Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Lenten Reflections on Prayer and Ministry

Two great readings this week from Henri Nouwen in A Guide to Prayer, week 18 (leading up to the Third Sunday in Lent):

“Listen, O Lord, to my prayers. Listen to my desire to be with you, to dwell in your house, and to let my whole being be filled with your presence. But none of this is possible without you. When you are not the one who fills me, I am soon filled with endless thoughts and concerns that divide me and tear me away from you. Even thoughts about you, good spiritual thoughts, can be little more than distractions when you are not their author.

O Lord, thinking about you, being fascinated with theological ideas and discussions, being excited about histories of Christian spirituality and stimulated by thoughts and ideas about prayer and meditation, all of this can be as much an expression of greed as the unruly desire for food, possessions, or power.

Every day I see again that only you can teach me to pray, only you can set my heart at rest, only you can let me dwell in your presence. No book, no idea, no concept or theory will ever bring me close to you unless you yourself are the one who lets these instruments become the way to you.

But Lord, let me at least remain open to your initiative; let me wait patiently and attentively for that hour when you will come and break through all the walls I have erected. Teach me, O Lord, to pray. Amen.”

~ from A Cry for Mercy, Henri J. M. Nouwen

“From all I have said about the minister as a sustaining reminder, it becomes clear that a certain unavailability is essential for the spiritual life of the minister. I am not trying to build a religious argument for a game of golf, a trip to a conference, a cruise to the Caribbean, or a sabbatical. These arguments have been made and they all strike me as quite unconvincing in the midst of our suffering world. No, I would like to make a plea for prayer as the creative way of being unavailable.

How would it sound when the question, “Can I speak to the minister?” is not answered by “I am sorry, he has someone in his office” but by “I am sorry, he is praying.” When someone says, “The minister is unavailable because this is his day of solitude, this is his day in the hermitage, this is his desert day,” could that not be a consoling ministry? What it says is that the minister is unavailable to me, not because he is more available to others, but because he is with God, and God alone – the God who is our God.”

~ from The Living Reminder, Henri J. M. Nouwen

Thursday, March 05, 2009

A Pastor's Responsibility to Prepare

Twice yesterday, I came across accounts of pastors administering the sacraments. Each pastor seemed to have a different approach to his responsibility to prepare the one receiving the sacrament to receive the sacrament. Consider these two scenarios.

1) A pastor has a young college student attending his church. That college student is a self-proclaimed atheist. The student has been in attendance at several communion services, but has never received because of his atheism. This particular service, however, the student came to the altar to receive communion. Before serving him, the pastor asked him a question, "Has something about your atheism changed?" The student convincingly answered affirmatively and for the first time received the sacrament as a follower of Christ. Later the pastor and the student got together to discuss this perceived change.

2) A pastor has felt the need to encourage his people to experience the sacrament of baptism. So he prepares a beautiful worship service that will conclude with a baptism service. He includes videos of people talking about baptism and preaches a sermon discussing the sacrament. At the close of the sermon, instead of the traditional "altar call," there is a baptism call. Many people stood up, came forward, and right there and then got baptized.

These two pastors seem to take very different approaches to "preparing" their people to rightfully receive the sacraments. So my question is this: (1) What is a pastor's responsibility to the church and to the people to prepare candidates for receiving the sacraments' (2) What do you do to prepare your parishioners or how does your pastor prepare you/your congregation to receive the sacraments?