Once, I knew everything

Father David Epps's picture

When I was a young pastor, 24 or 25 years old, my denominational supervisor offered me a book on theology by Karl Barth. I declined his gift and said that I didn’t need it.

“And why is that?” he asked.

“Because,” I replied with all the confidence of youth, “My theology is set.”

“Then,” he said, “I fear for your people.”

He was correct, of course. Life is much simpler when you already know everything, as I did in those days. Now, it seems, there’s much more that I don’t know.

Some years ago, I preached a sermon on the subject, “Smells and Bells, Incense and Other Nonsense,” poking fun at liturgical churches and proclaiming with great wisdom the folly of such practices. Now, in our 10 a.m. morning worship service, we have — you guessed it — smells and bells, the smells coming from incense and the bells being rung at Holy Communion.

There is the occasional nonsense, but most of that comes from my trying to be humorous or clever. God does, indeed, have a sense of humor.

I have learned over the years some valuable truths. Education, for example, is extremely important. But we clergy study not to impress people, to garner academic awards, or to be able to converse with other educated people. We study, as the scripture says, to “gain God’s approval.” We study to know Him, His ways, His character, His purposes, His will, and His nature. We study also to help others who are spiritually struggling to find the way, the truth, and the life.

I have learned that we who are of the local church are not academics (at least I am not), whatever degrees we may hold. We are workmen. We toil in the fields that are ripe unto harvest. We are in the hospitals, the jails, the nursing homes, the funeral parlors. We baptize, we teach, we counsel, we hold hands, and occasionally, we rebuke, admonish, and exhort.

We participate in innumerable meetings, attend conferences, read books and listen to other pastor’s sermons, trying to be better at what we do. We are there at the births and we are there with the dying and we are there at all the places of life, however honorable or horrific, in-between.

If we are doing our job, we nurse and we nurture. We are available 24/7 and we dare not lord it over anyone. We wear any titles we have very, very lightly, for there is only One who is worthy of praise — we are the servants of all. Yet, wherever we go, we also bring the Presence of Christ in human, fragile, fallible vessels. It is amazing and humbling but, yes, God uses us.

I have also learned that we pastors and priests are, as St. Paul said, to be “workmen.” We are to be prepared workmen, knowledgeable workmen, capable workmen, compassionate workmen, dependable workmen — and those who are not willing to work should have no part in this thing we call “ministry.”

Paul also says that we are to be workmen who need not be ashamed because we are, or should be, workmen who do not neglect our times of study in the Word and our times of prayer. We are, as the Contemporary English Version of the Bible says, to be one of those who “teaches only the true message.”

So, the longer I live, the more experience I gain, the more I study, and the more I pray, I am convinced that I know far less now that I thought I did when I was 24.

A mother in our church asked her child a few weeks ago, “Do who know who died for your sins?” The little girl instantly replied, “Father David.”

I was deeply touched and emotionally moved, but I quickly asked the mother to set the record straight. I’m just a helper — one of the workmen. Not as smart as I once thought I was but, hopefully, more faithful and more committed to the task.

Maybe I should read the Karl Barth book — it’s never too late to learn something.

[David Epps is the founding pastor of The Cathedral of Christ the King, 4881 Hwy. 34 E., Sharpsburg, GA 30277, between Peachtree City and Newnan. Services are held Sundays at 8:30 and 10 a.m. He also serves as the bishop to the Mid-South Diocese (ICCEC) and is the mission pastor of Christ the King Fellowship in Champaign, IL. He may be contacted at frepps@ctkcec.org. A website is available at www.midsouthdiocese.org.]

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Submitted by Bonkers on Fri, 11/13/2009 - 5:52pm.

Barth couldn't do his work without the assistance of his secretary, Charlotte--I think her name was.
So he moved her into his home with his wife of many years and their several children.
He took vacations with his secretary while his wife ran the home. His kids didn't know what to do with the situation.
I would think that there was much pain there.

I don't understand whether he meant that there was "predestination" of souls (some were born saved, others not) or whether he came to think that Jesus was the one and only way.

I also don't know how he felt about those who don't know who Jesus was, hardly--Muslims. Hindu, Buddha. etc.

I realize that the good pastor can not "argue" religion, only preach about it! Keeps the doubts down.

suggarfoot's picture
Submitted by suggarfoot on Fri, 11/13/2009 - 7:55am.

for your kind words.

Cyclist's picture
Submitted by Cyclist on Thu, 11/12/2009 - 9:08pm.

Bonker$ wrote it. Smiling
Caution - The Surgeon General has determined that constant blogging is an addiction that can cause a sedentary life style.

Submitted by Bonkers on Tue, 11/17/2009 - 6:44am.

What is googling? You may, I don't. Better to use history than what some think.

That title does seem familiar to me---I did once know it all and have added what has happened since then.

Submitted by Bonkers on Tue, 11/17/2009 - 6:46am.

There is a Sonnet being composed for you!

Submitted by MYTMITE on Fri, 11/13/2009 - 6:29pm.

become the googling guru among other things. When does he have time to wash the dishes, scrub the floor, do the laundry etc. between watching those min-skirted young things on TV and googling? If he gets behind in his chores he will be in time out so he better watch it.

Submitted by Bonkers on Thu, 11/12/2009 - 11:04pm.

Sounds like Starsky & Hutch, doesn't it? Or Mutt & Jeff? Abbot & Costello? Barack & Joe? Omarr & Bin Laden?

I think Epps was correct when he was 24!

hutch866's picture
Submitted by hutch866 on Fri, 11/13/2009 - 7:41am.

I'm the taller one.

I yam what I yam....Popeye

hutch866's picture
Submitted by hutch866 on Thu, 11/12/2009 - 10:01pm.


I yam what I yam....Popeye

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