THE PASTOR’S PAGE – September
As the children head back to school, I have to admit that I did not keep up with my summer reading assignment. In many years, I have read a book in the summertime that combined fiction and faith. I wanted to read something that delighted my soul as much as it illumined it.
Just since coming to Ohio, I have read Marilynne Robinson’s Gilead, Elie Wiesel’s The Night Trilogy: Night-Dawn-Day, Flannery O’Connor’s Wise Blood, and Shusaku Endo’s Silence. I have always enjoyed these reads however long it might take me to complete. Some people would notice the beat up edges to the pages of my books or catch me trying to read a page or two at a time between other activities.
Somehow, I would find the time to finish the book I started. This year, I did not even start. Perhaps, it was because of the theology book I’m still poring over. Perhaps, it was the long trip in the middle of my summer. Perhaps, it was just laziness. I have a lot of excuses,but not a single good reason for not taking the time to read a good book this summer.
I say all this to encourage you to pick up and read a good book. Hopefully, I’ve given you some good suggestions above. I’d encourage you to read the book for the sheer joy of doing so. May- be, you would like to get a group together here at the church to read and discuss a book.
I am sure we could create a great list from which to choose. Another great book that I read recently is entitled Godric by Frederick Buechner. I have heard a lot about Mr. Buechner through the years, but had never read any of his books. The most I knew about him was through the title of an album by Daniel Amos: Mr. Buechner’s Dream.
One summer, I picked up Godric and decided that would be my read for the next few months. I am so glad did. I never would have thought that the life of a Christian hermit who lived in the 11th and 12th centuries could be so riveting.
Søren Kierkegaard once wrote, “Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived for-wards.” The novel Godric plays with this theme. I hope I’m not giving too much away, but the story is told from the vantage point of Godric as he is living his un- redeemed life in the past. He was a pirate and a many of many carnal desires.
Along side those passages of the past are scenes of Godric living the life of a pious ascetic whose devotion to God is venerated by his contemporaries. The novel unfolds jostling the reader between two times and two states of the same man. There is the sinner on his way to redemption, and then there is the reluctant saint, who, more than regret- ting his past, is embarrassed by all the accolades that are cast his way as he knows he is inwardly still a sinner—the old man has not completely died within him (see Romans 6:6).
One of the great things about a good story is that it teaches us something about ourselves. Godric cap- tures the human condition in such a telling and pro- found way. A story that takes place nearly a mil- lennium ago and was written nearly forty years ago speaks freshly to this day.
How many Christians today are hindered by thoughts of what they have done in their past?How many of our lives mirror Godric’s? Towards the end of the story, Godric cries out to God. His prayer could be a prayer of many of us: “Dear Lord, strew herbs upon my hermit’s dreams to make them sweet. Have daylight mercy on my midnight soul.”
Here is a man esteemed for his faith. He is known for the outward fruit of that inward faith. Yet, he has this insecurity about him. There exists in him a re- luctance to fully accept the forgiveness that is his through the shed blood of Christ. How many of us fully accept our forgiveness? How many of us feel as though grace alone is sufficient to wash us clean?
I don’t think this was new to Godric. Read the scripture passages in the insets on this page and the previous one. How often does Paul come back to the notion of crucifying the old man? We confess that when we are baptized the old self dies— drowned in the waters. What arises from beneath those waters is the new self enlivened by the Holy Spirit.
We never confess that simply because we have accepted the gift of new life that we are then meant to be sinless beings. And that’s our struggle. As Romans 7:19 puts it: “ For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing.” If we do not change now, we then begin to wonder if we ever could. Could God ever love a sinner such as I? How could Christ die for someone like me? If I am truly saved, why do I not live a better life for Jesus? If I loved Jesus and am led by the Holy Spirit, wouldn’t I flee from sin more readily?
This is our battle. It is continuous; it is fierce; it is relentless. Yet, we need to continue to fight the good fight. The victory itself is already won. Christ paid the price for our freedom. Still, we are called to continually choose to daily pick up our cross and follow Him (Luke 9:23).
In doing so, we are NOT earning our sal- vation. We are, however, choosing to live for Christ. In doing so, we affirm the work of Christ and faith given to us through His Word. We also are choosing to faithfully serve as He calls us to do and to refuse to wallow in our sin. Christ beckons us to come forth and live the abundant life (John 10:10b).
May our faith be greater than our doubts or fears. May it be said of us as it was for Godric at the end of his life: “When he was assailed by doubts and fears and temptations, he was ever strong in Christ.”
In Christian love,