I was there and I can still hear him. At least 45 years ago at a lecture symposium at Pacific School of Religion in Berkeley, California. Bill Coffin, whom I quote with his wisdom fully, said something that I’m working on.
First a pre-story. When I left my first pastorate, St. Pauls Church [yes, no apostrophe!] in Chicago, a church history professor at nearby McCormick Seminary [Presbyterian] invited me to lunch. I’m sure I was full of myself because for the 3.5 years with Fred Trost and Herb Davis were like seminary, teaching me about what it means to be pastor and prophet. God bless them always. I expected the lunch to be an encouraging clap and cheer for heading back to my homeland, Oregon.
The professor gave me an F for my preaching. Even though I didn’t preach but 12 sermons total in my St. Pauls ministry. With bluntness, he even slapped his hand on the table, ‘You need to preach about Jesus Christ and not about Mark Miller. We don’t care about you. We’re in worship to learn about Christ.” [Hey, his take. Thought about that a lot.]
Then a year later I heard Coffin. He was talking with a group of clergy and said, “It is important to preach vulnerability. You are not invincible and you never stand tall apart from the fray. Your experience counts, don’t shunt it aside.”
Well. It’s now 2018, 50 years later. Tomorrow I’m preaching in Taylor, Texas, a supply sermon; they have no pastor. I’m going to not stand above the fray. I’ll try to weave carefully the vulnerability with my faith in Christ, that I won’t reflect an ego-trip. Rather, I will help people be better with themselves and see how God in Christ can be with them, within them and can be “seen” through them.
I don’t know the church I’m sharing in worship tomorrow. But, I know “church” these days. And I know, there’s no church who scoots from Palm Sunday to Easter. Except a Baptist Church in Cedar Park who celebrates Easter on Good Friday. Give me a break. To that end, tomorrow I will share about how a church helped a young man, who on a 1-10 hovered between -3 and -1. And whose decision to be a butter carver helped him up to a 9. I even have the cube of butter, plastic, he gifted me. It’s on my desk forever, NOT because of me, but because it’s a symbol of how the church can be with people, no matter what. No matter what.