Every Sunday after the second service I head over to the fellowship hall to meet with those who might want to have a word with me after the service. To tell you the truth this is the hardest part of the preaching job for me. I am an introvert and standing around talking is not something that I enjoy doing, particularly after a long morning (I usually get up at five on Sunday mornings) but it is necessary so I always do it.
This morning started out like most others, people saying hello, well-wishers, and a few people who, by some miracle, had been blessed by the sermon. The problem is that things didnâ€™t stay that way.
The first problem was a young girl (early twenties I would guess) who began to question me about my commitment to repentance as part of the gospel. When I asked her exactly what she meant by â€œneeding to repent of ones sins before a person could become a Christian.â€ She told me, in a rather long monologue about why repentance was needed; why it was particularly important for people in her age group; etc. When I told her that I, of course agreed that repentance from sin was important and that the way one lived after becoming a Christian indicated the truthfulness of oneâ€™s conversion she shot back â€œWhy didnâ€™t you even mention repentance in your sermon?â€ I told her that I couldnâ€™t preach everything in one sermon, and she told me of her young pastor, a graduate of Dallas, whose sermons were on the web, maybe I could listen to some.
A couple of people later, it got worse. Much worse. A lady said that she wanted to ask me about something that I had said before today. What she meant was something that I had said months or maybe even a year and a half before today. She said that I had pointed out that both Mary and Jesus likely suffered shame as a result of the virgin birth. This, she said, was a new idea that had only come out in the last ten years, she had never heard Dr. Kennedy say anything like that, and this idea only came from seminary people.
I tried to tell her that the Babylonian Talmud has very specific stories about Maryâ€™s lack of chastity and that it certainly was not written ten years ago, but that got nowhere. This afternoon I found an even earlier (350 a.d.) reference in a tract written by Origin against Celsus (1.28) Which says: â€œFor he represents him disputing with Jesus, and confuting Him, as he thinks, on many points; and in the first place, he accuses Him of having â€œinvented his birth from a virgin,â€ and upbraids Him with being â€œborn in a certain Jewish village, of a poor woman of the country, who gained her subsistence by spinning, and who was turned out of doors by her husband, a carpenter by trade, because she was convicted of adultery; that after being driven away by her husband, and wandering about for a time, she disgracefully gave birth to Jesus, an illegitimate child . . .â€
I tried to point out to here John 8:41 where Jesus is taunted by the words â€œwe were not born of fornicationâ€ but that was seen as nothing. I tried to ask her what other people would have thought if Mary had turned up pregnant before or shortly after she and Joseph were married. She explained to me that the clothes that people wore in those days made it impossible to see that a person was pregnant.
Finally, I was at the end of my rope. I had been standing in the fellowship hall for at least forty-five minutes and I simply said to her, â€œListen, if itâ€™s that big of a deal to you then donâ€™t believe it, I donâ€™t care. Why is it so important to you that Mary never suffered?â€ By this time I had lost it. She said she knew that God would not put Mary through all of this and I asked her to show me that from the text. She didnâ€™t have a Bible with her. I said something that I regret and wish that I had not said, â€œI am suspect of someone who wants to correct the minister/seminary professor but doesnâ€™t carry a bible to church.â€
I know, that was out of line, shouldnâ€™t have been said, no excuse, and all of that. I was simply tired of going around about a point that seems very clear to me and not worth arguing about. She became hurt and started to walk away at which time I apologized but told her that I just didnâ€™t think that I could do her any good. She exclaimed that she thought that I would at least have the decency to talk to her graciously about this, and then walked away.
I suppose I could make some excuses by saying that this has been an exceptionally long week. We have had, in addition to regular classes, an accreditation advisor with whom the faculty met several times, a potential new professor who came down to do some guest lectures, and the planning for the graduation in less than two weeks. All the while trying to prepare to preach one of the most difficult passages in the Gospel of Matthew.
All of that is just smoke really. What I truly wonder at times like this is whether or not God is telling me that I am in the wrong place. That maybe I ought not to be preaching on Sunday mornings like this. Maybe I am in the wrong place and am just fooling myself in thinking that I am doing the Lordâ€™s will. It all seems so hard to figure out sometimes.
So now you know, itâ€™s not just you. We all wonder if we ought to be doing something else every once in a while. One days like this, when Iâ€™m tired, I wonder it even more. But I donâ€™t make any decisions on these days. I wait for a good nightâ€™s sleep and hope that things will look better tomorrow.
Seeking the New City,