There is no justice in declaring peace when there is neither peace nor justice. We find ourselves being passive when evil is not confronted for the sake of getting along. A few weeks ago I attended a continuing education event where people of the type I like to call “proudly ignorant” continued to interrupt the speaker. These people gave all appearance of attempting to correct the speaker who actually had some expertise on the subject. Yet, their own bigotry did not allow for them to listen. There is no justice in allowing such disruptions to continue without someone taking a stand to say something. None of us did.
St. Paul tells us to, “be angry but do not sin.” So we often will hold back from providing truthful and healthful responses to not appear rude or impolite. So will live in dishonest denial that there may indeed be good reason for anger. How can a human being not care that other human beings are murdered? How can a human being allow children to starve while doing or saying nothing about it? Such people are not human. They are ciphers who see other people as ciphers. A little red-blooded outrage can go a long way. All too often we negotiate with evil to allow its continuance even with some small obstacles.
Bandages do nothing if blood continues to flow. There is no hope for healing while gangrene takes hold. We can stop the blood and cut away the necrotic tissue if we have the courage to make the tourniquet and use the scalpel. No I am not advocating social violence. I am opposing social cowardice. Christians need to stop offering major injuries minor first aid. When human rights are violated, when need is severe, when destruction is paramount, and when evil abounds we must fight it with every fiber of our being even to our own death.
Christians are called to be the light of Christ in the darkness. We are not called to hide ourselves behind our own comforts or would-be “good folks” identities. We cannot be lovers of peace or wishers for peace. Jesus blessed makers of peace and called them the children of God. We can only accomplish this when those who hunger and thirst for justice are given their justice.
What sort of worship is the most meaningful to people? The answer may surprise you. It is not traditional or contemporary. It is neither liturgical or free-styled. It is a funeral.
I realized this truth while conducting a United Methodist Beginning Lay Speaker class. Since it was the beginning course there were a lot of aspects of lay speaking possibilities upon which we touched – including leading worship. I asked the class – regular attenders at church services – to describe their most meaningful worship experiences. A few students told worship stories. I went to an old-fashioned chalk board to make notes. I saw a patterned emerging. When everyone in the class had a chance to share their experiences, I stepped back from the board. It was evident to everyone in the room. The most meaningful worship experiences were funerals. No one mentioned Christmas Eve or Easter worship times. Weddings were left off the list. Some students mentioned celebrations of Baptism or Holy Communion. Yet, funerals dominated the discussion. Why? What is so different about funerals?
When I lead funeral worship times, I have three goals in mind – worship[ God, honor the deceased, and comfort the loved ones. Mourners arrive to offer and to receive comfort. A funeral is not a time for guilt or warnings of eternal damnation. Funerals are opportunities to worship with eternal blessing in view.
Properly conducting a funeral begins before the person dies. We have all heard someone say something like, “Arnold preached his funeral by the way he lived.” This statement is a truism that sticks with us. The pastor should visit the sickbed of the dying person and the family in order to listen. Visiting the family after a death is important for listening as well. Of course, pastors ask questions about what should be included in the funeral service. Listening at these times allows the pastor to learn more about how the family and friends of the deceased feel about the person. Too many pastors rely on stock funeral sermons loaded with talk about salvation and heave. Mourners want to hear about these matters. More importantly they want to hear about the person who has just died. Stories and anecdotes of the deceased’s experiences are good. Quirks of someone’s personality or behavior can be shared (if appropriate). The deceased’s favorite statements or turns of phrase can be repeated. God can be praised for the person’s life even if a story about falling overboard while fishing makes the mourners laugh through their tears.
The message of divine love in the life of the person and the mourners is always what funeral worship times are about. Praise, honor, and comfort are goals that allow the family and friends of the recently deceased begin to let go of their beloved and continue to love each other.
I love the ministry because of the very interesting people I have known. My call to serve God was not enough. It was one of those church members who was what we might call a “pillar of the church” told me I needed to learn to love people. At first I did not connect with what he said.
How could I not love people? I am a true humanist. I love what human beings accomplish. I like machinery that works well. I see elegance in good working design. I appreciate art and architecture. I enjoy all forms of literature and theater. I am fascinated by the practice of philosophy and legal and governmental frameworks. Human history is interesting to me. Natural history and the paradigms of the sciences enthrall me as human endeavors. So then, how was this not loving people?
The answer is obvious to me…now. I was one step beyond the sin of idolatry. My pleasure was in the objects made with human hands and ideas from human minds. Pierre Boulle in Planet of the Apes makes the point that while some humans do great things (and I would add some do terrible things), the majority of human lives do not contribute to the annals of human achievements. What about those people? Did I really love them without accomplishments in their lives.
Thus began the long process of my second conversion. It took time. Learning to love people without a hundred colored ribbons to their credit became a work of grace in my life. I stopped believing that love was something given to the worthy. And I began to love myself and what I did…even if I did not perform the tasks well.
Once I was free from earning my own love, I was able to love people. I find most of the people in my life interesting. I have learned that I can love the people who put obstacles in my way and make life difficult for me. I can both love another person and be angry at what he or she does. Something else changed too.
My preaching and teaching styles have changed. I accept without trying to dispute the ideas of other people I find contrary to my own. I teach using authority as teacher and pastor. But, I temper it now.
A wise insurance man told me the lesson he had to learn. To do one’s work in life right, you have to love people. This is the great lesson I learned. It has made me love my ministry.
Glorious Life will begin next week to have weekly installments. Look for my next one titled “Why I Love Ministry.”