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The Job that Pastors and the Church Needs to Be Better Trained to Do

Good News BibleDevotional Thought of the Day:

10 The One who descended is also the One who ascended far above all the heavens, that He might fill all things. 11 And He personally gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, 12 for the training of the saints in the work of ministry, to build up the body of Christ, 13 until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of God’s Son, growing into a mature man with a stature measured by Christ’s fullness. 14 Then we will no longer be little children, tossed by the waves and blown around by every wind of teaching, by human cunning with cleverness in the techniques of deceit. 15 But speaking the truth in love, let us grow in every way into Him who is the head —Christ. 16 From Him the whole body, fitted and knit together by every supporting ligament, promotes the growth s of the body for building up itself in love by the proper working of each individual part Eph 4:10-16  HCSB

They are to be carefully instructed in the art of directing souls, whereby they will be able to bring all the sons of the Church first of all to a fully conscious and apostolic Christian life and to the fulfillment of the duties of their state of life. Let them learn to help, with equal solicitude, religious men and women that they may persevere in the grace of their vocations and may make progress according to the spirit of their various Institutes.
In general, those capabilities are to be developed in the students which especially contribute to dialogue with men, such as the ability to listen to others and to open their hearts and minds in the spirit of charity to the various circumstances and needs of men.

675    It’s true that he was a sinner. But don’t pass so final a judgment. Have pity in your heart and don’t forget that he may yet be an Augustine, while you remain just another mediocrity.

There is a term I was introduced to when I became a Lutheran pastor.  

It was “seelsorge” or caretaker of souls.  It is similar to the idea in the Anglican Church of being a curate of the church,  The person responsible to see people guided into God’s presence so that their hearts and souls (and often more) can be healed. 

But that just doesn’t include the members of a congregation or parish.  It is the entire community.   As St Josemaria reminds us, those whom we might discount because of their past may be called to something “more.”,  they may become the giants we are looking to as examples. 

It doesn’t matter if they are the mouth of the church, or the heart, hidden away, praying in their prayer closet. Our job as the caretakers is to make sure they have what they need, the ability to depend on God because we know Him.  This drives the ministries of the church, This drives the work of helping everyone mature in the presence of God, 

To help people grow in their dependence (for that is what faith is) in God, to help them grow in knowing and experiencing His love as He is present in their lives, Vatican II was correct.  Those who minister, those of us who pastor and care for souls need to know how to guide them. to help them be conscious of their calling and being sent out into the world, of what Catholics call their apostolate, what Protestants call being missional.

We are to train them, to guide them into the presence of Jesus, into knowing His mercy, His love, His gift that cause us to dwell in peace. This isn’t just the pastor’s job, it is the work of every minister in the church. 

It is who we are… it is why we exist, and it was what we need to be trained to do.  I really think that needs to become more and more how we train our pastors, our deacons, our elders and various ministers of the church.  It is more important than knowing the trivia of scripture or knowing the all the theological information there is.   We have o know God is with us, and we have to teach God will be with them.

We have to know how to use God’s word, to administer the sacraments in such a way that people know they belong in God’s presence, whether they are young or old, male or female, whether their sin is hidden or notorious. Whether they become ushers in the church or the next Augustine or do the really critical work of teaching the children of the church.  (which is all to often overlooked!)

This is the ministry of the church.  The caretaking of souls entrusted to it by God.  Not just the recognized members of the church.. but the church.

Lord have mercy on us and help us to be trained and train people to care for souls.  AMEN!

Questions:
What do you think the hardest part of caring for souls is?

What do you think the greatest blessing is?

 

Catholic Church. (2011). Decree on Priestly Training: Optatum Totius. In Vatican II Documents. Vatican City: Libreria Editrice Vaticana.

