In one of the final scenes of the film, The Hobbit, the dwarves are battling the armies of Mordor, though they are surrounded on every side they are holding their ground and starting to win, and then out pop an army of giant creatures from under the earth and the lead dwarf looks at them and exclaims, in a thick Scottish accent, “Awe, y’ve gotta be kidding me”! That describes well how I felt after the revelations of this past Summer of Shame in the Church. “Seriously, again, didn't we deal with this already?” But the dwarves fought on to victory, not easy, but with the help of Bilbo Baggins they prevail. So, must we.
In J.R.R. Tolkien’s mythological world, the Hobbits were the little people, the real Christians, the people who had little influence or power in the world and were happy to just be themselves. Yet they had extraordinary courage and integrity that caused them to fight for the world and the values that they held so dear. Well, my friends, we are the Hobbits. We don't have much power or influence in the Church but we have our courage and our integrity which means we will fight for our values and the Church we know and love despite the onslaught from powers much stronger than we.
For me, as much as I would like to take on the power structure and change it, that is not the appointed task. I’ve come to realize more and more these days that the task at hand is very local. Not marching to overthrow the usurpers but marching to strengthen the brethren. In fact, it is the task that I really do cherish: being a pastor, specifically being your Pastor. There really is nothing else I would rather be or do. It’s quite an honor and a joy, --- mostly! I kind of like being a hobbit. I am very content in our little shire and hope to keep it that way. Grant it, there was a time in my life when the “ring of power” would have attracted me, but now I would gladly destroy it in the fires of Mordor. Tolkien was so right that the one ring of power corrupts everything it comes near. Don’t fool yourself, the ring can never achieve anything good.
From my little hobbit hole, many of you challenge me to holiness, more prayerfulness, to trust more in God. Some of you frustrate me when you won’t take that one last step, that final surrender to God’s will. Some of you amaze me at how easy you seem to make trusting in God! Others of you have a laser like focus on what really matters and yet others of you get lost in the worries of today and tomorrow. Many of you have the gift of giving and graciousness, others of you are still working on it! When I was younger, I wanted the flock all to move in the same direction but over the years I’ve discovered that never happens, and I have almost grown fond of the messiness of it all. Almost.
Being your Pastor allows me to enter into the moments of your lives that are marked by profound hardship and sublime joys. Offering you the Eucharist, week after week, seeing you come hungry and ready for the Lord, holds me up and makes my life make sense. Baptizing your children, helping you form them as Christians, marrying your children and baptizing their children are great joys to me as a Pastor. Holding your hands in moments of sorrow, being with you as your loved ones pass, praying with you at their Funeral are moments that I can not forget. All these mark me, shape me and form my soul into the Pastor that God wants me to be. For that, I am most grateful this Christmas.
At the end of The Hobbit, just before the Battle of the Five Armies commences, Gandalf, the great wizard, (who in Tolkien’s world represents a good and wise bishop) says to those preparing for battle, “there is only one question now: How shall this day end?”
How shall this season of scandal in the Church end? By the grace of God, it will end with all of us remaining faithful to Jesus Christ. No heroic tasks are needed, no extraordinary feats of greatness are called for but rather the simple, consistent life of a Christian, who knows to whose army he belongs.
Fr. John B.