What a joy it has been — over 50 years of ministry, over 50 years of meeting and mingling with the finest folks on earth. How many church congregations have I been blessed to pastor, with each one a family of God-fearing and loving folks; so kind to me, to one another and committed to serving their respective communities.
I feel I have been privileged to associate with the best of the best; people with a generous disposition to give of their time and resources for others; worshippers oriented to generously serving without wanting anything in return; people who are sold on Jesus Christ as the One who has the formula for happiness today and forever more.
Yes, such delightful life-time company, yet looking back at all these people over all these years, I feel some guilt.
My guilt is being too preoccupied in “saving the saved.” My guilt is neglecting those that Jesus referred to as, “Other sheep I have who are not of this flock. I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice and there shall be one flock and one shepherd.” [John 10:16] Also Jesus’ parable of the good shepherd leaving the 99 to find the one lost [Luke 15: 4-7], resonates in my conscience.
As I look beyond the four walls of the church I see the “real world” — the majority of humanity deeply immersed in this world, oblivious to the next. I see so many with little or no faith in their Creator — following a lonely and painful path of not believing in a personal loving God. There is a direct correlation between good times (prosperity and affluence) and godless times; so repeatedly attested in the Bible and the pages of history. I see that history being repeated today (in spite of recession pains felt by many). With diabolical rigor, countless millions want nothing to do with a “hypothetical” promise of a paradise hereafter; affirming their conviction that earthly pleasures and possessions are the realistic and satisfying goal in life. These masses of un-churched un-believers see religion as a fabricated fantasy for the “losers” of the world — those who have failed at “getting ahead in life.” These dedicated earthlings see the kingdom of hell as respectable and worthy of a full-hearted, life-time pursuit. Those who live in this kingdom separate from God, see the value of all things of earth only as they are bought or sold; honoring the clever design of commerce which directs always taking more than you give. Outside church walls I am confronted with those wallowing in animalistic behavior, delighting in immoral squalor.
The over-the-shoulder view of my life and ministry — where I have been and what I have done the last half century — shows evidence of my not doing much of anything, failing even to keep a moral “status quo” in our society.
But I am astonished at the patience and love of God, confirmed by his words, [Jeremiah 31:3] “I love you with an everlasting love”, and the words of Jesus, “As for the person who hears my words but does not keep them, I do not judge him. For I do not come to judge the world, but to save it” [John 12:47].
I am prompted to say this prayer: “Lord Jesus, I have heard your voice all my life. By your grace may I improve my ministry in your service and therein improve the lives of those about me. But since you, Lord, were identified as a “foolish fable”, in your day as well as today, I am honored to bear the same title. I am encouraged by your endless patience and love, Amen.”
The Rev. John Burkhart Ph.D, is a retired Episcopal priest and professor of psychology
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