Yesterday, I discovered something about myself. Something I didn't anticipate. And in the strangest of places.
At a funeral service. The service at which yesterday's post was preached.
As part of the services I offer for those who are deceased, I invite the family to choose someone to give a tribute. It's similar to a eulogy. Usually, I've had no issues or problems. Once or twice, someone's gotten a bit carried away, and I've felt hackles rising on the back of my neck.
Yesterday, that almost happened again. The family had chosen one of their relatives to offer a tribute, and I must say, he did a great job. But there was a last minute discovery. The young man had journaled and written a prayer. His mom wanted that prayer read at the funeral, and they asked a friend of the family to read that prayer. The friend was not an ordinary friend: he was a Southern Baptist preacher.
Now, in my neck of the woods, the Southern Baptist tribe of Christianity handles things in a very particular fashion. They are who they are, and even though they are my brothers and sisters in Christ, there are more than a few things I disagree with them on. This is not the time to go into those issues, and for the most part they have no bearing on the Truth that we each proclaim Christ, we each desire to fulfill the Great Commission, and we each desire to reach out with the Good News of Jesus Christ. We each have very different methodologies of doing so; however.
The preacher began with these words or something very similar, "Pastor Haug, you might think about being a little more careful about who you let say a few words in your church."
The hackles began their slow rise. After all, I am slow to anger, and this was a family choice--not my own. However, the hackles still started to stand at attention because the family had simply asked him to read a prayer; not preach a sermon.
Yet, this man had his way of doing things. He sincerely believed he had a call to preach God's Word, as I sincerely believe I have a call to preach God's Word. He read the prayer, and then launched into his mini-sermon. (I have to give him credit in that he kept it relatively short--for a Southern Baptist.) Oh were there some moments in there that would have made me cringe in the past. "I believe in the triune God, and I believe in the Bible and it's complete inerrancy. There are no contradictions in the Bible, and it is perfect." "If you ever wondered if you were a sinner, I'm telling you, you are. All have fallen short of the glory of God." "Jonathan's in a better place, and I'm not mad about that. I'm mad that he got to go there before I did because it's such a wonderful place. He wouldn't want to come back here, that's for sure." "Make sure you believe in Jesus so that you can go there too."
For those of you who read my sermon yesterday, you know this is not how I handle such moments. You saw clearly articulated the theology I believe and preach to families and loved ones and strangers who are grieving the loss of someone who died way too soon. The contrast between the theology I believe I have been led to articulate and the other preacher's theology is stark. A few years ago, I would have been steaming mad at this guy's audacity to preach such doctrine in "my" congregation.
But something has happened to me. Something that has changed me from deep within. I realized it yesterday about half way through the Baptist preacher's commentary. I've evolved into something different than I was. I hope it is a good thing.
For as the anger started to rise, there came two thoughts--two things which helped me relax and be at peace.
The first thought was, "Who are you to say what should and should not be preached in a church at a given time. This isn't "your" church, it's God's church. There is a very high probability that there is someone sitting in that congregation this day who needed to hear the words this man is preaching. While you may not agree with them; while you may detest them, there is at least one--perhaps many who find comfort and solace in such thoughts. It is a good thing he is speaking."
The second thought was, "Let him preach what he needs to say. You have the pulpit next. You have been given words. Preach them. Folks will hear and see the contrast. If there are unchurched people out there, if the other preacher's words were unsatisfying to them, yours will cover it. Don't be threatened by others who preach, be confident in your own calling to preach God's Word. It's not up to you to convince people one way or the other. It's the Spirit's."
The Word was proclaimed yesterday. Dare I say that I perhaps proclaimed it better? Oh, there is a part of me which would really, really like to say that. There is a part of me that would gloat and say in a childish fashion, "My theology and sermon was better than yours." But that's quite immature. That's not what God intends out of His people. Perhaps a few years ago, I would make such comments without a second thought.
But not now.
What God intended for everyone else at the funeral by having two sermons yesterday, I do not know.
What I do know is that God showed me I do not need to be threatened, and that I can embrace something that once would have made me quite angry. Whether or not this a good thing in the long run, I do not know, but I do know I am not the same as I once was.
I have evolved.
Perhaps some might also say, I have grown.
I hope so.