Saturday, April 4, 2020

But that is no answer at all. . .

Sometimes it is just plain tough to be a pastor.  People come from within the congregation and others you do not know and they pour out their hearts to you.  Whatever it is, you have little to offer them in the hope of fixing what it is that is wrong.  Our words cannot heal cancer or bring back the dead or instantly end the terrors of a schizophrenic or bi-polar mind.  We do not have enough money to answer the financial needs of those who were living paycheck to paycheck and lost their jobs.  We cannot sort out the often confusing and confounding realities of a world which calls sin good and rejects virtue.  We are sometimes rejected because the people know a pastor cannot fix what is wrong.  And when you tell them you will pray for them or listen to their complaints, the people reject your prayers and your ears and sometimes leave with a choice word or sentiment behind.

It is not long before a pastor begins to believe that he has nothing to offer, nothing to say, and nothing to give.  And that is a bad place to be.  For we have not simply given up on ourselves and our vocation but upon the God who called us and conferred on us through the Church His the authority of His Word and Sacraments.  That is a worse place to be.  Then the Gospel becomes a pie in the sky when you die but offers little to help you wrestle through the worse questions and worse moments of this life.  And who wants a Gospel that offers help on layaway?

But that is exactly the problem.  The Church does have answers.  As pastors, we do have something to say.  The Bible is filled with answers to real questions.  Every age of Christians has had its tragedies and suffering.  Every place has known struggle, sorrow, and strife.  Every person has met mountains in his or her path and was forced to find a way over or through them.  Every one of us has bee frustrated by the things that are that should not be and the things that should be that are not.  St. Paul confronted exactly these things from Rome to Corinth, from Galatia to Judea. Remember that the first Christians were persecuted with greater threats than doubt and endured conflict and dispute over the most basic doctrines of the faith.  Christians have witnessed kingdoms fall and empires decline and terror threaten and plague kill and despots murder.  The faith has endured because it did have answers to sustain the weary, the fearful, and the doubting.

There are those who will surely reject these as no real answer at all but when we answer with God's Word the Spirit is at work in the conversation.  Where the Spirit is at work, there is God at work.  There is the potential of faith.  We will not gain a hearing by being smug or condescending but neither will we have answers if the focus is on us instead of Christ.  Speaking the Gospel to those who hurt or doubt or question or seek meaning in the troubles, trials, and temptations of this mortal life does make a difference.  But we sometimes forget that the people asking want to know that YOU believe what you are saying and that you have wrestled in the same way with the things of life that defy explanation and demand an answer.  Sometimes we forget this.  A gentle response is hard to give sometimes but God is gracious, kind, and gentle with us.  We cannot afford to be different.

One of the most important answers we have to give is that today, however bad or great it is, is not all of life.  It is not a matter of a balance between the crap we must face and the good we do not deserve but the promise of our best lives to come and this life redeemed by forgiveness and planted in hope.  In many respects the one and most profound pursuit of this life is a clear conscience.  When people tell us their stories of pain and loss, what they want to know most of all is whether they must carry this with them forever, whether they are to blame for all that is so terrible, and whether there is a way for their hearts to know peace again.  How better to respond but with the Word of hope that does offer an end to the mistakes and pains of our past, that does offer an answer to the impossible burden of guilt and shame, and that there is a path to peace.  God has all of this in the Gospel.  We speak the truth in love, gently and patiently giving answer to the hope within us, and pointing our people directly to the cross where God has given us the once and final answer.

Pastors, do not forget this.


Janis Williams said...

Parishioners, don’t forget it either! (Speaking to myself!)

Janis Williams said...

Parishioners, don’t forget it, either! (Speaking to myself.)