Thursday, June 5, 2008
The Preacher’s Corner
It is the Lord who is perfect, not we who serve
Sometimes one of my friends will warn me that they have said or are about to say some “unpreacherly” words. They seldom proceed to pronounce them in my presence, but it is a clue as to what is on their minds. At such times I feel a bit outdone at not being “fully included” in the lives and thoughts of my people—that lonely isolation that comes from feeling “put on a pedestal”—as some sort of saintly person to live in a kind of hermit-like purity on behalf of the worldly community that surrounds me. I do not recall running for this position when I determined to seek ordination to the ministry.
Not wishing to be thought to be some sort of easily-shocked religious Pollyanna, I quickly remind those who are contemplating a curse word that I, too, have been known to say a thing or two when the hammer comes down on my thumb. Sometimes people imagine ministers are better than we are. It is the Lord who is perfect, not we who serve. I have a colleague whose four-year-old cut loose with a string of curse words in front of company. My friend was both embarrassed and a little proud also of his tyke’s precocious behavior. “The interesting thing,” says my friend, “is that he strung together all of those words correctly.” All the little boy’s mother will say is that “my son didn’t learn this from me.”
Swearing is still a flash-point in American society. The two preachers who have caused such a row recently in the political sphere probably got their words on air simply because they both used an unprintable word in their harangues. Whatever valid critique they offered, springing up from those doughty old biblical prophets like Jeremiah and Amos of old is cancelled out by the violence and invective of their delivery. What a shame it is that the only time religion is mentioned now in the media is when it is abused and manhandled by some extremist. Rectitude and probity are forgotten words in our country and even in our churches now. It is part of the coarsening of American life.
It is also sad when we see political candidates, Republican and Democrat, having to distance themselves from preachers, but sometimes people feel that a personal commitment to decency requires this. There is a terrible irony in the thought that religion is part of the problem, but it is a reminder of what happens when literally anyone can get behind a microphone and assert their claims as a spokesperson for God. We have to trust that the common sense of the American people will sort it all out.
But back to my friends who won’t cuss in front of me. I may cuss in front of them someday, but there is a time and a place for everything. The pulpit is neither the time nor the place. On the other hand there are things that do need cursing. Poverty, war, disease, man’s inhumanity to man. Violation of the commandment “Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain” is no small thing, but neither is neglect of His command to love our neighbors as ourselves, or care for the least among us as if we were ministering unto Christ himself. Let us not allow our disgust at bombastic preachers to blind us to the weightier matters of God’s law.
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