[The following talk was given as a challenge as we ordained a pastor at our church. I don't think it's just a challenge for pastors, but, in some sense, for all of us. You can read the entire challenge here.]
As a pastor, there are many challenges that face you. I can only imagine what some of them are, or how they feel to you. You see, we expect so much sometimes. We expect that you be an exemplary husband and father , a Bible scholar, an effective counselor, a prayer warrior, a good communicator, and an able administrator. Those are all challenges, and not bad challenges, but I expect that they are not where you need to focus your attention. They are not the main challenge.
The main challenge, it seems to me, is to tell the Truth. That seems simple enough, doesn’t it? So simple, that it almost goes without saying. And yet, it’s not so easy to tell the truth.
Jesus says “I am the truth.” He also prefaces what he will say on so many occasions with the phrase “I tell you the truth.” So the truth is both the object of and subject of our faith. The truth matters.
As Frederick Buechner says, the truth of the gospel is tragedy, comedy, and fairy tale – I’ll admit, funny words to hear used of the Gospel. It’s tragedy because it tells us that the world is fallen, that we are fallen, that even on our best of days, we are sinful through and through. Sometimes we can pretend that the world isn’t so bad, that we aren’t so bad, at least not relative to most. You have the unenviable challenge of reminding us that yes, the world is as bad as we could have thought, that we are sinful, even when we think our motives are pure. It’s not pleasant, it won’t make you popular, but it is necessary to say, because the Gospel has to be bad news before it is good news. We have to be shaken.
But you can’t leave us there. You also have the pleasant task of declaring the comedy of the gospel. That’s not a “ha, ha” kind of comedy, but it’s the amazing grace of a Creator who actually condescended to live among his creations, the one who undoes the curse of sin every day. It’s comic because it’s so unforeseeable. It’s like Sarah laughing when she bore Issac in her old age. She laughed at the supernatural work of grace in her life. You have the joy of reminding us that there is no sin we can’t be saved from, no situation in which a glimpse of God’s incredible grace can’t be seen.
But better yet, you have the challenge of telling us about the fairy tale the Gospel is, and by that, Buechner didn’t mean it was a fairy-tale but that it is like a fairy tale in that it tells us of a magical place where right will prevail and where we will all live happily ever after. It gives us a glimpse of Joy, of Home, of where we really belong and where we really long for. You have the challenge of holding out that hope to us, because we need that hope, because no matter how we see grace breaking into our tragic world we need to be reminded that we live in the shadow of Reality, of Heaven. Real life is yet to come.
You tell us the truth then – the whole truth and nothing but the truth – the gospel as tragedy, as comedy, and as fairy tale. . . .[more]