Thursday's: A Peek Over the Shoulder of a Working Pastor
Thursday’s. A normal day in the calendar, after Wednesday, and before Friday. If an 80’s or 90’s kid, you’ll remember Thursday’s the day Seinfeld and Friends aired on TV. That glowing box in your living room when you had to watch it live, or tape on VHS.
Thursday’s. A day in my week that’s often the same. Take that back, always the same, with a few rare exceptions the last eight years.
I’m not sure how your work rhythms play out, but Thursday’s is a sacred day for me. A day blocked off, closed, and when possible, free of distractions.
It’s sermon day.
I’m a pastor, and most weeks, I stand in front of hundreds of people and teach from the Bible. Some call it a sermon, homily, or meditation. Regardless of your preference, language, or church background, the sermon is a person standing in front of a church, and trying with all grace, to explain the beauties and immensities of God and all its implications for life and the world.
Not a small task.
Thursday’s, a day when I feel the weight of preaching. It’s not the only day for study or prayer, but it’s my day, an uninterrupted day for deep, focused, and prayerful work.
Preaching is not someone giving a lecture, an opinion piece akin to the New York Times, or cliches and moral platitudes soothing anxious and weary souls with promises of prosperity, or your best life now.
Preaching is prayerfully examining and meditating over ancient texts. Texts written through human authors (40), over a 1500 years span, on three continents, and in a variety of styles and genres. These texts while being captured by humans, the Divine always in the background doing work, ensuring the message is clear.
No human could dream up what’s written in the pages of the Bible, even if they tried. Humanity could never compile a book comprising sixty six separate books, over generations, and still have one cohesive and united narrative. Unless God’s involved.
We are too selfish, unenlightened, and blind to our sins, to come up with anything close to the Bible.
It’s a miracle.
That’s the weight I feel. Many pastors, priests, and ordinary disciples of Jesus, have stepped into a pulpit, classroom, or in conversation, said things about God from the Bible.
I’m no special flower.
But, what’s happening on Sunday’s, is not a man giving his opinions on public policy, or why he thinks Seinfeld is the greatest show ever written.
I’m speaking on behalf of God and what he’s revealed to humanity. The weight is real. Observations about Seinfeld would be easier.
I’ve been called to say something to the family of God. Things like: God is good, sin is gross, and Jesus is making all things new.
I’m not the only qualified one to say these things. The Bible is a public document most can access.
But because God cares about truth, and he seems to care about saving, and building up and deepening the church of Jesus Christ, he calls some to help with the teaching task, and gives more formal offices to serve God’s people.
None of these men and woman are perfect, and see everything, and get everything right. We are dealing with an infinite God, and finite human messengers. But in God’s grace, and by his love for the church, he still uses crooked sticks to make paths straight.
I’ve been called to this holy task and I still laugh most days.
On any given Sunday people gather who hate God, love God, and are suffering from cancer. Come to a gathering on Sunday and the faces will tell a story:
“I’m hurt. Dry. In pain. Confused. Worried about children, finances, spouses, friends, employment, disease, mental instability, and addictions I can’t seem to kick. Some feel as if life isn’t fair because everything is turning up aces, and others don’t want to live another day.”
All in the church, all staring back at me.
The weight is real. These image-bearers of God need something grander and eternal and bigger than current realities. No need for platitudes and cliches to make it another day. We need a word from God, promises, commands, and reminders of events which happened in time and space. Reality, a reality of natural and spiritual forces, and hope.
Sometimes what we need is:
...stop that… turn back to the grace and mercies of God.
We need God to speak.
Thursday’s are when I have to make sense of texts written thousands of years ago. Try with all my might to make sense of a culture so foreign to our own, and how it makes sense for today.
My tools are ancient texts and voices of the past. Can I hear? Will I hear? My tools are not always tangible and involve Spirit, reason, gifts, mind, heart, soul, pen, paper, and computer.
What are the issues of the day? How can the eternal promises of God, and unchanging voice of Jesus, give hope amidst racism, sexism, hatred, idolatry, sin, abuse, worry, anxiety, lying, cheating, stealing, finances, gardening, shopping, TV watching, and daily stuff of marriage, parenting, work, friendships, home, and neighborhood?
Thursday’s will involve handwriting the main text for the week. It will include sketching ideas, words, making connections, questions, and confusion. Thursday’s will witness a man on his face pleading with God to speak and to give the gift of understanding and faith.
Some Thursday’s will feel like giving up and becoming a truck driver or something not involving confusing ancient texts or people.
But I keep coming back every Thursday. Maybe because I’m crazy? Pay check? Not enough money in the world makes this job easy.
Or, maybe because I don’t have many employable skills? Few jobs require Greek or Hebrew, not to mention the biblical kind.
Or maybe, just maybe, there’s something greater going on. This calling from God is real, and haunts me every Thursday, and the other days of the week. God in his infinite mercy and sense of humor, has called this man, a frail, weak, and unimpressive man, to say something on behalf of God.
Preaching is not about me and building an empire. It’s not an opportunity to show off eloquence or speaking abilities.
Preaching is pointing to Another.
I’m just a beggar, speaking to other beggars, showing them where they can find bread. Or if you like, I’m just a thirsty soul, telling other thirsty souls, where they can find a drink.
And one truth, one I’m not sure my congregation will ever understand.
This preacher, needs the sermon, more than they do. He needs to hear from God.