One thing that I learned about Israel is that they always straddle the line between the mundane and the sublime. They go about their daily lives in a very productive way, and yet they live in the midst of ancient holy relics, amazing yet bloody history, and just a couple hundred miles away, there’s a war going on. There’s always been a war going on in the Middle East. But still, a person has to work, eat, sleep, and try to carry on.
In the middle of our Holy Land pilgrimage, we were going from Jerusalem to Mount Tabor, and we stopped to have lunch. The bus driver took us to a town called Beit She’an, to this little place he knew about, which looked out onto a children’s playground, just down the street from some ancient Roman ruins. We heard about the owner’s son who was shot and left for dead during a terrorist incident in the town some years back. Then we got a choice between chicken schnitzel or sausage (which turned out to be big hot dogs). 🙂 And the one who was shot served them to us. He was fine.
After we were done eating, my daughter Rachel went over to play at the playground just across the street to stretch her legs, and the rest of us lined up to go to the restroom before proceeding back on the bus. All of a sudden, a large flock of sheep, with a shepherd and two sheepdogs, swarmed around them. The sheep were very peaceful and didn’t really even notice Rachel (whose name means “innocent lamb”). The shepherd led them there, and they ate the bountiful, healthy green grass. We gathered to watch, and I stood near my shepherd, and thought about shepherds and sheep.
Since then, I have spent a lot of time thinking about shepherds and their sheep. That tends to happen when you’re on the call committee: you spend a lot of time thinking about what a shepherd means to you and what kind of under-shepherd you want. One thing that under-shepherds do is straddle the line between the mundane and the sublime all the time. Jesus is the Good Shepherd, and our pastors work under Him to serve His flock. Our pastors are sinners, just like us, and yet they are “stewards of the mysteries of God.” (1 Cor 4).
Our pastors are responsible for delivering Christ to us: through His Word, through His Body and Blood, and through the waters of Baptism. These men give us Jesus in a very earthy and physical sense, but combining that plain water, that plain bread and wine with God’s Word, makes it sublime and powerful.
Choosing a pastor is a strange thing, because as Lutherans, we also believe in the Divine Call. We believe God is working through us on the call committee and the congregation to call a pastor to our beloved church. “The call is divine in that God has taken the initiative to establish the office. It is God who calls an individual to serve the ministry of the Word within the office. And it is God who promises to bless such work. But the call also has a human dimension in that God entrusts the task of calling to human beings.” * This is so true. We must remember that though God is working through us to call a pastor, God is still the one who is doing the calling. We are sinners working on the call committee, having disagreements, getting frustrated, ultimately coming to an uneasy consensus. But we trust that through the joys and the mercies, ultimately God is bringing us who we need to be our shepherd.
We are nearing to extending a call to a pastor, and we are getting ready. I sure hope he accepts our call, whoever he is. There’s a verse in the Bible that I found after I wrote my original post “Joy and Sorrow.” It says, “You will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will turn into joy.” (John 16) I’m not saying everything is going to be perfect when we have a new pastor. He’s still going to be a sinner. We’re still sinners. And things are not even bad now; we have a great vacancy pastor who is doing a wonderful job, and the sorrow I had from losing a pastor has turned into anticipation of another. But it will be a real joy to taste that wine from Cana with him. We will be sheep with a shepherd again, embarking on an adventure through the mundane and the sublime together.
*from “Theology and Practice of the Divine Call,” LCMS