Fred Rogers of “Mister Rogers Neighborhood,” (a hero of mine) once said, “The greatest gift you ever give is your honest self.”
I believe this just might be the most important thing about being a follower of Jesus Christ. As Christians, I’m not sure we are of any benefit without an honest faith in God and honesty within ourselves. We can often define and judge and be defined and judged by our own sincerity.
In a past life, I was a comedian.
I worked as a stand-up comic on stage and on radio and television. My job was to make people laugh. So naturally, when I felt called to become a pastor, I was confused.
Was I being called to be a stand-up preacher? Was I being called to come up with funny material each Sunday to entertain those that came to worship God?
Or was I being called to put my comedy past aside? Was I being called to forget this part of my life and trade it in for something quite serious?
The pastor of my home church wasn’t always funny. Oh, he was occasionally a bit “folksy” but I seldom left church with a belly laugh. Maybe God was telling me to stop being silly and to grow up and get a real job.
Proverbs 10:14 states, “The wise lay up knowledge, but the babbling of a fool brings ruin near.” Some have compared comedy to foolishness. Was I being a fool?
Needless to say, my beginnings as a preacher came also with a bit of an identity crisis. Who was I supposed to be?
And then, even beyond the fear of the delivery, was the looming fear of screwing up the message.
The Bible is a vast library of books with numerous stories. Stories that have been debated and given multitudes of opinions and theories. Scholars, teachers, students and bystanders have chewed on the word of God since the word was given. There have been arguments over meaning, intent, historical context, interpretations, even moods and feelings.
What if, what I was saying was not what God was wanting me to say? What if, each Sunday God was listening to my messages and yelling down, “Stop saying that!” “That’s not what I meant!” “You Stink at this!”
Who in their right mind would want to receive the Holy Word of God from an old comic that spent most of his time asking audience members where they were from and then commenting with sarcasm? How could I even trust a church that would have me as it’s pastor?
To quote a favorite preacher of mine,
“I refuse to join any club that would have me as a member.” -Groucho Marx
Perhaps it was Groucho’s Jewish heritage that led me to explore more scripture for answers to my growing questions and concerns. And like my Jewish friends, I found myself browsing through the Torah for answers and inspiration. That’s when I came across the exodus story.
Moses and I had some things in common. We both had a bit of an identity crisis. Our calls to ministry came when we did not expect it. Moses stammered; I have dyslexia. Both of us had careers before our call to ministry. Of course, when I left my previous career, I didn’t kill anyone. (Always good to point out this difference, especially on a resume.)
Perhaps the one main thing I could identify with Moses was an overwhelming insecurity toward the calling. We both struggled to understand why God would be calling us.
“But Moses said to the Lord, “O my Lord, I have never been eloquent, neither in the past nor even now that you have spoken to your servant; but I am slow of speech and slow of tongue.” -Exodus 4:10
It was in God’s reply to Moses that I found my answer to preaching.
“Then the Lord said to him, “Who gives speech to mortals?… Who makes them mute or deaf, seeing or blind? Is it not I, the Lord? Now go, and I will be with your mouth and teach you what you are to speak.” – Exodus 4:11-12
God was telling Moses that he knew exactly who he was. He was telling him he chose him exactly how he was. And he was telling Moses to get on with it!
I had become so consumed with my anxieties and had forgotten that God was in charge. I didn’t have to worry about being the “Comic Preacher,” or the “Serious Preacher,” or even the “Folksy Preacher.”
God was calling me to be me.
There was no need to label anything, only a need to be myself. To be organic. If I felt serious, be serious. If I felt humorous, be humorous. What’s most important is to be in God’s presence.