No good deed goes unpunished...

It is regularly shocking to me - even though I know better after years of being a pastor - when somebody SO confuses your words with their wounds - or projections - or sometimes just their own bad hearing to come up with a complaint! But it happened again this morning and it was totally bizarre.

I was retelling one of the wedding banquet parables (Matthew 22) and used the Peterson paraphrase. When I got to the part where the king's messengers are killed which prompts him to destroy the violent thugs, I offered an aside that this really did not sound much like the words of the Prince of Peace. Maybe it was a plot device - or an addition of the early church - or who knows...? Whatever it was, it didn't ring true to me with the deeper message of the parable, so I was suspicious.

The heart of the message today had precious little to do with this aside. It was an assurance that God's grace is not only present but active in the world - especially during times of fear. The challenge, I concluded, is that we who have tasted this grace before in our experience are now being summoned to action: living as evidence of God's grace can bring hope and solace to others who know only fear, pain or darkness.

You see, it was an emotional day in worship: one of my staff - our Minister of Music retired today after 50 years of making beautiful music (can you imagine!?!), another is wrestling with the side effects of a cancer treatment and a beloved elderly couple were headed South to bury their youngest son who had just died unexpectedly from a heart attack. Add to this the growing economic insecurity, political tensions, marital conflicts, health issues and so much more and it was clear that our emotions were tender, raw and complicated - and I was keenly aware of the need for a little light in all this darkness. (And just to make it all more fun, we all had a WEDDING later today, too!)

So that's what I shared - or thought I shared - only to be confronted by a person who rarely joins us for Sunday mornings, a soul who came in late and has never spoken to me before who so misheard my words that she took me to task after worship for "gratuitously slamming soldiers in my sermon's aside." (NOTE: apparently my mentioning that Jesus probably didn't tell many stories about violent thugs set her off.)

Now, it is one thing to be challenged theologically - and that has its place. It is another to be taken on politically - and if you're going to go there in a sermon, you'd better be ready for to hold your ground. But this was stone cold crazy! This person heard things I never said. This soul drew some twisted conclusions based in some parallel universe. And then had the belligerent chutzpah to tell them to me like I understood what she was yelling about! That's when the old adage, "No good deed goes unpunished" floated through my consciousness. So I looked her square in the eyes as I shook her hand and said, "I am so sorry that you were hurt by my words today... but for the life of me I truly can't find any resemblance between what I preached and what you are talking about."

An old, old mentor in urban ministry once said: "I hope you aren't in this work for appreciation, kid. Don't get me wrong: there are wonderful blessings and great people, but don't ever do this work if you need to be liked. In fact, go and learn the lesson of the story about Jesus and the lepers." It was good advice for in Luke 17 ten lepers approach Christ and cry out for healing. And when they are made whole, Jesus tells them to go and show themselves to the priests which they do: but only 1 turned around and returned thanks to Jesus. Ten had been healed, but only 1 returned thanks. That's how it goes in ministry and some Sundays are just like that... So when I am totally blindsided like today and need a little perspective this little tune by Jorma always puts life back into perspective...


Luke said…
"I am so sorry that you were hurt by my words today... but for the life of me I truly can't find any resemblance between what I preached and what you are talking about."

i need to tattoo this on my fore-arm! what a wonderful response and I hope it works out in the long run and this person gets it... or not. whatever they need for their journey. i have a feeling i'll be saying that alot! ;-)
Black Pete said…
Preaching is invariably a high-wire act on an unreliable wire: language.
RJ said…
Thanks for your words, guys. It is always a blessing and a joy to study and preach for me - and I love being dialogical with the folk during worship, too - so when I am blindsided like I was... I used to get angry or simply confused. Now... I try to respond in a way that basically says, "Your 'stuff' is not my problem." Again, many thanks.

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