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Romans 12:9-13

Amateur Pastors

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Scripture Reading: Romans 12:9-13 (NIV)

Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. 10 Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves. 11 Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. 12 Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. 13 Share with the Lord's people who are in need. Practice hospitality.

 

Angel Gabriel, who are you staring at? You look worried.
          Hello, Angel Michael. Worried? No .. I’m just … wondering.

Wondering what?
          Wondering about those 9 pastors over there.

Oh, I see them. They look just like angels, so smart in their flowing black robes. I wish we had black wings, Gabriel.
          Black? Why black? We’re angels in white, not Men In Black.

But black looks smart and dignified, just like them.
          Yes, they do look so smart, and … well, so professional.

Yes, indeed. In fact, Gabriel, that’s what’s happening down there, isn’t it? They are being inducted into a professional guild of pastors and clergy.
          Yes, Michael, and that’s exactly what I was wondering about.

You think it’s a bad thing, Gabriel?
          No, it’s a good thing … but it can become a bad thing.

Really? How so, Gabriel?

Well, just the other Sunday, I heard a human guest speaker describe how his organisation is involved in a ministry that brings food and blankets to those who have no bed to sleep on at night. A ministry to the homeless in Singapore.

That’s a great example of what the Bible says in verse 13 of Romans 12. “Practice hospitality.”
          Michael, what Bible translation are you using?

It’s called the NIV. But why? What’s wrong?

   Well, it’s not wrong, but by using the word “practice”, a Greek pun is lost in the    
   translation.

A pun? What’s a pun?

Your English is good, Michael. Let me show you some English puns.

    The bandage was wound around the wound.

They were too close to the door to close it.

It took a few minutes to amend the minutes of the meeting.
Do you notice anything common in these examples, Michael?

Oh Gabriel! Please don’t subject me to this subject. I object to the object of your teaching!

Very, very good, Michael! So you do know how in every language, some words are
spelt the same and look exactly the same but can mean different things. And that's 
what we have here with the Greek word in verse 13.

How so, Gabriel?

Well, the Greek word can mean to “pursue” something for good. Like here: to pursue hospitality, pursue love for strangers. But the same word can also mean to pursue to do something bad. Look at the very next verse – verse 14. To persecute. It is exactly the same Greek word used in both verses 13 and 14. Bless those who pursue you in a bad way, or persecute you. Do you get Paul’s powerful pun?

It still sounds Greek to me!

Paul doesn’t just say “Practice hospitality.” He says, “Pursue hospitality.” Pursue love. Even if someone persecutes you - pursues you with bad intent - you can bless them by pursuing them with hospitality and love.

What? Extend love to persecutors?? That’s a very strange – almost unreasonable kind of love.

Yes, it is. Like God’s love which compels us to Love without Reason”.

Gabriel, are you starting to sing?

Oops, sorry. That’s another TRACk!! Let me get back OnTRACk.

What were you talking about, Gabriel?

I was talking about this guest speaker who pursues loving hospitality to the homeless, to strangers without beds or blankets.

Ah yes, that is loving hospitality.

Yes, but here is what got me wondering about these nine professional pastors. The guest speaker was complimenting a senior pastor for joining his group one night to give out the blankets and food to the homeless. He said he was so humbled and happily surprised that a senior pastor would have time to join them in extending loving hospitality to the homeless.

But Gabriel, that’s a very good thing the senior pastor did, isn’t it?

It is very good, but it made me wonder … why would this guest speaker be so surprised that a senior pastor should have time to “pursue hospitality” through such acts of loving kindness? Has his experience of most other professional senior pastors been that pastors are just too busy with important administrative duties and board meetings that they have no time to pursue loving acts of hospitality to people? Does this guest speaker think that professional pastors are people who have time only to preach about love but no time to actually practice it, let alone pursue it? That can’t be right!

But Gabriel, are you saying that proper administration and committee meetings are unimportant?

No, Michael, of course not! Proper administration and governance are very important, and pastors cannot neglect it. But this is surely not their primary calling. Surely the whole point of being called to the professional vocation of a pastor is that you now have more time to show God’s pastoral love to people. Not less, but more time!! More time to – as verse 10 puts it –to be devoted to one another in love. More time – as verse 12 puts it – more time to be faithful in taking time to pray for people. There must be something very wrong if a person – on becoming a professional pastor – now finds she has less time than before to pray and extend God’s love to people!!

