As much as we profess our jubilation in the promise of equity
in God’s judgment, most of us don’t live like we believe it or even like
it that way. The dispute among the disciples about which of them was
considered to be the greatest gets reenacted everyday in everyone of our
lives in some way or another. And the drama gets either tragic or comedic
when those who exercise authority over others begin to act like they think
they are better than those they are supposed to serve. “You are not
to be like that,” Jesus admonishes us. “The greatest among you should
be like the youngest, and the one who rules like the one who serves.”
The authority we have as ministers of God’s mercy should give us the confidence
to preach God’s truth as servants to others, not from positions of personal
authority. The light of the knowledge of God in Christ is of God, not
of our own doing, reminds St. Paul.
As I reflect on how to keep those admonitions to heart, I think about the
reference to jars of clay. We have to be careful to not think that
we have the final word on God’s judgment. Clay jars are fragile;
they aren’t as permanent as we might like them to be. Using them requires
care. We can’t use our knowledge of God’s truth to deceive others.
We can’t distort it for our own purposes. And we have to respect everyone’s
ability to draw on that truth as well as our ability to do so. It gives
us pause to consider that when we think we know God’s truth for our lives
and for others, not everyone might see it that way. We can sure get
into some conflicts with each other, even in the fellowship of other Christians,
when we seek to discern God’s absolute truth on the issues that confront
our daily lives.
I got some help reflecting on we can negotiate this problem of Christian
life a few Sundays ago when I visited a former congregation where I had been
a member during my undergraduate years at UCLA. It is an inner city
ELCA congregation that has difficulty retaining pastors because of its many
challenges to traditional forms of authority. But the lay leadership
is strong in that congregation. The members have learned to care for
each other and their many forms of brokenness as they would care for treasures
in jars of clay. On this particular Sunday, the lay pastor warned us
of the dangers of interpreting the Bible on our own for our own purposes.
“That’s what some people are doing when they ask ‘what would Jesus do,’”
he said. We are to think about what Jesus did say, and act on that,
rather than speculate on what Jesus would do in situations that would serve
our own ends. The best way to be sure that we live in the light of
the knowledge of the Glory of God is to go directly to the source, and keep
studying it carefully.
This fall all the Christian congregations of every denomination are reorganizing
their youth and adult education programs for the new educational year.
I look forward to participating in them as much as I look forward to the
fall semester at Creighton. These lessons challenge me to participate
in the search for truth as one who serves, not as one in authority just because
I have a Ph.D. If I am as open to new knowledge as the youngest freshman
on the first day of class, I might be a better witness to the truth than
if I profess to know it all already.