I've been preaching weekly for going on five months now. And I really love it, in so many ways. I love that a sizeable piece of my job is to craft language in ways that illuminate the gospel. But the weight of this vocation is becoming apparent to me.
For one thing, I've rarely spent so much time with the Bible. I've had to face some of the scriptures I've preferred to ignore. And I'm realizing the portrait of Jesus in the book of Matthew - at least through the lens of the lectionary canon - isn't exactly the Jesus I thought I knew. He is bigger and more dangerous... and yes, my reading of the Chronicles of Narnia is also informing this new version of J.C. He's more leonine, more capable of righteous roaring. Perhaps this is one of the blessings of the lectionary; just when Jesus gets so Kingly we can't bear to look at him, we get to return to the season of holy baby showers.
I don't know what to do with this bigger Jesus. He does not fit into the liberal theology of my seminary education. And that makes me very uncomfortable. I'm tugging on the cuffs of orthodoxy these days, and that is extraordinary disorienting to a girl who is used to staunch heterodoxy.
So there's that. And the other, though related, preacherly load that is rounding my shoulders is the bothersome fact that I am not living up to what I proclaim. Stacey captured this dissonance well a few weeks ago, and I even lifted some of her words for a sermon on hypocrisy. This week's text is hitting me especially hard. Christ the King is separating the sheep from the goats - the sheep representing those folks who cared for the tired, hungry, homeless, lonely, and imprisoned Stranger, and the goats symbolizing those who failed, those who turned their backs on the desperate and therefore turned their backs on Christ. I read this text, and ask myself the implicit question - am I a sheep, or a goat? And I just do not love often or well enough to see my reflection in Christ's sheep.
I guess this is what they call Christian guilt. It is supposed to be a great reason to reject Christianity - why would you want to be a part of something that makes you feel ashamed? The point is, of course, not to stay in that place of shame, but to repent and be forgiven. This is not the language of my education. Liberal Christians don't talk about sin - particularly not personal sin, the kind that summons the Holy Ghost to come tap at your temples until you repent. But reading the Bible as I am, and spinning weekly homilies from its sacred fibers, is upping the ante on my commitment to the gospel. I can't preach with authenticity about the importance of loving all people as if they were Christ himself if I am unable and unwilling to turn from my own goaty ways.
Somehow this is all adding up to a narrowness that makes my skin crawl. My least favorite biblical passage is the one about Heaven's Narthex being the size of a needle's eye, but suddenly I feel such kinship to the poor camel who keeps nudging at that impossible opening. This little camel carries with him the assumption that God welcomes and loves everyone, and that by and by, that eye will open wide enough to let the whole world in. But the eye remains constricted, and the echo of Matthean gems about the weeping and gnashing of teeth and eternal punishment are beginning to tear away at this camel's resolve.
Well, that's enough animal imagery for one post. Lara has prescribed a good dose of feminist theology to help balance all the new orthodox influences. And I suppose it wouldn't hurt to ponder the gift of grace, and maybe remember that there is One who lightens this burden.