"The Collar" Chapel Message from Tim Wiarda

Tim Wiarda, Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary professor of New Testament Studies, spoke to an audience of students, faculty, and staff about the poem ‘The Collar.’ “This poem is from The Temple, a book of poems written by George Herbert, and published in 1633,” Wiarda said. “Herbert, an early seventeenth century man of considerable talent and ambition, was pastor of a country church in England.”

“This is a poem about a pastor whose calling begins to feel like bondage,” he explained. “Or perhaps it is about a pastor who needs to be reminded he has a higher calling.” Throughout the poem are expressions of discouragement and descriptions of the poet’s emotions as a pastor. “I call it ‘George Herbert’s Bad Day,’ ” said Wiarda.

“I’m going to assume that scripture passages lie behind this poem, as they do throughout many of the poems in this book.” He explained how certain Bible passages come to mind when he reads the poem, and how these passages might have influenced George Herbert.

In particular, Wiarda examined the conclusion of the poem:

But as I rav’d and grew more fierce and wilde
At every word
Me thoughts I heard one calling “Childe”
And I reply’d, “My Lord.”

“In John 20 we read of the account of Mary, where she is weeping and distraught over Jesus’ death and missing body, and Jesus comes to her,” Wiarda recalled. “Mary is emotionally upset; she is experiencing a sense of grief and loss at the death of Jesus. But, as in Herbert’s poem, Jesus speaks just one word that says it all (who he is and their relationship). Jesus says ‘Mary’ and she replies ‘Rabboni’ (my teacher).”

The second passage Wiarda considered is what Paul said about a tormenting thorn in 2 Corinthians 12. “Paul implored the Lord three times to remove it. We don’t know what this thorn was, but it’s clear it caused a physically and emotionally distressing situation in the midst of his ministry,” Wiarda explained. “Just as in the poem, just as in the case of Mary, the Lord says in just a few words, ‘My grace is sufficient for you; my power is made perfect in weakness.’ ”

A third passage suggested by the poem is Peter’s experience of Jesus in John 21. Wiarda describes Peter’s calling as a fisher of men and a shepherd of the sheep. “Peter seems to be drifting. He says ‘I’m going fishing’ and winds up taking six other disciples with him. And in the midst of this move toward an old way of life, Jesus comes. He calls out ‘Children!’ and he gives a sign (a catch of fish) – the one sign most likely to remind Peter of his calling. Then he asks Peter three times, ‘Do you love me?’ And tells Peter three times ‘Shepherd, feed my sheep.’ ”

“Let’s talk about us,” said Wiarda, addressing his listeners. “George Herbert says he was raving and growing fierce and wild. Maybe we find ourselves in that frame of mind sometimes. Do these Scripture passages contain lessons for raving Christian workers? I think they do.”

First, the Lord knows your outward situation and your inward reactions, and he will come to you and speak to you, explained Wiarda. “You might say the cases of Mary, Paul, and Peter are unique. But I wouldn’t be too quick to discount these examples. The way Jesus comes and speaks to us may not be the same as with these three, but the fact that he came to these distressed or wavering disciples does tell us something about how the risen Lord still operates.”

“If you think about it,” Wiarda said, “Jesus had to make a certain number of resurrection appearances. But other appearances were deliberately to meet a more individual need. Mary’s intense grief, Peter’s wavering about his calling. The point seems to be that Jesus takes steps to meet the needs of individual disciples.”

“So I think it’s quite likely, if you’re getting fierce and wild in the midst of your ministry, at some point Jesus will come and speak to you,” the professor said to the seminarians.

“It may be quite obvious and dramatic, but it might also be a quieter voice you could almost miss,” he said. “Have you ever sort of heard, but don’t hear, someone calling you? Make sure when you sort of hear the Lord’s voice, you pause and catch the words,” Wiarda cautioned.

“Jesus may not say much, but he’s going to take you back to the original heart of the matter: who you are to him and who he is to you.”

Wiarda reminded his listeners, “Jesus said ‘Mary’ and that was enough to show her the relationship between them. With all its history still intact, he knew about her feelings, and sought her out. He was still the one she called ‘Rabboni.’”

With Peter, Wiarda explained, Jesus came to him, first with a sign, and then with repeated questions “Do you love me?” He pursued Peter, forcing him to remember and recognize where his deepest love really lay. He reminded Peter of the calling that Jesus expected him to fulfill, and reminded him of what it would cost. “When you were young you went where you wanted. The day is coming they will take you where you do not want to go. Follow me!” For Peter, those words of Jesus, “Follow me,” were strong enough to take him to his death.

For Paul, struggling with his thorn, Jesus let him know he was there, but also that in this case his situation wasn’t going to change. “Maybe he reminded Paul of his original calling on the Damascus Road, and how suffering was going to be part of it,” Wiarda inferred. “But Jesus did give Paul an assurance that he would continue to be with him. And that his grace would see him through with power.”

In conclusion, Wiarda explained how these passages give us a lesson about how to respond when Jesus comes to us. “Jesus called her name, and Mary said ‘Rabboni.’ Peter was given a sign through the fish, and then a question, and Peter started following. Paul with his thorn said ‘OK,’ acknowledging that suffering would be part of his calling. The Lord called these disciples, and he will call you back to the heart of the matter.”