It was a day or two before Thanksgiving in my second year of seminary. My father had picked me up at the St. Louis airport, and we were midway into our drive to his home in mid-Missouri. The conversation had turned to what I was learning in seminary, and I started to share a host of new insights gained from my professor of Christian ethics, Stanley Hauerwas. If you know anything about Hauerwas who was named "America's Best Theologian" by Time, then you know he has the capacity to turn your head inside out and upside down as he presents new ways of thinking about what it means to be a Christian. I was five minutes into sharing my new knowledge with Dad, explaining what I had learned about capitalism, when Dad nearly drove off the road as he asked, "What in the hell are they teaching you?"
I can almost picture everything about that conversation. I might not ever forget it as it's the first time I realized how controversial following Jesus can be. Most of us prefer a watered-down version of the Gospel when we realize how hard it is to fully take on the name of Christ in all we say, all we do, and all we are. There is a reason Jesus was a threat to both the religious and political establishment of his day. We often forget some of why he was crucified.
And, while I'm not a betting woman, I'm willing to bet your pastor has heard a thing or two in recent weeks that echo the sentiment of, "What in the hell are you thinking? Or teaching us? Or preaching to us?" There is a good chance your pastor has heard a word or two about what she is to say and not say, what she is to do or not do, how she is to offer a more limited view of who Jesus really was and is, at such a time as this.
No matter what your pastor proclaimed or prayed yesterday, someone in the congregation was likely disappointed. Some people stepped inside sanctuaries yesterday longing to hear a word about how to think theologically about immigration and refugees. Their hearts were breaking, and they prayed their pastor would have something to say about how our nation is called to be more compassionate, to follow the instructions to welcome the stranger found throughout the Old and New Testaments. Countless other parishioners hesitated as to whether to actually come to worship. They held their breath during the pastoral prayer and the sermon, praying the pastor would not say anything "political" before rolling their eyes the moment the word "immigration" was mentioned. Your pastor was damned before she ever said a word yesterday.
Meanwhile, your pastor may be second-guessing everything today because she has never before pastored a congregation in a time when the nation feels as deeply divided as it does now. She's longing to please everyone, a trait at the core of her personality, while knowing that this goal is not achievable right now. She is carefully receiving every word and waiting for additional criticisms to come. But more than anything, she is longing to be as faithful as she can to Jesus, the one who called her and claimed her, the one who gave her a vision of what God's kingdom can look like on earth, a vision so compelling that she was willing to let go of other dreams and go to seminary.
If you're not currently praying for your pastor, I invite you to start doing so today and allow these prayers to continue to rise up like incense filling a room. If you're not sure what to pray, it can go something like this:
Gracious God, thank you for the ways in which you call and equip people to serve as priests, pastors, shepherds, and teachers. I thank you, especially, for my pastor - for his willingness to drop everything in order to go to the hospital when a person is sick or extend the workday an extra hour when one is in a challenging situation and needs to talk. Thank you for how he seems to love my children, getting down on his knees to share another story about Jesus. Thank you for his spouse and children, people who know plans cannot be made on Saturday night and that weekends together are one day maximum. Thank you for his love of scripture and the ways he seeks to bring it to life. Thank you for all he does to help me be a more faithful disciple of your Son, Jesus.
Will you hold my pastor tightly during this time? It must be impossible for everyone to hear and appreciate his preaching on a subject like immigration when your scripture has so much to say but opinions and convictions are tightly held. It must be impossible to say the words "justice" or "mercy" without being told you're being too political. It must be impossible to please everyone, especially when a congregation is diverse in every possible way. Will you please help him to be faithful? Will you give him the capacity to glean the words he needs to say from you and you alone? When criticism comes, will you grant him a wise spirit that can discern what he needs to hear and explore further and what he needs to let go of? And will you show me how I can support him, even if I might not always agree with him? I want our church to be a faithful representation of your light, your love, your mercy, your grace and your justice. And while I might disagree with him on certain things, I believe my pastor wants this, too. So please strengthen him once more. Watch over him. Bless his family, and bless him - especially at such a time as this.
Thank you, God, for our pastor.