I stood in the pulpit to preach three times yesterday, small crowds, some clearly exhausted from hard weeks or late Saturday nights. Fidgety bottoms and restless hands, to many hasty parades to the restroom; are they thinking about the last gasps of summer going on just a few short steps - or perhaps one, now regretful, decision away?
I am the dungeon master in some twisted new version of the inquisition, forcing my captives to sit through a gruelling ninety minutes of torture, first the singing and then the sermon; droning on and on about this God they cannot see and who seems to be drifting further and further from cultural relevance. (Foolishness I know but this is where I go in my obsession with self.)
The anger rises like bile in the back of my throat - vomit is beyond holding down. My legalistic heritage longs to be turned loose:
“Where is everybody, it’s back to school time, what about back to church?”
“What of sacrificial love, of duty, of commitment to body and ministry?”
“How can they treat me like this, why don’t they get it?”
I struggle to stay on task... to remember the gospel - “It’s not about me, it’s not about me, it is NOT about ME!”
Soon enough the job is done.
Anger gives way - about 18 hours early this time - to my old friend; despair. My wife can see it; hanging on me like a heavy winter coat on this hot September afternoon, there is compassion in her sad eyes but somehow that only makes it worse. I long for solitude, if only the earth would open up and swallow me like Korah and his fellow rebels, where is that hiding place, that “cleft for me” in the rock of ages; please, please Lord Jesus... make it stop.
It doesn’t stop.
There are wounds that need healing salve, heartaches that need compassionate ears, tired legs that only need a drive, lonely souls in want of company; and desperate situations in need of prayer and answers. It’s all too much for me; I must have gotten it wrong. If God called me to this shouldn’t I be better at it and if He didn’t call me... then why - even now - do I love it so much?
Gently, gently the turning comes. I am reminded of the point; it always seems to return to this with me. Martin Luther said that sin is: “homo incurvatus in se”, humanity curved in on itself - this certainly rings true of me.
A parishioner skipping church, a sullen family member, that idiot in traffic, my phone ringing now of all times, the Bombers losing... back to back... to Saskatchewan; it’s all about me. I am hopelessly, endlessly, selfishly, curved in on myself - a sinner.
Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God – through Jesus Christ our Lord!
The gospel penetrates and sets me free from myself one more time! Oh - how many times will I need to be reminded?
The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not be in want. He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, he restores my soul. He guides me in paths of righteousness ...for his name’s sake. (Psalm 23:1-3)
He leads me, He guides me, He puts me back on the path, He grants me rest, and He restores my soul all the while reminding me that it’s not about me. It’s for His Name’s sake!
So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God. (1 Corinthians 10:31)