Escriva, Josemaria. The Way (Kindle Locations 1568-1570). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

The Never-ending Bible Chapter: A Meditation for All-Hallowed’s Evening

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERADevotional Thought of the Day:
1  The fundamental fact of existence is that this trust in God, this faith, is the firm foundation under everything that makes life worth living. It’s our handle on what we can’t see. 2  The act of faith is what distinguished our ancestors, set them above the crowd.
Hebrews 11:1-2 (MSG)

We can explain what faith really means for an individual only by pointing to the lives of those who have lived it in its fullness: Francis of Assisi, Francis Xavier, Ignatius Loyola, Teresa of Avila, Thérèse of Lisieux, Vincent de Paul, John XXIII; in such persons, and basically only in them, can we come to know what kind of decision faith is. As we can see in the lives of such individuals, faith is a kind of passion, or, more correctly, a love that seizes an individual and shows him the direction he must go, however fatiguing it may be—the spiritual equivalent, perhaps, of a mountain to climb, which to the ordinary Christian would seem foolish indeed but to one who has committed himself to the venture is clearly the only direction to take—a direction he would not exchange for any conceivably more comfortable one.

426    In Christ we have every ideal: for he is King, he is Love, he is God.

Hebrews 11, where the quote in red comes from this morning, like the Acts of the Apostles, are chapters without ending.

That is, as Pope Ratzinger does above, the list of people sent by God, the list of those who were seized by the love of God, and shown a way to go, never ends.  They are added to the great cloud of witnesses, the people who are passionate about the passion of the Lord, and seem to overcome things that should exhaust them.

For such people, and yes, that includes you and I, there is only the life God planned for us (Eph. 2:8-10) that is the direction we would take, and the longer we wearily tread these paths, the more assured we are that there is no other path worth taking.

The strength, the confidence isn’t ours, otherwise we would go another way (as we too often try to do!)  It is part of the love that seizes us, the ideal of Christ as we are called to imitate God, to imitate the Christ who has drawn us to himself. And in doing so, He has made us His holy people.

Paul talks of being united to Him, in our baptism, as we die with Him at the cross, and are raised to new life with him.  He talks about the same power that raised Christ Jesus from the dead being at work in us. This is the love(agape/cHesed,charity ) and mercy that is our gift, the grace that saves us, the charity that transforms us.

For us, it is often hard to see this in our lives.  To understand this faith, this trust, this dependence on the love of God, that power which transforms us.  And this is why Hebrews shares with us the faith of a few, and describes the faith of those to come. Their faith, their confidence, even in the midst of their brokenness gives us something to observe, a picture of what is going on in us.

Looking at them, seeing their sin and their transformation, we begin to understand what they counted on, the promises of scripture that they knew were fulfilled in their lives, and is being fulfilled in ours.

So this day, take one person of faith, who trusted in God’s work, in His love taking action, and consider that this is happening in your life as well!

And then cry out, confident in the answer, “LORD have mercy on me, a sinner,”

AMEN!

 

Ratzinger, Joseph. Co-Workers of the Truth: Meditations for Every Day of the Year. Ed. Irene Grassl. Trans. Mary Frances McCarthy and Lothar Krauth. San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1992. Print.

Escriva, Josemaria. The Way (Kindle Location 1054). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

When the Church is the Building….

Discussion thought fo the Day….

27  “But will God really live on earth? Why, even the highest heavens cannot contain you. How much less this Temple I have built! 28  Nevertheless, listen to my prayer and my plea, O LORD my God. Hear the cry and the prayer that your servant is making to you today. 29  May you watch over this Temple night and day, this place where you have said, ‘My name will be there.’ May you always hear the prayers I make toward this place. 30  May you hear the humble and earnest requests from me and your people Israel when we pray toward this place. Yes, hear us from heaven where you live, and when you hear, forgive. 1 Kings 8:27-30 (NLT)

41  “In the future, foreigners who do not belong to your people Israel will hear of you. They will come from distant lands because of your name, 42  for they will hear of your great name and your strong hand and your powerful arm. And when they pray toward this Temple, 43  then hear from heaven where you live, and grant what they ask of you. In this way, all the people of the earth will come to know and fear you, just as your own people Israel do. They, too, will know that this Temple I have built honors your name.
1 Kings 8:41-43 (NLT)

But more than that: we want to see heaven, we seek something greater, for the human soul thirsts for God, for the living God. The places of pilgrimage have marked a kind of geography of faith in our country, that is, they make visible, almost tangible, how our forefathers encountered the living God, how HE did not withdraw after creation or after the time of Jesus Christ, but is always present and works in them so that they were able to experience HIM, follow in his footsteps, and see him in the works HE performed. Yes, HE is there, and HE is still there today. It is from this inner encounter with the Lord that there originated the places and images of pilgrimage in which we, so to speak, can participate in what they saw, in what their faith provided for them.  (1)

It has become a mantra among modern Christians, “the church isn’t the building, it is the people!”

