What’s it like for a woman in ministry when it comes to the words of Jesus to love our enemies? What happens if some of the “enemies” are your parishioners? This post is by one of my friends, a female pastor, who met the challenge in a wonderful way.
Loving indiscriminately becomes difficult when the one to love is hard to love. For me, it has been quite a challenge to love those who have been very outspoken of their view of complementarianism. Although our church is affirming of women in ministry, there will be several in the local church who do not support this view.
Ralph is a 64 year old man in our congregation who I have come to know quite well over the last 9 months. Ralph has an intense desire to study the scriptures and is always full of questions on Sundays. Just a few short weeks ago Ralph had a change in perspective.
Recently, while I was preaching a message on a Sunday morning, he made his way down the center aisle and sat in the front row; I almost thought he was going to stop me from preaching. At the end of the service Ralph was quick to jump up and hand me a sheet of paper with scriptures written in red ink. “This is the Holy Word of God,” he said, “I can’t argue with God.” When I looked down at the paper I noticed that it was saturated in passages similar to 2 Timothy 2:12. “You have no business preaching and teaching,” Ralph said. As I attempted to gently walk Ralph through some of the passages, I quickly realized I was getting nowhere as he only got angrier.Ralph’s words were piercing and left me feeling wounded that day as I have felt countless other times through emails, letters, and phone calls similar in content.
Five days later, Ralph had a severe brain aneurism and almost lost his life. As a single man and hardly any family in town, Ralph didn’t have many people to visit him. Since our other Pastor was on vacation, I was on hospital visit duty. Knowing that our last conversation left me wounded, I struggled with the thought of visiting Ralph. It was difficult to love Ralph indiscriminately.
When I arrived at the hospital, I stopped for a moment to whisper a prayer. I prayed for the Spirit to propel and impel me to love Ralph with the same self-sacrificial love of God that Jesus talked about in the Sermon on the Mount.
When I walked into the room, I was overcome with sadness. I saw him slumped over in a wheel chair with his head down, sadly staring at the floor. He sat alone and helpless; it hurt my heart. I had never before felt such loneliness and brokenness as I did when I looked at him that day. I sat next to him and he was even well enough to know who I was and carry on a conversation. About halfway through the conversation, I placed my hand on his hand and said, “Ralph, we’ve been praying for you at church and we love you.”
As I said that, his body shook with emotion as he began to weep uncontrollably. At that moment, I knew I had meant it; I loved Ralph. The Spirit had indeed propelled me and impelled me to love him with the perfect love of the Father.