Sunday, September 19, 2021

Thoughts on being pastoral. . .

A while back the Roman Catholic Jesuit who has pushed the margins on behalf of LBGTQ+++ (or whatever the current initials are) received a kindly note from none other than Pope Francis lauding him for a gay conference and for his ability to be pastoral to this community.  Well, he actually did more than that.  The Pope went on to describe what being pastoral meant to be close, to have compassion, and to be tender.  As Jesus did.  As the Father has toward us through Jesus.

Yes, it is true.  Our Lord was close to sinners, had compassion on them, and was tender to the bruised and wounded souls who sought healing and life.  Every pastor has a duty to do this.  I wonder if this is not what CFW Walther was talking about in Law and Gospel --not really a preaching manual but a pastoral one.  It is surely what has given the Church moral authority beyond her borders and credibility among the marginalized of our world.  The Church has a duty and her ministers have a responsibility to be just that -- close, compassionate, and tender with sinners.  Nobody disputes that.  But the problem lies with what it means to be close to, compassion toward, and tender with these people.

Jesus was incredibly astute.  He knew the hearts of those who came to Him.  Sometimes there appeared to be a complete absence of close, compassionate, and tender care.  Sometimes He appears to say to those who came to Him the opposite of what they wanted or expected to hear and they went away disappointed.  Sometimes He did not even give them a chance to speak before attacking their serpent like ways and calling them painted over tombs.  Sometimes He offered a warm and welcome word without judgment -- then only to send them away with the call to sin no more.  In every case, our Lord was being the epitome of pastoral.  For pastoral at its core means to apply the Word of God appropriately to the condition of the sinner.  It means Law with all its force and power to those without repentance.  It means Gospel with all its sweetness and blessing to those who have despaired over their sinful condition.  Being pastoral does not mean being nice.  It means knowing how to apply the Word of God to the people to whom that Word is directed.

Fr. Martin and Pope Francis are confused.  There is an elephant in the room.  When a people pride themselves on that which conflicts with God's Word, the pastoral thing is to call them out -- not as moral superiors but as agents of the Word of Truth.  There is nothing pastoral about sidestepping around or tiptoeing over the sins of the impenitent.  There is nothing pastoral about being tender with being strong with the Word that speaks unequivocally about sin must be spoken.  There is no gain in being close to people if we must silence the Word to be near them.  There is no compassion in smiling and giving sinners the impression that their sins do not count or do not matter.  Such foolishness only ends up diminishing what Christ did upon the cross and removing from those sinners the very blessing of that atoning sacrifice.

Let me be clear.  It does not matter the initials.  God loves all people.  God loves every sinner.  But when refuse to allow ourselves to be called sinners, that love has nothing to offer us except the raw judgment of the Law.  What I fear most of all is that we have come to an age when the only thing people will let the Church or her pastors say is a word of approval, acceptance, and welcome.  When we no longer may speak the whole counsel of God's Word or when certain peoples or behaviors are out of bounds to us, we cannot be pastoral toward them.  They key to being pastoral lies with rightly handling the Word of God.

Sure, there are clods and insensitive brutes who have hidden behind a clerical collar or a call or an office in their church work.  They have used the Word as a weapon rather than the life-giving voice that Word is.  But that is hardly the problem today, is it?  For every uncaring and aloof pastor today, there are a hundred who will sacrifice the Word of God in order to be approving, accepting, and welcoming of anyone and everyone.  They have turned the meaning of the word pastoral upside down.  Neither of these extremes is reflective of true pastoral care.  Pastoral care requires the pastor to be under the Word and in the Word and have a heart formed by the Word.  Pastoral care requires that the pastor deal with people through the Word so that they may be under it, in it, and formed by it.  Fr. Martin has forgotten this just as much as the hate-filled voices of only judgment.  So, apparently has Pope Francis.  But you, my brothers and sisters in Christ, dare not forget it.

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