That would be very odd, Gabriel. But you know, it’s a problem that is not confined to professional pastors. I remember how one up and coming golf player fell into the same trap. She had done so well as an amateur, and even won a couple of tournaments playing against the professionals. But then she turned professional, and for the first 2 years of her professional career, her game was not as sharp and as good as when she was an amateur!

Wow! What happened to her, Mike?

As soon as she turned pro, she had professional sponsorship deals that required her to do commercials, appear at sponsors’ events, photo shoots and interviews. All this brought her a steady salary, but it also took away time for her to practice. And it affected her ability to play. Turning professional made her become better at photo shoots and interviews, but less good at playing the game of golf.

I hope that will not happen to these professionally accredited pastors. It would be sad if they spent more time attending ceremonial events and less time listening to people and praying with them. It would be very sad if they became more professional in saying grace before dinner functions, but not so good in actually practising hospitality – making time to give out blankets and food to people who have no home to welcome them. I hope that if that same guest speaker was invited to the Methodist churches where these professional pastors were appointed, he would soon see that every one of them made time to to do things like speaking with the homeless, visiting in hospitals and praying with people. I hope that he would see that these professional Methodist pastors looked - and lived - like the kind of loving, welcoming persons described in Romans 12:9-13. People who not only profess love, but pursue it.

Gabriel?
        Yes, Michael?

Did you say they are being ordained as Methodist pastors?
          Yes, I did.

What does Methodist mean, Gabriel?

         That’s a good question, Michael, but there isn’t time tonight to discuss this. Methodists are pretty methodical about keeping minutes and staying on time.

But can’t you tell me at least something tonight about being Methodist?

         Actually, Mikey, I’ve already mentioned one thing which is supposed to be characteristic of Methodist DNA.

You have?

         I have.

What is it?

Methodists not only practise hospitality, they pursue it. They don’t just profess love. They pursue it. John Wesley – you know who John Wesley is, don’t you?

Err … is he the handsome one down there?

No, Michael. John Wesley is the founder of Methodism. And Wesley was methodical in making time to vist and pray with people, to speak with prisoners and to do “acts of mercy” or kindness. He not only practised hospitality – he pursued it.

And that’s one characteristic about being Methodist?

         It should be.

Can you give me a second?

         Why? Where are you going?

No, I mean can you give me a second characteristic of Methodists?

Sure, I’ll give you a second, if you have a second!

Enough with the puns already!

Alright. Here’s a second: Methodists work hard to be amateurs.

Amateurs? That’s not good.

         No, Michael. It is very good.

Why?

Because the old meaning of the word “amateur” is not something inferior in quality. No. To be an amateur was to be a lover. To be someone who did something out of love unlike a professional who did sport for financial benefit. A professional works for pay. An amateur works for love of the sport or work. And God wants pastors who work not for the money, but for love – God’s love for them, and their love for God.

 

Look at verse 11, Michael.

You mean verse 11 in the same passage Romans 12?

         That’s right. Be an angel, mate - read it out for us.

Ok, verse 11. “Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord.”
         Is that still your NIV translation?

Yes, it is. What’s wrong with it this time?
         Not wrong, but something’s been lost again in translation.

What did it lose?

It lost the idea of working hard. NIV translates: “Never be lacking in zeal.”  But the Greek does not strictly mean “Never be lacking”. It means “Never be lazy.”

Never be lazy? As in “always work hard”?
          Yes, always work hard. Do not be lazy, or “slothful” as the ESV translates.

So why didn’t the NIV translate it as “Do not be lazy or slothful in zeal”?

I’m not sure, Michael. Maybe NIV thinks that zeal or spiritual fervour is not something that one can be lazy at. You can lose your zeal, or lack zeal, but you can’t be lazy about it.

You mean, like one either has zeal or doesn’t have zeal, and it isn’t something you can work hard at having? You either have it, or you don’t?

Yes, maybe. Many people think of zeal or spiritual fervour in that way. You either have it, or you don’t. You can’t work hard to get it, and you can’t be lazy and lose it.

