Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Paul's appeal

Normally, I post on the Gospel reading from Morning Prayer in the RCL. However, today I have been thinking over the Epistle from last night's evening prayer. The reading was from 1 Thessalonians, and the verses that struck me in particular were the following:

But we appeal to you, brothers and sisters, to respect those who labour among you, and have charge of you in the Lord and admonish you; esteem them very highly in love because of their work.  (NRSV)

It seems to me that there are four commands in that short passage: two apply to the clergy and two to the laity. The latter must:

1.Respect those who labour among them who have charge over them; &
2. Esteem them highly in love because of their work.

And the clergy, for their part, must:

1. Have charge over their flock; &
2. Admonish them.

It is a reciprocal relationship. The people must allow the clergy to do their job, accepting that they have charge over them, that this authority comes from the Lord, and give them the loving esteem that is due to the person who is called to this work. The clergy have to remember that they have God given authority for their work which requires them to take charge of and pastorally lead their flock ... and sometimes this will require them to admonish their people when they see they are going wrong.

The role of admonisher is one, I think, that is neglected of late. No one likes to be admonished; and few, I think relish the confrontational aspect it requires to tell admonish someone. Perhaps that is why St Paul felt he had to use the words 'we appeal to you.' Even in the early days of the Church it was no easy thing!

Then and now no one enjoys having their behaviour corrected and few enjoy being the ones having to do the correcting. But it is part of the duty of the clergy to do so, out of love for those they have charge over; and it is the duty of the individual to accept that correction, because they know it is done out of love by one who has authority in the Lord, & out of love for that person and the role they have in the Church. Ultimately, the person has to desire the correction, already knowing that what they are doing is wrong, for it to be effective.

This issue is at the heart of the pastoral relationship. Which is job of the pastor? Is it to make the individual feel OK when they do wrong? Or is it to lovingly correct their errors so that they may live the lives they are called to by the Lord? It is the latter, of course ... and it is an awesome responsibility and a delicate task, because it is not easy to admonish while at the same time not being judgemental and being encouraging. This is why it is a task that not everyone is called to; and why those called to it need the loving prayers and support of those they pastor to in order to carry out this work.

St Paul's appeal is as relevant today as when it was first made. And if that appeal is answered with the same love with which Paul made it, then that can only be to the good of all God's people, clergy and laity ... and to the overall good of His Church. Amen.

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