And as this has become more common, we see the church becoming more disposable, we are willing to let them fade into ruin, we are willing to sell them off and let them become restaurants, or antique shops, or be torn down to make way for homes or strip malls.  

Let me be clear, I am not talking about Gothic cathedrals; the Church might be a store front, or a modular building, or an old wooden frame building out in the country.  Nor am I talking about a form of worship – either that modified from ancient forms of liturgy, or free-form prayer and study that is equally ancient. 

But these places are the church.  

Because they are the places, like the temple, where God put His Name, they were dedicated to God’s work, to bring honor and glory to His name by becoming a place where the gospel was shared, where people were taught about God’s faithfulness, where people would be baptized and enter into fellowship with others who depend on God.  They are the place where that fellowship, God and His people was expressed and celebrated in Communion.  

Not just one generation, but generation upon generation.  They are the places of pilgrimage we have been given, Pilgrimages that aren’t once i n a lifetime, but daily and weekly..As such, they do what Cardinal Ratzinger wrote about – “they make visible and tangible how our forefathers encountered the living God, how He did not withdraw from them after the time of Jesus Christ, but is ALWAYS present and WORKS in them so that they were able to EXPERIENCE HIM, follow in His footsteps, and see Him int he works He performed. ”

As I watch the church experts these days, there is a new mantra.  No longer is it the building that is not the church; the congregations are no longer the church either. More precisely, they find that God doesn’t sustain a church past 25-40 years (they forget the part of the original study talking about rededication  – holding on to part that explains their observations)  As they have been willing to close the buildings, now we are willing to close down the people.

In doing so, we lose the history, not of this person or that, but of their encountering God on His terms, on His ground, on Holy ground, holy because it was where He put His name, where they built it to honor Him.  This is what Cardinal Ratzinger was writing about when he continued,

 HE is there, and HE is still there today. It is from this inner encounter with the Lord that there originated the places and images of pilgrimage in which we, so to speak, can participate in what they saw, in what their faith provided for them.

As I talk to people who are broken, there is a need to find something bigger than they are, something that will give us hope, something that will assure us that we can go on, that God is still working with HIs people.  That there is something work sacrificing for, not just for our sake, but for our communities.  Something that is not just a testimony to this generation, but to generations to come.

These places where God meets His people, where He assures them of His love, where He welcomes those foreign to “religion” to come and pray,t o come and find God’s heart, where they find God revealed to them, can serve in such places, because they always have.  They are the gathering places, they are places of peace, because they are places of prayer, and absolution, fellowship, sanctuaries and fortresses where we can find rest and healing.

Sustaining them will take work, sacrifice of time and money.  THat’s okay; they took that to build them.  It will take a lot of teaching, a lot of sharing why God’s love is important, from scripture and the lives of those who went before.  That is okay as well!  The greater cost will be found when by closing them, disbanding their people, we send an unintended message of what doesn’t matter to “organized religion,”

They are where we, as a communion meet God. These places, centuries old or decades, large or small, ornate or plain, are where we become part of the church, where we become the church.

Maybe we shouldn’t be so hasty to abandon them, or the people and God that are the reason they exist.

(1)  Ratzinger, J. (1992). Co-Workers of the Truth: Meditations for Every Day of the Year. (I. Grassl, Ed., M. F. McCarthy & L. Krauth, Trans.) (p. 165). San Francisco: Ignatius Press.

