Earlier this spring, I attended the Festival of Homiletics in San Antonio, Texas. Homiletics is a fancy, $20-word way of saying preaching and sermon writing. This week-long event is meant to educate and uplift pastors across all denominations. Basically, it is preacher Comic-Con. It’s probably a good thing for congregations as well – no one needs a pastor who says the same things over and over.
San Antonio was a great city to be in – the culture and weather were fabulous. All of the speakers were articulate, faithful preachers of God’s word, and the venues they chose were beautiful. Part of the festival was in an historic Methodist church in downtown San Antonio. Other sessions were in the Scottish Rite Theater. The ceilings were painted beautifully and it had swirling marble staircases, artfully carved doors, and multiple parlor rooms for seated conversation.
But one thing it didn’t have was an elevator.
I noticed this as I watched multiple pastors navigate the slippery marble staircase with canes. I noticed this as a friend and I carried a woman’s wheelchair down the stairs. I noticed this as several older adults stood outside the theater listening, instead of braving their way in and up. The venue was beautiful, but impossible for some. An event that drew nearly 2,000 people managed to isolate so many.
This got me thinking about our spoken theology versus our lived theology. Basically, this is what we say we believe and what we act like we believe. At the festival, all people were welcome, regardless of age, race, sexuality, denomination, and gender – you name it. The welcome was wide and deep, but I don’t think the people who used canes or walkers felt it.
And I wonder – how often do we as a church do something like this? How often do I do something like this?
How often do we leave someone standing at the bottom of an imaginary marble staircase while shouting for them to come up? How often do we say we totally trust God to work, while at the same time work our own angles? How often do we proclaim forgiveness to someone, while at the same time bringing up their wrongdoing at every turn?
It is hard work to build that bridge between what we say and what we live.
But the thing is, it is work worth doing. I think of Jesus, the ultimate bridge builder, who entered into the human experience and pulled us along to cross this great divide. The writer of Hebrews in the New Testament says we do not have a God who is unsympathetic to our weaknesses, but in every respect has been tested as we are (Hebrews 4). Merging together our spoken theology and our lived theology has been done for us in Christ. Our job as Christians is to not screw it up – which we inevitably do. But, God is gracious, and empowers us to actually bring our words and actions together. It may be hard, but we can do hard things.
–Amy Diller, pastor in residency