Saturday, September 03, 2005

ordination paperwork: question #2

a) Theology:
2) What effect has the practice of ministry had on your understanding of humanity and the need for divine grace?

One of my favorite scripture passages is from Paul’s letter to the Romans, where he speaks of the ‘inner conflict’: I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. Now if I do what I do not want, I agree that the law is good. But in fact it is no longer I that do it, but sin that dwells within me. For I know that nothing good dwells within me, that is, in my flesh. I can will what is right, but I cannot do it. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I that do it, but sin that dwells within me . . . Wretched man that I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! (Romans 7, selected verses) I think Paul hits on the dilemma of human nature: We think we know what is good. We think we know what God wants. And the gap between what we want to do and what we actually do is so great that we don’t know how to respond to our own humanity.
The practice of ministry has put a spotlight on the ‘human condition’ for me – this struggle, this tension in which we are caught. On the one hand, we consider ourselves such hopeless, worthless creatures. We’re overcome with a belief that we are without much value, without importance. We hate ourselves, hate our actions. In this sense, our need for grace is complete – we need to be given value, and that value comes in our very existence, our beingness, creations of God. But on the other hand, we are content – smug – ruling the world, in charge, unstoppable. Humanity feels so full of itself that we can’t give anymore. We whine, “we’ve done enough, God, we have no more to give.” In this way, our need for grace is complete – we need to be challenged, prodded, transformed, made new. So I find myself preaching two themes in my practice of ministry: one, where I say, “just being a ‘good person’ isn’t enough. God wants more! God wants all of you!” And the other says, “You are so loved! You are so valued! God’s grace is free – you don’t have to and can’t earn it.” We live in that tension, grace and responsibility.
I came to my first appointment with concerns about my age – would people still be willing to come to me with their problems and see me as a pastor, even though I was young? The ‘age question’, 95% of the time, has been a non-issue, and I believe it is because people are simply desperate to share, to be heard, to have someone listen, to know someone cares about what happens to them. I’ve been overcome with how grateful people are for a visit that takes 20 minutes of my time, or a phone call, or note, or email. So little effort, so much thanks. I read this as a sign of our humanity – our need to be worth something, to mean something, to have purpose. People seem so lost and empty. I believe God’s grace is meant to fill that void, until the fullness has to be shared again.
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