...self care is never a selfish act- it is simply good stewardship of the only gift I have, the gift I was put on earth to offer to others. Anytime we can listen to true self and give it the care it requires, we do so not only for ourselves but for the many others whose lives we touch.

Parker J. Palmer, Let Your Life Speak

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

The Sacrament of Ministry

"No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have the power to lay it down, and I have the power to take it up again. I have received this command from my Father."
John 10:18

I wonder if anyone can really claim to be a servant without the element of sacrifice. Caregivers have their "bill of rights" and if you Google "compassion fatigue," you'll find training programs dedicated to its symptoms and remedies.

I'm afraid that we've used the word sacrifice when it's convenient for us- and usually on others. We pull it out to manipulate others to give more, be more, and do more. Even if we sometimes use it intending to strengthen and liberate, others may still hear it as a judgment over what they're not.

I just don't see God as the One who extracts life from people. I once knew a father who thought that God "took" their tragically drowned son all because he- the father- was resistant to go into the ministry. That is extremely sad in itself, because it obviously diminishes the boy's life and death as being more about the dad. However, many people read the Gospel this way thinking that God kills people as apart of some larger purpose. Much of this comes from a misappropriation of Jesus and his teachings.

For example, in focusing on the sacrificial death of Jesus, we often overlook the clear New Testament teaching that Jesus willingly and freely chose it as his way out. Take that away and Jesus is not fully human, but instead, he's an automaton. And so are we when our "battles" are not freely chosen. True sacrifice is not coerced but results from willing and loving letting go and surrender.

Another misread idea comes from Philippians 2:7 where Paul teaches that Jesus "emptied" himself. What Jesus emptied himself of was "being in the form of God," not his humanity. His humanity required the emptying and humbling that Paul mentions in the song of tribute. I can't tell you how many sermons I've heard where this simple teaching is overlooked in favor of the one that forwards the "see Jesus, copy Jesus" conclusion.

Some ask whether we are called to servanthood- or friendship- with Jesus. Why not have the best of both without losing either one? The encouragement is that self-surrender can and does lead to life! No one is more concerned about your well- being than the Paraclete who stands beside us, with us, and for us. And being a true friend of Jesus will prompt us to act in ways so that the well- being of another doesn't have to be extracted or sacrificed.

Maybe the "solution" is to look at our serving as sacramental, as participation with Christ. Not as copying Jesus' one-time sacrifice, neither as just a volunteer choosing to follow his good example. That means that we encounter Jesus' life and death and resurrection- the fullness of His person and work- in all our ministry. Our attempts at ministry to others are transformed when Holy Spirit makes us Christ's body, redeemed by His blood.


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Having been in ordained ministry in the UMC for 34 years, I've experienced the truth that although, clergy are frequently present for others, no one can offer what they don't have.That's why if you're a clergy person, you need someone who will listen to you. Not the random next closest person available, but rather someone like a spiritual director, a therapist, a peer who can be fully present to you. I hope the links and posts you find here will give you ideas, humor, hope and encouragement. Scott Endress

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