The Other Reason to Go to Church

Why do Pastors want you to go to Church every Sunday? We usually talk about our great need for forgiveness, about the edible nature of worship and sacrament–that is, liturgy and the Eucharist are like a meal: we may not remember every lunch, but we still need it an eat it every day. We talk about the command of the Lord to remember the Sabbath day, the Apostolic command to not neglect meeting together, and all of that.

You do not often hear another reason. Truth is, your Pastor misses you. You are friends, and when you only come every so often, we miss seeing you. And not just your Pastor. The people who share your pew or row, the ones who sit in front or behind you, they miss you too. Even if they never talk to you, they know who you are and that you are not here. The Church is Body of Christ, and if the little finger goes AWOL, we miss it.

If you have no sins to confess or be forgiven, if you are spiritually mature and strong, if you know all things, if you have no need for this meal–even if all these things are true, come to Divine Service for the rest of us. We miss you.

Forgiveness Thursday

We followed the Agenda for Maundy Thursday, offering the Rite of Corporate Confession and Absolution. We did the same thing at Redeemer, but with one telling difference here: after the confession, we followed the rubric which states “The pastor absolves the penitents individually at the altar…” Previously, I followed the alternate instruction and absolved them corporately. SONY DSC

I stood to the Epistle side, my associate pastor to the Gospel side and the people came forward in two lines. Some held head down, and I absolved them, placing the sign of the Cross on their foreheads. Others came and looked me in the eyes as I said, “In the stead and by the command of my Lord Jesus Christ I forgive you all your sins in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” 

For me it was both emptying and filling. I was a tool, just a hand and mouth of Christ who was doing the work. It wasn’t me up there at all. But I was also forgiven and filled with joy and peace, knowing that all are absolved, all are free, all gathered that night cleansed and pure by that Word of Christ. The same happens on every Sunday with Corporate Confession and Absolution, of course, but only a fool would say it is exactly the same. It was different.

And I am already looking forward to it next year.It was one of the most beautiful moments I’ve had at Grace. One by one, person by person, seeking forgiveness and in their face, touching their heads giving them absolution. It was intimate and personal and underneath it all I repented that I had never conducted the Rite this way at Redeemer. We needed it. We all need it.

Overheard at Easter Vigil…

“Christ is the Alpha and the…[long pause]…where’s the Omega?”

[Whispered], “Let’s whittle the paschal candle.” [long pause] “It’s still not working. Just shove it in there.”

“The Seventh Day…no, the Sixth Day”

“Take the knife to the font and whittle some more.”

“Let’s just pray it doesn’t tip over, leaning like that.”

[Whispered] “Phillip! Sneak back there and get the chrism! When do we need it? We need it now!”

“‘And she said, ‘Rabboni’, which means Lord. No, rather it means Teacher.'”

Why “Lazy” is a Four-Letter Word for Pastors

It always hurts when someone charges a pastor with laziness. We always feel convicted when that word is sounded. Always and immediately. Pastors hide that pain in all sorts of ways: in boasting about hours away from home, in how many shut ins and visits we make, in how “busy” and tired we are, in how many we have in worship. But they are all justifications and excuses. Laziness hurts and we are scared of it. We are thin skinned and defensive because deep down inside we all fear it. All of us fear being lazy.

We fear it because we know we have the most important job in all the world. We hold the keys of heaven and hell and God forbid we lose them in a desk drawer. We fear laziness because we know how holy this job is. We fear it because we know we will give an accounting to the Judge of all mankind. We have this high and holy calling that none of us deserve, that we are all unworthy of having, and we have little accountability, no human supervisor, and few genuine expectations. The job is laid upon our shoulders and the Maker of the Universe says to go and make disciples, baptizing and teaching, handing our forgiveness, preaching Law and Gospel and sent on our way. There is no supervisor to look over our shoulders. We have no boss giving us projects to complete. We are self-employed, “creative class” types with nothing tangible to create and no portfolio to offer. At the end of every sermon and Bible study and visit and meeting, there is no market analysis to “measure our success.” There are no objective standards to measure how effective our sermons are. We do not “generate profit” for the congregation. We do our job and sometimes it feels like we are preaching in the vacuum of space, our words going forth into…what?

