Sunday, January 18, 2009

With Fear and Trembling…

St. Paul encourages his church in Philippi to “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling,” and that sentence has never ceased sending shivers down my skin. What in the world are you thinking, Paul?!?! This is the God of all who loves all and made all and gives all good gifts to all Creation- How could such a gift, salvation, from such a God lead to fear and trembling?!?! I think those thoughts when I read those words, and then immediately I remember, “Oh yeah. This God is Holy. Drawing near to Holiness should produce a bit of wonder, awe and trepidation.”

Which is probably why, still each and every week, I get a little ‘fear and trembling’ as I step up to the pulpit. Preaching is an act, I believe, that attempts to bring folk into God’s Holy presence through the words, images and heart-convicting thoughts of Christian scripture, and the preacher’s meager imagination. When it works (and I’ll admit, it doesn’t always), a presence moves through the church, or maybe just your mind and heart, such that you can’t quite explain it, but it’s there…you know it. Like when the preacher says something that sounds like s/he’s speaking directly to you (though the words are for the whole church), or when you nod your head unconsciously/open your lips in ‘Amen’/ vigorously shake your head ‘No Way!”, that’s (often) God’s Spirit moving you into God’s presence. Somehow. Mysteriously. Salvifically, perhaps. And if you’re like me, when you recognize that moment, fully in the present presence of God, something trembles in you; it’s scary and amazing all at once.

So when I heard the news last Sunday, that the General Minister and President of our denomination, the Rev. Dr. Sharon Watkins, will preach the sermon for the President-elect’s Inaugural Prayer Service, I was of two opinions. 1) She preaches in God’s Holy Presence all the time- so this gig’s nothing special, really. 2) OMG (text-message language for “Oh My Goodness!”), Sharon’s got some fear and trembling coming her way soon.

So which is it? Probably number 2, since being in God’s Presence, while trying to move a congregation that includes Congress, the President, the VP, the Cabinet, and, oh, the World, into God’s Presence isn’t your typical Sunday offering. But since it’s a sermon, and not a political address, at least she’ll be in Holier and more familiar waters. And from the looks of a very full comment box on, she’ll have most of her 690,000 member church cheering her on.
I’m proud, I must say, to be a pastor in Sharon’s church, and not only because I can brag a bit how we were picked over the Presbyterians. I’m proud because this church, “A Movement for Wholeness in a Fragmented Church,” stands for unity before the God of Creation before all else. I’m proud to serve Christians committed to thoughtfulness, faithfulness, diversity and mission. I’m ecstatic to live in covenant with each of you, friends and family who come together at the Table every week, not despite but because of our differences, and endless opportunities to learn and grow with each other.

So regardless of who you voted for last November, I hope you too are proud that one of our own gets the unique chance to share our unique brand of Christian faith with our nation’s leaders. Because these are tough times, painful times for people close to us, interesting times in the most exciting and dreadful senses of that phrase. And these very leaders who will sit with Sharon next week, before the feet of God Almighty, listening (we hope) for a Word or Two of grace and challenge, will need the hospitality of a wide open-armed God, who loves us into unity sometimes without our knowing, in order to rise to the challenges we, the world, the environment, face.

May the words she utters, perhaps with fear and trembling, bring fear and trembling to these leaders for the Holiness of God and God’s Children. We deserve that kind of respect, I believe, and our lives will be kinder, more peaceful and more abundant for it. In all things I wish you,

Grace and Peace,