Saturday, September 19, 2015

Unsung saints. . .

I will admit that once I dreamed of being famous.  I had a grand plan of which the parish was but a stepping stone.  I was going to get my PhD and teach and write and flood the world with my greatness.  Something happened along the way.  It was not that I missed out on my dream but that another dream encompassed and surpassed the first.  In my first parish I learned to see that the greatest work of the kingdom was done by unsung and anonymous saints -- those known to God and a small circle but unknown and unremembered in the greater world around them.  I learned as a young pastor to survey the faces of the people who gathered on Sunday morning and to begin to see in them the work of the Lord and the works of the Lord. 

If a pastor stays in one place long enough, it is impossible not to be drawn into the stories and lives of those unsung saints.  Now that I have been in this congregation almost 23 years, I still do that on Sunday morning -- both from pulpit and from the altar.  I look and remember who they were when I first came here and who they are now.  Some were in the prime of their working and earning years when I came and now are retired, some coping with weakened bodies and physical limitations that frustrate and confound them.  Some were babies and children when I came and now have husbands or wives of their own and children whom I have held in my arms over the baptismal water.  So many others just moved here and many others came and went.  I like to learn their names but I love to know them and who they are as God's own people.

I am not famous and glad of it.  I have achieved no high office in the church (as some might describe it) except the high office of pastor who brings the gifts of God to the people.  I have written much but most of it is eminently forgettable.  I might have ended up with great regrets for this loss of a dream but very few of my regrets have little to do with failed achievements and most of them from the wish that I had served God's people better.  I have learned that most of God's saints are unsung heroes of the faith who labor in hidden corners of the kingdom but accomplish great things in their homes, on their jobs, in their communities, and in their congregations.  I have watched them in the worst circumstances of life and seen their faith, their patience, and their hope endure.  I have shed tears with them in sorrows too great for anyone to bear and seen them draw comfort and strength from the Word and Table of the Lord to trudge on through it all.  I have shared in their joyous moments at their kitchen tables and in their living rooms when laughter and food and drink were shared in abundance.  In the end, they have opened their homes, hearts, and lives to me and my family along the way -- sharing the heights and depths of this mortal life and all its twists and turns.

Do not diminish who you are as a child of God or what you do in the high and holy calling of your baptismal vocation.  Do not wait wait for the world to notice but learn to be content in the knowledge that God sees what no one else does.  Do not fear the loss that love requires as you give it away to family, friends, co-workers, fellow Christians, and even the strangers whom we welcome in His name.  Do not assume that fame is the same as greatness -- for the greatest are generally those whom no one knows or remembers but God.  The greatest of saints can often be found doing the most distasteful jobs on earth -- without complaint!

Husbands, love your wives.  Wives, love your husbands.  Parents, love your children.  Children, love your parents.  This is the first circle in which we experience God's love and where we learn to reflect that love.  Live honestly and honorably in the world.  It may seem foolish or old fashioned but ordinary character is extraordinary and people who love virtue and seek what is good and right and true are needed now more than ever.  Work is a gift and not merely a means to an end (money to buy happiness).  Give honest labor to your employers and treat your employees honestly and fairly -- this is unsung greatness too.  Support the Church with faithful and generous offerings, teach Sunday school, read the catechism to your kids,  Answer the call when the congregation seeks your leadership.  Speak positively of the work of the kingdom even when the parish seems small and its influence smaller.  There is no greater assembly than two or three gathered in the name of the Lord around His Word and Table!

You are saints not by accomplishment but by God's gracious declaration.  You do not need to be known by the world to be great.  It is great enough to be known and loved by God and redeemed by the precious blood of Jesus.  Unsung but still great.  That is you.  And by the grace of God, me, too.  That is enough.


John Joseph Flanagan said...

Your experience echoes mine. In my early years I wanted to be a writer with something interesting to share with the world. I studied the great writers and novelists, and I started novels about my wartime experiences in South Vietnam as a Sgt in the Marine Corps. I returned to college and completed my BA as an English major. I started a few novels and was never satisfied with my work, continually revising and eventually abandoning each effort. When I became a born again Christian in 1985 or so, I read the Bible regularly as I still do, and humility entered my life. I have been richly blessed with a wife of 45 years, 3 loving adult children, and a modest pension. The fame I sought once means nothing to me, and you are right about the unsung, obscure people who really make things many I have known. It is the root of pride to want fame, when we are called to live humbly before our God, and that in of itself is the greatest thing.

May Palmer, The Queen of Ivory Soul said...

Pastor Peters, you hit it 'on the nail' when speaking to the individual Christian (and The Church for that matter...) on the subject of fame. I was a professional vocalist for 25 years of my life. I traveled extensively all over the world, seeking fame for most of those 25 years. Now, that I am older and more established in my God-Given Faith, I find myself more focused on serving others in the current capacity I find myself in. While not glamorous or terribly exciting by the world's standards, there is God's Peace where I'm at and that's good enough for me. Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts with us via your article. It is appreciated so very much. The Grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you. Amen.