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Gospel-Bringer

Written by Pastor Aaron Decker. Posted in Light and Life

I’ve been spending the week in Malvern, PA at the “ELCA Region 7 Leadership Guild,” an important component of the first call theological education process here in New England.  There have been panels on pastoral leadership skills, small group conversations, worship, and guest speakers.  Each year at this event, two bishops are invited, and this year, Samuel Zeiser of the Northeast Pennsylvania Synod and Roy Riley of the New Jersey Synod were our Bishop guests.

We talk a lot at Immanuel about the way that the Church is changing these days, and the same issue, with similar worries and hopes, visions and concerns, occupies the mind of our judicatory ministers as well.  And so, last night, Bishops Sam and Roy asked us to enter into a conversation about where the church is going--what our work as pastors and deaconesses, diaconal ministers and associates in ministry might look like in the years to come.

Early in the conversation, one woman, a young pastor with whom I share friendship and respect, stood trembling, and spoke about her fear.  “We are talking about an uneasy future,” she said, “that we cannot see.  We are talking about the Church that I love.  And we are talking about my career.  And I have fear around this.  I need you, as Bishops, as the people who serve as my pastors, to remind me constantly that it is not I who will carry this Church forward.  That it is Jesus who will carry it forward.  Because when I get mired in the church’s work, sometimes I need to hear the gospel too.”

What a gift it is to have a job that entails simply the proclamation of the Good News of Jesus Christ.  I get to spend all my time focused on this gospel, on working it out in sermons and educational offerings, on carrying it to the sick or homebound, on finding ways for our children and teens to discover it for the first time.  But I am as human as anyone else.  And there are many, many days when I need to do more than just proclaim the gospel.  I need to hear it for myself, too.

Which is why I will never forget something which happened my first Christmas at Immanuel.  At our 4:30, family-friendly Christmas Eve worship, I’d come up with what I thought was a brilliant little children’s message.  (Actually, I’d borrowed and adapted it from a friend who is now a pastor in Western Pennsylvania, but I’ll take credit for it anyway.)  I gave each child a chocolate chip cookie, to remind them how sweet God’s love for them was.  And then I gave them a second, and asked them to deliver it to someone else, so that they could tell them that God loved them.  A simple, kid-friendly exercise in evangelism, I suppose.

As a child, I would have had to get rid of that second cookie immediately, or risk eating it myself.  No way was that going home to a grandmother who couldn’t make it, or a friend from school.  That would be handed to mom right away, with a hurried little, “God loves you Mom” while I stuffed the first one in my mouth, or else both were getting shoved in there at the same time.  How Jake Dumas managed to take care of that cookie without eating it for the entire rest of the service, through all of the hymns and carols and communion, I’ll never understand.  But when I was greeting people on the way out of church that busy night, already feeling exhausted for all the things I had to do my first Christmas as a pastor, Jake came up to me, and instead of shaking my hand, thrust that cookie into it, and reminded me that my busy-ness mattered so much less than the fact that God loves me.

All Baptized children of God have a holy calling to preach the good news.  As pastor, I get to preach it to you.  And you get to preach it to the world.  And I’m finding, as I go about this work, that my skills are good, learned, and well-practiced, but often, in your myriad ways and works, that you proclaim the gospel better than I ever will.  As Christ does in each of us, every day.

Grace and Peace,
Pastor Aaron

God of Good News, may the Gospel that you bring to us in Jesus Christ be proclaimed through every moment of our lives.  Amen.