It might not come as a surprise that the one person in my life whose life lessons have been the most influential is Jesus of Nazareth. An unknown author, wrote this which speaks to one particular way Jesus moves us from student to teacher. It found in The Epistle to the Hebrews 4:14-16.
When I finally decided to give in to my call to ministry, my dad suggested I speak with my childhood pastor, Bob Walkup. I hadn’t spoken to him in years, but boy am I glad I called. Because Bob said something that has stuck with me ever since. In his soft-spoken southern voice, he said, “Ian, you’ve always been a minister.” It wasn’t until I was thinking about this passage, that I fully grasped what Bob meant.
Although this priestly description in Hebrews is about Jesus, it also speaks to who we are as his students, his disciples. More than students, we are called to teach others about God’s redeeming love. Which means we are all called to be ministers.
I bet that’s the last word you’d use to describe yourself. I hold a theology degree and ordination papers, and even I hesitate to call myself that because of the negative connotations attached to it. And lets honest, there are times when I barely understand my own faith muchless know how to manage others. I constantly wonder why God wants someone like me to teach the world about love, especially God’s love? Who am I? What do I know?
After decades of trying to figure it out, I’ve come to this conclusion: God uses our brokenness and failures to minister to the world. I mean that’s what God does; uses foolishness and weakness to humble the wise and strong. The cross and resurrection say it all.
How you’ve learned to deal with addiction, pain, grief, rejection, or any other challenge you’ve faced, all speak to God’s redemptive work on your life. It might not be the prettiest or happiest way to go about it, but every story you’ve ever written, God will use to tell an even greater story. The redemption story of Christ Jesus, our High Priest.
Now, I used to hate the scar that cancer gave me. Most people don’t see it. But every time I looked in the mirror it just screamed at me - reminding and reprimanding me of my past. Then one day I was sitting with a person undergoing chemo. It was my first time meeting her. I didn’t really know how to begin. She looked beaten down and worn out from the brutal treatment to fight this ugly disease.
I guess I could have preached a bunch of platitudes that people often use because they think helps people feel better but really it only does the opposite. Instead I showed her my scar. And that seemed to do the trick. This beautiful ugly line would be the bridge between us.
We shared a common story, and quickly formed a close bond over it that allowed us to trust one another and minister to each other from our hearts and hurts. Now when I see this line across my neck, I no longer think about what I might have done to have caused it. Instead, I think of what God did to redeem it.
Whatever you’re experiencing, your story is a part of God’s great story. One we share with Jesus himself. By his own pain and suffering Jesus blessed our scars and ordained our stories.
Misfits, addicts, saints, and sinners alike are all called to be ministers, preaching and teaching God’s great love to the world.
Sure, it might be my job to do the churchy things – like teaching Bible stuff and leading worship. But Jesus made it very clear that we all share the responsibility to pray for one another, forgive each other, and to care for the burdens of the least of these our brothers and sisters.
As disciples of Jesus, as students of Christ, our job in life is to continue his ministry – to teach the good news of God’s redemptive love in all the ways we love one another. I’m sure if you look at your own story, you will see how you have always been a minister.
A met a man who’s been helping a Vet deal with PTSD. He confessed he doesn’t really do much but listen and offers the guy a safe space to let it all out. Do you think this guy knew he was imitating Christ who heard the cries of people and showed sympathy towards them?
I’m part of an organization that helps people living with food insecurities. Most of them don’t care if I’m a minister or not. But in each bag of groceries, each loaf of bread offered, God’s love and provision is proclaimed.
Sometimes the smallest acts of kindness are all we need to do to show the world just how big and inclusive God’s love really is.
It’s not just my job to listen to or comfort others, it’s yours as well. We are all pastors called to offer hope. Each one of us a priest given the ability to sanctify any situation. Every one of us is a minister called to preach God’s love by being God’s love as Christ taught us to do.
The author of Hebrews describes Jesus as the Great High Priest. He is the one who is in charge of offering gifts and sacrifices to God on behalf of the people for their sins. Now, the literal meaning of the word “priest” is “bridge.” That is to say, Jesus is the bridge between God’s desire and our needs.
But if you know the gospel story, you know Jesus didn’t spend a lot of time in the temple with the official High Priest. Instead, he walked the dirty streets. And entered our messy homes to redeem us. He comes to where we are and blesses our stains and smells. And comforts our wounds and pain.
This is his story; one he used to teach and empower us do the same.
Jesus is calling us to be ministers; to put on our clerical collar and open our pastoral heart and be that bridge between heaven and earth.
We don’t need to be perfect for God to use us. We don’t need to be straight A students or go to the best schools. We just need to be more like Jesus - obedient and faithful to our calling to the best of our ability. God will do the rest.
Wherever hunger or injustice is present, we too must be present. Wherever there are sick and dying people, or captives and prisoners we are called to share our story of God’s redemptive love right there in Anamesa – in that space between the messiness of faith and life; right in the middle of it all.
May we all go with the intention to be the bridge between earthly and Divine so all lives might find true healing and peace. And so, all people can thrive in their stories as God has always desired.
May we all go out and testify to God’s greatest glory – teaching the world with your heart and hand, and like St. Francis added, “Using words only when necessary.”
Bartlett, David L., Barbara Brown Taylor, eds. Feasting on the Word: Year B, Vol. 4. Westminster John Knox: 2009. pp. 182-186.
An ex-copywriter turned punk rock pastor and peacemaker who dedicates his life to making the world a better place for all humanity.
"that they all might be one" ~John 17:21
“Prius vita quam doctrina.”
~ St. Thomas Aquinas (1225–1274)
* “Life is more important than doctrine.”