Why Do I Have To Preach Today?
Rev. Chris S. Davies
But Moses said to the Lord, ‘O my Lord, I have never been eloquent, neither in the past nor even now that you have spoken to your servant; but I am slow of speech and slow of tongue.’ Then the Lord said to him, ‘Who gives speech to mortals? Who makes them mute or deaf, seeing or blind? Is it not I, the Lord? Now go, and I will be with your mouth and teach you what you are to speak.’ But he said, ‘O my Lord, please send someone else.’ Then the anger of the Lord was kindled against Moses and he said, ‘What of your brother Aaron the Levite? I know that he can speak fluently; even now he is coming out to meet you, and when he sees you his heart will be glad. You shall speak to him and put the words in his mouth; and I will be with your mouth and with his mouth, and will teach you what you shall do. He indeed shall speak for you to the people; he shall serve as a mouth for you, and you shall serve as God for him. Take in your hand this staff, with which you shall perform the signs.‘
As a pastor, it’s my God given- call to take the world around us, and theologically reflect. Bring meaning. Help people see these things through the lens of Christ. Weeks like this though, when I feel helpless and hopeless, heartbroken and hurting, I want to throw my hands up and say, God, seriously? Please send someone else. Someone who can say this more effectively, more gently, more intentionally. I’m all emotion and part filter. I stumble over the hard things and sometimes avoid the call of God. It was tempting to do that this week.
Why do I have to preach today? ….and then the anger of the Lord reminds me that my job is more than bring a nice service and a nice word to some nice people. Because to follow Christ is not always nice. It’s challenging and back-breaking and people die following our God. So preach the word. Weeks like this, when the reality of death is literally brought into church, it would my sin to avoid preaching it. Weeks like this, I wish working for God was a little more palatable. But weeks like this show us how much work there has to be done for God, around our country and around our world.
When Moses pleads with God that he not be the one to do the work of saying the words, God says, Fine. Your brother, then, will speak. You will relay the message and he will do something with it. The Word starts with God, and moves through Moses and his brother Aaron, then moves around all the people, making meaning and giving food for thought. It’s a heavy responsibility, for Moses, for Aaron, for all the people. And for me, daring to speak words that God calls me to speak, and for you, with the audacity to believe that God is trying to get your attention somewhere.
Theologian Kierkegaard likens worship, and thus preaching, to a stage performance. Which doesn’t go exactly the way you might think, with performers and audience. He says that if this is a stage, then God is the audience. They who are in the pews– you–are the performers. And the pastors and they who lead worship are the stage-hands on the sidelines whispering cues and trying to help along the way. If this is the case, then ultimately, your performance is between you and God.
My prayer is that these cues from the sidelines–these sermons– impact how you interact with the Lord Our God. A sermon isn’t meant to have all the answers. It is meant to get you thinking, to give you crumbs of theological reflection that last throughout the week and month and year. If there is a sermon to which you still think back, then that sermon did it’s job. And whether because you agree or disagree, you’re not sure, or you still find meaning powerfully from it, then that was an effective sermon.
Worship is a space where we come with all the cares and worries of our lives, our celebrations and our thanksgiving, and find space to be in ourselves and in community with our God and our world. It’s also a space where we DARE to think that GOD might actually show up. And if They did show up? One author writes,
“It is madness to wear ladies’ straw hats and velvet hats to church; we should all be wearing crash helmets. Ushers should issue life preservers and signal flares; they should lash us to our pews. For the sleeping god may wake some day and take offense, or the waking god may draw us out to where we can never return.”1
What then? Theologically reflecting on our world is absolutely essential. How are we to make meaning out of murder? How am I to preach what God is calling me to preach, and trust that you who are in relationship with God find God in the midst of this week’s tragedies?
