Thursday, May 25, 2023

Sunday Gospel Reading and Reflection

Gospel Reading

John 20:19-23; 20:19 
When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jewish leaders, Jesus came and stood among them and said, "Peace be with you."

20:20 After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord.

20:21 Jesus said to them again, "Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you."

20:22 When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, "Receive the Holy Spirit.

20:23 If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained."

John 7:37-39
7:37 On the last day of the festival, the great day, while Jesus was standing there, he cried out, "Let anyone who is thirsty come to me,

7:38 and let the one who believes in me drink. As the scripture has said, 'Out of the believer's heart shall flow rivers of living water.'"

7:39 Now he said this about the Spirit, which believers in him were to receive; for as yet there was no Spirit, because Jesus was not yet glorified.

The Point of Pentecost

While the Acts narrative favors the orderly, detailed and careful accounting of the coming of Holy Spirit, John's Gospel tells a different story.* John surely knew Luke's account, but presents another promise and possibility. 

While Acts 2 tells the story in metaphor, "a sound like the rush of a violent wind," or "tongues as of fire" coming upon those gathered,  John 20 presents the breath of the risen Christ as the Spirit. Jesus Christ is alive and we experience that through the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is not only the breath of the risen Christ, but also, closer than our next breath! 

The Holy Spirit issues forth from the Father (Acts 2) and the Son (John 20). John implies what later became known as the doctrine of the Trinity. The Spirit coming from the Son as well the Father was a source of long and sharp differences between church leaders in Rome and Constantinople, until the Great Schism of 1054 and the formation of The Roman Catholic Church and the Eastern Orthodox Church. **

But the differences between Acts and John are great resources for presenting the whole Gospel of the Holy Spirit. John's Gospel is the result of a full generation of church life beyond Luke-Acts. The Holy Spirit sustains us in our journey, not for a momentary event, but for long endurance in the faith. The walk is one step at a time and is impossible and pointless without closeness and intimacy with Source of life (see reading of Psalm 104) and the Source of the Church.*** This is the depth of insight in John's witness.

Sunday's reading proclaims that walking with Christ cannot be achieved by checking off boxes, attaining goals, being good enough, longer prayers, or what pleasing God involves. Walking with Jesus is possible with the gift and grace, and God- infused joy and love, peace and patience, justice and compassion, the "living waters" of God's people in Jesus Christ. 

Acts 2 is an orderly account of God acting in the history of the church. But God and our life with Jesus is not. Life is full of messy decisions and people. Acts 2 is also a look back. Many churches attempt to recreate the Acts - Pentecost with a sound and light show, perhaps foreign languages for added effect. The point of Pentecost is to participate in God's work of re-creation, not to resort to theatre. The reenactment is within us. We are the re-creation of Pentecost in and for the world. 

*Only Luke uses "orderly account" to describe his Luke-Acts He uses the term twice in Luke 1, I assume, for emphasis. However, God working in orderly ways is not the point John.
** Rome taught that the Spirit comes from both the Father and Son, or the filioque clause.
***Pentecost is also known as the birthday of the Church.

How I Survived Ministry: Endurance and Lasting Good

Just last year, while in the process of fully retiring from active ministry, my Spiritual Director at the time asked, "Looking back, you did what God wanted you to do, didn't you?" The question has lingered. How do you measure the genuineness of one's calling. Really, it's always a good question to ask, whether in active ministry or not. 

Have I done what God wanted me to do? I approach it with some wonder, uncertainty, and honestly, resignation. God only knows.

It's important to discern if I am accomplishing my purpose and to affirm why I am on this earth. But that comes down to the concrete acts of faith not limited to ordained ministry. As I began ministry, I was driven to be a success, to be accomplished, an achiever. It was about my ministry, my calling, my gifts. I was spent by the short term, the measurable, and the check-list of pastoral tasks.* 

As important as the validity and credibility of one's ministry is, the high of achieving each success wears off in a matter of days. The cycle of addiction is run by the inner drug store. The next success must be bigger and better. The adrenalin highs and lows was exhausting and corrosive of my physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual resilience.

