Monday, June 23, 2014

Of Weddings and Funerals and Pastors

Every now and then, someone will ask me, “Pastor, which do you prefer to officiate: a wedding or a funeral?” 

“A funeral,” I say (usually to their dismay), “because funerals always take.  Too many of my weddings have ended in divorce, but everyone for whom I’ve ever done a funeral is still dead.”

Weddings and funerals are where pastors live.  I’ve officiated at a few hundred of both.  That makes us pastors something of experts on those subjects.  And today, at a funeral, as the door swung open to move the casket to the hearse, it struck me that funerals and weddings are really very much alike.  Here’s what struck me: when the chapel doors opened, the noisy conversation of people gathered outside the chapel sounded as much like a wedding as a funeral.  There was noisy chatter, some laughter, and just the buzz of a multitude of voices ringing in my ears.  If someone had blind-folded me and dropped me into that crowd, I couldn’t have guessed if I’d been dropped at a wedding or a funeral or maybe even a Black Friday customer line waiting for Best Buy to open.

Weddings and funerals do have a lot in common.  Both can cost the family a king’s ransom.  Both include something of an ending and something of a beginning.  Both invite tears, though usually for different reasons.  Both include, for some in attendance, the grief of letting go.  Both create, in our mobile culture, the rare opportunity of family reunion.  Both are rites-of-passage.  And for Christians, both are tied to worship and deeply connected to Christ and the church.

Oh, and one more thing: both usually call for a pastor to say a few words and perform a few rituals.  We stand before the people, praying that God will give us words that point people to Christ, that the attention will be focused on the bride and groom or on the deceased and her family rather than on ourselves, and that we can bring just the right measure of celebration and solemnity that both of those services demand.  Some pastors make it look easy.  It’s not.

So the next time you’re sitting in a church or a funeral chapel, waiting for the bride to enter or the pallbearers to take their place, would you please whisper a little prayer for the officiating pastor?  Pray that God will give him or her peace, words, and a demeanor scented with the fragrance of Christ.  And since for us pastors, funerals and weddings have so many similarities and often run together in our calendars, pray that we will never get the two mixed up. 

Monday, June 16, 2014

I Could Sure Use That Squirrel

While thumbing through the morning paper a couple of weeks ago, I came across a delightful story.  Brian Genest, a 17-year-old from Maine, was taking a walk through John Chestnut Park in Tampa, Florida.  He saw what appeared to be a friendly squirrel relaxing on a handrail.  Genest reached for his phone, put it in camera mode, and decided to take a “selfie” of himself and the squirrel.

Click!  Flash!  And the squirrel went berserk.  He jumped Genest’s back, crawled under his shirt, and did what panicked squirrels do in that situation.  It was not pleasant.  “He was just in that spot where my arm can’t reach him,” Genest said.  “I threw myself on the ground, and that scared him off.”

In a day when most of us are more into self-love, self-expression, self-fulfillment, selfishness, and selfies than we are into self-denial, self-sacrifice and self-discipline, we could use more squirrels like that one.  I know I could.  What if every time we were poised to do something self-centered, some squirrel jumped down our back—you know, enough to take us to the ground and get us thinking about God and others more than self.  I think I’d be more Christ-like, more a giver than a taker, and more Christ-centered and other-centered than self-centered.

Jesus said, “If anyone would come after me let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me” (Lk. 9:23).  Jesus calls us to keep Him at the center and keep ourselves on the edges.  God’s given us the Holy Spirit to empower us to choose the Lord and others over self.  And while the Spirit is a great help, my bent toward self is so pervasive I could still use that squirrel.  How about you?