Today’s Word from Pastor Jim…
“I will rejoice and be glad in your gracious love, for you see my affliction and take note that my soul is distressed.” Psalm 31:7
More than a hundred years ago, Finley Peter Dunne coined a phrase that was meant to epitomize the role of newspapers in society. With the help of a fictional character named Mr. Dooley, Dunne said that journalism was given the charge to “Comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.” It became a clarion call for journalists everywhere. Soon many preachers, pastors and theologians adopted the phrase and assumed that this was a guiding principle for their teachings.
I must admit that I too have used this term when preaching. I believe that our faith should challenge us, provoke good works, move us outside of our comfort zone, inspire us to charity, and give us pause to consider the blessings in our lives. Jesus never met anyone and said, “Stay where you are.” Christianity, the Good News of Jesus, the grace of God frees us to live and to love differently. Everything we do is in response to God’s gifts and God’s grace.
I have come to believe that my calling as a pastor is to comfort the afflicted and to afflict the comfortable. But there is a very important nuance that must be noted, a reality that should inform my ministry and yours. In nearly 40 years of ministry, 40 years of living with the people of God, 40 years of intensely personal conversations and confessions, 40 years of joy and sorrow, 40 years at deathbeds and weddings, over those 40 years I have YET TO MEET even a single person who is comfortable. I have yet to meet even a single person who has managed to skate through life without being afflicted by disease, or betrayal, or depression, or the ravages of aging or the reality of living in dysfunctional families.
It is my calling as a pastor to comfort the afflicted and to afflict the comfortable. And if I ever meet a person who by some miracle is truly comfortable, then perhaps I will feel inspired to bring affliction their way. Based on my experience, I don’t think that person exists.
In my lifetime I have ministered to the very wealthy and the very poor, and I can say without hesitation that neither are truly comfortable. Comfort among humans is mostly an illusion. There are problems unique to the poor. The rich have different challenges, and the middle class encounters a wide range of maladies. The rich and the poor lose sleep worrying about their security, their marriages, and their children. The rich and famous college basketball coach Jim Valvano, when fighting cancer said, there are no celebrities when waiting in line for chemotherapy. People of every land, race and time have arrived in this world and departed this world in pretty much the same fashion. There are a lot of things that money can buy, but there is no cure for being human. We are frail, we are insecure, we are fearful children, never more than a moment away from tragedy.
I have come to believe that it is my calling as a pastor to comfort the afflicted and to afflict the comfortable. But in all honesty, I don’t expect that I will ever meet a person who is comfortable. So, I guess that I am going to give up on afflicting anyone and recognize that everyone I meet could use a dose of grace and the benefit of the doubt.
I think the Apostle Paul has concisely captured our calling as followers of Jesus: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and the God of all consolation, who consoles us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to console those who are in any affliction with the consolation with which we ourselves are consoled by God.”
One beggar telling another beggar where to find bread, I am
Insecure Pastor Jim