Humility, Patience, Love
I remember one pastor fresh from seminary, fresh from being ordained, asked me as we were robing up for their installation service, “Shana, when do you really know you are their pastor?”
My immediate answer to the question was, “When you have been with them in a moment when no one other than a pastor was needed and required. It could be a moment of joy or a moment of sorrow, but they needed you and you showed up with the love of God. Then they will turn to you and call you their pastor.”
This question reminds us of the question posed in the classic children’s story “The Velveteen Rabbit.”
In the story, a boy receives a stuffed rabbit toy made of velveteen material for Christmas. The more mechanical and expensive nursery toys looked down on the Velveteen Rabbit and pretended they were real.
One night the Velveteen Rabbit asked the Skin Horse, a toy which had lived in the nursery the longest, “How do toys become real?”
“Real isn’t how you are made,” said the Skin Horse.
“It’s a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but loves you, then you become Real.”
“Does it hurt?” asked the Rabbit.
“Sometimes,” said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. “When you are Real you don’t mind being hurt.”
“Does it happen all at once, like being wound up,” he asked, “or bit by bit?”
“It doesn’t happen all at once,” said the Skin Horse. “You become. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you cannot be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.”
For me, there is so much wisdom and beauty in this excerpt about the nature of genuine relationships.
There is so much wisdom and beauty in this message for us as the Church,
especially what makes us REAL authentic communities of faith.
It is not about playing church, following a pre-scripted outline of carrying out what we think we “should” do, but rather responding to each moment in our life together with the love and grace to discern, with the help of God, what is needed.
If there was only one thing I could name that the last 15 months have taught us, I would name the ways it has taught us we could not rely on doing things we used to do or moving and working independently of one another. We realized we needed each other to survive. There was a rawness and reality which emerged replacing what we “should” do with what we could do.
In this last year, especially in the most uncertain times, things got REAL. And I think the REAL purpose of being the Church was re-revealed to us. When considering such questions as “How does one live a life that most fully reflects Christ?” or “How does a faith community, a local church fully live into its purpose?”, the apostle Paul had these simple words to offer:
“Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.”—Ephesians 4:3-4
For those of you who are quick to say it’s not that simple, please believe me when I say IT IS! In my role as a conference minister, I have seen a lot, I have heard a lot, and I have experienced a lot about what happens in every local church. With the help of God’s wisdom and guidance, I have tried to help churches and pastors navigate the tumultuous waters of the frustrations, conflicts, misunderstandings, disappointments, and hurts that can arise in local churches.
Let me share with you that no one calls me to explain a conflict in their church that has arisen because the pastor was being too humble, patient, and loving with the congregation OR the congregation was being too humble, patient, and loving with the pastor and each other. Conflict does not arise when each member is making every effort to strive to build up one another in love. And believe me, no church loses members and potential new members because people could not stand how humble the people were or how much LOVE they felt from everyone.
Humility, patience, and love--Friends it IS that simple. This is why Paul, later in this passage, explains that when LOVE is expressed and spoken, the body of Christ is strengthened.
While there are so many unanswered questions about what lies ahead for the future of any church, the truth is there is only ONE common way God calls us to BE the Church together. That is to recognize, believe, and live out that there is ONE body, ONE Spirit, ONE hope to which you are called, ONE Lord, ONE faith, ONE baptism which holds you together, grows and builds up the body of Christ. This one thing is LOVE.
May you experience what it means to LOVE one another the way God LOVES YOU.
Blessings, Rev. Shana Johnson, ISC Conference Minister