Saturday, April 17, 2010

Don't feel sorry for your pastors - pray for them instead

My sabbatical looks so far away tonight. It starts in August - really not long to wait - but I've had three parishioners' funerals since Easter and I am plenty wrung out.

Last night, God blessed our home with an unusually early quiet, so I sat up and did some spiritual reading. The bit of Gregory the Great's preaching that I read was like having an understanding friend drop by:

"Think, I ask you, dearest brothers, how much toil there is for the watchman, both to extend his heart to the sublime, and suddenly to recall it to the depths, and to refine the spirit in the heights of inward understanding and because of the exterior causes of his neighbors, so to speak, suddenly thicken in cogitation. Homilies on the Prophet Ezekiel I.11.28

In other words, if your pastor is going to bring anything of spiritual insight and value to the sermons you sit through, s/he needs time in prayer and contemplation of the Word of God; but if your pastor is to temper these insights with compassion for your human struggles, s/he will be wrenched out of the peaceful splendor of prayer to deal with all the "stuff" of daily life.

Gregory says that this is unavoidable - in fact, it is necessary if we are to find divine wisdom and apply it with tender care. So don't feel sorry for us. It is the way God set things up; it models our mysterious message that Jesus Christ is fully God of Glory and fully human of Earth.

But don't ignore our reality and just gripe about us, either. Gregory has this word for "the people in the pews,"

"Therefore it is necessary for me not only to expound the words of the Prophet but also to lament my own wretchedness before you. I therefore seek that your prayer make me such that I avail to benefit myself and you as well. He is powerful through your intercession to bestow such gifts on me, unworthy and weak." I.11.29

If our sermons are trite in your ears, pray God to give us insight. If our sermons are cold, pray God to warm our hearts with compassion. If our sermons are scattered and poorly prepared, pray God to protect our time in prayer and study. Whatever might be "wrong" with our preaching, ask God to help us and it will bring blessing to you.

Don't let us make excuses, but don't give us grief, either. We are wretched and broken and need God just like you. If you want awesome preaching - and Christ died for you to have it, after all - pray for your preachers throughout the week.


Anonymous said...

A shortened version of this was the story I heard long ago told by Tony Campolo about the women in the back of the church raising their arms during the sermon and praying aloud, "Help him, Jesus. Help him, Jesus."

TLF+ said...

LOL - the way I heard it, she was shouting, "Please, Jesus, help this man to find his way!"

Anonymous said...

Either way works

TLF+ said...

Oh, absolutely! It is one of those wonderful true stories where the point is clear although the details might diverge a bit in the retellings... a worthwhile retort to those who try to discredit Scripture by hunting for differences in the Gospels, for example.

David Handy+ said...

So you have a sabbatical coming up in August, Tim? Marvelous! You're certainly due one, and I hope it's really refreshing.

How long a sabbatical is planned? And who in the world is filling in for you?

TLF+ said...


All of Aug. and a good chunk of Sept. (10 Sundays) As you know, there are not a ton of clergy running around South Dakota for supply. The Vestry budgeted for 5 Sundays of Supply and 5 for Morning Prayer. Erma Wolf, the Pastor who leads Lutheran CORE out here, will cover a couple and George Parmeter, recently retired as Rector in Huron, will ride his motorcycle in to cover the others.

Fr. Shoberg is our sometime organist these days - despite his many protestations of being "rusty", he's marvelous.