To be fair, we do have people who write us checks. We do have congregational leaders to give us oversight and help and accountability, to give us positive and helpful expectations…when all works in harmony. Sadly this is not the case in many parishes. Too often there is animosity between pastors who get a little big for their britches and lay leaders who want to treat them like hirelings. Sometimes its simply misunderstanding and mistrust. All too often the leaders see the pastors as temporary, while they and their families are the permanent leaders of the congregation. But even when the relationship is harmonious, it is not a true employee relationship. We have not been hired by them, but called by God. We answer to Him, not to any human expectations, no matter how well intentioned.

I am blessed with a great relationship with my congregation. They know how to give help and support, to humbly communicate their expectations. They are able to disagree and discuss as Christians and work compromise. I am truly blessed here. I really appreciate the accountability, support and guidance we give one another at Grace. But still that Accuser rests in the shadows of the night and the quiet afternoon hours. That demon apatheia, ennui, laziness, name him what you will, it’s still there.

So we worry. None of us want to be lazy. None of us desire to fail. None of us want to hear our Lord’s judgement. So we get defensive at times. We’re sorry for that. We don’t want to be thin-skinned or self-righteous either. That’s why lazy is a four-letter word for us.

What is a Lazy Pastor?

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Dale Meyer, the President of Concordia Seminary, St. Louis, posted this, which I would characterize a rant. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. I’ve got a few of my own, after all. But it raises the question for me: what is a lazy pastor? Dr. Meyer never defines for us how to measure this, and as I recall my seminary education, it was never given a positive definition either. The one example he sites is a complaint letter from a donor:

It seems that this young pastor’s interpersonal skills are sadly lacking and that his work ethic leaves something to be desired.  He claims his only job is to preach the Gospel and administer the sacraments.  If that were true, it’s like the Depression-era song, “Nice work if you can get it.”

I think it’s futile to try to defend or analyze how much work or how many hours makes one diligent. In my situation the absolute minimum number of hours required in an average week is around 30. And that is with an associate pastor. Some weeks I work 50 or more. I have 12 hours days and 6 hour days. Sometimes I waste more time than others. Does sitting in every meeting possible mean you are working hard? What about at your computer? What about hours spent with shut-ins? Time well spent?

Laziness is subjective and somewhat arbitrary label. So, if you suspect your pastor of laziness, have a talk with him about what your expectations are. Don’t make accusations about how much or little he’s working. After all, reading a theological journal is working in my profession. As is chatting with the secretary and lending a hand in the kitchen. Reading a newspaper can even be part of the job. So communicate with your pastor. Tell him you have expectations that may or may not be wrong, but you have them and ask if you can share them. You still may think the oaf is lazy, but at least there will be room for open discussion and growth.

We’re all Glory Hounds

I’m having a great morning, getting things done, making phone calls, attending to pastoral duties. Church attendance was pretty poor yesterday, as were the other statistics of congregational health (let the reader understand), but we had threatening weather, so not even that fact will make me sour. I’m in a good mood. Things are going right. The kids are well, the dining room is painted, I’m working on my dream fishtank build at home. We’re closing on our house here at the end of the month, God willing. Life is good.

Then I read this, written by Martin Luther:

“”If we would be Christians, therefore, we must surely expect and count on having the devil with all his angels and the world as our enemies [Matthew 25:41; Revelation 12:9]. They will bring every possible misfortune and grief upon us. For where God’s Word is preached, accepted, or believed and produces fruit, there the holy cross cannot be missing [Acts 14:22]. And let no one think that he shall have peace [Matthew 10:34]. He must risk whatever he has upon earth—possessions, honor, house and estate, wife and children, body and life. Now, this hurts our flesh and the old Adam [Ephesians 4:22]. The test is to be steadfast and to suffer with patience [James 5:7-8] in whatever way we are assaulted, and to let go whatever is taken from us [1 Peter 2:20-21]” (Large Catechism III, 65).

Ah. That’s disappointing. Trouble is around the corner. Not to sound like Chicken Little or Eeyore but I should expect this not to last. Who knows what disaster might fall? Perhaps the sin of a random stranger, perhaps in my household. Perhaps I will do something so incredibly foolish and prideful and bring all kinds of trouble on my head. Controversies at the next meeting, at the school, who knows. It’s all going to crumble. So much for the good life.

