Practice what you preach is one of those sayings that is easy to throw around, unless you’re a preacher. As one who consistently is called to stand before the assembled congregation and proclaim God’s Word, it can be a daunting task. Not only does it mean that I have to make sure that I am being true to the sacred Biblical text, but I also must ensure that I am a creditable witness to the text. This isn’t always easy. The news has many accounts of preachers who subscribe to “the do as I say not as I do” school of thought.
I remember when I was a Chaplain Candidate with the Navy and I was taught this very important lesson. Each summer I would spend time with sailors onboard a ship or other installation. The first summer I was stationed aboard the USS Anzio. The Anzio is a guided missile cruiser. For those of you not versed in Naval architecture, a cruiser is not a large ship. At only 567 feet long and 55 feet wide, this means that the crew live in close quarters. A crew of 367 people share every space and find themselves in almost constant contact with others. This context helped to heighten my awareness of just how important it is to be of a consistent character and to ensure that I am practicing as well as preaching. You can’t be a fake with people when you share a bathroom.
This past week I issued a challenge of sorts in the Tidbits. I asked each of you to consider being a voice crying out in the wilderness. I even went so far as to ask you to consider whom might you call out to. Frankly making those kinds of claims on the lives of parishioners could become easy and almost meaningless. I, for one, take very seriously the responsibility of calling. God has allowed me into your lives in a way that permits me to be prophetic in the midst of the congregation.
That is why it was interesting when I was faced with an interesting choice in my life and ministry. This previous Saturday, I was given the opportunity to proclaim the Word at the Old Presbyterian Meeting House prior to the Alexandria Christmas Walk through Old Town. I would be stretching the truth if I didn’t admit that choosing the text and subject for this meditation gave me some conflict. This is, after all, a group that I am part of not because I am a pastor, but because of my shared heritage and as a social group. The temptation was to preach on a topic that was easy and light. How easy it would be to talk about the faithfulness of the Scottish people and how the people stood up for their religious beliefs? I could have given a truly passé meditation on the coming of Christ and how it should make us have joy.
Yet, just a few days earlier I advocated for us to be those who shout out in the wilderness. It was with great anxiety about preaching, perhaps more than I have experienced in a long time, that I entered the pulpit. I chose to challenge the gathered congregation, and especially the members of the St. Andrew’s Society, to consider our need to be part of the work of God in the world. The society has a motto that reads, “Relieve the Distressed.” I preached a sermon that drew a very strong line between Christ coming at Christmas and our need to be those who act as the body of Christ. This was one of those days that I had to wonder how people would respond to the challenge. Would I lose friends, perhaps I would never be asked to lead such a service again?
Overall I believe that the message was received in the spirit it was given. I don’t think they are going to repo my Kilt or ban me from showing my knees in public, yet. In fact, I heard from more than one person how they were glad that I offered the calling to service.
The challenge of being a prophetic voice in the lives of our friends and neighbors isn’t an easy or comfortable one. Yet, we are called to speak the truth in love and call out in the wilderness. My hope is that when we do so, people see it as a consistent part of our character and not as a hypocritical “do as I say not as I do” reality.
How do you consistently practice what you preach?