Eugene Peterson in his book, Working the Angles, states “Being the kind of pastor that satisfies a congregation is one of the easiest jobs on the face of the earth….” Let me let that hang for a minute before I add the context. Being a pastor who satisfies a congregation is one of the easiest jobs in the world? Why is that? Do you recall a passage about itching ears, or the platitude of telling people what they want to hear? Sure, if you set out to please a congregation, to satisfy the whims and desires of the particular body of believers you are serving, life can be easy, and you can live on easy street. “…Why aren’t we content with that?” Peterson continues, “Because we set out to do something quite different.” Once again ponder that comment, something completely different. As clergy we were called by God to be life changers, and if you are like me, a bit idealistic thinking that we could make a difference in the world, and that if we worked hard enough, God would do great things. That is just one side of the equation though isn’t it. A few years ago a man delivered propane to our cabin and as we talked I said I was “a pastor.” He responded, no you are not, “You’re a preacher.” I thought it was a little simplistic, a bit old school, but think about it. Being a pastor can lead you to working to satisfy a congregation, to tell them what they want. However, if you were called by God to “Preach”, to preach both in season and out of season, to proclaim the “Word of God” then there are times when you will get sideways with your congregation. There are times, many times when what the Bible says contradicts or challenges the prevailing assumptions of even the best “church member”. Since, God called us to preach the “Full Gospel” (and I am not talking about an old revival movement) then we will have to say things that jeopardize our ability to satisfy a congregation. Now all of a sudden that ‘easiest job’ title vanishes and we are left with the challenge of following the God who called us.
Let me go back to Peterson, “We set out to risk our lives on a venture of faith. We committed our lives to a life of holiness. At some point we realized the immensity of God and the great invisibles that socket into our arms and legs, into bread and wine, into our brains and our tools, into mountains and rivers giving them meaning, destiny, value, joy, beauty, salvation. We respond to a call to convey these realities in word and sacrament and give leadership to a community of faith.” Look back at that quote, a venture of faith! Who else do you know who responded to that venture? Look at Abraham, God said go and I will show you. Moses, King David, the first disciples. The list goes on. What about you? Where is God leading you to step out in faith? Where is the risk in your life? Where is God challenging you to pick up your cross and follow him? You see the venture of faith; the immensity of God presents us with insurmountable obstacles in the path of satisfying a congregation. After all, do you like it when someone challenges your comfortable assumptions? So what makes you think that when you do that in a sermon or Bible Study, it is going to make you popular? Yet if we are true to the call of God on our lives, we will not always say what people want to hear. When you follow the call of God, things don’t always go well for you, look for instance at the prophet Jeremiah?
What about the immensity of God? Wow, that is a lifelong study in and of itself. When it comes to the infinite God, who are we to think we can explain anything? Yet we are called to week after week stand before a listening congregation and attempt to do justice to the majesty of the God who created the heavens and the earth. I wonder when was the last time to did even cursory reading in the latest findings in astronomy? The last I knew there were at least a billion galaxies like our own. How do you suggest those came into being? Random chance, a “Big Bang”? Or in the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth! Again, the immensity of God cannot be “canned” and sold to the average consumer. We are called to proclaim the God of the universe, who created a billion, billion stars and galaxies (or however many there might be out there).
What about the Lord’s Table, the bread and the wine? When was the last time you stood behind the table with the elements of the Lord’s Supper in front of you and didn’t have to pause for a minute because you know that there is something much greater than simple bread and juice sitting in front of you? If you haven’t then, maybe it is time to refocus on what is taking place. This celebration is much more than just a ritual we do because it reminds us of Christ’s passion. In the bread and the cup, we are nourished into life everlasting. God himself meets us at this table! While on the line of the power of this event, I remember the first time I entered a hospital room as a newly minted “Reverend.” I knew that I no longer represented Rod, and Rod alone, now I carried the name of the “Most High” when I entered those places. When I stood before a waiting congregation reading the words of institution (a liturgical form) I felt a sense of awe, that I was allowed to lead in this way. Then what about baptism? The mystery of God’s grace? You see as “Preachers” we participate in some of the most incredible moments of people’s lives. (I haven’t even mentioned being at the side of someone who is dying.)
So, back to that easiest job in the world? Do you still want it? I kind of doubt it. God called you to something different, to be something different, to make a difference. But once again to paraphrase words of that now famous deceased Rabbi, When I was a young man I set out to change the world. Now that I am older, I realize the only one I can change is myself.” However, as you seek to change yourself, (I know the best sermons I preached were the ones I preached to myself first) you will find that calling. Maybe not the easiest, or the best well paid, but you will find that calling that God has placed on your life.