What about you, Gabriel? Do you agree with that understanding of zeal?

I’m not sure, Michael. You and I were created by the Almighty as angels, so I’m not sure how zeal and spiritual fervour works for those men in black.

But Gabriel, those two ladies in black look like sweet angels!

Well, Michael, they may look like angels, but I can tell you, they aren’t! They’re human, and humans often forget.

Forget what?
Forget how much God loves them.

But pastors won’t forget that. They preach it all the time.

Yes, but preaching it and really remembering it are two different things. Even pastors forget. Even pastors get tired and discouraged. They feel condemned or alone. They lose their zeal and spiritual fervour. They feel like giving up.

Is that why the apostle Paul tells them to work hard – or never be lazy at keeping their zeal and staying fervent in spirit?
          I think so, Michael.

But Gabriel, what if they have already lost that zeal? What can they do to get it back?

Good question. Let me tell you what John Wesley did. After serving years as a professional pastor in England, and then serving overseas in America, Wesley had lost his zeal. He was discouraged and felt like giving up. He had become merely professional in saying prayers, blessing the sacraments, preaching words of faith, but lacking zeal. He felt like a hypocrite, a professional, no longer a loving amateur – just as verse 9 warns. Preaching love, but wondering whether it was just like putting on a show, like a professional actor on stage. Wesley the professional pastor felt like a hypocrite, and even wondered whether he had any true faith in God’s love. Did he really love God? Did God really love him? Would God welcome him with open, loving arms?

Wow! It must be terrible to feel like that.

I’m sure it is, and I fear that even human pastors will feel that sometimes.

So what did Wesley do?

He knew it was wrong to be a hypocrite – a professional paid like an actor on a stage. He felt like a hypocrite, and thought he should quit preaching. How can I preach faith when I am not sure if I have faith? How can I preach God’s love if I am no longer sure that God really loves me?

So did he quit?

He was about to, but his friend Peter Böhler changed his mind. Peter told him not to quit. Told him to keep on “Preaching faith until you find it, and then because you find it, you will preach faith.” So Wesley did not give up. He refused to become lazy. Instead he continued to work hard, to pursue hospitality and acts of mercy. To pursue prayer and Bible study. He kept pursuing faith till faith found him again. He kept pursuing God’s love till God’s love found him again. Till his heart was strangely warmed.

 

 

 

His heart was strangely warmed?
          Yes, strangely warmed.

With zeal?

Yes, with zeal and spiritual fervour. And this heart warming zeal and spiritual fervour has spawned generations of people who are called Methodists.

Methodists like those pastors down there?

Yes, Methodist pastors with hearts that have been strangely warmed. Pastors with zeal and spiritual fervour.

But Gabriel, they’re human pastors, right?

Yes, and human hearts strangely warmed by God’s love can cool and harden into mere professionalism.

That won’t happen to them, will it, Gabriel?
          I certainly hope not, Michael.

But what if it does, Gabriel? What if their warmed hearts begin to cool as they become increasingly professional? What should they do?

They should do what Böhlertold Wesley to do, and what the apostle Paul tells humans to do.

Work hard for zeal?

Yes, do not be lazy or slothful, but always work hard for that spiritual zeal. Pursue hospitality till God’s hospitality welcomes you – embraces you once more. Preach faith till you find it. Preach love till it finds you. Pursue Love. Weep and cry for Love. Strive for God’s love till your heart is strangely warmed, and – as Charles Wesley puts it so movingly  – strive till you know …

 

’Tis Love! ’tis Love! Thou diedst for me!
I hear Thy whisper in my heart;

The morning breaks, the shadows flee,
Pure, universal love Thou art;

To me, to all, Thy mercies move;
Thy nature and Thy Name is Love.

In vain I have not wept and strove;
Your nature and Your Name is Love.

                                                                UMH 387 Come, Thou traveller unknown

Michael, Methodist pastors don’t just preach hospitality, they pursue it. They aren’t just professionals, they work hard always to remain amateurs – in love with a Love that will never let them go. 

Gabriel, let’s pray that these 9 pastors will remain amateur Methodists for life.

ON TRAC Together for God’s Word, Worship, Welcome, Witness and Wonder

By Rev Dr Gordon Wong

TRAC President