?”Tommy Pickles died!” The sobbing voice of my granddaughter on the telephone was more than I was prepared for early that Friday. “Papa, Tommy Pickles died last night. Would you have a funeral for him?” Well, it was my day off, and I quickly
reasoned why not? Setting aside all my theological presuppositions (it was, after all, my granddaughter), Barbara and I made ready and drove with haste.
We helped lay Tommy Pickles out in a Tupperware container and buried him in a quiet corner of the backyard. We plaited a wreath of daisies and dandelions, laid it over his grave and I offered up a prayer, thanking God for the happiness Tommy Pickles gave Cameron. We went back inside, ate some cookies, drank some Coke and Cameron asked, “Papa, could we go to PetSmart now and get a new hamster?” Tommy was replaced the same day he died by Lucy.
Now that I have confessed this, I may find myself being castigated as some kind of heretic. I held a funeral service for a hamster. I did not make any promises about the eternal well-being of Tommy Pickles’ soul, but I did conduct a funeral service for a hamster called Tommy Pickles. And, I confess, I might do it again if the opportunity arises.
Caged hamsters, like Tommy Pickles, live a rat race. They get in their little wheels and run a hundred miles a day but never go anywhere. It can be like that if you are a pastor in a church, too, if you are not careful. Seemingly never-ending committee meetings (“God so loved the world that He didn’t form another committee,” I have told our people many a time; but, alas, many seem not to “get it.”) and activities, routines and procedures confine us in our own little cages. There may be value to some of them; but let us admit it: Life for a pastor, especially one who preaches, can become its own rat race. We all know some Reverend Tommy Pickles. Maybe you see yourself in this image! If we are not careful, the goal can get lost in our overloaded schedules.
“The Lord answered her, ‘Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her'” (Luke 10:41-42).
Every real preacher, however dedicated he or she may be to the holy work of prayer and private worship, must, of necessity, descend to work, eat, sleep, pay taxes and get on somehow with the sometimes hard-driving personalities in the nearby world. To be a pastor who preaches, it is necessary that we serve our generation as well as Almighty God. There is a mystery and a reality to our call. We are to be in the world but not like it. Don’t forget the “good portion.”
Our big challenge is to keep the Martha and the Mary elements of the preaching pastor’s life in proper balance. Today the emphasis falls too often on the perceived activity of our ministerial life. We often are measured by the places we are seen (or not seen) and the hours we are observed to work each week. But that is not necessarily, nor will it ever be, “soul work.”
 The current trend (I was tempted to say “craze”) for Christian pastors favors “Christian action.” The favorite brand of pastor is often the one who is always in a hurry, hard-hitting, aggressive and ready with a good quip for the next big moment. The problem with this image of ministry is that it is the opposite of a good example because it is more involved with breadth than depth. It sets no standards of its own for it is a mere copy of so much that is wrong with the secular business model. It is mechanical and utilitarian but not in any way spiritual in a good sense. It lacks the beautiful enamel of time alone with the Savior, the true mysticism; an appreciation of history and the church; it wants the substratum of a profound and spiritual theology; and under the mask
of orthodoxy, it not infrequently conceals superficial rationalism.
We are neglecting the upstairs of our souls. The light in the tower burns dimly while we hurry about on the ground below, making a commotion without true devotion and giving the impression of wonderful dedication to our task but not really going anywhere.


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