Prepared by The Rev. Dr. Erwin Buck, President, Lutheran Theological Seminary, Saskatoon.
On this Sunday, all across the ELCIC we encourage men and women to reflect on their vocations and to consider whether God may not be calling them to pastoral or diaconal ministry.
In good Lutheran fashion we will want to affirm that all honourable work is the arena of service to God and to neighbour and none is more holy than the other. Those who do not become pastors need to be affirmed in the choice of their vocation, just as much as do the others.
But today we want to focus on one particular calling, for which the church and our world has special need.
This may be a good time for the pastor to bear testimony of his or her personal experience in such ministry. In what ways is your ministry informed by the testimony of John the Baptist, as his story is presented in the Fourth Gospel? Where do you see intersections? As you work your way through the text, where do you find yourself nodding your head and thinking "how true, how true!"
We as pastors are privileged to enter into people's lives in practically all possible circumstances, ranging from the birth of a child to the death of a beloved grandparent. We are privileged to celebrate and to mourn or to simply "be" with our parishioners at every turn of the road. We "think theologically" with them about the wonder of human birth, the awesome responsibility of parenthood, the exuberance of youth, the joy of falling in love, the struggles of the teenage years, the challenges of the job market, the anguish of suffering from dementia, the fear of death, and on it goes.
There is a time for everything under heaven, and every time presents an occasion to experience the presence of the incarnated one. And at every time there is need for someone to point and say "behold, the Lamb of God!"
At all of these junctures pastors and diaconal ministers are called to nurture that vital connection with God, and to point to Jesus, the true light who shines in the darkness.
This is what people are yearning for, even when they are not really aware of that fact.
We search for all sorts of things in life, but Martha was told "one thing is needful." That one thing we must not lose sight of.
If we do, sooner or later life itself becomes unsatisfying. We need to remind ourselves of that fact, and we need people who make it their calling to "point" as John did.
John did not seem to have any concrete answers to concrete questions. Very likely he would not have been successful telling people "how to" do this, that, or the other thing. He does not seem to have a political platform or an economic theory. In the Fourth Gospel he does not even harangue people to repent nor threaten them with apocalyptic punishment. He simply points.
He points, and in so doing, leads people to look at things from a different perspective. At Seminary we call it "learning to think theologically."
Let us not overly glorify the pastoral ministry. Our lay people can rejoice in their calling as much as we can, maybe more sometimes. Ministry is not a glory trip. It is for people who are willing to point, to direct people's gaze to "the light," to make connections between what is and what, by the grace of God, can be. Ministry can be deeply rewarding. There is dignity and promise in pointing toward the "greater one."
What is it about your ministry that fills you with the awareness that this is where God wants you to be, that this is where you feel fulfilled even (and especially) at times when the going gets rough? Have you experienced how pointing away from yourself, pointing to the incarnated Word, the true light of the world, the one who bears the sin of the world and by his dying overcomes the world—gives your life that grounding , that intimacy, that hope and confidence, without which it would be futile to exist?
Have you found dignity in pointing not to yourself and your accomplishments, but to the Lamb who covers all your inadequacies and surrounds you with his caring presence?
Speak from the heart, and let God bless your words.