Out of the blue I get a question from someone which absolutely intrigued me. “Why does a Pastor need to be a scholar? The question brought back pictures of the academician some would call an egg head who is so heavenly minded that he is of no earthly good. What does scholarship mean in terms of a parish Pastor?
The simple nursery rhyme about Humpty Dumpty is actually pretty complicated stuff. We assume that he was an egg but that is not in the tale. We think of him as an egg because several years after the rhyme appeared some one pictured him as an egg. It has been thought of as the story of the Fall. The fall broke humanity into pieces that all earthly power cannot fix. Some see sitting on a wall as an inability to make a decision. Some see all kinds of things in a silly rhyme. The scholar as an egg head can be applied here as well. The academic who sits on the wall studying all kinds of esoteric concepts rather than patrolling the wall and being a watchman who announces peril as well as salvation will fall and crack. Behind the question to me was the assumption that a parish pastor needs to have “practical attributes” that work in the real world. But that raises the question as to what a parish preacher is too be.
“On your walls, O Jerusalem, I have set watchmen; all the day and all the night they shall never be silent. You who put the Lord in remembrance, take no rest” Isaiah tells us in chapter 62. The pastors job is to be a watchmen and continually put the Lord in remembrance by the proclamation of Law and Gospel. The main message is the forgiveness of sins for Christ sake. The pastor as watchman and administrator of the gifts of God has two things to do – preach the Gospel and administer the Sacraments. This should be a relatively simple undertaking but that attitude belies the nature of the people to whom he is preaching.
50 years ago Paul Scherer talked about the difficulty for the preacher who tries to communicate the good news of Jesus to the world. Remember that the more things change the more they stay the same and take into account the last sentence where the word “agape” appears. Agape is the Greek word for the sacrificial love that God has for us.
“The trouble is not only that we are addressing the child and heir of the last four
centuries. That makes the task difficult enough. The trouble is that we are
addressing “fallen man.” And he lives in a strange world of his own. For him God no
longer occupies the center of the picture; he does: which is what the Fall means. He
regards himself as the victim of forces beyond his control; but he has to do the
best he can on the assumption that he can master them singlehanded and shape his own
destiny: which is what the Fall means. So he thinks of himself as standing over
against nature to conquer and exploit it; and for the most part over against his
fellowman as well: which is what the Fall means. He has to handle things, deal with
facts, and come out as near the top as may be. He has his own ideals and standards,
moral, intellectual, aesthetic, cultural, and you will please allow him to operate
under his own articles of self-government. This is where he lives, this is his frame
of reference, this is what the Fall means. He is not alone in the mind of the
twentieth century; he is the mind of Adam. If you can give him something he can use
right now, where he is, to his own advantage, well and good; but please, no more of
this double talk about the foolishness of God which is wiser than men, and the
weakness of God which is stronger than men -things which are not, and yet bring to
nought things that are – an eternal Word revealed in a historical event -a faith which
is within history, yet transcends history. What has any of that to do with him? He
has been driven out of the Eden for which he was made, to cast about for it now, in
his lonely search, every day he lives, without ever finding it. Its imagery is quite
alien to him, its language is scarcely any more to be called language! If agape does
not mean “having one’s mouth open,” then you have to set it down as gibberish.”
So can a scholar be a good parish preacher and vice versa? More later.