Yesterday in my sermon I committed the cardinal sin of pastor-parents: I told a story about my child without getting her permission. Rookie mistake for this pastor of 20 years, but there you are. It just fit so well into the sermon, and we had talked about it but in my mind we had not settled the matter. But as it says in Galatians 6:7 (part of the passage I preached on) “you reap what you sow.”
So I’m in the first third of the sermon; my husband is sitting on the chancel near me and our daughter is sitting by herself in the front pew, as she usually does. She hears me telling the story and she begins to cry, prostrating herself on the lovely needle-pointed pew cushion, weeping for not all but many to see and hear. Crap. Just the word the preacher wants to hear in her head while she is delivering the beautiful word of God.
I can handle a lot in worship. I can handle crying babies, coughing parishioners, people who live on the streets wandering up and looking at the offering plates, fainters, barfers, organ ciphers, mangled liturgy, and laryngitis, but what absolutely does me in is when I have to be pastor and mom at the same time. It doesn’t happen very often but when it does I become completely unglued – maybe because I suspect I’m not particularly good at either one, or maybe because it feels like both demand so much of my being.
So in the first third of my sermon, while my daughter is crying, I break the fourth wall of sorts, interrupt myself, and ask my husband to sit with her, which he does. I then resume preaching, talking about accountability when we do something wrong, and being in community in our suffering, and reconciling with brother or sister before coming to the communion table. And did I mention we celebrated communion yesterday?
At the end of the sermon, I issued this invitation to the congregation:
“I don’t know if gathered here this morning are people who are at odds with each other; sheer numbers would suggest that there are. I’m not going to ask that we now pause for a minute for reconciliation – that would be putting all of us on the spot. But perhaps in the silence after the sermon, we might think of those we are at odds with. We might think about them, and about bearing their burden, about carrying our own load, about forgiveness and grace. We might imagine, as we all say the Lord’s Prayer during communion, sitting next to that person, and saying the prayer with them.”
It was so nice of the Holy Spirit to provide me with an opportunity to practice what I preach, and during the silence after the sermon I thought about how I could check in with my daughter before going to the table. My husband/co-pastor came back up and said she was fine, mostly because one of her friends sweetly came up and sat with her and got her out of her funk. During communion, my daughter passed by all the other celebrants to come receive the bread from me, and gave me a hug, and I told her I was sorry and I love her so much.
I thought it was a mediocre sermon that was made worse for the wear by my embarrassing my daughter. As it turns out, what the congregation heard and saw were opportunities for grace, and realness, and empathy, and kindness, and grace again.
But if I ever tell a story about her again, I will get her permission in writing.