“As [Jesus] approached Jerusalem and saw the city, he wept over it and said, ‘If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace—but now it is hidden from your eyes. The days will come upon you when your enemies will build an embankment against you and encircle you and hem you in on every side. They will dash you to the ground, you and the children within your walls. They will not leave one stone on another, because you did not recognize the time of God’s coming to you’” (Luke 19:41-44).
As a longtime pastor, I have always enjoyed collecting stories that might be useful in sermons or presentations. One of my favorites involves two young preachers, just out of seminary, who were interviewing to become the senior pastor of a small church in midwestern United States.
They had been seminary classmates, but they were determined not to make their respective interviews into a competition. Both decided that the congregation’s choice would not be a reflection on either of them but would rather be an affirmation of the will of God for them and for the congregation.
A few weeks later, they ran into each other at a coffee shop and discovered they were both preparing for a sermon that this same congregation had asked them to preach. The congregation requested that each of them preach about a difficult issue, and they had each decided to preach a sermon about hell.
Another month passed, and they ran into each other again. One of them was selected for the position, and the other, true to his word, congratulated his colleague and agreed to pray for his new assignment. After the meeting, however, the pastor who was turned down called his district superintendent.
“I don’t understand,” he said to the D.S. “I was equally qualified. In fact, if it came down to preaching, my preaching grades were higher than his, and even he would acknowledge that I am a stronger communicator. Maybe my straightforward preaching was too much for them. Did he follow through with preaching about hell, or did he change at the last minute?”
The D.S. replied, “He preached about hell as you both agreed to do. In fact, I heard both sermons and they were virtually identical in content. The congregation, however, overwhelmingly chose him to be their pastor.”
“Did they give a reason?” the young preacher asked. “Yes,” the D.S. replied. “They said you both pulled no punches in your sermons about hell. You were both articulate and challenging and biblical. You both warned them of the dangers of hell and that they themselves needed to repent. However, the difference was, he did so with tears in his eyes.”
I am sure that this story is fictional. However, it does illustrate something important. When we share difficult truths, whether in sermons, lessons, or in one-on-one confrontation, people can tell whether or not we are deeply invested and compassionately connected.
May our sharing the good news—and even difficult news—be accompanied by the compassion of this Christ who, even as He gave warnings, wept for Jerusalem.
Prayer for the Week:
“Lord, open our eyes that we may see you in our brothers and sisters.
Lord, open our ears that we may hear the cries of the hungry,
the cold, the frightened, the oppressed.
Lord, open our hearts that we may love each other as you love us.
Renew in us your Spirit.
Lord, free us and make us one. Amen.” (Mother Theresa)
Charles W. Christian is managing editor of Holiness Today.
Written for Coffee Break with Holiness Today.