Pastor and Priests are Shepherds…That is Our Life

Devotional Thought of the Day

34  Jesus saw the huge crowd as he stepped from the boat, and he had compassion on them because they were like shFeatured imageeep without a shepherd. So he began teaching them many things. 35  Late in the afternoon his disciples came to him and said, “This is a remote place, and it’s already getting late. 36  Send the crowds away so they can go to the nearby farms and villages and buy something to eat.” 37  But Jesus said, “You feed them.”   Mark 6:34-37 (NLT)

14  “Return home, you wayward children,” says the LORD, “for I am your master. I will bring you back to the land of Israel one from this town and two from that family from wherever you are scattered. 15  And I will give you shepherds after my own heart, who will guide you with knowledge and understanding. Jeremiah 3:14-15 (NLT)

11  It was he who “gave gifts to people”; he appointed some to be apostles, others to be prophets, others to be evangelists, others to be pastors and teachers. 12  He did this to prepare all God’s people for the work of Christian service, in order to build up the body of Christ. 13  And so we shall all come together to that oneness in our faith and in our knowledge of the Son of God; we shall become mature people, reaching to the very height of Christ’s full stature. Ephesians 4:11-13 (TEV)

14 We lay hold of him when our heart embraces him and clings to him.
15 To cling to him with all our heart is nothing else than to entrust ourselves to him completely. He wishes to turn us away from everything else, and draw us to himself, because he is the one eternal good. It is as if he said: “What you formerly sought from the saints, or what you hoped to receive from mammon or anything else, turn to me for all this; look upon me as the one who wishes to help you and to lavish all good upon you richly.”
16 Behold, here you have the true honor and the true worship which please God and which he commands under penalty of eternal wrath, namely, that the heart should know no other consolation or confidence than that in him, nor let itself be torn from him, but for him should risk and disregard everything else on earth.  (1)

By the preaching of the word and by the celebration of the sacraments, the center and summit of which is the most holy Eucharist, He brings about the presence of Christ, the author of salvation. But whatever truth and grace are to be found among the nations, as a sort of secret presence of God, He frees from all taint of evil and restores to Christ its maker, who overthrows the devil’s domain and wards off the manifold malice of vice. And so, whatever good is found to be sown in the hearts and minds of men, or in the rites and cultures peculiar to various peoples, not only is not lost, but is healed, uplifted, and perfected for the glory of God, the shame of the demon, and the bliss of men.24 Thus, missionary activity tends toward eschatological fullness.25 For by it the people of God is increased to that measure and time which the Father has fixed in His power (cf. Acts 1:7). To this people it was said in prophecy: “Enlarge the space for your tent, and spread out your tent cloths unsparingly” (Is. 54:2).26 By missionary activity, the mystical body grows to the mature measure of the fullness of Christ (cf. Eph. 4:13); and the spiritual temple, where God is adored in spirit and in truth (cf. John 4:23), grows and is built up upon the foundation of the Apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the supreme corner stone (Eph. 2:20).  (2)

This morning I had the greatest 15 minutes of my week since Sunday. I met and visited with a lady who was an incredible blessing to me.  Her words though few, and with a tired voice, encouraged me to be what I am, a pastor.  As I prayed with the lady who has lived in 10 different decades, I watched a beautiful smile, and her tired body relaxed, as she knew again the love of God.  It is the first time we’ve met, and I am already looking forward to seeing her again.

It is not why I do what I do; It is who I am.

That is being a pastor, a shepherd.  It what those called into ministry are called to be. I’ve included a lot of citations above, because they explain it far better than I can.

The reading from Ephesian starts it out by expressing that we aren’t born to be pastors/shepherds, but we are chosen to do it.  Chosen to shepherd (that is what pastor means) and to guide people as they mature in Christ, as they struggle with living out the promise of being someone united to Jesus, as they struggle as the Holy Spirit transforms them into His image. As they struggle with their growing pains. As we hear Jesus command us to feed them (and he had to tell Peter that THREE times according to St. John’s gospel!)

I love how Vatican II puts it, as we see the transformation, even the exorcises all evil from them ( Paul calls this circumcising the heart and Ezekiel speak of it as well)  Paul talks of us pleading with them to be reconciled to God, to being drawn to Him, to bring them to be embraced by a God who is both merciful and loving.

It is of the greatest of joys when this happens, as it did this morning as I sat next to my new friend, the new person I had the honor of reminding that Christ is indeed with her.  Something she indeed knew… but loved to hear again.  There are other times; it is not so easy.  When showing them what Luther wrote of in the catechism means bringing about healing. Treating that which hurts and is painful.

