Sunday, January 20, 2013

Sermon for Sunday, January 20, 2013 John 2:1-11 “Things we never say in a sermon”

Poor Jesus. His mother dragged him along to a family wedding, some cousin he barely knew, so he dragged along the disciples. If he had to suffer, so did they. And no sooner than they had arrived than his mother came up alongside of him and said, “Son, they have a problem. The wine has run out.” And he sighed and said, “This is not my problem.”

His mother, being a good Jewish mother, knew that he would do something. So instead of pestering him, she went to the servants and said, “Do whatever he tells you to do.” Sneaky! But it played out as she anticipated. He meandered over to the servants, and with a deep sigh, said, “You see those big water jugs over there? Fill them with water.” Then he said, “Take a little out and bring it to the head waiter.” And they did, and the guy was blown away by the quality of the wine. The wine that only a few seconds earlier had been water.

Jesus the pastor shared a lot of the same challenges that any pastor faces. People asking you to do things when it doesn’t feel like the right time to do them. Folks looking for hand-holding when they should be able to figure it out themselves. Relatives who have their own view of what being a pastor should look like. You get the picture.

A couple of weeks ago, a pastor published a blog post that listed “Secrets Your Pastor Can’t Share in a Sermon.” He listed things like “your offering is not a tip for services rendered,” and “I usually work 60 hours a week, but you assume I only work 1, because that is all the time we spend together,” and “Getting hung up on ‘the way we do things around here ‘ is getting in the way of being a growing community of faith,” and ”if you tell me something as I greet you leaving the Sunday service, I’ll probably forget it” and “I work for God, not  the Bishop, not the Vestry, not the Personnel Committee.” It sounds sort of mean-spirited, listed that way, but in fact this is a very loving list of the challenges and confusion around being a pastor. This guy clearly loves his parish, accepts that neither he nor they will be perfect, and works hard.

But the fact remains that pastoring is hard work. And Jesus shows that in this story of the wedding feast.

He is not ready to start his active ministry. He’s just gotten the disciples together, and is doing some preliminary teaching. He knows that performing a miracle will “out” him, and he wants to get things ready first. But his mother presses him. She presses him gently, but she still presses him, because to her this is a crisis for the family, a crisis of hospitality.

And like all pastors who receive a crisis phone call at 2 in the morning, Jesus responds. He takes care of the problem. Because that is what he is called to do.

It is just the beginning of his journey to fully serve his people.

He will come up against other challenges as he serves his people. When he heals on the Sabbath, someone will say that’s breaking the rules…just as pastors who have helped out people who were not of their denomination or who weren’t even Christians have been chastised as breakers of rules.

When he teaches a new, more loving and expansive understanding of the relationship between God and God’s people, he will earn the wrath of the religious leadership, just as pastors who have argued for full inclusion of gay and lesbian people or undocumented immigrants have drawn the wrath of those who choose to read the Bible (or, for that matter, the Constitution) extremely narrowly.

When he dines with the lowest sort of people, he will be accused of being unclean…just as pastors who have worked with those in prison, or who are homeless, or who are addicted, are accused of being naïve and of wasting the resources of the church on those who don’t deserve it.  

It reminds me of a great quote from the marvelous Anglican theologian William Temple, who said "The Church is the only society on earth that exists for the benefit of non-members."

Preach it, Bishop Temple! But back in Jesus’ day, and sometimes in today’s world, pastoring is hard work, precisely because we are a society that exists for the benefit of non-members. That’s countercultural both in the world and in the present day institution of the church!  A society that exists for the benefit of non-members: not in the sense of handing out largesse to the ignorant masses, but in the sense of welcoming them into the knowledge of the love of Christ and the love of this faith community.

So as I read that blog post about things that this particular pastor wouldn’t say in a sermon, I was saddened that he felt he couldn’t share those things with his people, because much of it was really, really good theology.