Sustainability and endurance needs to be explored in every facet of the ordination process, as well after ordination, especially in the first ten years of full-time ministry. What will make churches grow and flourish is not disconnected from the parish context and history, lay ministry partners, my gifts and those closest to me- my family.

If I only lived from the high of the next achievement, how could I expect anyone in the parish not to follow a path to burn-out and purposelessness. How could I expect to leave something of continuing value?

What I'm Learning

Sustainability in life-long ministry requires endurance and resilience, even though I'm pulled into the vortex of proving my value in the short term. 

  1. Important as small successes are, when I live and die by them, the season of brown-out is sure to follow. 
  2. Regularly, consider usefulness and purpose in ministry as an inoculation against burn-out.
  3. Let time-management be guided not by estimated hours or tasks, but flow of energy- when full presence may drop. 
  4. Consider in reflection: What long-term good will my work serve? 
  5. How can I find mutual support with others?  Who are the people in my support system?  
*See The Book of Discipline of the United Methodist Church (2016), pp. 331-335 for the exhaustive (and exhausting) job description for a Clergy-Pastor. 

Monday, May 15, 2023

How I Survived Ministry: Usefulness

The book of Deuteronomy calls Moses the greatest prophet in all of Israel. He received his true vocation from God around age 80 while also a fugitive from justice. On the age front, that should be encouraging to those who seem to be passed over for that promotion because younger people and part-timers will be hired for much less. 

Moses' destiny would not be to hang around the Egyptian court as an advisor to the king like Joseph did generations before. His vocation literally saved him from a death sentence. For Moses, it was a matter of survival.

Most churches are drawn to the young and energetic clergy thinking that they will in turn attract younger generations Because churches have budgets and are cost conscious, entry level clergy often fill this function, whether or not their spiritual gifts and abilities fit this role.

I was the youngest of three brothers, so I have naturally have been drawn to older people all of my life. Because of their wisdom or knowledge or experience, I learn when I am with chosen mentors. I remember front porch visits with my neighbor's grandfather when I was around 5 yrs. old. 

Dr. John Lennon, my youth minister (Minister of Christian Education in those days), was the one who served as my spiritual director before I knew what one was. Under his guidance, I was confirmed and explored vocation. I could always count on getting an honest answer from him and I trusted him as a person and friend. John retired at 65, the same year I graduated from High School. We had one of the more dynamic youth ministries around. He remained active. For example, he consulted in Christian Education in the U. S. and Australia, and held church staff positions in retirement.

I was chaplain at a retirement community for several years. This ministry, which I dearly loved, required dealing honestly with the mental, physical, spiritual, and emotional onslaughts of aging. The frequent question in spiritual counseling seemed to be: "Why am I still alive?" It was a question of vocation, purpose: " What am I now here for?" The search for and the fulfilling of that purpose is a holy one at any age; it also saved my life by bringing a continuity, a sense of wholeness that God is never finished with us.

After being an R.N. during W.W. II, Mom went back to college when I was in High School, graduated with the R.N. when I was in college, then started work in a free clinic before teaching childbirth classes. She was 85 when she fully retired. When she was in grade school, her church had a vocation day and the children were asked to wear the clothing of whatever their chosen vocation would have been at the time. They processed down the church, as if to offer these dreams to God and to declare themselves to the world. She dressed as a nurse.

How did was I sustained in my calling? I did it by the grace that God is not finished. Purpose and usefulness saved me.

Here are some ideas to consider:
  1. Remember and name, in gratitude, the people and events that have brought you to this point. 
  2. Resist the norm of defining your call as something in the past. Define meaning and purpose now.
  3. Reflect on your identity. Apart from all the roles and labels and titles, who are you? This may time longer than you think. 

Oldies but Goodies