In the 17th century, pastor and poet George Herbert wrote the book The Country Parson, one of the first manuals for pastors written in English. He starts his book by acknowledging that he feels inadequate:
the way to please [God], is to feed my Flock diligently and faithfully, since our Savior has made that the [focus] of a Pastor’s love, I have resolved to set down the Form and Character of a true Pastor, that I may have a Mark to aim at: which also I will set as high as I can, since he shoots higher that threatens the Moon, then he that aims at a Tree.
Basically: “Aim for the Moon, and when you miss, you’ll land among the stars.” In other words, George Herbert knew he couldn’t do it. He knew he would fail, but he hoped if he aimed high, at least he would get some things right. The problem is, it doesn’t work like that when your standard is Jesus himself.
The Highest of All Standards
Be like Jesus? Jesus was present. Jesus taught good news of the kingdom. Jesus healed. He had compassion – that was his reaction to hatred, ignorance, or sin. Not the cynicism or condemnation that we are so drawn to. Jesus had authority, and he shared it with his disciples. We have a tough time sharing much of anything. He humbled himself. He died for the people. Let’s circle back to that last one.
If you read through the New Testament, it only continues to be challenging. The Apostle Peter tells us in his first Epistle that we are not to be domineering, but to lead by example. The Apostles John tells us that just as Jesus laid down his life for his own, we are called to lay down our own lives for his sheep. There is that laying down our lives thing again.
The Apostle Paul sums it up this way, “For we preach not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake.” We make it about us, more than we admit.
Lord, its so hard to be humble. And I know I haven’t even begun to understand what it means to lay down my life. And the list goes on.
Yet still we have a high calling to go out like Jesus did and be there. The more we try to do this, the more we know that it is an impossible task. We will fail. No wonder George Herbert, later in his book, despaired of his ability to be a true priest to the people.
The feast… and the way to the feast
But Herbert didn’t stop there in his despair. Contemplating the fact of his own sense of unworthiness, Herbert writes,
[The priest must] throw himself down at the throne of grace, saying, Lord, you know what you did, when you appointed [that men should serve at your altar]; therefore fulfill what you appoint; for you are not only the feast, but the way to it.
He is the feast, and he is the way to the feast.
By him, we point to him. Through him we know him. We are sustained by the very grace we preach. We are nourished by the very meal that we present.
We point to him in the preaching of the Word and in the pronouncing of the forgiveness of sins, and in the celebration of the sacraments. We point to him in our own repentance. We point to him through our own need. We point to him through our own experience of grace.
We point to him, we say “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” Because he is both the feast, and the way to the feast. If that’s the ministry of a priest, then by God’s grace, we can do that.
Yes, we will fail. We won’t reach the Moon (or the stars either, really), but that’s the point. He will do it. We don’t have to save the world, he’s already done that. It is finished. Fallen creatures like us are appointed to trust him to fulfill what he appoints. He appointed you to this, so he will fulfill it. Be at peace and point to him.