The years of our life are seventy, or even by reason of strength eighty;
So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom.
[Psalm 90:10a, 12 ESV]
“What gives you hope?” the young pastor asked.
Without hesitating, I shot back, “You! And young pastors like you.”
I was speaking to a group of our rostered ministers at one of our annual conference gatherings, and as our question-and-answer session wound down, I was extremely thankful for the unsolicited opportunity to expound on one of the priorities of my office.
I give thanks to God daily for the half dozen pastors we have ordained and those who are otherwise new to our synod since I was elected to this office. I may be putting pressure on them by stating that I am pinning my hopes on them to change the culture of our synod and the attitudes of our leaders.
I don’t think I’m being unrealistic. We serve a God who is so amazing, so loving, so lavish in abundance; yet a week doesn’t go by in which I am not challenged by congregations and individuals alike, who are unwilling or unable to believe that.
We tend to get beaten down by the difficult realities of life, by the aging and apparent decline of our parishes, to the point that we fail to see the joy of the possibilities that surround us.
Yet when I am around the newer pastors, I see gleams of hope and opportunity to strengthen the mission and ministry of that down-in-the-dumps mindset that has taken hold of a number of those among us called to lead God’s people and “proclaim the mighty acts of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.” [1 Peter 2:9b]
In the past month, I have visited two seminaries and one of our Lutheran universities. I have come away from those visits buoyed by the enthusiasm and optimism of the students I’ve encountered there. I am still inspired by the fervor of the ELCA Youth Gathering in Detroit in 2015. Although that seems like an eternity ago, it fueled my passion for the newness and regeneration that these youngsters can bring. I look to the future with confidence and anticipation, despite the gloom that permeates the atmosphere of our church body.
As I enter the 73rd year of my life, one would think that I would consider slowing down, taking it easy, and settling for whatever the prevailing position may be. I emphatically reject that. I feel called to be in a constant state of reform. Perhaps it’s because I was born on Reformation Day.
I surprise myself when I ponder the fact that I’ve lived this long. The years have truly flown. I don’t know what 72 is supposed to feel like. There are days when I feel spry as a puppy and other mornings when I wake up and I feel every bit as ancient as the pyramids – the soreness, the slowness, the achy creakiness.
People my age are supposed to be retired, enjoying the so-called “Golden Years” on the golf course (even though I don’t golf), going on cruises, sitting on the back-porch sipping coffee and reading.
But I sense that God did not call me to this office at an advanced age to display “a spirit of cowardice, but rather a spirit of power and of love and of self-discipline.” [2 Timothy 1:7]
That is why I maintain the schedule that I do.
God has been good to me. As long as God gives me breath, and with God’s help and guidance, I will serve in this office with passion and purpose, with joy and exuberance, with obedience and gratitude for all the blessings that I have received.
And I pray:
Lord, sustain us, your servants, with the gift of your Holy Spirit: the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord, the spirit of joy in your presence, both now and forever. Amen.