The burden of the pulpit

I loved exercising the awesome, humbling privilege of declaring the Good News of the Gospel from the pulpit twice every week as a Corps Officer. Preparing my sermons deepened my knowledge of the Word and enriched my own spiritual life as I studied and read.

There were times, though, when I stepped into the pulpit with apprehension rather than anticipation. Even though I preached from the lectionary, there were occasions when I knew someone would feel I was “preaching at them” because of the conviction the Spirit brought to their hearts. (I wasn’t imagining this; some of them told me it was so after the meeting.) Then there were the times that personal issues crowded my heart; Satan would use a quarrel with my wife or the kids on Sunday morning to distract me. Perhaps the worst was when controversy erupted right before the meeting: “We have to go into the meeting. Please, let’s talk about it afterward.”

Sometimes the privilege of the pulpit comes with a burden. When there are contentious feelings among members of the congregation, e.g. Or when God has laid it on your heart to preach about difficult subjects like stewardship, forgiveness, evangelism, or integrity.

Sunday is Pentecost. It is an occasion to celebrate the power of the Holy Spirit and the beginning of the Christian Church. But at a time when we in the Church should celebrate our unity in Christ in spite of differences of language, race, culture, education, age, or gender, the world around us is being roiled by events outside of our control. As if it weren’t bad enough that we were arguing over COVID19 and politicians’ responses to it, we are now confronted with what to do and say about the deaths of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and George Floyd.

Is it possible to preach without addressing such things? I cannot imagine being an African-American man preaching this Sunday with the George Floyd incident hanging over me. But why should the race of the preacher matter? And what does the Word say?

Here’s the rub. Salvation Army officers preach so that individuals come to some decision vis-a-vis their spiritual life. What does the Word say for an individual to do in today’s complex society to work for justice? Micah 6:8 says, “And what does the Lord require of you? To do justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” (NIV) The task of the preacher is to challenge the hearer to know what it means – in practical terms – to do justly.

Pentecost should be an occasion for us to celebrate that day when many different nations assembled in Jerusalem and heard the same Gospel message in their native language. We should celebrate unity in Christ among diverse people. Yet, our times seem to call for us to declare the Word that speaks against societal ills which continue to plague our Christian brothers and sisters of color.

I will be praying for my colleagues as they carry the burden of the pulpit this Sunday.

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