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Sunday, March 06, 2005

Honoring God's Workers

I wouldn’t change places with Michael Clark for anything. Yet, I find in his quiet example an incarnation of the living compassion Christ calls upon us to offer.
Rev. Clark is the pastor at Christ Lutheran Church in Park City, Kansas. That’s the church where Dennis Rader, who now stands accused of being the BTK killer, attended services and worked as the president of the congregation. Rev. Clark is put in the uncomfortable position of being the pastor to an accused serial killer who is also a close acquaintance. He’s the one who is going to visit Mr. Rader in his prison cell. He’s the one who, if anyone does, will hear the confession of a killer.
The actions of Mr. Rader, if suspicions are correct, are beyond comprehension. I’m sure that the actions of Rev. Clark will be beyond the comprehension of many. Even if Rader is found guilty, Clark has stated that he will stand by his parishioner until he is told to leave. While this is truly living the part of the pastor, it is sure to bring controversy. How can he, as a Christian, continue to offer comfort to someone who hurt so many so badly?
The answer, of course, is: how could he not? Christ doesn’t call us to minister to those whose problems are bad, but not too bad. He calls us to minister to the sickest of the sick, the poorest of the poor, and the most corrupt of the corrupt. Remember that it was a thief who hung next to our Savior and was told, “Today, you will sit with me in Paradise.”
Yes, but BTK was not a thief. He brutally tortured and killed his victims, sometimes taunting police to catch him. A thief who steals to put food in his children’s belly we can understand. This – this is beyond understanding. It is beyond man’s ability to forgive.
That, of course, is why there is Jesus. He bears what we cannot. He forgives what we cannot. He covers, with his own innocent blood, the sin we carry in ours. None of this is our doing. Even the faith that we depend on is a gift from God.
So Rev. Clark laces up his shoes, shrugs on his jacket, and drives to the jail to offer comfort to a man who many will say is not worthy. And they are right. Yet as far as he is from those of us who shudder at his crimes, the distance between us and God is even farther. We are even less worthy of Jesus’ pity than Dennis Rader is of ours.
Yet, somehow, Jesus does love us, and he offers us absolution of our sins. At some point, I’m sure Rev. Clark will remind Mr. Rader than he, too, can find forgiveness in the arms of a loving God. Even though I’m sure Rev. Clark would say that he cannot understand why, Dennis Rader will be offered the chance at redemption. It is, without a doubt, the biggest paradox in Christian theology.
What no one else will know is the toll it will take on Rev. Clark. It is he that will have to look into the eyes of a killer and talk about love. It is he that will go into the presence of someone who preys on weakness and offer himself as a lamb. It is he that will then go back out into the community and weather the stares and the questioning looks. It is he that will bear whatever cross Dennis Rader puts upon his shoulders.
The Bible tells a story of the children of Israel, doing battle with their foes. Moses was to go upon a hill overlooking the battle and raise his hands up to God. As long as Moses’ arms were raised, the children of Israel pushed their enemies back. When he could no longer hold his arms aloft, they fell before the onslaught. Only when Moses’ closest friends held his arms aloft for him could the children of Israel turn the battle permanently.
It is a truth that is observed too rarely that our spiritual leaders need our prayers and our support. If Moses needed his friends to hold up his arms, so will Rev. Clark – if not physically, then spiritually. I don’t know how to contact the Rev. personally, perhaps someone will know someone who will know someone and he will actually see these words. If not, then at least he can feel the comfort of our prayers.


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