It is always dangerous writing about oneself or one’s profession in this case. Nevertheless, I want to share with you a story from before my time at Immanuel. I hope this story makes you think about your own walk with the Lord.
The distinguished lecture hall got really quiet. The students were already quiet, but now an unsettled atmosphere descended, chilling the excitement. Dr. Meyer cleared his throat to answer a difficult question. He was known to older students as “Opa” (German for grandpa), but we only knew him as the Rev. Dr. Dale Meyer, President of Concordia Seminary St. Louis. I will never forget my first day at that storied institution. We the sweaty, it was mid-August in St. Louis, incoming class of students wondered what the answer would be. Our appearance could not have been more different than the scholarly setting. Yet, even the paintings on the wall and the statues seemed to stoop in to hear one of the foremost Lutherans of our time answer the question, “what makes for a good pastor, Dr. Meyer?”
Dr. Meyer responded, “A good pastor is a man I would send to my mother’s deathbed.” You see, President Meyer, before answering this question, had just set the minimum bar for seminary when he said, “I will send anyone who cannot hold a friendly conversation with me back to the farm.” If this was the minimum, he set the ideal with this latest answer.
Immanuel has been a part of the vicarage program for countless years. The typical student at Concordia Seminary studies for four years. Two years of classes, then vicarage— a yearlong internship at a congregation, then one more year of classes. For example, I will return to Concordia for one more year of school at the beginning of August. Vicar TBD (announced April 28th) will take my place. Congregations get to know each vicar, and they get to know they institution they are partnered with.
Concordia Seminary is a lot of things. Concordia is a graduate school, a historical and archaeological landmark, a home for many students and their families, but I would contend it is above all this—a place of maturing. The process is designed to give students the right balance of humility and confidence. It is the humble and confident person who can approach someone else’s deathbed. The act itself is certainly beyond humbling. But, the pastor must find his voice, and in finding his voice, communicate God’s Word.
I share all this to say that pastors are not special. Each Christian is called to the same posture of humble confidence as we approach our earthly deaths. Humility because we do not know what we are walking into. We do not know even know what the next day brings. Confidence because of what we just celebrated on Sunday—the resurrection of Jesus. I’ve used the term, “earthly deaths” so far to describe the process which usually occurs before a funeral. But this is just a temporary phase. On Easter, for the first time, death lost. A human being entered into that space of death and yet came back never to die again. Jesus promises that whoever believes in him will never really die (John 11:25). This should give us tremendous confidence as we face each day’s challenges. No matter how daunting the challenge you are facing, you already know how the story ends. In Jesus there are no “goodbyes” only “see you laters.”
Vicar Kurt Hellwig