I’ve been preaching through Mark’s Gospel and I thoroughly enjoy his “sandwich” literary style; i.e. when he tells a story with-in a story. So perhaps that is why I want to offer a story, a reflection and a story:
One Sunday, right at the close of the worship service, I was greeting everyone as they left. The comments people make at the doorway can be very interesting. And on one particular day, a dear lady was in the greeting line and she took my hand and shook it warmly and said to me, “I really enjoyed that sermon. That was so good.” And I smiled as I looked her right in the eye and said, “thank you” as she went on her way. I will never forget that day. It was “Lessons and Carols.” There was no sermon.
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Now, the reflection.
I was intrigued by the idea of participating in this blog group of younger Presbyterian pastors; it sounded like a good forum for some interesting dialogue. Then we had a conference call and it was fascinating to hear the different life experiences of the different members in the group.
But as the time came to put pen to paper, I struggled to come up with something to say. Should it be something about the travails of pastoral life and ministry? Should it be a perspective on a contemporary issue? Perhaps a theological morsel from our rich Reformed tradition? Then I realized I was having so much trouble writing something to the whole church because there is so little common ground. And I began to ask myself why I even agreed to join this group amidst such a divided denomination in the first place.
Finally, I realized the answer: friendship. The fact of the matter is, I have made some friendships that I value in the PC(USA). Some people are evangelical like me. Some are not. Some are in seminary and some are retired. But amidst it all, I know there are all kinds of people I have met who are not simply colleagues, but I consider them friends. My reason for joining this group, then, is this: I have a hope that there are more friends out there with whom I haven’t connected yet. But I would like to.
Take a peek at the different headlines of Presbyterian news these days, regardless of the publication. They are not very uplifting. It is easy to forget that old ordination vow that we will be a “friend… subject to the ordering of God’s Word and Spirit.” Yes, the sticking point is the very real theological differences – and I am certainly not downplaying or ignoring them, but I also have hope that I still have friendships to be made that will have value and good fruit. Will everything work out just fine? Probably not. We will probably continue to split, but maybe if we could be friends there might still be a relational bond that transcends a particular denomination’s polity. That would give hope for the future. That would be a witness to the world. And that would mean we would have to give up our anger and control.
If there is one thing I’ve learned about the church, it’s that it is never boring. Some of the things that happen to pastors are simply incredible. We are put in the oddest of situations; we hear the oddest of comments; we have experiences that are downright hysterical. (Just ask your pastor.) I already have a working title for my first hypothetical book: We’re Not Making This Up: True Stories from Pastoral Life. I think that this humor could be a point of contact. Perhaps if we keep that ordination vow in the back of our minds – if we are going to be friends – we will need to laugh together too.
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And now the final story.
Last week I preached on Jesus’ arrest in Mark 14. Yes, I preached about that unnamed man who fled naked, leaving his garment behind (14:51). That scene always sticks like a dagger in my mind; I could never ignore something like that.
Then, yesterday, I went to visit someone in the congregation, and as we sat with his wife and son in the living room, he immediately began to talk about that sermon. It was a serious talk on discipleship and I’m always delighted when someone wants to talk about the Bible (it happens less to pastors than you would think). Apparently, my friend (there’s that word again) woke up in the middle of the night thinking about that passage. He was thinking about what it means to follow Jesus.
He’s a thoughtful person and while he sat straight-faced I could see the wheels in his mind turning. And then he said, “Darryl, I was awake at 3 a.m. thinking about that naked man.” Everyone nodded in agreement. Thinking of a naked man at 3 a.m.? I couldn’t help but chuckle.
Come to think of it, I think I now have an idea for this year’s sermon for Lessons and Carols. Some sermons practically write themselves.
Darryl Evans is Pastor of the First Presbyterian Church of Kannapolis, NC. He loves tomato gardening, surf fishing, Montreat, and Lessons & Carols.