Sunday, January 26, 2014

The best of times and the worst of times. . .

One of the best things and the worst things of the pastoral ministry is that you are there in the wost possible moments of a person's life and the best of times for people.  As a Pastor you hold in your hands the fragile life of a child, bringing them to the waters of Holy Baptism.  But you are also there when babies are diagnosed with terrible illness and when they die.  As a Pastor you witness the vows and promises of confirmands young and old in the joyful moments of the affirmation of their baptismal faith.  But you are often one of the first called when promises are broken and life comes tumbling down around these very same folks.  As a Pastor you are there to preside at the wedding of two people at a moment when their life is rich in the promise of a future.  But you are also there to hear and counsel when promises gloriously made are broken and the vows "worse, sickness, till death part's us" come true.

For some this can be a difficult burden -- too difficult to bear -- and it makes the office of the Pastor an impossible vocation for them.  Sadly, some of those do not find it out until they are thrust into those best and worst of times.  If there is a Pastor who has not wondered whether he was cut out for the ministry (especially in the first years of that ministry), I would worry about that guy.  We all wonder, sometimes on a daily basis, if we were cut out for this.  That is a good thing when it points us away from ourselves and to the Christ whom we deliver to His people through the means of grace.  It is a good thing when it strips us of the temptation to the smug and prideful self that confuses the power and shape of the office (Mark 10). 

I have recommended a number of men to the Seminary and encouraged a few more to consider the vocation of Pastor.  All of them possessed the intellectual capacity to learn what they must learn.  All of them received nurture in the formation of a pastoral heart both by the academic discipline and practical preparation for the Pastoral Office.  Not all of them were able bear the burden of this tension between best of times and worst of times -- the tension into which all Pastors are thrust by the Church.

Sometimes it is almost unbearable.  I find myself a sponge soaking up the wounds and hurts of my people.  On Sunday morning I look into faces of folks I know, well enough to know how life has battered and bruised them and even what temptations they face and what troubles have befallen them.  I was told a long time ago that if you preach to pain, you will find many hearers.  Those were both wise and truthful words of advice which I gladly pass on to others who will listen.

But it is also incredibly rewarding.  I am not so much talking about sharing the wonderful moments but the opportunity to speak the Gospel to hurting people, grieving people, broken people.  The reward is not being able to help so much as it is having the Word that delivers its promise, the efficacious Word of life, hope, forgiveness, and redemption.  Speaking Christ to those carrying great weight of guilt, shame, hurt, fear, and doubt is the reason I stay in this vocation.

Christmas is one of those times in which I am most acutely aware of the burdens my people bear.  On Christmas Eve I see a family struggling with unemployment, a wife grieving the recent loss of her husband, parents sitting alone where children once were with them, a mom or dad who suffers the unwelcome solitude of children spending the holidays with the other divorced parent, and families whose greatest victory is simply getting through one more day (whose expectation of the holy day is relatively small).  Though we proclaim the joy of this holy season of our Savior's birth, it is a joy that comes to us where we are -- amid the defeats, troubles, trials, and disappointments of this mortal life.

It is privilege to be with these folks in their worst moments even more than their best.  It is this that marks a shepherd of Christ's sheep -- a quality hard to recognize in candidates for the pastoral office, a skill hard to teach to aspiring clergy, and a lesson not easily learned even by those who want to master it.  On this day commemorating St. Titus, Pastor and Confessor, I just wanted to say something about life as a Pastor, dwelling with the people of God in their worst moments and in their grandest of times, sharing their burdens and finding these opportunities to proclaim Emmanuel, God with us, as our hope and joy, at Christmas sure and always!

1 comment:

ginnie said...

And you put forth a multitude of reasons we should pray for all pastors.