our Lord Jesus Christ, the true body and blood distributed from our altars, brotherly love for one another, unity that is simply hard to find in this sinful world. And the Lord has given us more. He has given us a zeal to hand down the truth to the next generation and to spread this truth to all nations. He has gathered in this place, in Casper, WY, faithful and competent Christians to do the work of starting a college faithful to His Word.

And He has called you, Harold, to lead it. No pressure. Seriously, no pressure, except the pleasant pressure the Lord puts on you, the yoke that is easy and light: be faithful, love the Lord who bought you, love His Word, and so love the people under your care. That is why you are here, it is why Mount Hope called you, why the Regents selected you, so do not change, remain faithful to the Word, work hard as you have always done by Jesus’ grace for His Kingdom, and the Lord who builds the house will not let you labor in vain.

Members of Mount Hope and of our sister congregations and college community, God has sent you a faithful pastor and leader in Rev. Ristau. You will hear him swear shortly that he will teach and preach God’s Word faithfully. He means it. And it is what he wants you to demand of him and expect from him. You are to honor and respect him not because he is in some office that is higher than you, but because the office he holds is the office of speaking the words of Jesus. And those words are your life. Jesus asked the question, Simon, son of Jonah, do you love me more than these? He asked Peter if Peter loved Him more than the others loved Him. That’s because Peter had said he did, had said everyone else might leave, but he wouldn’t, and Peter failed. But when Peter responds to Jesus, he says nothing about loving Jesus more than the others do. He says instead, “You know that I love you.” Because this is our common love, what we sing, Lord, Thee I love with all my heart, and we are in no competition here. We pastors love our people because we love our Lord Jesus and you love your pastors because they teach you the words of the Lord Jesus you love. We are not our own. The people and the pastor, the shepherd and the sheep, stand alike before the Lord and Shepherd who bought us. And we love Him and love His Word and promise by His grace to remain faithful to it, because He has loved us, He is faithful, He is our Shepherd, and to Him we commend our congregations, our school, our college, our people, our pastors, and our lives, now and forever.

Alleluia. Christ is risen.