The past two days I’ve been hanging out with William Willimon. Okay -there were about 70 other folks as well but it seemed very personal. I attended a Minister’s Retreat sponsored by the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship of Missouri which I am proud to connect myself wth. The guest presentor this year was William Willimon, the Bishop of The United Methodist Church, leading the 157,000 Methodists and 792 pastors in North Alabama. For 20 years, he was Dean of the Chapel and Professor of Christian Ministry at Duke University. He is also the author of several books.
Willimon was an outstanding and provocative speaker. I laughed, I cringed, I laughed, I mulled, I laughed. Considered irreverent by many, I’m sure, he was down-right funny to most of us attending. I must admit it is wonderfully refreshing to have someone say what you wish you had the guts to say on any given day in ministry.
His focus was on how we, as pastors, provide pastoral care in the name of Jesus with the emphasis on "the name of Jesus". Because with all of its challenges, pastoral care is not too terribly difficult. Maybe draining but many in ministry feel inclined to the care part of the vocation and were attracted by that aspect of ministry. (I’m not one of those individuals.) The challenging part truly is the "in the name of Jesus". Because Jesus had some uncomfortable, non-pc, counter-culture things to say. Then we went through some great discussions the remainder of our time together remembering who Jesus really is and what Jesus really requires and teaches. I must admit that it was so pleasing to me to be reminded of the strength and expectations of Jesus. There is a tendency to "wimpify" Christ in are efforts to seek relationship with Christ but that really doesn’t satisfy me. This Christ that we remembered the past two days sits better with me in regard to what I think is truth yet I’m also fully aware that this Christ is uncomfortable and demanding and expecting much of those of us who claim Him as Lord.
It truly resonates with me because this is the part of the call that I heard from God and have known in the depths of my soul that God has commanded me to be a part. As pastor, I am an announcer. I announce to others the word of the Lord. "Thus saith the Lord God … ". We aren’t called to make faith comfortable for ourselves or for anyone. Comfort, conformity and political correctness should not be our objectives and they shouldn’t even be unintentional results. If they are, then we really aren’t announcing the word of the Lord. When was Jesus’s message ever comforting, conforming and political correct? Some of you might say, "Okay – maybe not conforming or political correct, but Jesus was definitely comforting." Well, that depends on what comfort looks like to you. Bring your burdens to Jesus and He will give you rest? Comforting, yes. Pray to Him and he will give you success, affluence, a modest life with no pain and injustice? Not likely.
There has been a serious restructuring of Christ into the image we want him to be but it is a seriously false idol – this god we’ve created in our likeness rather than the other way around. We need to reclaim the Christ who turned the world upside down; who questioned the established beliefs; who reversed the social order; who made the last first and the first last; who started a revolution with twelve nobodies; who dined with those left out in the cold; who befriended the friendless; who refused to play the game; who said – get over yourself and love your neighbor.
Nobody says it finer than C.S. Lewis in his classic The Chronicles of Narnia.
"Is — is he a man?" asked Lucy. "Aslan a man!" said Mr. Beaver sternly. "Certainly not. I tell you he is the King of wood and the son of the great Emperor-Beyond-the-Sea. Don’t you know who is the King of the Beasts? Aslan is a lion — the Lion, the great Lion." "Ooh," said Susan, "I thought he was a man. Is he — quite safe? I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion." "That you will, dearie, and make no mistake," said Mrs. Beaver, "if there’s anyone who can appear before Aslan without their knees knocking, they’re either braver than most or else silly." "Then he isn’t safe?" said Lucy. "Safe?" said Mr. Beaver, "don’t you hear what Mrs. Beaver tells you? Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you."
Safe? Of course He isn’t safe. But He is good.
What are your thoughts about this? Do you see a conflicting image of the Christ of Scripture and the Christ portrayed in Christian music, literature, sermons, and culture of today? How do we journey through this as ministers?