The other day, a pastor friend’s homily was blatantly theological. And among his PowerPoint charts was one on which he spent a lot of time. One that had two timelines on it, one above the other.
Both started with Creation. Both had Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection plotted. Both had a smiley face indicating the present. A you-are-here sort of a thing. Both had the Second Coming.
They differed in that the top one had the words “Heaven” and “Hell” as outcomes of the Second Coming, while the bottom one had something like “Resurrection” and “Satan and his Dominions” as outcomes of the Second Coming. And on the bottom one there ended up being shading between the smiley face and the Second Coming indicating the time of “Activated Inaugurated Eschatology,” in-breaking of the Kingdom of God.
It wasn’t clear from the pastor’s talk what relation the two timelines had to one another and the outcomes. Particularly the outcomes. What relation the different outcomes had to one another.
I couldn’t tell why he had both timelines and sets of outcomes on the chart. I usually stay for both services, because I enjoy the worship and the fellowship. And because it’s my job as an usher and greeter. So in the second service, I listened more attentively than usual to make sure I hadn’t missed something important.
Then I spoke with him afterward and told him that I was confused. I didn’t understand. And I know he was uncomfortable. I was uncomfortable too. I really don’t like doing things like this. But if I’m confused, I’ve got to believe others would be confused also. And I said so.
He said that it’s complicated and difficult to explain in the twenty or thirty minutes allocated. All he could hope to do was to present an overview.
Well, I’m not his homily coach. I mean he specifically hasn’t asked me to help him with his homilies. So I let it drop.
But here’s a guy who hasn’t gone to seminary. I mean, I know something of his background. He went one semester or so to a seminary, and that’s it. God told him to start a church, and he did. It’s thriving now, but it wasn’t always so. In fact, you might say for many of the years he’s had the church, he has barely kept out of bankruptcy court, having financed the thing in the early years largely on personal credit cards.
Look Bill, he’s said. I’m not all that well-read. I wasn’t what you’d call an A student in college. I told God that, hey. It would be better all the way around if you spoke to someone else about this.
And now years and years later, the credit card balances still haven’t been paid off completely. They’re dwindling but still are substantial.
And the guy and his wife. The two senior pastors. They are full of the heart of God. It shines forth from them. An intense white light full of yellows modulating to red. They have deep compassion for all of us. For the people God has entrusted to their care.
And they raised their children through this period. Through this prolonged penury. This period of prolonged wobbling on the edge of the financial abyss, of extended anxiety about whether they would be able to pay their bills. Week by week. Month by month. Year by year.
Do you know how that can wear on you? Can wear you down to nothing but twitchiness and shallow breathing? Down to something like a creature chased and harassed to within an inch of its life?
But I detected nothing like that in them. Only the constant light of God shining on all things equally.
But why did they do this? Why do they still do this with Yahoos like me telling them that their homilies are sometimes less than perfect, less than rigorous, less than well explained?
So why do they do this with other Yahoos hectoring about the ice in the entry way in the winter, complaining about the muddiness in the sound of the band, moaning about the lighting, huffing about how major decisions around here are made without proper input and review?
Why do they continue to do this tightrope walk each Sunday 20 feet or so above us? With no net?
Well, let me tell you. They do it because they love God. And they love us. And God told them to do this. They’re doing their level best to be faithful. To do this as well as they are able.
And by the way, they are very able. They are much more able to extend God’s love and compassion and comfort and forgiveness to his people than many of the more learned and polished and gleaming pastors I have known.
Much more able to discern the Holy Spirit’s presence, his activity, his intention than most other pastors I’ve known.
Much more able to humble themselves before God and before his mysteries and before us and our petty inanities than many other pastors I know and have known.
And here they are every Sunday and all week long. Above us in their high wire work. Depending on God. Depending on us. Not to walk away. Not to turn our backs. To hold our arms out in case there’s a misstep, ready to break their fall.