The pastor: An impossible figure?

“Good Shepherd” (Vincent van Gogh)

Hermann Dietzfelbinger writes: “I was a pastor, ministering in a hospital. A patient said to me, “If you were a ditch digger, you’d have a more useful calling then you have now.” That was a long time ago, but I have not forgotten it. I thought so myself many a time as I watched the nurses performing their tasks which also needed and desired by the sick, and surgeons and doctors performing the most wonderful operations – while I stood there making miserable attempts at partial conversation. If I will only a ditchdigger! But a pastor? An impossible figure! impossible before God, the world, and even myself. For there is a tremendous gap between what is required of the pastor in his ministry and his authority and power. Does he have any authority at all? …

The pastor’s authority is based solely upon the fact that Jesus Christ ministers through him through the forgiveness of sins.

What do I have to do in my ministry? I have to preach, and we say: Preaching is God´s word. And yet I know how these sermons of mine were produced. Often, it is true, with prayer and fear and trembling; but also by dint of coffee and tobacco, sometimes in a burst of effort , very sketchily and superficially, because I had seemingly more important things to do. Strictly speaking, an impossible thing – unless Jesus Christ himself is not ashamed to accept this preaching.

In confession I have to say: Thy sins are forgiven. But I myself am a sinful man. And when I consider before God all the clumsy blunders I’ve committed and all that I have neglected, precisely in this area of confession and the forgiveness of sins, I begin to understand the ancient saying that it is a miracle if a minister be saved.

The minister stands at an open grave and utters the words of Jesus Christ: “I am the resurrection and the life; he that believed in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live.” But an earnest minister said to me, “Hardly ever, when I have spoken those words in that situation, have I even approached the reality of death around me and within myself.”

In a discussion among young people the question was asked, what did they expect of a pastor? One of them replied, “He himself must be convinced of what he says.“ And all the rest agreed. They perhaps did not know what they were saying. For who of us always believes? And who of us can guarantee our faith for evening hour? “I have prayer for thee, that Thy faith fail not“- that is what sustains us.

When we consider the church and its existence, we can only describe it as God´s great venture among us men, the venture of a divine diakonia with us, that does not balk at the utmost depths. The Church of Jesus Christ and its history, Calvin once said, is nothing but a chain of resurrections from the dead. It is also a passion history of the incarnate Son of God.   In everything that is taught and believed, loved and suffered, planned and thought in this church, Jesus Christ is venturing himself, daily repeating the washing of the feet of this church which have daily been soiled on its journey. And he must follow up everything that men do in this church, even the most shining deeds, and in some way set them straight and make something good out of them. But just because such a church rarely does exist, a church that lives by this ministry of Jesus Christ, the minister in his ministry is not merely an impossible figure, but the necessary representative, as long as God keeps his church among men.” Thus far HD – copied from Dobberstein´s Anthology “Mondays” Pg. 228-230.

Preach you the word and plant it home
to those who like or like it not.
The word that shall endure and stand
when flowers and mortals are forgot.

We know how hard, O Lord, the task
your servant bade us undertake:
to preach your word and never ask
what prideful profit it may make.

The sower sows his reckless love
scatters abroad the goodly seed,
intent alone that all may have
the wholesome loaves that all men need.

Though some be snatched and some be scorched
and some be choked and matted flat,
the sower sows; his heart cries out,
“Oh, what of that, and what of that?”

Preach you the word and plant it home
and never faint; the Harvest Lord
who gave the sower seed to sow
will watch and tend his planted word.

Martin H. Franzmann (1907-1976)


About Wilhelm Weber

Pastor at the Old Latin School in the Lutherstadt Wittenberg
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