I once asked a friend of mine who is a priest, “What happens when you work all week long and you have nothing to say when sermon time comes?” He regarded me for a minute and said, ” It’s only happened twice in twenty or so years of ordained ministry. So when it happens, I get up in the pulpit and I tell the truth. I tell the congregation that I have nothing to add to Gospel reading, that we are going to take a few minutes of silent reflection, and then move on with the sermon.” While I was interested in the case of what to do sans sermon, what has really stuck with me is the notion of telling the truth.
It is an occupational bent of being a professional church worker, whether lay or ordained, to try to tell the truth in the least offensive way possible. This is true of all members of institutions. We don’t like making our membership mad or offended. This is also true of kind people. When it comes to truth-telling, kind people try not to be jerks. But getting up in a pulpit, when the people looking at you pay you to have something to say, is a different kind of truth-telling. It’s not the “No, butter yellow is not your color,” kind of truth-telling. This is the truth-telling that requires humility, an honest appraisal of our own limitations, and doing it publicly.
I fear that Christian folks like me have done a bad job of both telling this kind of truth and preparing those in our care to do this kind of truth-telling. Folks like me walk around, thinking we know a whole lot of things, disputing over the liturgical color of the day, acting as though if services aren’t at midnight then it’s not really Christmas. To be sure, these things are important, but what is more important is the cultivation of a humble spirit and a contrite heart. More important than “right,” is love. I have sought to be less right over the years and to be more open; to dispute less about the periphery, and listen to the needs of the other.
This is a hard week to be an American, and particularly to be a Christian in America. In days such as these, we must listen to each other, care for each other, nurture a humble spirit as we interact with those with whom we agree and those with whom we disagree, because no matter what, long after Trump is out of office, or the partisan dispute of the day is over, when our candidate wins or loses, we will still be stuck with each other.
On the day after whatever event you’re thinking about happens, the minute after you make that tweet, the second after the word is out of your mouth, your sibling is still there across from you, wounded by the word you have uttered. What I am saying does not negate our obligation to tell the truth, but it demands we do it in love, and yes, to sometimes keep our mouth shut because to wound the other only wounds ourselves.
So in these difficult days, tell your truth in love and kindness and remember this blessing:
“Be careful as you go into God’s creation for it does not belong to you. Be gentle with yourself and others for we are the dwelling place of the Most High. Be alert and be silent for God is a whisper.”