This is why Jesus said pray for the shepherds, that God would send them as promised.  It isn’t easy, it is heart-breaking and frustrating, it is ministering to people who might be angry at you, mad at you, that may think you are intentionally trying to hurt them.

A pastor stays with them, doesn’t discount them, and continues to point them to Jesus.  He keeps encouraging them to cling to Jesus. He keeps reminding them that Jesus is there.  Though it may be tempting, he doesn’t run from wolves or alligators or those who are crying in pain.  He doesn’t run when it hurts him, or even those he loves. He helps them cling to Jesus. To trust in Him rather than their idols.

He is who he is; it isn’t a job, is a vocation.

If you are a pastor or priest, spend lots of time being amazed at what God is doing through you, for it is still He who will provide the food, the word and the Lord’s Supper which nourishHis people with the knowledge and experience of His presence.

If you are served by one of us, pray for us, encourage us, be patient with us, knowing we have to draw you into God’s presence, sometimes even as you are kicking and screaming. As you can help us to – for there are more broken people that we can minister too at times…

At all times – may we cry out together, Lord Have Mercy!

And may we encourage each other by crying out, “the Lord is with you!” and hearing “and also, with you!”

(1)    Tappert, T. G. (Ed.). (1959). The Book of Concord the confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. (p. 366). Philadelphia: Mühlenberg Press.
(2)    Catholic Church. (2011). Decree on the Mission Activity of the Church: Ad Gentes. In Vatican II Documents. Vatican City: Libreria Editrice Vaticana.

Are We Worthy to Be In Their Company?

 

Devotional Thought of the Day:OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

33  By faith these people overthrew kingdoms, ruled with justice, and received what God had promised them. They shut the mouths of lions, 34  quenched the flames of fire, and escaped death by the edge of the sword. Their weakness was turned to strength. They became strong in battle and put whole armies to flight. 35  Women received their loved ones back again from death. But others were tortured, refusing to turn from God in order to be set free. They placed their hope in a better life after the resurrection. 36  Some were jeered at, and their backs were cut open with whips. Others were chained in prisons. 37  Some died by stoning, some were sawed in half, and others were killed with the sword. Some went about wearing skins of sheep and goats, destitute and oppressed and mistreated. 38  They were too good for this world, wandering over deserts and mountains, hiding in caves and holes in the ground. 39  All these people earned a good reputation because of their faith, yet none of them received all that God had promised. 40  For God had something better in mind for us, so that they would not reach perfection without us.
1  Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith, let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us. 2  We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith. Because of the joy awaiting him, he endured the cross, disregarding its shame. Now he is seated in the place of honor beside God’s throne. 3  Think of all the hostility he endured from sinful people; then you won’t become weary and give up. 4  After all, you have not yet given your lives in your struggle against sin. Hebrews 11:22-12:4 (NLT)

258      What a beautiful prayer for you to say frequently, that one of our good friend praying for a priest whom hatred for religion imprisoned: “My God, comfort him, since it is for you he suffers persecution. How many suffer, because they serve you!” What a source of joy the Communion of Saints is!  (1)

I read the 11th chapter of Hebrews today, from Abraham through the prophets, from judges to kings and apostles, and I wonder how they achieved the trust they had, the level of faith that sustained them in times of dire need.  I consider the saints since, the brilliant ones like Chrysotom, Augustine, and Melancthon, Walther and Benedict  XVI.  I think of those who’ve changed the world like Luther or Craenmer or St. Josemaria Escriva or Billy Graham,   I think of those who withstood tyranny and proclaimed Christ, who would die rather than worship a false God. I think of those like Francis and Mother Theresa and the many unknown who serve those whose health is poor, who live in darkness.  Whose names are unmentioned, but their work changes lives.  I think of King David and Bede,  Beethoven and Mozart; Charles Wesley,  Fanny Crosby, John Michael Talbot, Michael Card, and hear the wondrous praise they have composed.

And I wonder, do I belong in their company?

My head tells me I do, because of the theology I know and preach… that Christ came to have mercy on sinners like me.  This is what my soul counts on, more than anything.

