I suspect every preacher I know, and many many Christians I know, will be able to add the tune to the words from the old hymn that goes, “My hope is built on nothing less; than Jesus’ blood and righteousness.” Having spent a week attending two conferences and a variety of workshops I can’t help but wonder how good any of us are at actually living this out. It’s a lot like saying the lilies and the sparrows don’t need to worry and so we shouldn’t either…it’s a lot easier said than done.
As the pastor of a reasonably healthy church my stress and anxiety levels are somewhat low. I like to tell myself that’s because I am trusting God, I know it’s not all up to me, God has a plan, it’s his church and he will take care of it. But if I am honest with myself, then I know that it is also because I think I am a capable person, I think the church is healthy because it should be healthy and because it is full of prayerful, God-loving people who understand the story of grace.
Is that really enough? If it is then what would that mean I am saying about all the struggling churches, the pastors I know who weep for their congregations, who give their lives daily to the service of Jesus and his church and the people that make up His body in the world?
I sat with them and listened to them as they discussed their struggles and as they sought answers and ways forward. I listened to them as they wondered out loud about their leadership abilities and skills, as they questioned how worthwhile their work was, what it means that there seems to be no one willing to take up their posts when they leave, how they are ignored in the commons and abandoned by the culture. I never questioned the value of their work or the sincerity of their love of God and the people they serve.
So then what’s going on? Why so much struggle? Why so much uncertainty and pain?
It’s how God works.
We are about to enter Holy Week, the week Jesus was betrayed by his friends, the week he was wrongfully convicted by cowardly rulers, the week he was hung up on a tree to die amongst criminals.
And from this God brought forth LIFE. He brought forth his People of the Resurrection.
We shouldn’t be surprised, we are, after all, talking about the God who let Moses and the boys wander 40 years in the wilderness, the God who wanted to birth his son to an unwed teenage mother from a backwater town, the God who would use a bunch of less than clever fishermen to start a global movement, the God who can and will use his church in the world today.
This Easter as I try to ground myself in the Gospel story and as I try to base myself on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness, I am thinking about two things. Firstly, Embrace the Wilderness, because I used to love snowboarding and dream of wilderness treks and because I think the church is living in the wilderness but like the hikers and the kayakers and the zipliners we need to learn how to embrace our situation, use it for what it’s worth and take advantage of what it does offer. Secondly, reading the story according to John who testifies about the death of Christ, makes me remember all those to whom I owe my faith today and to wonder who am I called to witness to?