“The King will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.’” (Matthew 25:40)
As long as God gives me memory, I won’t forget the celebration of Reformation 500. On Saturday, November 4, 2017, I had the joy of preaching to over 400 of my brothers and sisters in Christ from the Michigan District’s Ohio Conference. They had gathered at St. Paul, Columbus, to celebrate Reformation 500 by being fed with Word and sacrament. The next day, the privilege repeated itself. This time it was preaching to 2,200 of my brothers and sisters in Christ at the Dow Events Center in Saginaw. As we sang the hymns, the thought stole across my mind that this was a taste of joining the thunderous heavenly chorus around God’s throne singing praise for his glorious grace in Jesus.
But about twelve hours after the benediction, I found myself back in my quiet Mequon office correcting the outlines and sermons of my first-year preaching students. It was back to repeating what can become the tired mantras of a preaching professor: “May I suggest quoting your text in your sermon?” And “I hate to mention it, but I am having trouble finding the gospel in your outline.” It was a jarring paradox between an invigorating glimpse of heavenly glory and the seemingly draining routine of the earthly ordinary.
But when I get caught up in trudging Eeyore-like through the routines of life and ministry, I am a blind and ungrateful fool. As this issue of Preach the Gospel shares, there is hidden glory begging to be seen in the ordinary—if only I look with eyes of faith.
Gathering with hundreds of fellow Christians to celebrate Reformation 500 was a God-given extraordinary glimpse of glory. But how foolish of me to get so caught up waiting for the next extraordinary celebration that I forget that there are far more opportunities to glimpse glory in the ordinary of each day. It is indeed the holy ordinary!
How powerfully Jesus proclaims that reality in the “sheep and goats” portion of his end time address in Matthew 25. After comforting us with the invitation he will speak to all believers on the last day (“Come, you who are blessed by my Father…”), Jesus goes on to speak words that reveal the unseen glory of the earthly existence we live right now.
As he speaks to the sheep about the fruits that were the evidence of their faith, note well the ordinariness of the examples Jesus uses as evidence that we were his believing sheep. He does not mention anything that would make headlines in any earthly newspaper or news network website or blog post. He talks about quiet mercy extended to those in need of the necessities of food, drink, and clothing. He speaks of time devoted and care given to comfort and encourage the sick and imprisoned.
But even though he is listing such ordinary acts of compassion, Jesus still stuns us. He stuns us by speaking of all these activities as if we had done them directly for him.
And suddenly things so mundane in the world’s eyes are transformed by Jesus’s extraordinary grace into the holy ordinary. Those ordinary things glow with the holy because he has declared us righteous in him. And what we do is doubly holy because behind even the humblest brother or sister in Christ whom we serve stands the Lord himself. He receives every fruit of faith as if done directly for him.
This truth gives a glow of the holy also to what our seminary does through Grow in Grace as we seek to support and encourage WELS pastors. Our goal is not to raise pastors up in worldly great- ness and prestige, but to strengthen them and support them as they carry out the holy ordinary tasks of their God-given callings.
This is a pastoral-ministry paraphrase of what Jesus says in Matthew 25. Jesus says to pastors: “I was that troubled teen who needed an ear to listen when I had disgraced myself and my family by my sin, and you were the mouth that forgave me!” “I was terminally ill and on my death bed in the hospital, afraid and feeling all alone at the approach of that last great enemy, and you came with a smiling face to speak the gracious Word of my God whose face was even in that moment shining on me.” “I was your son or daughter or spouse whose tears you dried when life’s disappointments had come crashing down on me and you were not too busy to be a husband or father to give ear and listen as the evidence of the God who heard me too.”
Grow in Grace exists as your partner to help pastors find greater joy and delight in the holy ordinary of serving Christ as child of God and pastor, as husband and father.
That’s why Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary, through Grow in Grace, oversees a mentoring initiative (Pastor Partners) that provides trained pastors to walk side by side with newly ordained pastors for the first three years of ministry. The mentors help those young pastors to find greater joy in the holy ordinary of all their God-given callings.
It’s why we sponsor our annual Celebration of Ministry retreats for pastors and their wives each spring in San Antonio. We gather to celebrate what the world little notices or cares about: the wonderful holy ordinary things Jesus has for them to do as pastor and wife in our congregations.
It’s why we host courses on our campus and online and at satellite locations around the synod that help pastors to grow as teachers of God’s Word, as preachers of the gospel, as leaders in their congregations. For in all those pastoral tasks the world devalues, those pastors are carrying out holy ordinary tasks that make an eternal difference in our lives.
When you support the seminary with your gifts and prayers, you are taking part in just such encouragements for pastors to find what is extraordinary in the holy ordinary of their callings as children of God and pastors, husbands, and fathers. All of this may seem dull and ordinary by worldly standards.
But in God’s eyes, you are partners in what is truly extraordinary.
Prof. Richard Gurgel is the seminary’s director of Grow in Grace and teaches homiletics.