By Jaime Nava –
When I was a boy of fourteen, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be twenty-one, I was astonished at how much he had learned in seven years. This quote, attributed to Mark Twain by many, sums me up so completely. In high school, I thought I had things nailed down. In undergrad, I found it difficult to think that I could learn any more than I already had. Even in my beginning years of seminary, I felt like I had a pretty good handle on knowing. This satirical article could have been me.
My five-year anniversary of being in the ministry is in a couple Sundays. It doesn’t seem like a whole lot of time to me, although mathematically it’s 1/7th of my life. I do what most pastors do. I preach nearly every Sunday, with Wednesday services during Advent and Lent. I’ve done more funerals than I have fingers and toes. I’ve done a handful of weddings. I visit the sick and shut-in. I lead bible studies. I’ve gotten the middle of the night calls. I comfort and counsel. It’s all pretty basic pastoral stuff. As the years have ticked away with their highs and lows, I realize more and more how unfit I am for this Office. All that I learn from year to year reveals how little I know. Pastoring is very humbling.
Having been out of the seminary for the time I have causes me to think. It almost feels like I’ve been on a five-year vicarage (internship, for those who don’t know our LCMS terms) with my circuit brothers guiding and teaching me. It feels like every other pastor knows more, does more, and cares more. This vicarage after seminary teaches me how little I know and how impossible it is to teach these things in seminary. To join the Lutheran cloister for 4 years, to get away, and to be immersed in thinking, writing, and debating was formational and set me on a path of humility because I learned how little I know and I learned how to learn. Yet here I am wondering when I’ll be able to say, “Aha! I got it down now. I’ve graduated from my post-seminary vicarage!”
It can be daunting at times, this job. You can’t be too tired to visit the needy. You have to spend the time on your sermons so you’re preaching clear Gospel—so you’re preaching the text. What if you mess up? What if you say the wrong thing? What if you fall into a temptation and the whole thing falls apart? The longer I serve in this role the more I see how unfit I am as a sinner. The sinful nature is strong with this one.
Whenever I consider the ending of Matthew’s Gospel, I am amazed. Jesus starts with the declaration of His power, “All authority in heaven and earth has been given to me…” Awesome. Of all people who should have all authority in heaven and earth, it’s the one who heals, forgives, and sacrifices as God incarnate. What He says after gets me, though, “Therefore, [y’all] go and make disciples of all nations…” He has power, and he sends the disciples. He has authority and He calls me to serve as pastor? Really, Jesus? “Don’t you think you could do a better job than me?” That’s what I wonder.
Of course, it doesn’t end there. After telling the apostles how to make disciples, baptizing and teaching, He promises to be with them always even to the end of the age. That’s the key for my hope. As I see more and more how unfit I am, as chief among sinners, I see more and more the power of Christ. As I see my weakness, I see how great His strength is. The Church is not about how great I am. It’s not about how lame I am. It’s about Jesus and His Good News because it is the power of God for salvation, not me.
I suppose the post-seminary vicarage is a long one. This will be the struggle until I die. I’ll never be done learning. I know that. I’ll always struggle with weakness. I know that too. Nobody has it all together. We remain humbled by the Law, and we are lifted up by the Gospel. We follow in the long line of sinful people like Augustine and Luther. In fact, Luther nails it.
Lord God, You have placed me in your church as bishop and pastor. You see how unfit I am to administer this great and difficult office. Had I been without help from You, I would have ruined everything long ago. Therefore, I call on You. I gladly offer my mouth and heart to your service. I would teach the people, and I myself would continue to learn. To this end, I will meditate diligently on Your Word. Use me, dear Lord, as Your instrument. Only do not forsake me, for if I were to continue alone, I would quickly ruin everything. Amen.