We have this treasure in clay jars, so that it may be made clear...
Christian ministry is an extraordinary power: the power to give and enhance divine life. It must be “made clear that this power belongs to God and does not come from us.” What makes that clear?
The answer lies in the principle, “The absence of the human reveals the presence of the divine.” The absence of a human father in the virginity of Mary revealed that the Father of Jesus was God. The absence of human resources when Jesus sent his disciples out on mission revealed that they were relying on God. The absence of any human explanation for the radical lifestyle Christians choose to live bears witness to the life of the risen Jesus in them.
The principal is not absolute. In Jesus God became human. In us, God gives grace through human words and actions. In the works of ministry we have to do the best human job we can. But we “always carry in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be made visible in our bodies.” How do we do that?
The death of Jesus was surrender to the Father. In the garden he prayed, “Father… remove this chalice from me: but yet not my will, but yours be done” (Luke 22:42). Ministry is most frequently rewarding, but it is most unambiguously ministry when it is crucifying.
The death of Jesus was an act of love. Minstry iis love, or it is not a ministry. Love has been defined as wanting others “to be and be all that they can be.” Ministers do not close doors; they open them. If they seem to close a door, it is only to open another that leads to greater life. This must be made evident.
“We are always being given up to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus may be made visible in our mortal flesh.” Ministry is dying to self and self-seeking. We may not be aware that the most common way to do this is through self expression.
To give human, physical expression to our faith, to the divine hope we have for others and for the world, and to the love we have for God and those around us, is a true dying to self. Self revelation makes us vulnerable. We are afraid of it.
We are afraid to sing in church. Afraid to wear a cross or make the Sign of the Cross in public. Afraid to say, “God bless you,” or “I will pray for you.” Afraid to give compliments. Afraid to walk away from gossip. Afraid to show—gently—that bad language offends us. Afraid to bow our heads every time someone speaks the name of God disrespectfully. Afraid to invite people to pray with us, to come to church with us, to read and study the Scripture with us. Afraid to speak out—peacefully and non-judgmentally—in defense of human and Christian values. Afraid to speak in defense of minorities or others being criticized. Afraid not to go along with the policies and practices of our peer group or coworkers.
“Perfect love casts out fear” (1John 4:18). So does ministry.
Meditation: Count the ways you give visible expression to your faith on an ordinary day.