by Ray Gentry
Mark 8:31-38 & Psalm 22:23-31
This week’s commentary isn’t going to be that long. Part of that reason is because it’s less of a commentary on the text than it is an explanation, and perhaps plea, of what the text evokes in me when I read it. I know a lot of pastors despite not being one myself. It’s partially because I love theology and if you want to talk theology, pastors are a great place to start. It’s also because I’ve been involved in ministry. We were a large enough congregation, when I worked in Brookings, that I was involved in ministries that pastors took on in different settings.
The Psalm works through our interaction with God and what that means in the world: be in awe of God, praise God, take care of the poor and hungry, God is concerned with all her creation, God is working in that creation, and God’s story will be told to those who are not yet here. It is, even if not directly stated, a cry for God’s children to be in God’s creation together. With each other, for each other, with God, and for God. This passage was one that helped us form our Lenten theme of Kindom. We are all God’s creation. All God’s creation is called into communion and community together.
But it is the Gospel text that has been in my head. It makes me think of all my pastor friends and acquaintances because Jesus calls out Peter and lays down what being his disciple means and instantly my head went to the many conversations I’ve heard from pastors worrying about their security and tempering their preaching because of fear. Fears of losing congregants, lowered giving, or their jobs.
I don’t know how many times I’ve heard, “Oh, I wish I could preach that on Sunday. I just can’t.” And don’t get me wrong, I get it. Every Sunday can’t be a sermon trying to lay out your congregation. But how often does the discomfort the Gospel presents get set aside for a sermon that gently comforts? How often does your sermon change when this conversation happens in your head?
I’m not advocating to be the arbiter of when a sermon should step into “Get behind me Satan” territory either. But I know I’ve imagined a lot of great sermons that I need to hear and would love to hear preached. I’ve melted listening to pastors narrate what they want to preach. I’ve probably heard the truest sermons never preached in one-on-one conversations.
Jesus welcomes us onto an uncomfortable path. He calls us to welcome our congregations into that same discomfort and awkwardness. We’re usually pretty great at reminding people of God’s love. But this my encouragement and plea as a lay person: resist the urge to pull back and pick your opportunity to preach the uncomfortable Gospel. Ultimately I think the discomfort sharpens grace and forces us acknowledge the community God calls us into. The community God created through our creation.