Fellow Passengers: This week’s Pastoral Passage* (2 Corinthians 2) transports me to 1987 Louisville, where Kim and I were listening to a new cassette of a great bluegrass band we had just discovered, Hot Rize. It was a strange experience listening to Tim O’Brien and Nick Forster sing through our car tape player, as they had some lyrics that hit too close to home for us and for many of our friends. Don’t make me believe all the stories I’ve heard. I want so to prove them all wrong. It would cause me to grieve to believe one word. The stories we had heard, along with many of our seminary friends, was about the fall from grace of a beloved pastor who had been very influential to many in their discerning the call to ministry. This pastor had, as we say, gone the way of all flesh, betraying the trust of spouse and congregation in an adulterous affair with another church staff member. Don’t make me believe. . .
The sadness and grief and anger were difficult to process, and so a group of us went to our most trusted source for matters such as this, our pastoral care professor, Wayne Oates. I still remember what a grace gift he was in situations like that, listening and helping us reflect and connect our stories to the biblical story. After listening intently to many stories of how people had so looked up to this man as a model for ministry, and how incensed folks were at hearing the devastating news, Wayne Oates referenced Paul’s relationship with the Corinthian church, a relationship filled with injury and grief and brokenness, and yet bathed in love and mercy and pointing to a pathway to forgiveness. He talked about how situations like this really stink, and how the church is often put in the position of the circus worker who has to follow the elephants around. We become the pooper scoopers, he said. It’s a smelly job. And then he encouraged us to remember our calling, to be the aroma of Christ, the aroma of life, in the way we treated one another and in the way we treated fallen brothers and sisters. He reminded us, as Paul did the Corinthian church, that we will at times face our own temptations to become peddlers of the gospel, to use the gifts we have been given for our own gain, whether it be money or sex or fame or status or power. We have to always be on guard not to adulterate the word, the logos, not to corrupt the Way of life Jesus has given us by mixing it in with our ego needs or the ego needs of our world. We are not peddlers.
Wayne Oates has long gone to meet his reward, but I still have his words and his disposition deeply imprinted on my heart and mind. And while I don’t listen to music on cassettes anymore, I do have Hot Rize on my ITunes. I think about the way Jesus called us to be the hot rize, the secret ingredient leavening agent, for the world, causing grace and mercy and love to rise in an aromatic bread of life. The crucified Christ clears the air of the stench of world power and inflated egos. And he calls us to be the aroma of life. We move from being incensed at the foolish corruptions of the Way, to being the incense of the Way, wafting through the air, accompanied by chants of grace. One of our chants could be from the title track of that 1987 Hot Rize project, Untold Stories – let’s wash away the troubles keeping us apart, tell those untold stories, let the healing start.
How about you? Where does this Pastoral Passage take you on your journey of faith? Feel free to comment.