Reflections on ministering in one place for 15 years
Thoughts which Drive me to Jesus, and to the cross in which we are partners
2This is what the LORD, the God of Israel, says about the rulers who were supposed to take care of his people: “You have not taken care of my people; you have scattered them and driven them away. Now I am going to punish you for the evil you have done. 3I will gather the rest of my people from the countries where I have scattered them, and I will bring them back to their homeland. They will have many children and increase in number. 4I will appoint rulers to take care of them. My people will no longer be afraid or terrified, and I will not punish them again. I, the LORD, have spoken.” Jeremiah 23:2-4 GNT
I think it very significant that our word occurs in this scene of Luke’s, which is like a vision of what is to come: James and John are referred to as κοινωνοί of Simon (v. 10), which is translated inadequately as “partners”—obliterating the associations of the word which particularly interest us. The three men, whose fellowship (as we saw) will be continued in the “pillars” of the Letter to the Galatians, are there at the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry and form a “commune”. It is clear that the word at this point has no theological connotation; it is used as a generally current term for fellow tradesmen. James and John are Simon’s “associates”, “partners” in fishing; the three of them are in “partnership”. They are joint owners of a small business, with Simon in overall charge. Here, then, is the original, secular sense of the word, which will remain important for an understanding of its new religious sense: κοινωνία implies common property, working together, shared values. In Jesus’ “Henceforth you will be catching men”, Simon’s erstwhile trade becomes an allegory of his future vocation. Similarly the fishing partnership becomes a sign of the new “partnership”, the new communio. Christians will be the “company of the tiny bark of the Church”, one in their calling by Jesus, one by the miracle of grace which harvests the wealth of the sea after nights of hopelessness. Since they are one in grace, they will also be one in their mission, which is itself grace.
Fifteen years ago yesterday, I was installed as the pastor of my present church, and then installed 2 deacons to work beside me, to be partners in the ministry we share with all who are called by God through the church – to care for His people.
I thought of that this morning, as I picked up the devotional reading I missed yesterday, and saw how it addresses those who shepherd God’s people, or at least try to lead them. Jeremiah doesn’t pull his punches, he nails us to the wall for the sins we commit, when we don’t shepherd them, but rather, put other things in front of them.
You see, God doesn’t care about our buildings, about the financial state of our 501(c)3 corporations, our districts/diocese, and our national or international headquarters. He cares about the husband and wife in a walker and wheel chair, those who take in or move in with others to care for them, the young man whose family is struggling, the 70 year old homeless couple in the back pew, and even the pastor and deacon–each with their own trauma, that try to guide the people.
God cares for them – even as he cared for the 6 partners in the fishing business. (remember – they left dads behind)
Pastors, priests, deacons, ministers, whatever you title them–are sinners. We can be described as Jeremiah did on occasion. And when we realize it, we grieve.
Our hope for not being total failures, is not in the grief, or even in the corrective action (which hopefully we learn to take). It is based in what Cardinal Ratzinger refers too, (yes later he was Pope Benedict 16) about all our work being done with our Senior Partner, Jesus Christ. This doesn’t excuse our sin in the sense of we can avoid the grief, but it does mean He will care for the people – bringing them home just like the load of fish the fisherman caught after their night of futility.
Our hope is in Jesus, picking us up, reminding us of the shared love, and them kicking us in the tush – so we get back to caring for His/our people. Our hope is in our communion, our common work and His uncommon ability–and His love, which will become common to us.
It is being His partner- being in communion with Him that any ministry has value, or efficacy. It is there we learn of His love for the people He has charged us to care for, to love, to shepherd–even if that means at great cost. Even at the risk of failure or burnout.
Ministry happens there, in the church, at the altar, at bedside..
Where we help them know God is with them…
Anything else isn’t the ministry we are grateful to share.
Joseph Ratzinger, Behold The Pierced One: An Approach to a Spiritual Christology, trans. Graham Harrison (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1986), 82–83.