My Dear Shepherds,
I read about a pastoral couple who visited the famous Chapel of Loretto in Santa Fe, New Mexico. It’s famous because of a legendary, 20-foot, wooden spiral staircase, built seemingly without the necessary center support.
Legend says it was built by Joseph (yes, that Joseph) who appeared in answer to the prayers of the nuns there. He built this amazing staircase in the tight space with rudimentary tools and then just disappeared. So people flock to see it.
I never forgot what that pastor wrote: “The guide kept our attention focused on the steps, and we almost missed it. There in an alcove, dimly lit, is a breathtaking statue of Jesus. I found myself drawn to it.”
Sometimes even good shepherds get distracted by ministry staircases and such and forget to see the beauty of Jesus right there in our own congregations. Part of good pastoring is helping our people see Jesus in the alcoves of our fellowship.
Take, for example, prayer meetings. I’ve preached on Acts 4 where the disciples prayed and the building shook but that’s never happened where I prayed. Mostly, the prayer times I’ve been part of were unimpressive on their face. Prayers run on. We don’t really know how to wrap our words or our faith around the biggest needs. We peek at our watches. But those prayers are incense destined for the altar fire of heaven, a sacred fragrance to delight God and shake the earth (Rev. 8:1-4).
Working day in and day out among such ordinary people as we do, sometimes we miss the beauty of the holiness God has wrought in them. We watch the yearning for God in some of his worshippers as they sing. We know believers who have suffered greatly and have only grown closer to Christ for it. Some of our saints never miss a day of reading their Bibles. Some witness to the lost with grace and truth worthy of Jesus. The beauty of Jesus may be seen in them.
Or take the homecomings of prodigals and the homegoing of saints. Pastors, more than most, see the glad tears of the new-born-again. We’ve been in on the Father’s feasts and the angels’ celebrations. We’ve heard the remarkable testimonies of our people who’d never have the nerve to tell their stories to the whole church. And we’ve watched as saints stepped away from this weary world into the home they’ve longed for. We’ve seen and heard the wonders of God!
After a season when pastors saw such ugliness, it is a gift to look into the alcoves of love in our churches. We see lovely Christlike miniatures bearing the faces of our brothers and sisters as they wash feet, bless children, distribute loaves, visit the sick or imprisoned, sing the songs of Zion, and keep vigil in sickrooms.
Many years ago the musicians in our church put together a beautiful concert celebrating Christian unity. I was part of a group of pastors from several denominations, so we invited them and their churches, and they came. The highlight was Communion, served by all those pastors. It was one of the most beautiful things I ever saw and I wept to see it. While pastors passed the elements up and down the rows the choir sang Twyla Paris’ song, “How Beautiful.”
How beautiful the feet that bring
The sound of good news and the love of the King.
How beautiful the hands that serve
The wine and the bread and the sons of the Earth.
How beautiful, how beautiful, how beautiful
Is the body of Christ.
Be ye glad!