Saturday, August 2, 2008

The Gamut of Emotions in Preaching


Last week was an emotional roller-coaster, both personally as well as in preaching. As I have already mentioned in this space, a friend of mine, Bruce, died in an accident while camping in Central Oregon. His funeral/memorial service (whatever you call these things nowadays) was Thursday afternoon. It was well attended. I had prepared a brief message with which to conclude the service. (I usually do that. Some people really take offense at it, but it is my opportunity to point people to the reality of eternity and the hope that is in Christ Jesus. Otherwise a funeral is just looking back at a persons life and the memories, good or bad, that accompany that.)

It ended up that a friend of Bruce's who was to give one of the eulogies also brought a sermon and preached it. (It was about 30 minutes long). Given the fact that the service had passed an hour in length, I took my sermon, distilled it down to a 60-second closing word, and ended the service. But throughout the preparation of the message and the service and being with the family, there was a lot of pain and grief going on within me as well. One of the classic professional liabilities of ministry is that it is improper to show that emotion when you are with the family or at the service. But the grief is still there.

Then at 5 a.m. Friday morning, Loretta and I and our son Trevor and his new wife of 5 weeks piled into our Tahoe and headed down to Placerville, CA (east of Sacramento). It was a LONG 10-1/2 hr. drive. We were there because I was officiating (and Trevor was the best man) at the wedding of a young man who is very close to our family. Kyle and my son have been best friends for years, his family moved across the street from us a few years back, and in fact Kyle lived with us for a summer after his parents moved to Idaho. (The picture is of Loretta and I with Kyle and Aly at the front of the church which was built in 1855 and is in Coloma, CA, just down the street from Sutter's Mill where gold was first discovered that sparked the California Gold Rush)

The wedding was a time of joy. They wanted God honored in the service and it was a joy to lead in the public joining of a Christian man and women in matrimony. While some weddings are straight out of hell, this one was a delight from beginning to end. And the sermon I preached there (yes, I always to that, too, in spite of some people's objections) was a blast to preach. I used I Corinthians 13 and since they are both avid athletes, I used the parallels between the type of commitment-love that I Cor. 13 demands and the type of commitment that it takes to be successful in sport endeavors. It went well.

Immediately after the wedding reception, we piled back in the Tahoe and began the journey back to Portland. After the weekend was done, I have been in a funk and felt physically bad all week. I think that part of that (besides just the physical demands of the trip) was the emotional toll taken by my leadership responsibility in leading groups of people in times of grief and times of immense joy so closely together when I was so emotionally invested in both experiences.

I cannot begin to compare my emotional state with that of Bruce's family or Kyle & Aly's family, but having two such extreme preaching/pastoral care responsibilities that close together can really take its toll (on top of whatever emotional experiences ministry is bringing at the time!).


Eutychus said...

Thanks for your comments, Cal. I've long felt that "ministry is suffering," (or cruciform) and you've shown a great example of that.

I recall a different but yet similar situation from some years ago, when I was called to the hospital to be with a dying parishioner. As she was ending a particularly difficult journey and passing into eternity, I happened to notice that the nurse attending her was "quite" pregnant. It was a wonderful and mysterious irony.

Cal Habig said...

Those times are poignant and rich at the same time. Thanks for sharing.

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