When I became a pastor, one of the questions asked of me in the ordination rite was if, “I would minister faithfully to the sick and dying, and demonstrate to the Church a constant and ready ministry of the Gospel?” To which I answered, “Yes, I will, with the help of God.” This meant my call as a pastor was not to stay within the walls of the church or to remain in my study, but it was, in part, to go to the sick and dying, go to those who could not come to church on their own, to those who needed the gifts of Christ brought to them.
I must have been in Sunday School when I first learned the song. It was one we loved to sing because there were hand movements and parts we got to shout out. “This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine. This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine. Let it shine, let it shine, let it shine.”
There can be no off days. There are no times when a preacher can just mail it in, saying, “I’ve covered this all before. I’ve said it all before. Perhaps this once, we’ll do something different. Perhaps, this Sunday I will take the opportunity to lay out a vision for the future of this congregation. Perhaps, this time I will get creative and show my prowess for finding the hidden connections of a particular text and how they matrix with the greater Scriptures. Perhaps, I won’t worry so much proclaiming the Word. Just this once, I won’t focus so much on the distinction of Law and Gospel and instead I’ll give some good lessons for reading the Word at home.”
I was talking with a friend of mine the other day about our current state of public discourse and the political climate in our country. Our conversation covered everything from the practice of law on a local level to the impeachment trial being played out for political theater in DC. One of the things that seemed certain to us both is how perhaps the greatest challenge anyone faces in our day is the ability to change their minds, to see things from a different point of view, to admit wrongs and happily go forward in a new direction. Instead of seeking and discovery, there are entrenched views where the other side is shouted down and one happily roams about in their own echo chamber. Perhaps the ability to change is a dying art. Perhaps the rise of the internet and social media has made it unlikely one will change. If this is so, I think we should all be saddened by it. Life has become somewhat less, darker and bleak.
The great forerunner, John the Baptist, has been imprisoned by Herod Antipas and the time has come for Jesus to begin the public work for which He was sent. He leaves behind His home town of Nazareth and travels to Capernaum by the sea. His movement is like the inbreaking of a great light into a land trapped in darkness. As Isaiah declares, “Those dwelling in the region and shadow of death, on them a light has dawned.” For as John had preached and baptized for repentance, as he had so faithfully pointed to our Lord and declared, “Behold, the Lamb of God which takes away the sins of the world,” now we hear from the lips of our Savior the great call of faith. The light that breaks into that darkness comes in the gift of His Word as he now declares, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”
The old theologians had famously said, “lex orandi, lex credenda,” that is, the law of what is to be prayed is the law of what is to be believed. Or you might have heard it said, “If you show me how someone prays, how they worship, I can tell you what they believe.” At the very least it is an assertion there is a definite connection between how a fellowship worships and what they believe.
One of the greatest privileges I am given as a pastor is to be able to baptize a brother or sister in Christ. To be the one called to speak those simple words and pour the water over their head is a profound joy for me. These days everyone has their own ideas of what a wedding ought to look like and what sort of things you need to do to make it special, it is rare to even have a wedding in the church these days and normally some romantic setting designed for the perfect photo sessions.