When I think about this peculiar preaching profession, I always consider my time in the pulpit as pastoral care. I know there are other models, other types of preaching, but pastoral care is my go-to.
There’s hardly a better passage to think about pastoral care than this week’s Narrative Lectionary text, Isaiah 40:1-11. Check out the WorkingPreacher commentary. Frankly, I think the hymn says it so poetically,
“Comfort, comfort you my people, tell of peace, thus says our God; comfort those who sit in darkness bowed beneath oppression’s load.
Speak you to Jerusalem of the peace that waits for them; tell them that their sins I cover, and their warfare now is over.”
And what better time to think of comfort than on the Advent Sunday of Peace?
So let me ask the question… What kind of comfort does your congregation need?
Can you name their losses? Jobs, friendships, money? Family, reputation, self-esteem? And more than just losses, can you name their challenges? Illness, mental health, struggles with employment? Do they face shame, anger, sorrow?
And what does comfort really look like? This, to me, is always the hardest part. Sometimes comfort looks like justice. Sometimes it looks like forgiveness. Sometimes it looks like accompaniment.
But I can’t always guarantee all of those things. This world doesn’t always guarantee justice or forgiveness. And I don’t know if there’s enough of me around to always guarantee accompaniment.
I know, the congregation is not looking for my accompaniment. But it seems as if we should be about to say to people, “We’ll look after you.” But it’s one of the difficulties of this world, this time, that we cannot always be available to everyone. And there are not enough programs, not enough money, not enough system to solve people’s problems.
We all know someone who doesn’t check all the boxes needed for healthcare, for housing, for work, for access to drug treatment, and so many other needs.
So where is the comfort?
Sometimes the best I can do is promise God’s comfort. And sometimes that feels like an empty promise. You’ve probably heard it a million times, the story about the child scared by a storm. Mommy says three times, “Don’t worry, Jesus is with you,” but the child, still scared, says “Sometimes I need Jesus with the skin on.”
But just for today, just for this Sunday, I’m going to believe that God’s comfort is enough, and I’m going to try to find a way to share that comfort with someone. I’m going to be Jesus with the skin on.
How will you meet the pastoral care needs this week, to “comfort, comfort God’s people?”
Or maybe you’re going somewhere else with this Sunday’s text:
- Will you talk about the delicacy of human life, the fragility of it? The text says, “The grass withers, the flower fades, when the breath of the Lord blows upon it; surely the people are grass.”
- Will you talk about the tenacity of the word of the Lord? Sometimes I wonder at this collection of amazing stories, beautiful poetry, and historical writings that spanned centuries. This Word means something. Can you talk about the comfort these words bring?
- How about comparing this text with the story of John the Baptist, the voice crying out, “prepare the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God.” How do we make our lives ready for God’s coming?
And preacher, may I offer some comfort for you? I know the love you sow in your congregation, and I know the pain of the losses you experience. I know that the congregant you adored left for another church. I know the dear friend in the congregation died unexpectedly. I know the scars the conflict leaves. May I take just a moment to remind you that the God who called you is still walking beside you? You are loved, loved so much, in fact, that God carries your picture in Their wallet.
Rev. Lia Scholl is not-that-kind-of-Baptist preacher and pastor in Winston-Salem, North Carolina (U.S.) and is the author of I Heart Sex Workers (Chalice Press, 2013).
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