My wife and I have often joked that we have the two most guilt-inducing careers for outsiders. SHW is a dental hygienist. When folks find that out, they immediately start into their excuses for not going to the dentist or uncomfortably laughing at their inability to start a proper flossing regiment.
When they find out that I’m an Episcopal Priest, the excuses about why they don’t go to church as often as they think they should are surprisingly similar to the reasons they don’t go to the dentist, and I hear all kinds of ways in which they find God in trees or are spiritual but not religious.
One thing we both also hear is how people can’t imagine doing the jobs we do. “I couldn’t look inside peoples’ mouths,” they say to her. “How can you think of something to say each week,” i get in response. While I can understand the desire to stay away from the general ickiness of the average person’s unflossed mouth, I don’t really get this fear of writing a sermon. First, if one is doing their homework, praying, and listening for the Spirit, sermon topics tend to eventually show up. It’s not that there aren’t weeks when I wish they’d show up earlier, but I have found that if I am faithful to the homiletical exercise, God will give me something to say.
Moreso, if I am doing the work, God will show me what it is in my own life that needs to be addressed, and often, that thing is pretty applicable to the wider world. Truth be told, more often than not, I’m preaching to myself. This is true this morning as I read the lessons appointed for Sunday and found Jesus pushing back against would be disciples who wanted to follow Jesus on their own terms. “I’ll be right there” is not the an acceptable answer. That is to say, that comfortable Christianity, though commonplace in contemporary American society, isn’t really a thing.
I know this to be true in my own life. For all intents and purposes, I’ve got it pretty easy. I’m serving a congregation that is full of people who want to serve. I’m well paid. I have a great staff. We could very easily do the comfortable Christian thing of minding our own business, writing a few checks to outreach organizations, and patting ourselves on the back for years to come, but that’s not what God would have us do. It would have been much easier, when Jesus came to sleep on our porches to say, “You can’t stay here,” while writing a nominal check to HOTEL, INC., but God calls us out of our comfort zones. When Catherine Meeks called to ask if I would take part in a week-long Justice Pilgrimage aimed at racial healing, it would have been way easier to find some kind of excuse. When the Bishop invited me and two lay leaders to attend a conference to rethink stewardship, it would have been easy to look at our income statement and think, “nah, we’re good.” But God is not interested in our easy answers and paltry excuses. God calls us to growth, to change, and to deeper commitment to the Kingdom of God. So, here I sit, in a hotel room in Asheville, North Carolina ready to once again listen to where God is calling us to go next, reasonably uncomfortable in the reality that this morning, I’m called to preach to myself.