The electricians came this week and replaced the fuse boxes in the manse to comply with the changed legislation as well as pre-empt the forthcoming legislative changes next month. The electricians knew what they were doing, what to do, how to do it, and, of course, I left them to it. When the instructions came at the end about testing the fuses and about the ‘new’ fuse that had been installed I knew enough about what was happening that I could ‘tell the story’ back to them about what had happened and what I was to do. They nodded. Of course the real test – provided I don’t forget! – is when I come to put what I know into practice and it all ‘works’. Interestingly in the final discussion about testing, they also said that ‘no one ever does it [the testing]’ and that included ‘most electricians’. I wondered how they knew and put a reminder in my 2023 diary! 😉
One of the dangerous parts of ministry for pastors is the loss of faith, becoming ‘immune’ to Jesus, to the Word of God, where the knowledge is functional – to get a salary perhaps. Now just to be clear the Triune God still does his work through words, water, bread and wine – the Absolution, Baptism, Holy Communion are not based on how the pastor is feeling on the day. Nevertheless we all have the ability to put up barriers to God even if we seem to stay close to him. Perhaps you can sense my reaction to the comment that some electricians don’t do what is recommended? We’ve all heard the tension about doing what we say rather than what we do.
But how do we stay close to a God we can’t see, hear, or experience? By staying close to God’s Word because faith is about being held by a message, trusting a message, counting on a message especially when we struggle, doubt, feel empty, get challenged about the message itself. We live by faith and not by sight (2 Corinthians 5:7). ‘Staying close’ involves attending worship – it is called the Divine Service’ because The Divine comes and serves us. ‘Staying close’ means receiving. ‘Staying close’ involves reading the Bible – the library of 66 books each with its context that tells a story of God’s faithfulness, God’s action, people’s sin, people’s response to God. ‘Staying close’ means listening. It can also mean studying and learning the contexts of each of those 66 books to understand better the story of sin and grace. This sort of ‘staying close’ is about hearing – knowing – meditating – even when struggling – these words are ‘for me!’. We can place ourselves into the stories and learn. We can apply the stories to ourselves here and now and gain understanding about who God is and how he has made a relationship with us. And then, of course, since relationships govern behaviour – so we can live – one day at a time but with a God who is present and who cares.
When many disciples left Jesus because his words were too hard, Jesus asked the Twelve their intentions and Peter replied, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life” (John 6:68 ESV). The mystery is that while we think we’re hanging onto these words, and even when we’re struggling with these words, these words are hanging on to us! That’s what a cross and empty tomb and a baptismal font keep saying!