It’s not my best side. I know that. Still, one of the temptations in life and in this moment for this writer, is to not, coining the Apostle Paul, to think of myself more highly than I ought to think.
Shared with a congregation recently, in what was formally called a sermon, but the deeper truth was a confession, that one of the temptations in ministry is to believe too much in what people tell me. They aren’t lying. They are seeking my favor. It is what they believe. It is what they hope for. And, I shudder to write this, it is what they need.
They need me to be more than I am. They perceive me as more than I am. Remember when I wrote that a bride’s mother on the walk from the rehearsal to the rehearsal dinner, took my elbow and made it clear…reaching conviction…”Pastor Miller. I expect good weather for my daughter’s wedding tomorrow.” She pointed to me and then to the sky, anticipating a controlling link…from the earth to the heavens. I winced.
Humor aside, as I shared with the sermon-hearers, I am simply one guy…and as I learned…a beggar telling other beggars where to find food. Not even knowing about their appetite. But knowing mine.
Still, arrogance, seeing myself as more than I am, brings anticipation if not verification. I remember, less than a year after ordination, a church member took me out to lunch, at least four times a year. And after lunch, handed me a $50 bill. Okay, never learned if that was “protocol” in a seminary class. And, making $400/month in 1966, the $$$ was helpful. Finally, I asked him, “May I ask? Why are you doing this?” He didn’t hesitate, pointing to me and to the sky, “Because you are my ticket to heaven.” I admit, truth transparent, it was terrible theology on his part. But. I never corrected him.
Gulp. A series of gulps.
So, how to grow? How to become more? How to know that at times I’m less than meets the eye, and one of my favorite claims, I struggle to live up to my minimum?
Thought about that last night in a Tenebrae Worship Service, as the scriptures of reality—our humanity and the need to confess and be honest with the deepest self, and the candles were extinguished, so darkness was in its most eerie realm…about how the self can be good but never good enough. And how broaching the good enough happens. And how humility should never be a stranger to the self. Never.
To that, the assurance of the pastor, the unsettling then bracing of the scripture readings, I came to this morning. And read this. The voice of Tom Ehrich, who addressed the need for humility. He shares how he and his partner play competitive bridge and how life can be good but never too high…or…too low. These words minister to me…and hopefully to you, too, as today is Maundy Thursday, tomorrow Good Friday and Sunday is Easter. Thanks be to God, and to us we are told, “You cannot have one without the other. Yes, each of those days is important, but are not equal. For Easter always wins. Not for our arrogance, but for our deliverance.
From Tom: “In the end, God is the one who ‘answers’ and brings about ‘salvation,’ through speaking truth in love, believing in one even in failure, showing the ‘gates of righteousness’ even when one is downcast. God doesn’t just pat one on the head. God imagines a way forward — to some form of wholeness that God understands as worth pursuing. Master points in bridge probably aren’t that wholeness, but trying one’s best, learning new skills and playing fairly might be.”
So, now. When someone asks me to keep the weather better than bad, my answer is clear, “I’m in sales and not management.” Or when someone points to me and then to the sky. I smile, slightly nod, then point right back to them and echo their body language.