On Friday, June 26, the Supreme Court ruled that the U. S. Constitution supports the right to same-sex marriage. The 5-4 decision split the high court along familiar liberal/conservative lines with Justice Anthony Kennedy casting the decisive vote.
The 5-4 vote vividly illustrates the deep divide that runs through our nation, denominations, and local congregations. The current presenting issue is same-sex marriage, but similar divisions exist in debates about politics, immigration, gun-control, health care, fiscal policies, social programs, capital punishment, abortion, and more.
Now imagine serving as a Christian minister in a “5-4 world”. (I would love to take credit for that turn of phrase, but it’s not original unto me. However, I cannot determine the original source. Preaching professor, Dr. Fred Craddock, always said: “Whoever steals from me steals twice!”)
It’s my privilege to serve as one of the pastors of the First United Methodist Church of Lawrenceville. Founded in 1823, the congregation continues to faithfully serve our community. Our mission statement declares: Making Disciples of Jesus Christ who Love God, Love Others, and Reach the World.
Our church roll lists two thousand, nine hundred, and some odd members—some odder than others. The Greatest Generation, Baby Boomers, Baby Busters, and Generations XYZ all serve together in Christian unity . . . sometimes.
However, I serve a diverse congregation that includes: males, females, children, youth, adults, liberals, moderates, conservatives, Democrats, Republicans, Libertarians, Anglos, Hispanics, African-Americans, Central Europeans, pro-choice, pro-life, heterosexuals, homosexuals, traditional families, non-traditional families, agnostics, seekers, believers, Apple, PC, I-Phone, Android . . . .
I pastored Mount Carmel United Methodist Church fresh out of seminary. During a Sunday morning worship service, I made the rookie mistake of asking: “Is it too warm in here?” Half the congregation adamantly agreed the sanctuary felt too hot while the other half complained it was too cold! The scene provides a microcosm of church life.
Serving as a Christian minister in a 5-4 world means balancing the roles of prophet and pastor.
Prophets boldly proclaim God’s Word, letting the chips fall where they may. John-the-Baptist-wantabes don’t hesitate to call the crowds “broods of vipers” that are hell-bent and hell-bound unless they change their sinful ways. Prophets often live in a black and white world where law trumps grace.
Pastors minister to the deep hurts and needs of their parish. Like a shepherd caring for sheep, pastors walk in the midst of the people as a servant among servants. Wounded themselves, pastors serve as wounded healers in ministry to others. They work in a black and white world that often blends into grey. Law provides the parameters of discipleship, but grace always speaks the first and last word.
Serving as a pastor in a 5-4 world offers dangers, challenges, and opportunities. At times, it feels like I’m standing on the railroad tracks as a train rumbles around the curve. It’s the place where law and grace meet and even collide. However, it’s also the realm where genuine ministry takes place.
Serving as a pastor in a 5-4 world does not lend itself to a life of comfort, but I cannot find a single place in the Bible where Jesus called his disciples to a comfortable world. Real ministry occurs in real life where God’s Word and our world intersect. Odds are this is where we’ll find the Lord already at work.