I recently gave the charge for a good friend as he was installed as a new pastor for a local congregation. Some have asked that I write it down. So, I’ve changed the name of my friend and of the congregation. But here is the gist of what I tried to say.
“As Jesus passed on from there, he saw a man named Matthew.” (Matt. 9:9)
For the Pastor
When Luke recounted this meeting between Jesus and Matthew, Luke focused on Matthew’s title and position in the community. “Jesus saw a tax collector,” Luke says.
Similarly, when Mark described this event, he focused on Matthew’s family line and relational connections. “Jesus saw Levi, Son of Alpheus,” Mark says.
But when Matthew describes the time that he and Jesus met, Matthew says something honest, humbling and freeing as he looks back on that moment. “Jesus saw a man,” Matthew tells us. “A man named Matthew.”
Dr. Freeman, my first encouragement for you on this sacred occasion is this: Long before you had the vocational title of pastor, or Reverend, or Reverend Doctor; Long before you were “in the know,” with relational connections, you were simply a man named John. Our Lord heard your prayers not because you had a title or connections, but because you were a human being, an ordinary man, with a name that was known to Him and a life that mattered to Him. You were simply a man saved by grace whom Jesus loved. You still are. Jesus sees you as a human being.
For this reason, may I mention to you a second encouragement as a freeing reminder? Take heart dear friend that you needn’t repent when you cannot be everywhere at once. Find help in the reminder that you are not meant to feel shame and regret when you cannot fix everything. Feel encouraged to know that you needn’t smite yourself and cower without confidence on those occasions in which it is obvious that you do not know everything. After all, being omnipresent, omnipotent and omniscient belongs to God. These characteristics always describe Him but they were never meant to describe you or any of us. Even the Corinthians or the Philippians had on occasion to go without Paul’s actual presence. They had to make due with a letter while he had to be somewhere else. So it is with you and with those whom you love and serve in Jesus’ name.
Some will want you to be God for them. You too might be tempted. They will applaud you when you try to be more than human and criticize you when you are nothing more. You might foolishly believe either and mistakenly pursue both. But this only reminds you why they and you both need a savior. Only Jesus can be everywhere at once for them and for you. Only Jesus can fix everything that any of us needs fixing. Only Jesus knows everything that our situations require. After all, beneath your titles and connections, you are really just a man named John. Trust that Jesus will apprentice others in how to handle their thoughts and emotions when they wish that you were more than human. Jesus will apprentice your thoughts and emotions too.
Here a third encouragement comes to mind. Consider the grace that a human being with an ordinary name can find in Jesus. Matthew, the man, the sinner, became a writer of the gospel. He became a preacher and a lover of people. Being ordinary and human never means that something good and precious cannot come from us. Quite the opposite, in Matthew’s story, we are reminded that you too, a man named John, needn’t labor in vain. What a marvelous purpose and dignity He has given you! You too by His grace can make a profound gospel difference for your ordinary neighbors in this local place.
For the Congregation
This leads us to consider those of us who are listening in. You each form the congregation of neighbors here at Grace Church that John will seek to love and do life with. May I suggest two things for you?
First, encourage John’s humanity. As a man, John is subject to the same temptations, joys and questions that any of us face in a life. He is a husband and a Dad. Each day is a mixture of storm and bloom. He will not always be at his best either through his own battles with sin or because of his having to feel and forgive those who have sinned against him. At other times, He will shine with the treasure within his clay jar, showing forth the evidences of grace and virtue that Jesus has purchased for him and worked in him. He will need the same prayers, encouragements, comforts, counsels and forgiveness that anyone else in your church family needs.
Remember, John has no superhero cape. He cannot be everywhere that you might want him to be, or to know everything when you might wish him to know it, or to fix everything the way you prefer in the timing you prioritize. Even a pastor is not Jesus and John is no exception. Like you, John is not the Christ. Like you he is a local human being. So, laugh together with him. Question with him. Cry with him. Eat with him. Pray with him. Celebrate with him. Look to Jesus with him. Seek Jesus to recover your humanity together.
Second, embrace and learn from John in his calling. As you remember John’s humanity do not forget His calling. Jesus has called John to pray with you, to look to Jesus with you, to open the Bible to you, and to walk through triumph and tragedy with you. He has gifts from God therefore that are uniquely suited to help you grow in your love for God and for your neighbors.
Moreover, John is a seasoned man and pastor. He has been a husband and a Dad and a pastor for quite a while now. He has God-learned wisdom from years of mistake-making, walking with others, traveling the country, working with churches, and taking stock of it all. When you remember that John is a human being do not forget that he nonetheless is a veteran pastor equipped by the Savior to strengthen you in your own calling and life.
With these two encouragements in mind, therefore, watch out for two temptations.
The first is that you so recognize John’s calling that you disregard his humanity and then painfully require of him those things that only Jesus can be and do. The second is to so recognize John’s humanity that you disrespect his calling and experience. When we do this, we prove ourselves arrogant or unteachable toward the place God is calling John to have in our lives.
So, now together, as a pastor and a congregation, you have the opportunity both in your humbled humanity and your purposeful callings to taste and see the goodness of the Lord as a family, a team. With each other, Jesus will show you a fruitful and meaningful life of love for His glory in this community. What a marvelous team the grace of Jesus will empower you to become! Human together, as a pastor and a people, the throne of the Savior’s grace and purpose awaits you.