I’m not usually someone who wakes up on Monday morning and decides to wax theologically or poetically about life or ministry, particularly not before 8am; but this morning is a bit of a different morning. It’s my first morning at a new ministry job, and I know several of my friends are starting CPE today or soon. So it’s time for some Monday Morning Paul (or Monday Morning Deutro-Paul to be more specific).
Therefore, since it is by God’s mercy that we are engaged in this ministry, we do not lose heart… For we do not proclaim ourselves; we proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord and ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. For it is the God who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness’, who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. -2 Cor 4:1, 5-6
I remember hearing these verses and many with similar themes in other settings used to explain why we should/are attempting to convert people to Christianity or our brand of Christianity. This morning I am hearing some other themes as I ponder doing ministry.
We engage in ministry by God’s mercy. Some days it seems like this isn’t true. Some days it feels like the success/failure of a particular ministry or of our own ministry career (term used loosely) depends solely on us. Maybe we think we have to prove something to someone (or to a committee of someones) about our fitness for ministry. Maybe we think we have to minister to a certain community a certain way because that’s how we’ve seen it done. Maybe we’re facing a completely unknown ministry and don’t know quite what to do with ourselves.
I often get wrapped up in what I am doing, and it’s easy to forget what God is doing or that God is doing anything at all. When we forget that we are empowered by the Spirit it’s easy to lose heart. We’re not God. It’s a pretty good idea to let God be God. Otherwise, we’re screwed.
We do not proclaim ourselves; we proclaim Jesus. I like things to be all about me. But it’s not. In fact, it is only very rarely about me. It’s surprisingly liberating. Think about it. It’s not about us, our agenda, our education, our tradition; it’s about Jesus. Ourselves, our agenda, our education, our tradition are always subject to repentance, renewal, and transformation as found through the life of following Jesus individually and communally.
It’s really hard to realize that what’s going on isn’t about you. That’s been the hardest lesson I keep learning over and over again. My dad uses the term Q-TIP: Quit Taking It Personally. When someone’s mean or dismissive it feels personal. When people don’t take me seriously because of my age, it feels personal. But I’m not proclaiming myself. At least, I’m trying not to proclaim myself. I’m trying to proclaim Jesus. Jesus takes me seriously, and I take Jesus seriously. That sentence is a double-edged sword because it means that Jesus takes others seriously, and I need to take others seriously.
God’s light has shone in our hearts. We don’t do ministry alone; we minister in and with communities. These communities may be church congregations who were established 200 years ago, or these communities may be a CPE peer group. My former CPE supervisor is a Quaker, and he always used the phrase “I’m holding you in the light” instead of “I’m praying for you.” He recognized that it wasn’t about him; it was about God’s light shining in our hearts and being reflected in the things we did and said. I’m very grateful to him for that.
I’m reminded of the image that Henri Nouwen used (I think in Life of the Beloved but I’m not sure):
“I never realized broken glass could shine so brightly.” -Henri Nouwen
Do not lose heart, beloved ones. God’s light is reflected in our brokenness in ways we will never understand. I think I’m writing this as much to myself as I am to anyone else. These are things I’m really glad to be reminded of as I begin a new summer ministry position: God is merciful, we proclaim Jesus, God’s light has shone and will shine. Amen.