I have read that in the final moments of the life of Pope John Paul II, he motioned for the window where he often blessed the crowds. In his weakened and frail condition, he reached outward to complete the blessing, and spoke his final word, "Amen." In the last few years, the world watched as this pastor, theologian, and political leader struggled with his mortality.
The recent news coverage reminded me of another man, Rev. James Baldwin. James was a Presbyterian minister whom I knew in Ohio. In younger days, James served as driver for a chaplain during World War II. He watched as the chaplain would perform countless funerals for innumerable boys who gave the ultimate sacrifice. After James came home, he himself entered seminary and the ministry. James was a kind, compassionate man. He was a man of deep faith and conviction. When he spoke the Word of God, he spoke with authority, not merely because of his booming baritone voice, but because he submitted himself to that Word.
Before coming to Texas, I served as a student minister for two congregations. Without ordination, I could not serve communion to the people. We would often contact retired ministers to help us with the Lord’s Supper. That is how I met James Baldwin. He was in his last years of life. He was frail, weakened by age and illness. Sometimes he became confused. Still, looking into his eyes, one could easily see Rev. Baldwin as the great man he was.
When he administered Holy Communion, I would stand next to him to steady his step. As James raised the bread above his head and broke it, he would tell us about the broken body of Jesus Christ. In a sense, the pastor was broken as well–broken by his own mortality. Where others might be embarrassed by the sight of this weak elderly man, I was greatly moved. Despite his infirmities, God used James Baldwin.
The Scriptures teach us that we are merely clay jars (2 Cor 4:7). We are common and fragile, yet God uses us to hold his treasures. We necessarily approach life with humility, recognizing that our greatness is really God’s glory. Moreover, we learn that no one is worthless. Even the weakest, the dying, and the afflicted among us is worthy as God’s instrument. We shouldn’t be surprised. After all, our God ordained that the path of victory would be through a cross.