Thoughts to encourage our clinging to Jesus…
Then Moses called for Mishael and Elzaphan, Aaron’s cousins, the sons of Aaron’s uncle Uzziel. He said to them, “Come forward and carry away the bodies of your relatives from in front of the sanctuary to a place outside the camp.” 5 So they came forward and picked them up by their garments and carried them out of the camp, just as Moses had commanded.
6 Then Moses said to Aaron and his sons Eleazar and Ithamar, “Do not show grief by leaving your hair uncombed* or by tearing your clothes. If you do, you will die, and the LORD’s anger will strike the whole community of Israel. However, the rest of the Israelites, your relatives, may mourn because of the LORD’s fiery destruction of Nadab and Abihu. Leviticus 10:4-6 NLT
He is gnawing at his own heart,” said Luther. “I, too, often suffer from severe trials and sorrows. At such times I seek the fellowship of men, for the humblest maid has often comforted me. A man doesn’t have control of himself when he is downcast and alone, even if he is well equipped with a knowledge of the Scriptures. It is not for nothing that Christ gathers his church around the Word and the sacraments=- and is unwilling to let these be hidden in a corner. (1)
Of course, if you’re not careful you can burn yourself out in pastoral work. Sadly, thousands of pastors end up spiraling into emotional and spiritual collapse every year.
But when you take care to receive Christ’s own love and strength by means of his Spirit through his word, you have something to give to others without yourself being depleted and emptied. (2)
Any appeal to the public in the name of Christ that rises no higher than an invitation to tranquillity must be recognized as mere humanism with a few words of Jesus thrown in to make it appear Christian.…
Christ calls men to carry a cross; we call them to have fun in His name. He calls them to forsake the world; we assure them that if they but accept Jesus the world is their oyster. (3)
I have to admit, I don’t like the words Moses spoke to Aaron and his boys. Why aren’t they allowed to grieve alongside their family? Paul talks of us weeping with those who weep (and laughing with them as they laugh as wll.) So this stupid act of their cousins should bring a time of grieving and being there for the family.
In this case, by no means in every case, they could not be there. We have to be careful of making this scenario a case study and establishing ground rules for pastoral care. I have heard that pastors must keep their distance and be above and remote from the scenario to pastor people. Based on the Romans 12 description of weeping and laughing, I have heard the opposite.
The question is, how do we become wise enough to know the difference? And how do we deal with our own pain? How do we find our peace when we encounter such trauma as pastors or people? Where do we find the wisdom to enter into the family’s pain, or not?
Senkbeil and Luther both note the high cost of enduring such trials. Trials that lead to the “gnawing at your own heart,” not being able to “have control of himself,” and “emotional and spiritual collapse” that most pastors deal with regularly. They will both find the same solution, which I will get to in a moment after I deal with Tozer – his words help clarify the discernment needed.
The idea that our message is only an invitation to peace and tranquility is the danger of trying to multi-task as a mourner and spiritual care provider. I am not saying God cannot work in these situations, but it taxes us too significantly and will lead to a message that doesn’t tie our peace to the cross. Establish enough of these trials, one after another, and the pain will break anyone. And when we fail, our words become something less, a placebo, no longer connected to the peace that is genuinely needed in a time like these.
Tozer calls the believer to carry the cross first…to forsake the world because focused on Christ whom we meet at the cross, we can be relieved of burdens and find the peace we need. This is why Senkbeil talks of letting the Spirit work through Word and Sacrament to receive Christ’s love and strength within us. It is why Luther talks of the fellowship
and the humblest maid comforting him, even as Jesus gathers His church around the Word and Sacraments. It is only connected to God’s grace that our words can do more than be a placebo. Only then is there something to give something beyond all understanding… the peace of Jesus!
Aaron and his boys were responsible for the Old Covenant sacrifices, those activities that pointed to God’s promise of peace. They weren’t forbidden to weep because God was uncaring. Rather, I think they needed to have the strength
of the promise that would enable the community to find grace and peace at the moment. They needed to remind people that God was still with them and that God was sustaining them, and even as God was ministering to them through the community, Their comfort and peace came from God, and they needed to lead people there. For us that means embracing the cross, accepting its suffering, realizing that there we meet Jesus. That is where we find life and hope, and rest. THat is why baptism, absolution and the Lord’s Supper take us there.. to Jesus… at the cross.
When I was a hospice chaplain, I watched nurses put aside their grief to care for the patients who passed away. We would weep together later – apart from those we had gone to care for, the patient and their family. Like Aaron and his
boys, we were the hands and voice of God for those hurting and grieving. I think that is what Moses was working from with these words. He directed them to not show grief at that moment because if they lost their way in despair, not
only would they drown, so would the community. As they focused on God… and His mercy…then they would be comforted and be able to offer the same.
This isn’t easy; this idea of keeping our eyes on Jesus in the middle of the pain. To be bluntly honest, I needed to be reminded of it presently… but it is there, at the altar with others.. that God’s peace is found, where the burdens
After the years of 2020 and 2021… that is where we need to be found… and when we are… we can minister to so many who need to know the peace of Jesus.
(1) Martin Luther, Luther’s Works, Vol. 54: Table Talk, ed. Jaroslav Jan Pelikan, Hilton C. Oswald, and Helmut T. Lehmann, vol. 54 (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1999), 268.
(2) Harold L. Senkbeil, The Care of Souls: Cultivating a Pastor’s Heart (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2019), 7.
(3) A. W. Tozer, Tozer for the Christian Leader (Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2015).