Monday, March 23, 2015

Troubled by the message of death

It’s 12:54 a.m.

I gave the benediction at 11:34 a.m. – more than 12 hours ago.  I’m still haunted by the sermon I delivered today at Bethel Church.  Something was missing.  I feel it deep.  I’m dismayed by what I failed to understand until the stuff tugging at my soul wouldn’t allow me to sleep.

I’m angry about the implications of the text I preached.  I wasn’t willing to face the deep angst that came with reading and studying John’s gospel.  The words of Christ confronted all of my false assumptions and compelled me to consider the works of ministry from the place of death and shame.

“Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit,” reads the Gospel of John in the 12th Chapter. “Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also.”

Each word reminded me of an email I received from Dr. J. Alfred Smith, Sr., pastor emeritus at Allen Temple Baptist Church in Oakland, California, in response to my rant regarding the sacrifices I’ve made to remain in ministry.  My missive to Smith came during a night soaked in tears after reflecting on the things missing in my life after moving to Columbia, Missouri over a year ago.

“You now live the cross shaped life,” Smith wrote. “Fight like your life depends on it.”

Suck it up son.  This is what it means to die for Christ.  This is what comes with the work of ministry. I felt each word as if the cross had in fact shaped my life after a series of deaths.

Pain kept me from preaching the text from the gut.  I failed to allow the words to reflect the onus of a person who understands the meaning of carrying that old rugged cross.

I have to face the message I refused to preach today.

What is that message?

Living the cross shaped life hurts.  It’s painful living to die, overcoming with resurrection, only to be killed over and over again.  The work of ministry is a series of deaths and resurrections.  It’s lonely at times, and there are days when you are much too weak to share the anguish that comes with saying yes to the call to serve.

I can’t sleep due to the fear related to telling the truth about how difficult it can be to preach the Good News when so much of it is built on bad news.

I wanted the shout that comes with the message of resurrection.  Yes, I wanted to skip the message of death by going directly to the lessons involving new life on the third day.

I didn’t want to discuss the pain of dying.  Not today. Not after Trayvon’s death. Not after Michael Brown’s witness of remaining on hot pavement for four hours after the bullets ripped his body. Not after Eric Garners struggle to breathe.

I can’t sleep because we, those who preach, often fail to preach from that place “where deep calls unto deep at the noise of your waterfalls “(Psalms 42:7).

I was seduced by the comforts of the good news, while contending with the relevance of all that bad news.  Isn’t this the work of ministry that is often lost within a culture enamored with health and wealth? Has our desire to feel good, and inspiring others to feel the same, hindered our ability to adequately share the message of death?

If so, is this where the message of social justice gets lost among a massive list of feel good memos shared in churches every Sunday in America?

I refused to dig deeper into the message of death.

It’s 1:53 a.m.

Lord, can I sleep now?