From the Book of Job:
Eliphaz the Temanite answered: “Can a mortal be of use to God? Can even the wisest be of service to him?”
(From the Daily Office Lectionary – Job 22:1-2 – September 8, 2012)
From time to time, people tell me that they have appreciated something I’ve said or done and I try to remember to say, “Thank you.” But inside, I really don’t think about compliments very much. It’s not that I don’t appreciated them, but I don’t do what I do to be complimented, and I really don’t think that I have much to do with it when whatever I do has gone well or had a positive impact on someone. I sort of take Paul’s attitude from the Letters to the Romans and the Galatians: “It is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me” (Gal. 20:2) and “I will not venture to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me” (Rom. 15:18). So I do think, generally, that the answer to Eliphaz’s question is, “Yes.” Mortals can be of use to God. But there are times I would answer otherwise.
I’ve been a clergy person for not quite 21-1/2 years. I was ordained to the Sacred Order of Deacons on May 8, 1990, the Feast of Julian of Norwich; I was priested on June 21, 1991, the eve of the celebration of St Alban, first martyr of Britain. Before ordination, I was a lay preacher, a communion minister, a catechist, a seminarian. At the age of 21 (nearly 40 years ago) I was the youth minister in a major Southern California parish, and since then I have served the church in a variety of ways – vestry member, treasurer, diocesan chancellor (chief legal officer), diocesan trustee, standing committee member, various commissions and committees. Throughout those not-yet-ordained years I taught Sunday School, teen and adult education classes, and courses of ministry preparation for locally licensed ministers, and preached more than few sermons. Since ordination, I’ve done more of the same and preached a sermon nearly every week.
The message of those 22+ years of sermons can probably be boiled down to this: “In Christ Jesus, God loves and forgives you. Love and forgive one another.” I truly feel, all the flowery rhetoric aside, all the exigesis aside, all the sermon illustrations aside, that that simple message is what I’ve been trying to say every Sunday for more than two decades.
I don’t pay much attention to compliments or to critiques, frankly, but I do pay attention to behavior. When someone tells me they won’t do something for reasons having to do with a refusal to forgive, when someone fails to respond to a need, when someone treats another in ways that betray a lack of respect . . . and when those someones are people who’ve been listening to my sermons for a long time . . . that’s when I begin to feel that the answer to Eliphaz’s question is “No!” That’s when I begin to feel like maybe mortals, even wise mortals, just get in God’s way. That’s when I begin to feel like maybe that’s all I’ve done.
Of course, I know that’s not true, and I know when I feel that way that not too much time will pass before (in the words of today’s morning psalm) that God will turn my mourning into dancing, that God wil take off my sackcloth and clothe me with joy. (Psalm 30:11) Still . . . there are those times . . . .
Father Funston is the rector of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Medina, Ohio.