So in the interest of not being that guy, here’s my list. I’m sharing it with you, because I love you, and I am no good at keeping things secret.

1.            I work long hours. Some of you already know that. For others, it’s not so evident. That’s okay, because I’m going to tell you about it now. Sometimes those long hours are here at church. Sometimes they are at someone’s bedside, or at a nursing home, or in a meeting, or at home. I usually write my sermons sitting on my couch at home, because it’s the quietest place I know. And I need quiet to do a decent job of crafting words that will speak to you. So if I am not in the office, it doesn’t mean that I’m out playing in the park somewhere. You know how you can reach me – my cellphone number is printed all over the place. The cellphone with me 24-7. Call me if it is an emergency. If it can wait for the next morning, I’d appreciate it if you wait until 8 am, because sometimes the days and occasionally the nights are long.

2.            I’ll echo what my colleague in ministry said in his list: if you tell me something as you exit the service on Sunday, I will most likely forget it. Twelve other people have also told me stuff. I try to remember, but if you want to make really sure that I remember something, call me on Monday morning or email me when you get home. I do respond quickly.

3.            Let’s distinguish between opinions and theology. When I preach something or teach something, it is usually based on serious study. It is based on the Bible, and on the teachings of the Church Fathers, and on our tradition, and on the best of contemporary theology. We will not always agree on things – that’s just fine. But if you want to arm-wrestle about theology and what God expects of us, do not cite Rush Limbaugh, Rachel Maddow, Joel Osteen, or Bill Maher. Do not cite entertainers or quote politicians on either side of the aisle. That’s opinion, not theology.

4.            On my day off – this is a corollary to number 1 – I really do try to take a day off. It’s Friday. That said, if you have an emergency, PLEASE call me even if it’s Friday. If you have a question or a situation that is not an emergency, please do NOT call me on Friday. Even God took a day off after he finished with Creation, and I don’t have anywhere near God’s strength or skills. Even Jesus took a nap in the boat sometimes, but when the storm hit, he woke up and fixed it.

5.            About social events (and this includes ShrineMont). I love you all. I enjoy being a part of the social and fellowship events that are a part of our common life together. But when I am at these events, it is not a relaxed social function as it is for you, because often we have conversations that are deep and meaningful and pastoral in nature. I am “on” just like I am “on” on Sunday mornings. I am “on” as my colleagues The Rev. Laurie Brock and the Rev. Mary Koppel describe as “Beyoncé at a concert on.” Just because the collar isn’t on doesn’t mean that I am not working, so don’t be surprised if I’m tired after ShrineMont or if I don’t always have the energy to come to dinner with you. I love you, but sometimes I need to recharge my batteries.

Here is the heart of all this: I love you and I love my work. Like all pastors, I try to do it the best that I can. It is inevitable that sometimes you will feel that I have failed you, because, like all pastors, I am human and I make mistakes as much as I try not to. It is inevitable that sometimes we will disagree, and one of us will be unhappy with the end result of a disagreement. This does not make us unchristian. What can threaten our status as followers of Christ, though, is if we allow it to get in the way of loving each other. Your pastor tries to serve you as Jesus served you, even when the call comes at 3 a.m., even when the person who says the angry words isn’t a regular attender, even when the argument is not about the stated problem, but about some deeper grief. Remember Mary’s movement in this story. She asks, and then she steps back. And Jesus responds, as she knows that he will.

Pastors will do what those who love them ask of them, in the right time and in the right way, we pray…and do pray, for me and for all who serve God’s people. It’s wonderful work, but it’s difficult work, and it is best when we do it together.



Teri said...

how did this go???

mibi52/ The Rev. Mary Brennan Thorpe said...

It was very well received. Many folks made jokes about telling m their life stories as they left the service, several said they really loved to hear more about how it really is for me, and so on. I expect if our relationship was more contentious (I am blessed with a loving parish that appreciates me), the things I said might have caused more questions or anxiety, but there was none of that.