I like to download episodes of Issues, Etc. onto my phone and then take them out on walks with me.
One sunny day in Dallas, I put in my earbuds, stretched my calves and hamstrings, clicked “play” on my phone, and hit the pavement.
(Cue the familiar “Viva la Vida” bump music by Coldplay.)
As I settled into a comfortable stride, the host Todd Wilken introduced that day’s program: a sermon review of some preacher in Indiana, one Rev. David Petersen. Now, I was no dummy Lutheran. I had heard of the guy. He was that chasuble-wearing pastor at Redeemer Lutheran Church in Fort Wayne, the leader of those Rudisillians, a staunchly loyal breed of Lutherans with whom I had bumped elbows on many occasions.
“Repent.” Rev. Petersen spoke into my ears. “You are vain, and you worship yourself.”
Woah. How did he know? I looked around the subdivision I was circling. Had anyone seen me blush? Only some crape myrtle trees and those crazy, bug-eyed grackles.
“There is One who needs no repentance,” he continued, preaching from the parables of the lost sheep and the lost coin in Luke 15. “…These parables are not about us, and in our fallen flesh we always think everything is about us. These parables are about Him, the Christ, who needs no repentance.”
I noticed that I had slowed down. In fact, I was standing still on the curb, looking up the street but seeing nothing. Well, I was seeing something. I was seeing my reflection in Rev. Petersen’s words, and it wasn’t pretty. It’s never pretty when you stare your Sin in the face, when your conscience plays chicken with a Law-wielding pastor. This guy was telling me that I turn everything, even Scripture, into something about myself. And he was right.
My Old Adam lay slain on the pavement.
“‘I tell you that in the same way, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over 99 righteous persons who need no repentance.’ And this is the great surprise. The holy angels rejoice over every sinner who repents more than they ever rejoice over a single, perfect, and holy Messiah who needs no repentance.
…Every sinner on earth, everyone infected with both original and actual sin, everyone in bondage, every habitual sinner, every liar, every betrayer, every pharisee, every pervert, every fraud, every braggart, every drug dealer, terrorist, adulterer, and child pornographer, every selfish, proud person on this planet who repents is worth more joy in heaven than 99 perfect and holy messiahs.
You do not only outrank the sparrows in terms of causing joy in heaven, you outrank God in the flesh. You are worth more than 100 times – at least in terms of joy – you are worth more than 100 times Jesus. Jesus, God in the flesh, does not cause the holy angels of heaven to rejoice even 100th as much as you – your repentance and faith – do.”
Why? Because Jesus, the Messiah, who needs no repentance, is rejected in heaven, and that rejection effects/causes/is the means of the rescue, the salvation, and the redemption of the world, of sinners. “
Okay, by this point, I was a mess. Not a hot, sticky, summer-in-Texas kind of mess but a weeping, liquidated-and-redeemed by the Law and Gospel kind of mess. I found myself walking back and forth on the same square of sidewalk, trying desperately to hold it together for the sake of the Lexuses and BMWs that were now driving by my little piece of universe.
With the blessed Word, this Midwestern pastor had gunned down the black heart of an insignificant pastor’s wife way down below the Mason-Dixon line and then resuscitated it back to life with the precious, life-giving blood of Christ, all within a span of a few minutes.
Needless to say, I didn’t get much of a workout that day, but I did start downloading more Issues, Etc. episodes, especially the ones with the word “Petersen” in the tag line.
I am a proper Pastor Petersen junkie, now. Though I have never met the man, I can’t get enough of his piercingly honest bedside manner when he diagnoses my Sin-sick Old Adam, and he never fails to prescribe the Word-rich remedy which my disease requires: Christ crucified for my redemption.
For this reason, it is my pleasure to inform you that Emmanuel Press recently published Thy Kingdom Come, a collection of Lent and Easter sermons written by Rev. Petersen.
Now, you don’t need to live on Rudisill Boulevard or own an iPod to receive the Word from this beloved pastor. You can simply order this book and let Rev. Petersen preach a sermon to you over and over again, page after fortifying page.
“Faith has no strength in itself,” Rev. Petersen reminds us. “If the faith planted in us is not tended by the Word and Sacraments, it will wither and die…He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”*
Or, in this case, he who has eyes to read, let him read Thy Kingdom Come for the strengthening of his faith.
* (Petersen, Thy Kingdom Come, 5-8)