Wednesday, November 27, 2019

Things They Didn't Teach Us In Seminary

I belong to a Facebook group called, "Things they didn't teach us in Seminary."
You can imagine that it is a pretty long list.
Everything from, "How to fix a cloaked toilet" to "How to read a financial report".
Those are the obvious things.
I was discussing this at Bishop convocation with one of my colleagues.
I was telling her that the thing that has struck me recently about being a pastor is how deeply you get into the pain of life.
They really don't teach you that at seminary.
At  least not to the degree that you encounter it once you are in the ministry.
Or at least not the degree I have encountered it.

For example, tomorrow I will be doing a funeral for a family whose 23 year old daughter died of a drug overdose.
I wish I could tell you that was the saddest part of the story.
This young woman had a really hard life.
She lived in what is best described as hell.
Never really having a steady home.
She was abused by men.
She never found her place in the world.

And that was just last week.
It doesn't account for all the other things that I hear.
Divorce, marital infidelity, alcohol addiction, Sexual abuse, domestic violence, depression, anxiety.
The world we live in can be very hurtful.
It can be hard on people.
And the depths of people's pain is real.

This is the problem with Christ the King Sunday.
We hear about Jesus as the King of the universe.
And we think of the image that we have always lived with.
A God who floats above the world.
A God who solves all the problems we have.
We think of a king sitting on a throne, giving orders, and having them followed.
We think of a God removed from our problems, because he simply sits around making demands that have to be carried out.
It is why I really dislike this Sunday.
It would seem to reinforce our ideas of that God.

What saves it is that our Gospel reading is of Jesus dying on a cross.
That our God does not float above the world's problems.
Our God enters them.
Our God experiences them.
Our God knows the hurt of being human.
Our God knows the complicated reality that we find ourselves.

The only theological thing we ever have to remember is that Jesus died on a cross.
Through that lens we can view everything we face.
Because what I think people really struggle with is the idea that God might not be there for them when things are not going well.
I hear it all the time.
"Where was God when my daughter started doing drugs?"
"Where was God when my sister died?"
"Where was God when I lost my job?"
That might be the most common question I get.

And the answer is on the cross.
Right there with you, with your loved one, with us.
In the pain, in the sorrow, in the loss.
Right there next to them.
Because Jesus knows the pain of the world.

And we don't have to hide it from him.
Because the other truth is that we try to hide away the less pleasant things from one another.
We try to pretend like everything is all good.
And some of that is appropriate.
We are not going to tell a stranger our real problems.
And maybe even from those we love we want to protect them from what is going on.
And that is brilliance of Jesus Christ.
We don't have to hide at all.
Not the worst part of ourselves.
Not the parts that are nasty, and revolting to other people.
We can take it all to Jesus.
And Jesus will nod and say, "today you will be with me in paradise."
Even if you are a thief.

This is why I consider it an honor when people come to me with whatever they are struggling with.
It is because they trust me with those things.
They trust that I will give them the grace they crave.
Maybe that is what surprises me the most about it all.
I never thought coming out of seminary that people would tell their pastor their deepest darkest secrets.
I just assumed that people went to church to put on a show, for the music, or to be seen.
But that isn't true at all.
People come because they really need Jesus.
They need the good news.
That God's love and grace are bigger, more powerful than whatever it is that you are going through.

On Monday at the funeral this will be my message to the family.
Because I could see them wanting to make sense of it all.
And I can't tell you why she got hooked on drugs.
But I can tell you that she was a beloved child of God.
I can tell you that God has loved her into eternity.
I can tell you that she rests from all the struggles that she faced on earth.
I can tell you that God's grace is bigger than any addiction.

And that is the message of Christ the King Sunday.
We will not always have the easiest lives.
We will face things that we don't talk about.
We will be faced with harsh realities of living on this side of heaven.
The depths of the pain that people experience is beyond our comprehension.
But God is on the cross.
God is in our pain.
God has experienced anything we could experience.
Abandonment, betrayal, oppression, injustice, loss, pain, hurt.
God has taken it all on God's self.

That is the King that we worship.
Not the one who sits on throne demanding things of us.
Not of one who solves all our problems, or stops everything bad from happening to us.
But one who loves us enough to go to the depths with us.

Come to think of it they did teach us that in seminary.
Luther called in the theology of the cross.
God is found in the pain of our lives, not in the victory.
However, I now see it more clearly.
I see it in real lives that I have the privilege  to pastor.

In your life if you are in pain, if you experience the reality of a harsh and sinful world.
I hope you will always remember that God is right there with you.
That Jesus died so we would know that we are never alone, that God is always with us.
Jesus died so that we would know the depths God goes through so we know of God's love.
Jesus died so that we might live here now, and know the grace and love of God.
They taught that is seminary too, and we live it here together in this community.