In the fullness of time...

Over the past week I've found myself re-reading - or maybe reading for the first time - two books by past masters that speak more to me now than ever before: Frederick Buechner's Telling the Truth and Eugene Peterson's The Contemplative Pastor. These books speak to me of maturing in ministry - gaining perspective and compassion - along with the grey hair. Made me think of the way five old friends - George Harrison, Bob Dylan, Tom Petty, Roy Orbison and Jeff Lynne - put it in this song:

Buechner begins this little gem with a story about Henry Ward Beecher coming face to face with his limitations and brokenness on the eve of delivering a series of lectures to the divinity students at Yale in 1872. While staring at himself in the mirror, Beecher comes to own his wounds as well as his potential - and a new chapter in his ministry is born. He writes:

So when (Beecher) stood there looking into the hotel mirror with soap on his face and a razor in his hand, part of what he saw was his own shame and horror, the sight of his own folly, the judgment one can imagine he found even harder to bear than God's, which was his own judgment on himself, because whereas God is merciful, we are none of us very good at showing mercy on ourselves. And Henry Ward Beecher cut himself with his razor and wrote out notes for that first Beecher Lecture in blood because, whatever else he was or aspired to be or was famous for being, he was a man of flesh and blood...

If preachers... are to say anything that really matters to anyone including themselves, they must say it not just to the public part of us that considers interesting thoughts about the Gospel and how to preach it, but to the private, inner part too, to the part of us all where our dreams come from, both our good dreams and our bad dreams, the inner part where thoughts mean less than images, elucidation less that evocation, where our concern is less with how the Gospel is to be preached than with what the Gospel is to us.

Peterson takes this deeper by saying: \

... my job is not to solve people's problems or make them happy, but to help them see the grace operating in their lives. And it is hard to do, because our whole culture is going in the other direction, saying that if you're smart enough and get the right kind of help, you can solve all your problems. The truth is, there aren't very many happy people in the Bible. But there are people who are experiencing joy, peace and the meaning of Christ's suffering in their lives... so sometimes I think all I do as a pastor is speak the word "God" in a situation in which it hasn't been said before, where people haven't recognised God's presence. Joy, you see, is the capacity to hear the name and to recognise that God is here. There's a kind of exhilaration because God is doing something and, even in a little way, it's enough at that moment.

Both of these insights resonate with me: God knows that I, too, have found myself feeling like I'm at the end of the line only to discover new ways of being in ministry as I wrestle with both my brokenness and potential in the midst of God's grace. And the joy that Peterson speaks of - not the giddy highs of addictions or the foolishness of running away from real life, but the profound awareness that God is truly with me as Emmanuel - continues to liberate and calm me all at the same time.

Funny how these two little books that have been sitting around on my bookcase for decades can jump out to me at just the right moment: makes me think of the fullness of time.


Rev Nancy Fitz said…
"it's enough at that moment." When we speak it we hope it is enough. Sometimes we never know but have to trust that God enters in and makes the words, the hand touch, the presence - enough.
RJ said…
EXACTLY right, my friend. Thank you so much.

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