Today is the fourth anniversary of my ordination. The fourth year is not necessarily a special landmark or anything; it just happens that this is the first year that May 30th has arrived and I've noticed it. So I've reflected on it a bit today.
I have been a little discouraged with my productivity lately. Ministry happens in the interruptions is what they told us in seminary, and I try to remind myself of that as often as possible. Nevertheless, this particular vocation and this context involves so many little unrelated tasks that pull me in a million directions. Sometimes I feel like I'm not getting anything done well. Today I took the church garbage to the dumpster next door (navigating the piles of dog poop in the yard that the back-door neighbor's dog has left there), had an impromptu counseling session with someone who dropped by and needed to talk about some very serious family and medical issues, met with a group about the possibility of my entering prison ministry, purchased gift cards for our Sunday School teacher appreciation day, made and answered about a dozen phone calls, firmed up this Sunday's baccalaureate service with a colleague, proofed a bulletin, bought some VBS materials, communicated with the treasurer about some checks that must be cut before he heads out of town, read one of my confirmand's last-minute sermon summaries, and led a Bible study for which only two people showed up. I tried to get over to hospice to have a visit, but was unsuccessful. I don't really know what tomorrow will bring.
For reflection on this anniversary, here is Martin Luther (from Table Talk):
"A good preacher should have these properties and virtues:
first, to teach systematically;
secondly, he should have a ready wit;
thirdly, he should be eloquent;
fourthly, he should have a good voice;
fifthly, a good memory;
sixthly, he should know when to make an end;
seventhly, he should be sure of his doctrine;
eighthly, he should venture and engage body and blood,
wealth and honor, in the Word;
ninthly, he should suffer himself to be mocked and jeered of every one."
In all my pastoral comings and goings, I suppose I should never forget the danger of taking myself too seriously.
Thursday, May 17, 2007
The infant room at my daughter's day care is run by this lady called Mrs. G. She is a middle-aged African American woman who is in total control of the often chaotic surroundings of her nursery. She has honed her skill in caring for "little ones" through her own life experience: she is a mother of three and has numerous grandchildren. Melinda and I have noticed that she is loving and efficient in her attention to all kinds of children. I have seen her simultaneously rocking one child in her lap, feeding another one a bottle, and using her foot to bounce a third child in a swing, a talent it would take me years to develop. No amount of screaming and fussing from the babies ever tips her over. She is good. We love Mrs. G.
Mrs. G is also a faithful Pentecostal and is very involved in her church. She occasionally likes to start up conversations with me about her church and her ministry when I come in to drop off Clare. Usually I just listen and make a comment or two in agreement, but I'm usually in too big of a hurry to engage her in a more involved manner. I'm also wary that, coming from such a different tradition than mine, we may venture into a topic on which we may disagree or that may need more discussion than casual parlance may allow. It's a silly hang-up, I know.
Today, however, I greeted Mrs. G by saying, "Our Lord is ascended!" She stopped for a minute, looking as if she was doing some counting in her head. "Is it already the 40th day?" she asked, shocked at how quickly time had passed. "Yes," I said. It's the celebration of the Ascension of our Lord." She responded, "Yes, our Lord left us and went up to heaven. But he promised to send his Spirit." Then, very matter-of-factly, she added, "And he had best do that, else we'd be in a heap o' trouble!"
Amen! Here was an ascension sermon straight from the mouth of a day-care worker who clearly knows what it means to depend on the "power from on high." It was a statement of faith straight from someone who knows her New Testament and how the divine economy works. Thank the Lord that Christ has ascended and has sent his promised Spirit. Let Mrs. G speak for the church today: we'd be in heaps of trouble if it weren't for Jesus' promises!
Did I mention we love Mrs. G?
(image: The Ascension of Christ, Hans Suess von Kulmbach b.1480)
Saturday, May 05, 2007
Images like photographs certainly help communicate the gospel, and the picture above is what I'm using for my sermon tomorrow on the Fifth Sunday of Easter. I took this picture myself two summers ago when I was hiking with friends in Glacier National Park in Montana. We were rounding a ridge and descending into a valley when we came into this area which had been completely ravaged by a major forest fire two years earlier. The landscape in this section of the trail looked altogether different from the few miles we had already traveled. The stark contrast of the charred, dead tree trunks with the lush, flowering undergrowth enchanted us. Ever the nerdy pastors, we named it "Resurrection Valley."
Although we think of fires as destructive, we have actually learned that they are one of nature's ways of replenishing and renewing growth. This particular conflagration had consumed a high percentage of the park's lower elevation forest and there were worries that the bleak landscape would disappoint the park's thousands of summer visitors. Not so! We considered ourselves fortunate to view such fascinating scenery up-close, and I'm sure other hikers did, as well. It was beautiful. Almost other-worldly, but beautiful and hopeful. Out of the ashes of death, God raises up new life. From the old life of sin, Christ can and does calls us to lives of love and faithfulness. "And the one seated on the throne said, 'See, I am making all things new!'"
There are many ways to think of God's desire and true ability to make things new among us, but on this day I'd like to think of how agape fills that purpose. Jesus' commandment "to love one another" is new, but it is also renewing. It restores broken relationships. It brings about reconciliation. Agape has the power to transform otherwise hopeless scenarios. In the fire of baptismal grace, agape when it is seen and enacted helps give us a vision of what God's kingdom will be like when he comes to make his home among mortals in the new heaven and the new earth.