Perhaps there is someone who wonders in today's world, “Can a minister really have any possible influence on the world around us?”
If Karl Barth was right when he talked about having the Bible in one hand and The New York Times in the other, then we might have something to learn today.
The video clips from various sermons by the Reverend Jeremiah Wright are all over the news. In case you have been on the moon or on a self-induced news-free vacation, then you know there is a problem. The United Church of Christ pastor has said things and taught things, that are, in a word, controversial. And that is putting it mildly!
I have my own thoughts about what he has said, but in my prayers for our students I am more concerned about the fact that everyone is worried that what he said, over the years, could influence a possible future president of the United States. This is worth thinking about as a seminary president.
The answer to the question posed, “Can a minister really have any possible influence on the world around us?” is being given a resounding answer by the media, politicians, and according to some pollsters, the general public. The answer is “yes.” If one is married by a minister, sits under his preaching for some period of time, has children who've been baptized by that man, uses words uttered in his pastor’s sermon in his book title The Audacity of Hope, then, according to the common received wisdom, that pastor has greatly influenced one’s life.
I want to turn from the alleged negative impact of Jeremiah Wright’s ministry and influence on Barack Obama and turn to your ministry and your people. God has drawn you to Himself, hidden you in the hollow of His hand, prepared you under the tutelage of other pastor-scholars in that place we call the seminary (literally a “seed bed” for preachers) in order to cause you to shape the lives of others not with your words but with His Word.
There is a priestly aspect of your ministry, where you stand, as it were, with your back to the Lord and your face to the people with His Word, and then turn with your back to the people, and plead through our only Mediator Jesus Christ for the needs of the people. As pastor your words and your life make a difference in the lives of others.
It is for this reason that St. Paul charged Pastor Timothy: "Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers" (1 Timothy 4:16).
Your life, your teaching, and your steadfastness in the gospel will save yourself, and influence, shape, and form the lives of those who hear you. It will, in fact, save them. What an awesome responsibility. What a powerful position. What a humbling thought. What a remarkable truth.
Thus, I would close my thoughts with Paul’s charge from 2 Timothy: "Follow the pattern of the sound words you have heard from me, in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. By the Holy Spirit who dwells within us, guard the good deposit entrusted to you" (2 Timothy 1:13-14).
It is not my job to tell you whether or not Jeremiah Wright did these things in his ministry. It is my job to charge you to remember Paul’s words, and to remember that whether you preach to 12 or 1,200, whether you are a solo pastor in Iowa or an U.S. Army chaplain in Iraq, you are a person of remarkable influence in the lives of others.