Ethically, responsibly, theologically, I cannot preach this week without preaching Black Lives Matter. This has literally been brought into Church. For church to ignore it, is sin. Like Moses, I say it clumsily and as a prayer, because there are some who don’t, or won’t. Black Lives Matter. We say it now, because when we say “all lives matter,” we wash away the very real experience that not even in church are black lives safe. Black Lives Matter. We say it, and repeat it, and the message of God goes forth from the pulpit to the congregation and into the world as prayer and as action. The experience of black people in this country isn’t one person, or one incident, or one town. Over and over again we learn at the expense of black lives that there is– and this is fact, proven again and again, studied and confirmed, over and over, that black people are treated differently for every single step of their lives than white people. This is a reality of our society. We are not, and cannot be, color blind. This experience is real.
If calling attention to reality makes you uncomfortable, know that this isn’t a plea for white guilt. Nor is it a sermon calling out any one person individually as “racist.” It IS a confession of a guilty system, the sin of our society, saying, we have messed this up. All of us. We have not seen the inherent worth and dignity of each human life, created in the image of God. We, collectively have looked at the least of these in our society and turned our faces, walking past those beaten, starved, dying, imprisoned along the way, and saying almost nothing.
And if a PASTOR leading BIBLE STUDY in a CHURCH isn’t safe, then who is? If the sin of our society leaks over that there is literally no sanctuary, no place safe for people to go and mourn and pray and be in community together, then something serious is wrong. If the only reason that a 5-year-old in Bible study in Charleston, South Carolina is alive today is because they were playing dead in the midst of a shooting, then this is a symptom of a sick system.
How does a sick system find redemption? Lord almighty, I’m not sure. But we have to start somewhere. Individually, if we want to begin to work towards change, it is our job first to LISTEN. If we are white, we do not know what it’s like to not feel safe everywhere that we go on account of our skin color. Swallow the discomfort of hearing something hard, and listen. Hear the stories of people of color, speaking the truth. Do not interrupt. Read the news. Look at the internet. Hear the pain, the mourning, the lament. Pray: Lord, in your mercy. Kyrie Eleison
It is a responsibility of one who claims solidarity to continue to be informed, educating themself to the best of their ability about our society in 2015. As allies, it is our responsibility to teach ourselves, not the responsibility of one oppressed to remind us why it matters.
Next, remember that if we are to be an ally to ALL the children of God, know that “ally” is a verb. It is an action we do daily, and a verb of the present tense. What communities have done in the past doesn’t warrant the actions of this moment; because it is a choice to continuously stand on the side of those in need. What does that look like today and tomorrow and the next day?
Know when to apologize. Speaking with and on behalf of those who are marginalized is hard work, and we’re going to stumble within our community and beyond. One professor of color teaching social justice work says, “When you screw up, be prepared to listen to those who you hurt, apologize with honesty and integrity, work hard to be accountable to them, and make sure you act differently going forward.”2
Be aware that discomfort is expected, and stretch to it, knowing that God will meet us there.
And finally, one of the best ways to act to change the system is to speak also to people who share our own identities. As a Christian, speak with other Christians about why Black Lives Matter. If you’re white, talk to other white people about why Black Lives Matter. Doing so amplifies the message and uses our voices responsibly in communities that are already used to hearing from us (and our voices) as individuals.
So. Yes, this is hard. So, too, is following the Christ before us. It is uncomfortable. Following Jesus isn’t meant to be comfortable. If you have (stayed and) heard the extent of this sermon, then you know how hard it can be. And here from the sidelines, your cue is to take the Word of God and continue talking about it, continue wondering what it is to be a Christian in the world where brothers and sisters, beloveds of Christ are not safe in their place of prayer as a direct result of the color of their skin. Like Aaron, you have heard, too, the hard word spoken. Take it forward, speak some, listen mostly, and see around you the sin of our society. Work for the day when we are all honored in our experience and appearance and the way in which we each reflect God, Godself.
Most importantly, hold close to the truths of our faith: that we believe in redemption. We believe that all things can be made new. We believe that we are partners in God’s service working for peace and justice that we may be here on earth, as God holds it in heaven. We know that we can’t get to Easter Morning without Good Friday. We believe that from violence can be peace; from death, there is, and must be resurrection. We hold fast to the truths of our faith, knowing that God will meet us there. Amen.
1 Dillard, Annie. Teaching a Stone To Talk. New York: Harper & Row, 1982