|Posted by jeffdoucette on November 20, 2016 at 12:15 AM|
I was often criticized during the struggle to end apartheid for being "political" and told by people in and out of church that our place was to be concerned with religious matters. But we were being "religious" not political. It was because we were obeying the imperatives of our faith.
Bishop Desmond Tutu "God Has a Dream" p.64
Preaching is not an easy thing. As someone once said “We are there to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable”. Preaching week in and week out is not easy. And it is more difficult because I do not write my sermons out. There is no chance to say “I am tired and maybe I will just go back and preach on what I did on this Scripture passage three years ago. To do that is to do a disservice to both the community I serve alongside and also to myself. Neither of us are challenged to grow.
And week after week is a challenge. How do you stir both the listener out in the pew and also myself? I think this is why I love to preach on the gospels so much. Preaching on the life of Jesus never gets old, never gets tired. It comforts me, it challenges me, it makes me squirm and it makes me realize how I fail by times as a follower of Jesus.
Preaching is difficult because I look out at the people gathered and I realize that there are so many different stories going on and there is no way I can touch everyone and speak to what everyone is living. And so I do not try. The rest of the service and the people gathered are part and parcel along with me of the Sunday experience.
People may not like my sermon or be indifferent to it or may love it to pieces. I have no control over people’s reactions. I also realize that people will be touched by music, by the gathering with hospitality, by children’s time, by the scripture passage, by an intimate conversation after in the pews with someone. We all have a place and purpose when we gather.
I remember years ago as a new priest we had an intern in our congregation. He went into his room one day and when he came out at the end of the day he proudly said “I have all my sermons ready for the next 4 or 5 times I have to preach. My jaw dropped. I thought to myself “Is there no room for current events, for events happening in the congregation, etc?” He seemed to take a sermon preparation book and just write…not sure if he just typed what sample they gave or not.
We have just lived through one of the most difficult US election campaigns in modern history. It was divisive, hateful, fear induced. One might say “Oh Jeff we are in Canada!!! What happens to them happens to them”. But all around me that is what Canadians are talking about and so do we just ignore it and say “Well we stick to the gospels, mind our own Canadian business and worry about ourselves”. I can’t and call myself a preacher and a follower of Jesus.
That election touched some very deep pockets of my heart…it bought anger, disbelief, fear, a flood of tears and determination. I could have just rolled up my sleeves and said “Let us just talk about you and me and God. God loves you, God loves me, I love you, you love me…we’re a happy family.” Wait that is part of the Barney song. I can’t just put on blinders. I remember this past May at the Festival of Preaching a number of the presenters who were preachers…implored us to use our voice to combat the hatred and division. How could we as ministers stay silent and allow someone else to use the gospel as a tool to divide rather than unite.
Interesting how the federal government and the CRA discourage ministers from being political in congregations. I respond like Bishop Tutu and ask how can we as ministers separate the message of Jesus into…well that is political and that is religious…I ask you? The message of Jesus was God loves you and by times that is very political when people tell you that you don’t matter. How do you stay silent.
Last week I baptized two babies and when I preach at baptisms I carry a baby in my arms and talk to them. I spoke to this little girl and told her of even though she might not understand what had just happened in the US…that I wanted to counter those words. The words of Donald Trump were divisive and hateful and they went against the gospel. Do I stay silent and allow him to bully me as a preacher? No way.
I countered the words with sharing our mission statement from our Affirming process which promised to welcome unconditionally and to never stop. I would embrace diversity as a gift and lift up the lowly and stare into their eyes with love and tell them they mattered deeply to God. I promised her that this community would always choose the gospel and love. We would love our Muslim neighbors, we would value women and embrace the LGBTQ community. We would choose love over fear and hatred.
And this Sunday on this feast of Reign of Christ once again we are challenged in our understanding of the Jesus story. The Roman authorities chose and valued power over people, belittling them and crushing their spirit. Jesus chose love, the broken, the forgotten. Jesus embraced the prisoner on the cross and promised him a place in God’s kingdom of love. He did not back down, but stared into the face of power and chose the path of love. And how can I look into the face of division and hatred and not responds as Jesus did? I cannot and call myself a follower of Jesus, a minister of word, sacrament and pastoral care. I was moved by the number of Clergy who went to protest the Dakota Access Pipeline at Standing Rock along with the Indigenous people and many other activists.
And so when those moments arrive and the gospel calls me to speak truth where truth does not want to be heard I will do so. We are coming into the season of Advent starting next week. Advent is a season of disruption…of staring into the face of society who values power and control and instead speak of a God who will once more break into the midst of pain and suffering. We will hear the story of God not speaking to Royalty and royal courts to announce the birth, but to lowly Shepherds in the hills of a countryside and in a place where animals took shelter.
And that story stirs my heart and my imagination as preacher and calls me to take the message of God’s love to every corner of brokenness and fear and division and hate and infuse it with love. Oh and by the way…that is not only my job…but the responsibility of every Christian to do the same.
Until the next time,