On Sunday morning we had two Australian visitors. This couple had met two of our parishioners come time ago and wanted to visit at our church. So they did. Afterward, they were telling me some stories when the husband told me something that was shocking. They were in New York and it was Good Friday. Desiring to attend a service, they found the local Episcopal church was the only one in town which had a service, so they attended. Apparently what he heard led him to think that the priest was not a believer. So after the service he asked, "You don't believe in Jesus, do you?" To this the priest replied, "No." The follow up, "Why would you be a priest then, if you do not believe?" Which produced this painfully naive response, "It seemed like an easy way to do some good."
There are people who are drawn to the ministry without a living faith in Jesus. It is motivated, in part, by a positive impulse to "do good." Priests, after all, provide counseling, influence charitable giving, educate people and have numerous opportunities to make things better than they were. While some may be critical of these things, they certainly reflect the ministry of Jesus in the Synoptic Gospels. However, all those find their meaning in a deeper role of priest, prayer leader and preacher. Jesus is the center of this House of Prayer. Jesus is its heart, its source and its purpose. Jesus is not negotiable, He is required.
All the good we do is only temprorary and it is always imperfect and incomplete. Jesus redeems that. Jesus is the one who perfects it and makes it whole (and holy). Every problem we priests solve is replaced by a new problem later. In the end, death takes us all. What good we do disappears with the passage of time. This was illustrated for me last week at my daughter's award assembly. Several of the scholarships were in memory of former teachers who were well beloved in the community. The presenters, who remembered these teachers, were older than me. The teachers are long since dead, their memory obliterated except for those who were old enough to have known them. In a few more years, like many streets names, it will be just that, a name, with no living attachment to a real person. That is the power of death. It is also the power of Jesus to overcome death and restore life. In the end, as a priest, that is the only lasting good I can achieve. Connecting the Dying (all of us) to the Lord (Victor over sin and death).
Sadly too many clergy are not believers. In fact, many bishops are as bad if not worse. This is not unique to our own age. In every time there have been those who took church offices for other reasons. In fact, faithful clergy may actually be the exception rather than the norm. Just like some teachers do not like kids, some doctors do not like people and some cops are actually criminals. It is very hard to keep things pure because you cannot see within a person's heart. And it is not easy to differentiate between struggles with doubt and unbelief.
Should a priest believe in Jesus? YES! and love, honor and serve Jesus, as well. He is the sacrament of God, He is the way and He is life. In Jesus we encounter God and in Jesus we find our true selves. I preach Jesus because I know helping with the light bill, providing meals for your family this week or providing a compassionate ear as you shared your woes is all a band aid to what really ails you. I may help a bit, but in the end Jesus is the Cure to what ails us all. Anyone who is a priest and does not believe in Jesus is like itch cream on small pox. They treat some symptoms but not the disease itself. Jesus is the fullness of salvation. He does all the good that anyone could ever need, and I would serve Him.
So maranatha... Come Lord Jesus!