Every year about this time, most of us feel a part of the great ritual of beginning a new school year. For many of us, it has been a number of years since we were directly a part of the new school year hubbub as a student or as the parent of a student. Some feel blessed to relive it through grandparenting or even great-grandparenting. Some just cherish their own memories of a past time as a student when their personal experiences were perhaps a mixture of anticipation for new opportunities and new people, and the nervousness that can accompany those very same things — new opportunities and new people. We are alike in so many ways, yet different, in many ways as well, but the annual ritual repeats regardless of our diversities.
As a pastor, this time of year presents moments of both anticipation and nervousness as planning, programming, and ministry opportunities are set in motion to coincide with that great societal ritual of going back to school. Most of us pastors realize we cannot please everyone all of the time, but we still like to make efforts to try and please as many people as we can and, at the same time, offer opportunities that are helpful and beneficial to as many folks as we can. But as diverse people with different expectations, not to mentions hopes and dreams, maybe you can begin to see how pastors might feel anxious and nervous. Some days we feel like the host of a party who nervously waits to see if anyone will come.
While there might be some anxiety, there is also comfort found in having a relationship with the greatest teacher there ever was — Jesus. Scripture reports Jesus saying, “For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.” (Matthew 18:20) Very important in this reminder is understanding what it means to gather in the name of Jesus. For some, gathering in the name of Jesus is about a one-time event — “I was saved at or on…” Salvation is intact, or so they believe (after all, there were people gathered in Jesus’s name and I used his name also), and then on to whatever else I find interesting. For others, it’s like a quick fix in the time of need. “Jesus, come here right now and deliver me from this time.” The great theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer might have described that statement as a prayer for “cheap grace.” And for others, “Jesus is becoming the Lord of my life and as someone who desires the great joy of knowing Jesus, I will continue to come into his presence and be shaped into a more faithful disciple by the grace of God.” In this latter response, we can find ourselves more in tune with what Jesus meant by gathering in his name. When we gather in his name, more of our humanness is surrendered so that Jesus can replace those parts of life with his presence and power.
Of course, there is much more. But as a pastor, I know attention spans are limited so let me remind us of our great opportunity to feel the power of love and mercy. Our faith is individual in that we must each decide for ourselves to follow Jesus. Parents, spouses, and even BFFs can’t do it for us and we can’t decide it on behalf of others. Faith is corporate, in the sense it is lived out in community with others who also gather in the name of Jesus. Let’s not fool ourselves and think we can grow as disciples of Jesus apart from his body. A person becomes a better student and accomplishes much more when there is a direct relationship with the teacher (I used to hear teachers use the phrase “contact hours or days” to describe the times when students were present in class). We are created in God’s image and we see in the Trinity how Father, Son, and Holy Spirit work in and through each other for the good of the One God. Our DNA is to relate not just with God, but also one another with the Master as the head and we as the parts of the body. To be apart or absent is to miss out on the great possibilities God has for us.
This is a season when many of us are establishing new routines. The church is in the midst of establishing its routines for the coming months and years. It is a perfect time for you to move deeper into a life with Jesus and also invite others into a place where lives are being transformed and disciples of Jesus are being made. Come see what’s going on and let the worries of today be replaced by the hopes and dreams of tomorrow where Jesus is Lord!
See you in worship!