Spirit, he says, comes from Christ, who has given us his Holy Spirit; the Holy Spirit makes us spiritual and restrains the flesh. The Holy Spirit assures us that we are God’s children no matter how furiously sin may rage within us, so long as we follow the Spirit and struggle against sin in order to kill it. Because nothing is so effective in deadening the flesh as the cross and suffering, Paul comforts us in our suffering. He says that the Spirit, love and all creatures will stand by us; the Spirit in us groans and all creatures long with us that we be freed from the flesh and from sin. Thus we see that these three chapters, 6, 7 and 8, all deal with the one work of faith, which is to kill the old Adam and to constrain the flesh.
In chapters 9, 10 and 11, St. Paul teaches us about the eternal providence of God. It is the original source which determines who would believe and who wouldn’t, who can be set free from sin and who cannot. Such matters have been taken out of our hands and are put into God’s hands so that we might become virtuous. It is absolutely necessary that it be so, for we are so weak and unsure of ourselves that, if it depended on us, no human being would be saved. The devil would overpower all of us. But God is steadfast; his providence will not fail, and no one can prevent its realization. Therefore we have hope against sin.
—Martin Luther, Preface to The Letter of St. Paul to the Romans
Pulling It Together
The surest sign he knew that God loved him, beyond the sending of his Son, was the sending of his Spirit. He knew God greatly loved him because every time he fell in his faith, every time he sinned or doubted, he somehow immediately sought the Father’s forgiveness and pursued him again. It was not that he picked himself up so much as he was picked up. His flesh raged against him but could not keep him down, for the Spirit within him was stronger than the whole world and its spiritual rulers. Each time he failed God, God’s Spirit lifted him up and gave him a fresh portion of faith and hope. By this he knew that God loved him very much and would not leave him go. He knew he belonged to God because God kept him for himself. This caused him to love God more and try harder not to fail him. The first and last step in his walk with God was to depend on God more than he depended upon himself.
A hymn I lettered way back in 1984 – 25 years ago – that still hangs in our dining room
Some days I just don’t feel like showing up for this job. I want to; I just don’t feel like it. Satisfying moments are few and far between and so briefly enjoyed. When I was a printer, though there were those grudging days when nothing seemed to get accomplished, I got to see the results of my work—stacks of paper and ink…and satisfied customers.
When I was a calligrapher, though the inked paper didn’t exactly pile up, the craft itself—not unlike printing—was satisfying. I saw the results of my work. There was a tactile nature to lettering and a delight in seeing a well-crafted serif or flourish appear. Then there was the privilege of hanging it on the wall (my own or another) and just having it there to appreciate over the years.
As a pastor, most days begrudge me of satisfaction. Where is the accomplishment? Where even the gauge of movement? Where is the stack of paper?
I desire do two things this morning. One is get my fingers in ink again. The other is find a way to make pastoring a craft that is tangible and satisfying. The first I may rediscover insofar as lettering and painting but probably not printing. Still, I keep having printing dreams; the last two nights especially. But it’s hard to imagine where I’d find the time and money to print again.
The second, discovering a pastoral craft, seems theologically implausible. This vocation is based on faith. The tangibles are distantly spaced over one’s life and so fleeting that the rewards of a pastorate are left to believing or hoping you’ve made an impression.
I can study and write and preach and teach and marry and bury and visit and counsel…and call it a craft or even approach it as a craft. (There is an idea worth exploring.) But where are the results? Where are the stacks of imprinted lives? I suspect I will never see the results in any lastingly gratifying way until my days are no more.
Until then, this grudging craft must be done in faith, days stacking up as leaves, no page quite the same as the previous, letting the Holy Spirit be the printer and I more the press.
(Perhaps there is yet a way I can find the time and space to bring these crafts together in my calling.)