This meditation is taken in part from the sermon I preached at the Ordination of Daniel Paul Spors to the Priesthood on January 18, 2017
The hymn, “Come labor on” (The Hymnal 1982, #541) begins with a call to action:
“Come labor on. Who dares stand idle on the harvest plain, while all around us waves the golden grain? And to each servant does the Master say, ‘Go work today.’”
It is a call to action—a call to follow Jesus—to attend to the harvest to which Jesus, the Son of Man calls each and every person who desires to follow him. My favorite verse, however, is the third:
“Come labor on. Away with gloomy doubts and faithless fear! No arm so weak but may do service here: by feeblest agents may our God fulfill his righteous will”.
The verse tells of how God takes our feeble efforts and uses them for God’s glory and God’s purposes. How does God do that? We will never know, but thanks be to God, God does it.
Working as a priest in parish ministry has many challenges. One thing is eminently true. You will never be able to please all the people all the time. You can try to “be all things to all people” as St. Paul once wrote, but you will never please everyone. All you can do is to strive to be faithful to God.
And the most wonderful thing about our respective ministries— and you have one whether you are ordained or a layperson —is that God will work in and through you even when you are sure that you have failed—that no one has heard you—that you have not said enough—or done enough. God, mysteriously, will have a way of creating something good out of even the smallest and imperfect fragments of your work. It is a mystery—a wonderful mystery—how God speaks, works, and acts through us, despite ourselves. That is the wondrous work of the Holy Spirit!
It’s true with most jobs that people will rarely tell you that you are doing a good job, but quick to tell you when you are doing something wrong. As a priest, it is no different. We are rarely told that what we have done, or said, or not said made any difference in the lives of those to whom we minister. That is in part because we human beings—all of us— rarely recognize it at the time we are being helped. That recognition only comes later. For that reason, we clergy often do and do, never knowing if what we do makes any difference at all in the lives of those to whom we minister. In ministry, there are times when we will not know if we are doing a good enough job or not. We can only trust that if we are doing all in your power to be faithful to God, that God will use us, even if, despite our very best efforts, we feel that we have failed. All we can do is to be faithful to our call to the priesthood because God will always be faithful to us.
The Welsh poet R. S. Thomas, ordained to the priesthood in the church of Wales in 1936, wrote a poem entitled “The Country Clergy” that speaks to the situation I have described in words that transcend my meager words on this topic.
I see them working in old rectories
By the sun’s light, by candlelight,
Venerable men, their black cloth
A little dusty, a little green
With holy mildew. And yet their skulls,
Ripening over so many prayers,
Toppled into the same grave
With oafs and yokels. They left no books,
Memorial to their lonely thought
In grey parishes; rather they wrote
On men’s hearts and in the minds
Of young children sublime words
Too soon forgotten. God in his time
Or out of time will correct this.
In the second letter to the Corinthians, St. Paul says that he does not need a written letter of recommendation to attest to the work of his ministry, because the people to whom he ministered in Corinth, imperfect as they are, in fact, serve as his letter of recommendation. “You yourselves are our letter, written on our hearts, to be known and read by all; and you show that you are a letter of Christ, prepared by us, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts (2 Cor. 3:2-3).
Other people may not appreciate what you are doing when you do it, or even remember what you have done, but if you put your trust in God, and not in what people think of you, God in God’s time works all things for good. You will “write” on the hearts and minds of men and women, and young children. God takes whatever we have to give and makes the most of it. God is always faithful.
 “The Country Clergy” in R. S. Thomas, Collected Poems: 1945-1990. (London: Orion Books, 1993), 82.