Yet in my heart I wonder, will I simply be in the last row in heaven?  In the folding chair, brought in at the last moment for those of us standing around, not quite sure I belong there?

After all, I haven’t the wisdom, or the skill, and I especially don’t have the patience of those who endured before me.  I haven’t done anything noteworthy, never gotten a million hit, heck a thousand hit blog post, or wrote a song picked up by some great singer. Never served communion to more than 150, or baptized 5 people in a day.

Sometimes I wonder if I will be the last one picked, like in a sandlot baseball game.  God shrugs – yeah – I will take him, I guess I need a millionth string holder for the place kicker.

In my mind I would love to be listed there, one of those who did something that was an amazing demonstration of my trust of God, even more a demonstration of how much God is worthy of all trust.  How much God will sustain His people, through the worst of storms, through martyrdoms, even as they forgive the sins of those who oppress them.

But I am not, just a simple guy, trying to shepherd simple people.  People who still struggle with sin, people who still on occasional doubt.  People who learn about God and haev to re-learn about His love. People who still struggle with wanting to do things their own way, seek their own pleasure.

First 40 is amazing to spend some time thinking about;

40  For God had something better in mind for us, so that they would not reach perfection without us.

Without us.  Without you and I.

God has something in mind… that we will join them.

These heroes of the church, are waiting, by God’s command, for us…..

And because of this great crowd, bearing witness of Christ, who’ve demonstrated to us the faithfulness of God, surround us, we know we can do as they did.  Set everything else aside, just drop it there, and look to Jesus.  He is why we have faith, and why our faith will be sustained.  He will finish what He began in us. . That is why we will be part of the cloud, it is why they are part of the cloud…..

they are sinners just as we are, and they are saints like us because He is.  

We do that, we find we are part of the team, those who know that are life is hid in Christ.  And that we are part of that great cloud of Witnesses…

AMEN….




Escriva, Josemaria (2011-01-31). The Forge (Kindle Locations 1081-1084). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

 

Sainthood

Devotional/Discussion thought of the day….

” Tell Our Lord constantly and sincerely that you desire to be a saint and to do apostolate… Then the poor vessel of your soul will not get broken. And should it do so, it will be put together again and acquire an added attractiveness, and it will continue to be of use for your sanctity and the apostolate.”

This morning, as I prepare for Sunday’s sermon, I am thinking about those I know who have passed away in the prior year, and the names just seem to keep coming.

Some I know well,  Warren, Joseph, Shirley, JoAnn, Frank and Peter.  Other’s I know of, because I know their families or friends.  Janice, Melanie, LaVonne.  There are other friends that I still can’t believe are gone, Clyde and Armando, Rich, Richard, Dale,  These people make a mark on our lives,  and among those names above are some people whose lives spurred an increase in my faith, as I watched them live, even as their bodies were betraying them.  The lessons they left me are invaluable – the faith they modeled inspired.

Today is All Saints’ Day, and depending on one’s church traditions, it is celebrated differently.  I remember preparing for it as a young student, looking through the lives of saints and seeing how different they were.  Francis, Bonaventure.  As a Lutheran pastor, we look to those who have gone before us, to join the “great cloud of witnesses” as described in Hebrews 12, or in the words of our liturgy, the whole company of heaven.  It is rare that in reciting that line that I don’t think of some of the names above, or other names that have impacted my life over the years.

But if there is a reason to consider those who have gone before, it is to remember how God sustained them. How God worked through them in so such diverse ways.  Some where, as the quote from St Josemarie notes above – broken, yet in their brokenness, they found God’s beauty in ways we can never explain, except to agree – it demonstrated how God had set them apart, how God had made them holy, and how that holiness was such that it called people to them.  As we see what God did through them, even though they were bed-bound, even thought their bodies were broken, we realize that God can do such in our lives, He can and does work to heal our brokenness.  He can bring us into places, where we are His representatives, His apostles, brought there to share His mercy and grace.

We are called to be holy, we are called to be saints. we are called to be His children.

Learn to desire it, looking to those who have seen it happen in their own lives, imitate them, even as they imitate Christ.

Lord, teach us that you do have mercy on us, even as You had mercy on those who have gone before us….

