Saturday, March 03, 2018

Ministry as Sponging

I wrote this ten years ago

Ministry as Sponging
Isaiah 53:
He was despised and forsaken of men,
A man of sorrows and acquainted with grief;
And like one from whom men hide their face
He was despised, and we did not esteem Him.
Surely our griefs He Himself bore,
And our sorrows He carried.

This Lent I am learning how to be a sponge.

If Jesus' battle with sin, death and the devil has been won on cross, what we are presently engaging in is a mop-up operation. That means as his disciples, we are to absorb sin, suffering, grief and despair, just like He did.

So I am trying to learn how to be a sponge.

I am trying to learn how to walk with an Iranian woman through the valley of the shadow of death.
I am trying to learn how to listen to people who are depressed and angry with those I love.
I am trying to learn how to help someone shoulder shame, frustration and abandonment.
I am trying to learn how to enter into lives marked by pain, disease, and poverty.
I am trying to learn how to carry on when what I have to give is rejected.

I'm learning I'm need to be a lot more absorbent! But that's scary, because the more absorbent the sponge, the more porous it is. I'm not much for being drilled, shot through or eaten away.

We Protestants don't like to talk about it much, but the call to ministry is an invitation to allow oneself to be used as a sponge. Pastoral ministry--dare I use the term, "priesthood"--demands that one be extra-absorbent.

Sure, we like to claim that all believers are priests, but when we say this, I'm not sure that we are always thinking of allowing ourselves to be scrubbed over the world's dirt, wrung out, rinsed and repeated. We prefer to think of priesthood in terms of issues of direct access, not matters of soaking and swabbing.

A robust church is an absorbent church, but one which doesn't tear or lose its shape when it is repeatedly wrung out.

He was oppressed and He was afflicted,
Yet He did not open His mouth;
Like a lamb that is led to slaughter,
And like a sheep that is silent before its shearers,
So He did not open His mouth.

Good sponges do not resist squeezing, nor do they make much sound when compressed. Similarly, when flattened, good ministers do not turn combative, but yield themselves and silently pour themselves out before the Lord.
...He poured out Himself to death,
And was numbered with the transgressors;
Yet He Himself bore the sin of many,
And interceded for the transgressors.

Jesus was ultra-absorbent. He became sin, for our sakes. He was so absorbent that when wrung out on the cross, not only water but blood flowed.

Hebrews 12
Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. In your struggle against sin, you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood.

I'm feeling wrung out, but I haven't yet shed blood. I can't wait for the ultimate Easter when there won't be any more sin to mop up, and our sponges will be transformed into prisms.

No comments: