To preachers, preaching tomorrow

You are tired.

Some of you have children, and you are angry and horrified and anxious and frustrated and scared.

All you want to do is hold the ones you love and make sure they know how much they mean to you.

You are reeling, and you are wondering what you will say in the face of this massive tragedy because you just want to sit and cry and pray.

And that is good and natural, but, for you, that is not your calling.

You have been called to preach Hope. You have been called to preach Life. You have been called to preach Love.

Please remember: It does not matter if you feel it. Feelings are real and they are valid, but they are fleeting. They do not own us. You want to be honest and authentic, and that is to be applauded. But preaching in the midst of tragedy does not require that you completely “feel it.”

You have been called to preach a word that is not your own. You have been called and trained to preach a word that is God’s.

You and I are fragile creatures. We bend and break more than any of us would like to admit, but this Sunday is a day to rely on the Holy Spirit to bring to mind all you have been told.

In life and in death we belong to God. That was the Truth I proclaimed at the funeral of my father-in-law who took his own life. It is the Truth that sustains us. It is the Truth for a reason: It is true.

You have not been called because you are above this. You have not been called because this tragedy does not affect you. You have been called because you know the Truth that has set us free. The Truth that God holds us, even in the midst of tragedy. In the midst of Life and in the midst of Death.

People will not believe you. They may call you a charlatan and a liar. They may be angry. They may revile you. But one day they will see that the word you have offered is the Truth of God. That Hope wins. That Love wins. That Faith wins.

You are tired, but God will sustain you.

I will pray for you fervently.

10 thoughts on “To preachers, preaching tomorrow

  1. This is one of those rare times I disagree with you. Well, not actually disagree with you, but at least add a perspective to what I think you’re saying and suggest that there might be people like me listening who will only experience the hope and truth that you’re proclaiming if you do it from a place of authentic and vulnerable rawness and let the healing happen more organically over time. In other words, the only way I’m going to embrace what you wrote in the last four paragraphs is to see that it comes from the person you’re describing in the first four paragraphs. And instead of having someone on the far side of the chasm calling us to come over to the Hopey place, for all of us all walk into the cave and across the chasm together, getting there when we get there.

    But I also admit that this comes from my own bias, my own sense of the meaning of religion and calling and “decency and order” and being “set apart for the proclamation of Word and administration of sacrament” and all that. There probably aren’t a lot of people like me in the pews.

    Then again, maybe I’ve hit upon one of the reasons WHY there aren’t many people like me in the pews. If I feel like a symbol in a black robe is going to stand on a platform and tell me everything’s going to be okay, then I’m not going to show up. Because I need a community where some human beings get together and admit that this is some fucked up shit and it’s perfectly okay to be scared and emotional and doubt-filled and grief-stricken; a place where it is not anyone’s RESPONSIBILITY to proclaim, “Yes, but …”, at least not this particular Sunday. For me this Sunday will not be a SUNDAY Sunday, but a FRIDAY Sunday. And I just can’t get behind the notion that it is somebody’s job to proclaim otherwise. Not yet.

    • I do not think that you and I are very far apart on this, if at all. Acknowledging that we’re now moving into a bit of theory on the rhetorical nature of preaching, I’ll say this:

      If one is not honest about the “lack” then no one will believe when we proclaim “abundance.” I would be mortified and disappointed if any preacher gave the “it’s gonna be okay” speech tomorrow. I agree with you that that does a gross injustice to the congregation and the word of God.

      I do believe that is these moments the preacher is the one called to remind the whole community of the Hope we have. (This is one of the few places I feel I have even a measure of authority since that was the position I was in when my father-in-law took his own life, suddenly and tragically.) I think Ephesians is correct when it names preachers (among others) as God’s gift to the Church because, in these moments, someone has to say “hope” when everyone else says “despair,” “life” when everyone else says “death,” “joy” when everyone else says “grief.”

      And you correctly name that if that is not done with honesty, integrity, and no small measure of tact and discretion it will be lost, and woe be unto the preacher who whips out a “happy” sermon tomorrow.

  2. I feel I should add this: I realize it is your job to exhort pastors to rise through their own grief and do their jobs – and you did that with honesty and elegance. I admire you. I admire what you’re doing. And I felt like this was a safe place to express my own doubts and longings, so take it all as just that.

    • Because I know you as a kind, compassionate, honest person, I absolutely read all that you wrote through that lens. I would always hope this could be a safe space.

  3. Thank you for this wise and compassionate post. I will keep it close to my heart as I meditate and prepare for tomorrow’s sermon and service. Peace to you, brother.

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