I have regularly told people that when I preach, I am preaching to myself. I find that my messages often resonate with others, but first and foremost, I make sure they resonate with me. This has led to me needing to be honest about my faith struggles, to be vulnerable about how I still need to grow, and always seeking how God is speaking in fresh ways to me, calling me into deeper relationship with God.
This Sunday though, I found myself with a profound sense of conviction that I have yet to experience. My sermon was about Matthew 5.38-48, and can be found here. But what you would not know is that between our 8 am service and our 10 am service, a neighbor in need stopped by to ask if for financial assistance. I had spoken with this neighbor before, and helped by covering the neighbor’s rent within the last month. In general, I am able to help neighbors in similar situations because of my discretionary fund – a fund supported by the church and by contributions when I perform weddings or funerals. But the fund is not large, and so my general policy is to keep within a certain range for each distribution of funds and to only offer assistance to the same family once every six months. The idea behind the policy is that this allows me to help more families, and keeps enough monies in the fund for emergencies. So when this neighbor came on Sunday, asking for further assistance, nowhere near the normal six-month wait period, the case seemed cut and dry to me. I could not offer him what I would not offer to others. Instead, I gave the neighbor some referrals for additional help, and we lit a prayer candle and prayed together before the neighbor left.
But the tricky part was getting back in the pulpit at 10 am. I had just read aloud Jesus’ words from the gospel lesson, “Give to everyone who begs from you, and do not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you.” And I preached about seeing others with God’s loving eyes. And though I felt like I was preaching the right message, and I know that ultimately I did the right thing with our neighbor, I still felt a little sick to my stomach. As one who proclaims the Gospel, I felt like a hypocrite. I remember wondering how if our neighbor had stayed for worship, whether the neighbor would have thought I was a hypocrite too. And yet, I also felt an overwhelming sense that any kind of exceptions I had made that day would have undermined my ministry in our community.
I still have not come to peace about the situation. I do not have some clean, clear answer that makes the situation feel resolved or redeemable, even if I still feel I made the right decision. But in these last days, I have been thinking that perhaps my discomfort is the point. I try regularly to find the Good News in scripture – to find where the hope might be in seemingly challenging or bad news. But perhaps this week it is okay if I am just uncomfortable. Perhaps we all need to dwell in the discomfort that the Gospel creates from time to time – only then can we be more authentic followers of Christ.