1 Corinthians 4:20 For the kingdom of God is not a matter of talk but of power. (NIV)
I spent six years at the University of Glasgow in the Divinity Faculty. The first four years were used to attain a Bachelor’s degree; the last two were post-grad studies in Practical Theology. The Bachelor’s degree prepared me for teaching the Bible and preaching the Word of God. The post-grad studies helped me to see how those words could be applied as ministry in the world.
One of my post-grad assignments involved spending two days per week in a respite center for folks who were suffering from dementia. This was a new field at the time and the medical team of doctors and nurses who worked at the center were pioneering new methods and processes of caring for patients who were gradually losing their connections with the world. I was in my twenties and felt as though I was participating in an episode of the Twilight Zone. I found it difficult to relate to the patients and struggled to hold meaningful, theological conversations with them. I felt completely out of my depth and after a couple of weeks, I wanted to be reassigned.
When I discussed this with my Practical Theology professor, he listened to my concerns sympathetically. I thought that I had convinced him to send me somewhere else, but he reminded me that I wasn’t there to fix the patients, convert them to Christ, or care for their souls. My role was to present God’s Word as ‘presence’. Being there was not just important for the patients, but also for the nurses who cared greatly about the people. The theology I was practicing had a name attached to it: Incarnation. In other words, the power of God was present in and with the people of God. I was just merely a channel of God’s peace and an instrument of His love. I realized there and then that the most powerful way of expressing God’s Word to the world was not through preaching or teaching; it was powerful through just being present.
Since then, in all of the churches that I have served, I have seen this at work through the heartfelt and pastoral presence of the people. It is still a very humbling and beautiful way to practice ministry and I am thankful to be part of a tradition where the priesthood of all believers – the ministry of the people for each other – continues to be the most effective way to practice, extend, and advance the Christian faith. Perhaps, with this in mind, the apostle Paul could also have written today’s verse this way: ‘For the kingdom of God is not a matter of preaching but of presence.’
Point to ponder
How can I share God’s presence with others today?
Prayer: Lord Jesus, Your presence in our world changed us forever. You left Heaven to be with us on Earth. You reached down to us, so we could be lifted up to God by Your presence. Thank You for being there when we needed You, and thank You for being with us still. In Your Holy Name, we gratefully pray. Amen.
John Stuart is the pastor of Erin Presbyterian in Knoxville, Tennessee. If you would like to give feedback on today’s message, please send him an email to Traqair@aol.com.
Today’s image is one of John’s Communion drawings called ‘Epiklesis.’ If you would like to view a larger version, please click this link: Epiklesis.