Thursday, June 21, 2007
A Personal Anniversary
Normally I use this blog to report and analyze events impacting the church-at-large. However, today is a special day for me and I wanted to pause for a moment to give a word of thanks to God and reflect on the past. Twenty years ago I was ordained to the Office of the Holy Ministry. The picture at the right is a young 26 year old pastor, fresh out of seminary, pleasantly oblivious to the pressures and struggles he has yet to experience. He is standing just outside the sanctuary at his home church, Trinity Lutheran Church of Wausau, Wisconsin. Over the next two decades he will find his abilities and competence stretched to their limit, and more than once will wonder if he should leave this vocation and find another. Doubt will stalk him again and again.
On the other hand he will also be touched deeply by the bonds of Christian friendship and the trust people will place in him as he is welcomed into the inner sanctum of their private lives. He will marry young couples and baptize some of their babies and rejoice in the wonder of new human beginnings. He will bury the dead and begin more and more to think of his own passing. He will counsel the troubled and discover that Paul was right when he said that "we walk by faith and not by sight." And he will stand in God's presence at the altar and know that it is here, where the Word is proclaimed and the Supper is celebrated, that he will find the strength to fulfill his Call.
Twenty years later he is still a pastor, although he realizes that this is God's doing, not his own. Left to his own human weaknesses he very well could have left long ago. The future? Unwritten. He doesn't know what it brings. However, after two decades he knows not to take himself too seriously. He realizes that in the long run life is measured not in the hours or minutes of a current crisis, but in the years of faithfulness where the shepherd remains with his sheep, trusting in the perfect will of God.
Jesus once contrasted the hireling with the true shepherd, saying that the hireling runs away at the sign of danger, but the shepherd stays to defend the sheep. He was talking of himself, but by extension, every pastor is a kind of "icon of Christ," modeling this sacrificial love of the Good Shepherd. Pastors today are often modeled after CEOs and coaches, working hard to rally the people to new and exciting projects. I have sat in the administrator's chair and directed the workings of a large complex parish. Still, in the end it was not here, but again at the altar that my calling was found. And it was in the shadow of the Shepherd that I found the strength to stay and fight the evil the assails the Church, and not run as my weak flesh so desperately desired.
Twenty years. It's hard to believe it's been that long. But a look in the mirror reveals many well-earned gray hairs in my beard, and far fewer hairs on the crown of my head. There are lines around the eyes now. I can't even imagine what I will see twenty years from now. But it doesn't matter. Every day is a gift, an opportunity of grace to serve. So I will serve today just as I did the day before. God will take care of the future.
For twenty years of blessings unimagined and for the sheer grace of your forgiveness to a fallen sinner called to serve the Master, I offer my thanks this day to my Lord and my God. I am here because you gave me the voice to say, "Here am I, send me." And I will be here tomorrow because of the same grace. Remain with me, Lord, for I am weak. But in you, I can still be more than a conqueror.
With thankfulness to Christ for twenty years of his love and strength and undeserved honor in service - 1987-2007.