Commandments for the Long Haul
Two days after last Sunday’s celebration of my 25 years of ministry at St. Timothy’s, the Tuesday morning Bible was studying Ephesians 6:10-20. In this closing section of the letter, Paul tells the church to put on the “whole armor of God.” His closing words assume that the church is going to be engaged in an intense battle against forces that will do their best to destroy the church’s mission. Much of our conversation focused on how often the church has lost its way throughout history, often doing great harm.
As I pondered the future ministry of St. Timothy’s, I was reminded of Kyle Childress, who has been the pastor of a Baptist church in Nacagdoches, Texas for 27 years. Reflecting on his long-term pastorate, he came up with 10 Commandments for keeping the church on track over the long haul. All 10 are important, but two struck me as particularly important today:
Think little. In a world consumed with “bigness,” Jesus did lots of little things, like breaking bread, listening to children, healing persons and talking about yeast and mustard seeds. His disciples worked little jobs and came from small towns. While the Powerful were obsessed with Rome, the salvation of the world comes through Jesus, who was born in a stable on the other side of the tracks in a tiny town. The testimony of the faithful across the centuries is that God works through the little, the local, the ignored and the marginalized.
Embrace weakness. Related to the above, we learn to trust the power of weakness and to see through the weakness of power. There are some things we cannot do if we are faithful to the suffering servanthood of Jesus. Power constricts us from being like Jesus. Furthermore, when things are going well, we are careful and humble and remember that what looks like good news to the powerful is most likely not God’s good news in Christ. At the same time, we do not give in to despair when things go badly because we know God is still at work and the end is not yet.
When Jesus spent 40 days in the wilderness, the devil tempted him with power— economic, political and religious. He refused all three. When we stay focused on the value of the little stuff and trust that our weakness reveals a different sort of power, we resist the destructive forces that see small acts of kindness as a waste of time, and weakness as very ineffective and inefficient.
God gave the Israelites the 10 commandments so that they would retain their peculiar identity over the long haul. The Church today needs to be aware of the commandments that will keep it from losing its peculiar character in a culture that wants to co-opt it for its own ends.