But this exposes the lie: we ought not glory in those worldly things like worldly success and prosperity, like smooth sailing at work and home. These are not permanent, and they are under our enemy’s cross hairs. ” If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.” (1 Cor. 15:19) Our hope and glory is not in this life, but in the life to come–in the Resurrection. Right now we walk the way of the cross, following Christ to the grave, but also to our resurrection.

Before I read that quote from Luther, I had fallen into that old theology of glory trap of measuring goodness and peace and joy in temporal, external, worldly things. After all, in our heart of hearts, we’re all theologians of glory. We expect and dream of peace and success and joy at every turn, and the news that this life is dangerous and the cross of Christ is over and in front of us–and our own crosses too–exposes our leaning toward false glory.

Elevation of host and chalicInstead, the Word calls us to true glory, to lasting peace, to the Host and Cup lifted high, proclaiming the Peace of God found in Christ Himself, in the blessings of the Eucharist, that sacred offering of God for us. Our glory is in Christ, lowered into the Jordan and anointed with the Spirit. He is our glory and peace. Not those things that are created, but in Christ our Lord.

St. Utopia –from Pr. Peters

Pastor Peters is becoming a favorite blogger, and I’m afraid I’m becoming a ditto-head. Read this post in its entirety at his blog about dissatisfaction, wish dreams and the like, and the reality of the Gospel and life together. Here’s a sample:

The cause of Pastor and people is not the perfect church.  If it were, as they used to say, you would not be allowed in.  Even more to the point, when we spend our whole time lamenting what is wrong, we fail to see the work of God in our midst.  As much as we yearn for a perfect church, God, in His generosity and mercy has always worked among imperfect people and structures to do His perfect will. …

Discontent breeds only discontent.  Dissatisfaction that shows itself in complaint leads only to misery — a misery in which we are far too comfortable.  It is always easier to complain about what is wrong than to work for what is good, right, true, noble, beautiful, and of God.

A Masquerade for a Post

I’m trying to get a bit of writing done today and failing miserably. After all kinds of administrative and organizational things this morning, I sat down and pounded out a newsletter article for January, which is lousy and I will need to re-write. Then there is the corresponding article on worship for the newsletter: not written. Then the blog post, which this is masquerading as.

I’ve got Sandy Hook on the brain, and everyone has something to say about it. Not me. No words. God have mercy. That’s about all I can say. Pray for the lost and living, your own kids and schools every day and may God frustrate the wicked plans of evil men.

Now, on to more things I need to be doing…

Living as a Pastor

So much change and work a pastor does is “behind the scenes.” It’s the way he talks to you in the hospital, the things he emphasizes or doesn’t; it’s the hints he drops, sometimes unbeknownst to even himself; it’s the observations he makes in conversation, sometimes when talking about something else. These occasions do as much to work change and influence as anything else. Maybe even more than the content of sermons and the topics of Bible study.

Working such influence of presence means having a presence. It means being an integrated person, having an ethos or “vision” whether you want to call it that or not. Call it a “identity of self-confidence”. Call it an identity in Christ-confidence. A pastor must know who he is in Christ and find confidence in Him and in Christ’s work in him. He must know who he is and what he is doing. He must be fed, and not just by reading one author, from one time period, but reading widely and deeply. He should gather wisdom and pray the prayers of the church and saints.

Then what he breathes in will come out in all kinds of times and places, and in those dark hours or casual conversations, in those quick answers or sudden thoughts, the wisdom of God and of His Saints will pour forth.

 

Crazy Week(s)

It’s been far too long since I posted here. We’ve had crazy weeks at Grace and home.

Our “Ministry Summit” took place, with the Rev. William Weedon as our facilitator. He was inspiring for us all.

Our house in Enid is under contract! Thanks be to God. Pray for a good inspection and no problems till closing!

The kids are fully integrated with school. Read this as: they are driving us crazy with extracurricular activities. Idle hands and all that.

What else? It’s time to close the pool, yardwork, a minor kitchen renovation, diving into the full fall church schedule, Wednesday night programs, New Member class, plans for further adult instruction, a funeral for Ed Flaxbart–a pillar in the congregation–and more. Plus my Church secretary, administrative wonder and heart of Grace Lutheran has been gone for three weeks. We had a lovely volunteer to answer phones, but we need our Alexis back! She’ll be in on Monday.

Maybe it will all get smoother then.