(Preaching on Luke 11:43 this week; thought this would be a good one to drag up from the blog basement, even though it is not advent.)
One of the things that strikes me as odd about the inclusion of the shepherds in the Christmas story is their lack of credibility. Okay, I get it with the magi; they were people of high position and respectable credentials. When the magi made their way into Herod’s court, he gave notice; he knew the report of these guys was for real. But I cannot help wondering that if the shepherds were somehow even granted a voice with Herod, would they even be taken seriously? Something tells me that Herod and the upper echelon of society would hardly give a glance to the report of shepherds–crazy uncivilized band of bedouins that they are.
So why would God choose shepherds? No credibility, no status, no rank, no title. Well, it seems God has an affinity for choosing people of no title to play the major roles in his plan. Mary and Joseph were no one special. Moses was an exiled outcast. Abraham, Noah, Isaiah…just another guy. Look at the people Jesus called to be his disciples–fishermen and tax collectors…nobodies.
Why is it then that those of us in the church still get so hung up on titles? Maybe I have “Reverend” before my name; but is that really what makes me a pastor? I’d like to think it is my character and actions that define me as a pastor, not the recognition of some ordination status. At least it seems Jesus didn’t care about titles of status when selecting those who would lead the New Testament church. Maybe that’s why my accumulated diplomas are gathering dust in a drawer somewhere. I’d much rather hang up pictures than academic credentials to define the nature of the ministry I do.
Yet it seems that magazines and books circulated through Christian circles sometimes trumpet the accolades of the author’s title as if it somehow gives more credibility to the message. We forget about shepherds and fishermen. In fact, I would go so far as to say that authors and speakers in Christian media who feel it necessary to insert that long string of academic titles betray something of the gospel message they exhort. One of the blogs I follow has a list of titles following the author’s name that is almost as long as the blog posts themselves. Sorry, that’s just wrong. Whatever is written about Christ in the blog ultimately becomes dwarfed by the author’s own pedestal.
We forget about shepherds and fishermen. I was reminded again this week in my Bible study group that everything we have is a gift from God. This list includes more than material possessions; it has to do with my abilities and accomplishments as well. When I declare my own titles and credentials, I take focus away from God’s hand in my life. And that’s nothing short of sin.
So thank God for the humble people in this world who remain anonymous behind the hand of Jesus. And forgive the rest of us who take our status and titles to build our own Babel.
till next time…