Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Sent to Preach, Sent to Love

If you are to preach, you must make up your minds that you are sent, and sent by God.
Without the gift of love, you will never be a preacher.
Bp. Edward King 

Today is the commemoration of Edward King, parish priest, sometime head of Cuddesdon College, and later (and most famously) Bishop of Lincoln. His life and character continue to inspire me more and more each year.

A parishioner did some work on Bishop King for a college project a while ago, and went to Lincoln Cathedral as part of the research. There, she encountered the living legacy of a holy man. In reading his personal letters, it became clearer and clearer that the private person was very much like the public one: gracious, generous, deeply spiritual, humane, and wise.

The above two quotes from Bishop King demonstrate something of why he was so loved and respected. His faith, rooted in the scriptures and the Fathers, was alive with the joy and energy of the Holy Spirit, and it was deeply conscious of the power of God's love to move the human heart and mind. For King, two dimensions of the priest are always easily over-looked: the pastoral life, and the life of prayer.

Pastoral work is frequently allowed to "pile up" in churches because of the immense amount of time involved, and the way it never "ends." In our consumerist society, we are seduced into desiring clear "products" or "outcomes"instead of the messy reality of people and their lives--even in the Church. Pastoral care is a never-ending journey with the people of God toward their ultimate healing and redemption in Christ. It requires much time and also the conscious ability to hand off to God what cannot, what must not, be carried by the human pastor. And this is where the life of prayer comes in.

Without a deep and growing prayer life, the parish priest will become overwhelmed by the demands of true pastoral care. Clergy and lay ministers gradually substitute "fixing" people for serving them; ownership gets confused with stewardship. It becomes a nightmare for all involved. An active prayer life sorts out what must be dealt with on the local level, and what must go to the heavenly. It brings about humility while also providing insight and strength.

Perhaps one of the reasons so many people find Church irrelevant today has little to do with the music or the service format or the kind of coffee being served: perhaps one of the main reasons the Church in our day seems to be in eclipse is that its pastors do not enter into the depth of what it means to be a disciple in their own lives, and are thus unable to share with the people they serve the fruit of that experience. As King said:
Nothing anonymous will ever persuade--the faith and conduct of the preacher give life and power to his message. Thus preaching is different from mere feeling. You may teach mathematics or geography without being fully convinced. But in delivering the Gospel message, if it is to be a living life-giving message, there must be in the preacher a sense of message and the desire to deliver it.
There is too much "anonymous" preaching, pastoring, and praying today. It will not do. Only the experience of being loved by God and the ongoing work of being healed by God can make any impact in the lives of struggling people. Only when the love of God the Holy Trinity reaches out through us and into the lives of others are we truly "valid" in our ministries, for only then do the torn and bleeding hearts of others know we are sent, and "sent by God."

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