Thursday, April 17, 2008

El Buen Pastor

I confess I took a little trip to the Bahamas during my Pastor's sermon last week. I'm usually really good about listening to his words, but I allowed myself to get distracted by a couple of things.

I DO remember that he was talking about shepherds. He made the point that the word "pastor" means shepherd. I also remember him saying something about how shepherds sometimes have to push their sheep into the pasture to graze, because sheep are both incredibly timid and incredibly dense.

This discussion of the word "pastor" got me thinking about Mexico, specifically the church in Matamoros that our church has sent a work team to for the past 3 summers. The name of the church where we stayed was "El Buen Pastor" ... the good shepherd. I know the reference is to Jesus Christ, but for pastors everywhere, I think it's a fitting courtesy title.

I noticed from our very first trip down to Mexico that the pastors are treated with great reverence. No one would ever think of making any decision about the church without first consulting the pastor. The women who cooked our breakfasts and lunches everyday, they also always made a plate for the pastor. And always, the ministers were addressed with respect as "Pastor." I never even heard first names, simply "Pastor."

Two ministers ago, our minister's name was Bill. He referred to himself as Brother Bill, but I couldn't bring myself to address him so casually. I always called him Pastor Bill; even when we were talking privately. And when he left our church, I remember remarking at his farewell luncheon that to me, he would always be "Pastor Bill." Even now, thinking about Pastor Bill brings on a feeling of tender respect in my heart.

My mother in law told me once that she believed you should never speak against any pastor; anyone ordained or anointed by God. She is right, whether a pastor is truly worthy of this sanctioning or not. Yet sometimes we allow ourselves to get casual enough in our thinking that we criticize and grumble about these men and women who have turned away from careers in corporate America, academia and the like and have embraced what surely must feel like a thankless job at times.

I remember my confusion over the 23rd Psalm as a child. "The Lord is my shepherd. I shall not want...." When I was little, this psalm puzzled me. Why would David be saying that he doesn't want the Lord to be his shepherd? Could it be that rejecting the pastor is the equivalent of rejecting God? Hmmm ... I'm not sure if I'm ready to commit to that. After all, there are a few pastors out there who ... ummm ... may be confused about God's calling on their life. (Wait, didn't I just say we're not supposed to speak against pastors??)

But back to El Buen Pastor. OK, no pressure to all you pastors out there, but do you ever get tired of being El Buen Pastor? Wouldn't you just like to be ... I don't know, an average person for a change? Wouldn't you like to escape from the fish bowl and feel like you have a right to be human -- lose your temper, gossip, curse, tell someone to shut up, have a drink at the end of the day?

My current pastor has no airs about him. I believe he would be the first to insist that he is just like you or I. That makes me respect him all the more. I remember he commented once that our denomination views the pastor as the chief sinner, which is why he always takes communion first (these are his words, not mine). At first, we might feel aghast at the thought that our pastor is the chief sinner among us. "Boy did he have me fooled!" After all, if HE isn't perfect, what hope is there for the rest of us? Doesn't he have the main line to God? Shouldn't he be trying just a little bit harder? Don't you have to pass some kind of on-to-perfection litmus test before being ordained?

On the other hand, perhaps understanding your human frailty in this manner opens you up more to the process of perfection. If you know exactly where you're at, you know what you still lack and where you need God's intervention and grace.

El Buen Pastor -- a heavy yet fitting mantle.

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