Sixty to Zero

In Lyndal Roper’s Martin Luther: Renegade and Prophet, the author narrates the moment when Martin, […]

Larry Parsley / 5.1.19

In Lyndal Roper’s Martin Luther: Renegade and Prophet, the author narrates the moment when Martin, a newly minted Augustinian monk, participated in his first mass as priest (1507). What made this moment especially charged was that his father Hans was present. Hans, you may remember, sacrificed to send his boy to college so that Martin might return to help his dad in the mining business as a lawyer.

At the feast following the mass, Martin cheekily asked his dad in front of everyone if he now accepted Martin’s decision to pursue ministry instead. Hans replied: “Remember the fourth commandment, to obey father and mother.” Referencing the famous storm that prompted Martin to vow that he would become a monk, Hans wondered aloud if an “evil spirit” was behind it all (much later, Martin would come to feel that perhaps his father was right about that evil spirit). Roper said the experience rattled Martin’s “sense of spiritual vocation and certainty,” and years later Martin would say that his father’s remarks “took such deep root in my heart that I have never heard anything from his mouth which I remembered more persistently.”

One of the things that jars me about that story is how easy it is for people to zero us out — to sow doubt on our calling and sense of worth in God’s family.

In the annals of religious history, let’s just say that what I’m about to relate is much less historically significant. I was a singles pastor presiding over a Sunday night worship service while the senior pastor was away. I was not the starting shortstop, in other words, but a minor leaguer called up to play in the bigs for an evening. What I did not know was that a precocious 11-year-old boy named William had chosen that night to “walk the aisle” (did I say I’m Baptist?) and share his public profession of faith and desire for baptism. As William had envisioned it, the senior pastor would shake his hand and affirm him and publicly celebrate him in front of our church. Instead, it was my junior and unsteady hand which held his, my inexperienced prayers which greeted him, my substandard introduction to our church that fêted him. Afterwards, as church members came up to hug William, he couldn’t hide his disappointment. He confided to me, “What a night for the senior pastor to be gone!”

Poor William was too young and utterly lacking in EQ to realize how I might receive his words. He was rightly expressing his disappointment that his big day was missing a few of the requisite fireworks he had imagined. I would like to say that since becoming a senior pastor two decades ago, the very self-evident worth of that adjective “senior” on my business card has rendered me immune from devaluing dialogue. It has not. In fact, it has magnified the shortcomings of one expected to provide large contributions to the flock.

The comments from people in our lives can easily take us, not from zero to sixty (to use a sports car analogy), but sixty to zero. Which is one of many reasons why I love the angel’s greeting to Gideon in Judges 6. It falls in one of the darker places in Scripture (let’s just say when it comes to tragedy, Judges gives Lamentations a run for its money). In this scene, Israel is living in terror of the raiding Midianites. They were hiding out in mountains and caves, mostly starving because the Midianites routinely stole all their lunch money. On this particular day, Gideon is threshing wheat at the bottom of a wine press, of all places, fearfully attempting to hide his bounty from those pesky Midianites. Yet, it is this fearful and most-unlikely candidate that the angel of the Lord addresses:

When the angel of the Lord appeared to Gideon, he said, ‘The Lord is with you, mighty warrior.’” (Judges 6:12)

Mighty warrior? Lord, that’s a good one! The King James Version makes it sound even more grandiose: “thou mighty man of valour.” Spoken to the guy hiding out in the wine press, whose blood pressure is climbing to new and dangerous heights. All I can figure is that either God is a terrible talent scout, or that God can impute strength even to those who hide in wine presses, to the grossly inexperienced, to those who feel like a zero. What the angel says to Gideon, God says to all of us: “The Lord is with you.”