Thankfully finals week is coming to a close. Only a few things left to check off the list and I will gladly welcome my weeklong break before my last quarter begins. I don’t have much left, but it’s enough to keep me busy and enough to make next week look glorious. Ok, maybe glorious is a stretch, it’s enough to make next week look comfortable. Time for to take a break from the books and just enjoy life, the weather this week in Chicago is making that very easy to do. Today was near 70 if not more, but rather than don the shorts, t-shirt, and flip-flops that I hold so dear, I was dressed head to toe, clerical collar and all. Why? Because today was graduation picture day, yet another step along the path that leads me to June.
I really am looking forward to getting back to St. Louis, and in some ways I can’t believe those words are coming out of my mouth. So much has gone on in my past and while there are still some feelings I need to deal with, I feel excited for what lies ahead. But more than just coming home to the denomination of my roots, I feel like I have been gifted something, not just a respect and admiration for those roots, which I know I could not have had if I never spent time away, but a confession. Truth be told I have always struggled with the idea of confession, not in the sense of confessing one’s sins to God or a brother or sister, but in the sense of proclamation.
Perhaps the best part of it is that my confession, as much as it is my own, it isn’t. It belongs to those in the faith that have gone before me, those in whose footsteps I walk. People like James Voelz, Tony Cook, Herman Sasse, CFW Walther, and Martin Luther, fathers and professors in the faith. But not just those who teach me what it means to have this confession, its the confession of J. Louis Oetting, James Ilten, Dave Adams, Tom Noll, Dan Wegrzyn and everyone else who served the church where I grew up by being pastors worthy of the calling. Yet it is not only theirs, it belongs to each and every person who understands or embraces the lonely way. But beyond even this confession stands another, the confession of Christ, the one the entire Church universal shares with one voice.
That voice though, it can be the most frustrating thing in the world. Sometimes that voice of the Church, or at least the voice of a preacher or parishioner, can be the difference between life and death. As I am often want to do, I find myself trolling youtube for videos that I might find interesting or frustrating. My wife gets frustrated by it because she knows in the end I’ll just get frustrated. But still I watch them, and sometimes they make me want to scream, other times they make me want to laugh, and still others, they make me want to cry.
Take for example one I saw just before I started writing this. A man using youtube to claim that Satan is a God and Yahweh is Heavenly Father and Jesus is not a real name. The kicker is that he openly professes his assembly is the only one which has this truth and no other Christian entity throughout the world understands what he does. That is enough for a red flag to go off in my mind, but for others, that may make the most sense in the world.
Theres this other guy, Pastor Steven Anderson, you can find clips of him everywhere on youtube. He is fond of screaming from the top of his lungs that Jesus wore pants. That women shouldn’t wear pants. That God knows there are differences between men and women, and thats why he calls men they that piss against the wall. That certain people are the devil or evil incarnate. And if you don’t like what he says, well, you can get the hell out of his church, or so he claims. I don’t bring this up simply to poke fun at it, though from where I sit that is very easy to do. I mention him because he could be the only exposure some people have, and in this day and age the message he is spewing is doing more harm than good.
But the same can be said of me. I’m judgmental, cynical, and have a Ph.D. in Sarcasm. I don’t help out when I should. I’m lazy and care about myself more than others. In short, I can be a real prick sometimes and sometimes I just don’t care. And what is scary, is that I could be the only contact someone has with Christianity. While I have this really great confession that I get to claim as my own, I wonder if I will ever do it justice because I know how broken and corrupt I really am. This is the real problem, the brokenness of humanity. The corruption that turns our focus from the other who could be affected by what we are saying and doing to ourselves because we just know we have to be right and the whole world needs to hear it. While I do think there is a message the whole world needs, I don’t think it’s the one that is always coming out of my own mouth.
I used to fear wearing a cross to mark me as a Christian because I knew I was a horrible example of it. If people saw that cross and saw me at my worst they’d reject Christianity. However, if anything, that notion just shows me how much more highly I think of myself than I ought. The work of God doesn’t belong to me, it belongs to the Father who created all and sustains all life. It belongs to the Holy Spirit who enlivens the heart, brings faith to those who have none, and continually communicates God’s love and grace. And it belongs to Christ Jesus, who is the Word of God. Christ that Word of God who tented among us, suffered, was crucified, died, and was buried. Christ who on the third day rose again and is seated at the right hand of the Father, from where he will one day judge the living and the dead. Christ whose sacrifice brings forgiveness, life, and salvation, especially to me, a broken and corrupt person who in reality cares only about himself.
It is because the work of God belongs to God that I don’t fear wearing that cross anymore. While I recognize that I have a role to play, I won’t kid myself into thinking it is higher or lower than it really is. But with that recognition comes the realization of the responsibility I carry. Because, as afraid as I was about wearing a cross, I was even more scared about wearing a clerical collar. More than scared, I was ashamed of it. I know what atrocities have been committed by those who have worn them and I also know of the boundless love poured out by others who wear them. My fear is that I wont live up to the responsibility something like that carries and I’ll be one of the former rather than latter. But rather than be afraid of it, I know I need to embrace it. Not just because of the symbolism it provides to those who see me in one, but because of the reminder it gives me.
What reminder? The one Jesus gave to those who would cause any of those little ones to stumble into sin. The one about the millstone being put around their neck and being thrown into the bottom of the ocean as something that would be better for them. I know I need that reminder, and I think more people need to remember it because when someone opens their mouth about God and publicly proclaim something about Him, they better do so in full assurance that they aren’t misleading people. Too much pain and hurt has already been caused by people speaking or acting on behalf of God where it is doubtful God would have spoken or acted for Himself. I know this cant always be done, but that doesn’t mean we ignore the responsibility we carry as people of God.
In the end, the work of God will always belong to God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. But we too are instruments, as Peter calls us, we are the royal priesthood, the holy nation. And that comes at a price. Remember the millstone. But more importantly, remember the Christ. The one who never misled, the one who always gives of Himself, and the one whose life was given so that all might live. Not because of the example we did or didn’t set, but because of the Love of the Father for his creation, shown through the death and resurrection of His Son, and given to the world through the work of the Spirit.