Some people run into trouble in these shortening, darkening days.
The seasons slip over them like a shroud and it feels like one must psychically hunker down as the long nights of winter approach. I’m not one of those people. Instead, I tend toward darkness and I’m all over hunkering and then, there are the winter foods that feed body and soul. By the time Advent rolls around, it’s all bliss.
It’s not winter and darkness that get me down. I don’t know how your church is and how it runs but at my little urban, mission church I wonder if it’s not all uphill pedaling. Most days, I feel like a hamster running mindlessly on a treadmill, but I keep telling myself that there is meaning in my work. My former colleague, Mark Becker, used to say that we probably don’t know the difference we make in our ministries, at least in this lifetime. He’s a wise man. I want to trust this.
My colleague and I met with our mission director last week and she was nonplussed by my colleague’s and my feelings of frustration with trying to make a church happen in the urban core. She sort of graciously shrugged and said quite matter-of-factly that our constant pedaling is consistent with the nature of both mission and urban churches.
This was a word of grace for me although it wasn’t exactly good news. I sense as well this constant upheaval dogs not only urban churches but rural churches too; this constant refiguring of church as people come and go. Urban and rural churches face many of the same issues: people not rooted to their communities any longer, financial hardship, a loss of hope that results from things never again being what they were.
All this running and dark days and long hills have made me take stock of my ministry. I never got into this biz to get rich or be famous; I got into it because I felt ‘called’, which meant for me that I had to tell people about Jesus Christ and his promises. That this is the one true God, who loves to forgive and spends most of his time raising the dead. There was one year I tried to stop being a pastor and bartended, but it turned out that I was as much of a pastor in the bar as I was in the parish except in the bar I got better tips. So, I figured I was stuck with this call thing and might as well play along.
I do trust my Mark Becker when he says that we won’t know in this lifetime if we did work in the vineyard, be that one hour or all day. I do trust that this proclamation is not in vain and that there are lots of pastors out there doing great ministry, although they’re underpaid and never make it in the papers. I do trust that there is Jesus Christ, working behind the scenes, making things happen with Word and Sacrament, even now, tiny miracles that we fail to see, and our limited brains cannot imagine. I, as you, have been a witness to this grace and some days, it’s all that keeps us lacing up our shoes.
We never know what happens when we pray ‘thy kingdom come’. Still, our God is a God of promises and Jesus Christ has sealed the deal, inhabiting our little words, being born upon them, sometimes no more common and yet miraculous than the cry of a newborn. We, you and I, keep preaching, keep baptizing, telling our people that kingdom is ‘given for you’. And then you and I like all Christ’s children wait. We hunker down into the winters of our ministries, tell ourselves it’s not about us, but about Christ and that, yes, this is enough. Even more than enough.