Since I've been here, every sermon -- off of the lectionary mind you -- has miraculously dealt with some issue that I've seen arise within the week, leaving me with little worry over what I should preach or concern about what issues have taken root within these congregations. Not once have I had to do some extensive exegesis of a congregation to get a handle on what message God wanted to get across. My lectionary text, so far, has hit on them every Sunday. This past Sunday's sermon was no different . . . but yet it was different . . . disturbing really.
I am well aware that I can't preach a sermon I haven't lived so I wasn't surprised by what the mirror showed me about myself through the message "Misplaced Focus" on judgment and condemnation. Nor was I bothered by the revelations from "How Hungry Are You?", a sermon on discipleship and priorities. But this recent sermon out of 2 Kings 5, "Can't See for Looking" on the army general Naaman has had me wrestling in my skin. It's had me really taking a look at myself and posing the question: "Do I . . . could I have that Naaman spirit?
I started examining whether I was Naaman in the story shortly after arriving last week at another settlement, Hope Town, another island within Abaco. The plan was for me to stay there in the Mission House with the youth minister and her husband over the weekend since I would be preaching two services at St. James Methodist Church there on Sunday. No sooner than we had pulled away from the Marsh Harbor dock headed to Hope Town, do I hear they are without power. As the boat pushed further into the ocean headed to the well-known tourist village, I silently prayed the power would return by the time I reached the boat dock. That would not be the case. There was no power. . . hadn't been since the day before . . .and there was no idea from anyone when it would come back on. And it was another sweltering day! Why had I decided to wear blue jeans? Thank goodness I opted for a strapless halter top.
My first thought after hoping off the boat: "Are you serious? I didn't sign up for this. Can I go anywhere on this island where the power isn't going out every hour or so?"
Needless to say, I wasn't happy. (I was careful that my face didn't betray me). It was as though I had arrived on the day of a pending hurricane. People are moving about trying to figure out their own game plan. Everybody is looking for a cool place to hang . . . preferably with someone who has a generator. . . and not that many on the island have one. There is really no time to be concerned about the visiting minister-in-training who had come in. This was clearly apparent. I mean I didn't even get a phone call that the power had been out and my number was sitting right beside the phone.
But then more bad news follows: there is no water, which means no way to cook . . .no way to flush . . .no way to bathe. As I sat with the youth minister, her husband and his mother (she had come to visit) . . .and the dog in the Mission House, praying for a cool breeze to filter through the room . . .praying the conditions would get better. . . thinking of an alternate plan of how I would depart and get back to my own more comfortable surroundings, all I could think was, "I know they really don't expect me to live like this right? . . . sleeping in a house where there is no power, no water, and a dog roaming about. Surely, one of the church committee members will suggest I come to their home or they will put me up in a place where the accommodations may be a little better . . . not as stress producing . . . a bit more peaceful . . . a bit more fitting for the minister-in-training."
After all, I was preaching on Sunday . . . I had a sermon to write. I needed the Internet. I needed peace and quiet to meditate . . .hear from God and prepare myself for Sunday. I needed some familiar comforts. Not long after, it starts dawning on me, "I think I might be sounding a bit like Naaman in this text I'll be preaching from on Sunday." In the story, Naaman, a well-respected army general learns he can be healed of his leprosy by the prophet Elisha in Israel. He travels there with his entourage only to be met at the door by Elisha's servant who tells him to go dip in the Jordan River seven times. Naaman is enraged by what he perceives to be a lack of respect. The prophet never come to greet him and at that -- told him, a general, to dip in the dirty small Jordan River. Naaman almost doesn't do it because his pride is bruised. He almost misses his chance to be healed.
Here I was in this community that had no power and no water, surrounded by people who attempted to show me the best hospitality they could under the circumstances and I, like Naaman, was complaining to myself about what was not being done for me . . . how I was not being treated . . .how I should be treated. It was a disturbing internal exchange. . . one I'm embarrassed by and I'm still grappling with. I've since replayed in my mind what a resident here told me on my first night in Cherokee: "Remember, you are not in America." In other words, don't expect here what you get or find there.
I've come to the realization that I'm not the kind of pastor yet who is always ready or will always be that comfortable going into any situation and be able to handle the living conditions of that place with grace. I've come to realize that I'm not going to always respond and handle situations the way that people probably think ministers should. And maybe that's alright. I don't need to have reached an "Aha" acceptance moment in each situation. I think it's just enough right now that I had an "Aha" moment and recognized who I was . . . that I saw myself with all my growing edges still in need of being shaped and trimmed . . . and admitted it openly. That alone is progress. That's growth.
And it just may be another limb being cut away.