Preachers and the Truth
Preachers like me often struggle to tell the truth. The issue isn’t that we intentionally lie about something. The issue is that we avoid telling the congregation things we know they don’t want to hear. We are afraid of how they will react. We fear the discomfort of the post-service greetings at the door. We worry that people will stop giving, and that some will leave the church. Anytime I have criticized a President’s actions as inconsistent with the Gospel, whether it was Clinton, Bush, Obama or Trump, there was pushback. When I weighed in on the sexuality issues in The Episcopal Church several years ago during the heart of the debate, there were always weeks of uncomfortable conversations.
There are the hot button issues of the day that all too often get caught up in partisan-politics. Even if the preacher goes to great lengths to ground the proclamation in scripture, it is hard for people not to hear it as either liberal or conservative. But there are also much larger issues that need to be addressed.
I preach at a lot of funerals. The truth we face at a funeral is that we are all going to die. Nobody wants to hear that in America. We spend billions of dollars a year trying to avoid death. It is tempting at a funeral to focus on the accomplishments of the deceased and all they did for others. But that is not the primary reason we gather for a burial service. We gather to acknowledge that a member of the church has died and to remember that we will also die one day. It is important to let that sink in and not rush on to the next thing too quickly. Only when we have embraced our mortality will the Good News that death is not the last word be the astonishing news that it is.
Weddings are another occasion where the truth is often in short supply. Sentimentality is often the order of the day at weddings. Preachers often repeat the same platitudes that we hear at the toasts at the reception. “You are obviously made for one another.” This was meant to be.” “You are obviously very much in love.” Instead, preachers need to tell the couple that we are gathered here to witness their commitment to one another even though they don’t have a clue what they are doing and where this is going. Our job is to remind them that they are called to be faithful, and in doing so make God’s love known to the world. Our job is to remind them that this marriage is for something bigger than just the two of them.
Jesus tells us that the truth is liberating (John 8:32). Preachers need to speak the truth and so do all the members of a church community even if it brings discomfort. The discomfort is an invitation to leave behind the lies that enslave us and experience a more abundant life.