Escriva, Josemaria (2011-01-31). The Forge (Kindle Locations 1413-1415). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

The Saints and Angels in our lives

Discussion thought of the day:

Recently a number of people I know have passed away.  All of them, in simple yet very profound ways, people of great faith.

As I listen to people talk about them, they were described with terms like “saint” or “angel”.  People were in awe of the lives they lived, the strength they appeared to have, the way in which they were able to stick to their convictions regarding right and wrong.  Such people are an obvious blessing in our lives.  But as I have heard people talk of them, the awe also seems to contain an idea, which each of them would find… troubling.

The idea that what made them special could not be duplicated or emulated, that they were so far “beyond” us.  That how they lived is impossible for us mere mortals, whose sainthood is suspect, whose halos are bent and a bit corroded. We know they were special, and I think we, for some reason, have put them on a pedastel that they would find… uncomfortable, and it would bother them, and indeed, we would go – “see – proof of their holiness”.  In knowing a couple of them, as only a pastor can, I think if they had a moment, they would refer those people to two passages.  The first, from St. Paul, would talk about the reason God chose to work in their lives:

1:14 And our Lord poured out his abundant grace on me and gave me the faith and love which are ours in union with Christ Jesus. 15 This is a true saying, to be completely accepted and believed: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners. I am the worst of them, 16 but God was merciful to me in order that Christ Jesus might show his full patience in dealing with me, the worst of sinners, as an example for all those who would later believe in him and receive eternal life. 17 To the eternal King, immortal and invisible, the only God—to him be honor and glory forever and ever! Amen.
1 Timothy 1:14-17 (TEV)

You see, saints, and angels serve a purpose far different than we think they do.  It’s not that they are so far beyond us, but that they demonstrate the effect of God’s love, something they trust in more than life itself.  (see Rev. 12:11)   The reason for their holiness is simply their trust in God’s work accomplishing it, a spirit that says like Mary, “may it be done to me according to your word”.  (and even that acceptance is something generated in all of us by the work of the Holy Spirit!)   It is not that they are more special, and they know it, indeed – put them in a room with Paul, and perhaps an argument would break out about who is the chief of all sinners.  But they would all agree – that in saving them, in sanctifying them, God was showing what He could do, is doing in the rest of us.  (or as I occasionally say…. if God can save a (insert colorful phrase) like me – the rest of you are a piece of cake!)  But each of these people, each childlike in their joy and faith in God  – oh – how they would desire that each of you know that how God walked with them on their journey, He will walk with you – and often – they believe in ways much more incredible.

That’s where the other quote comes in…

10:31 So whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God. 32 Don’t give offense to Jews or Gentiles or the church of God. 33 I, too, try to please everyone in everything I do. I don’t just do what is best for me; I do what is best for others so that many may be saved. 11:1 And you should imitate me, just as I imitate Christ.
1 Corinthians 10:31-11:1 (NLT)

I would draw your eyes to that italicized part first – Whether it be any of my friends who are now with God, or St Francis, or St Paul, there is humble sense that says, yes – imitate me, copy my journey – its okay to think I am a saint as long as you make that journey walking besides God as well.  Their desire to reflect God’s image in their lives, despite their propensity to sin, is what we witnessed, and seeing their actions and attitudes that were born  in their relationship where they were united with Jesus, yes – know that God would have you imitate them, show the love they had for you and those around you.  FOr the strength and saintliness that you witnessed was not any more natural to them, than it is to you.

But I would also have you notice the context again – of both passages – there is a sense that their work, their words, what God gave them to do and the workmanship with which He shaped them (and now us) results in others (including us) being saved, in others (including us) realizing that God can and does work in our lives.  Gotta end this one with something that testifies of that work.

2:8 Because it is by grace that you have been saved, through faith; not by anything of your own, but by a gift from God; 9 not by anything that you have done, so that nobody can claim the credit. 10 We are God’s work of art, created in Christ Jesus for the good works which God has already designated to make up our way of life.
Ephesians 2:8-10 (NJB)

We have been blessed to witness lives where it is obvious that God’s mercy was at work, for those lives are “works of art”.   May we imitate them as we trust in God, as they, trusting in God, imitated Christ.

 

 

 

 

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