“Aaron Fuller you are a ball of positivity, as always.”
That’s a comment from a friend of mine & fellow pastor. She knows me well.
I’m a cynic.
As I look at the world around me, it’s hard not to be.
It’s been a hard week for me. And not because of all the Holy Week preps that pastors have to make. I hate that; I hate when people assume when I say “I’m tired” or I mention I’m anything but 100% chipper, the ball of positivity that people expect out of the pastor, they assume it’s because I’m doing too much. I hate it when people, expecting me to convey this sort of sentimental, pious, reverent seriousness to Good Friday, seem to sour when I give them the rawness of emotion that comes out of my cynicism. Makes you uncomfortable? Well heck, if you only knew what was weighing on my mind.
That is what saps my energy. That is what keeps me from being the ball of positivity. The weight of the personal – those things that shake our humanity – are what keep me from acting as if the crucifixion was this touching, sentimental act of love and that God intended solely for my personal salvation. It’s the glaring contradiction of people who profess themselves to be Christ’s church and followers, yet can then turn around and act completely opposite of that – and then justify those acts as somehow being “loving.” It’s the weight of being part of a community that does not confess the crucified or risen Christ, yet the very action and integrity of that community embodies it completely. It’s the graciousness and humility displayed by a group of people broken by addiction…..marginalized and excluded by the very church that gives lip service to being a place for the broken. It’s the weight of the reality of death and struggle that touches all of us, expressing that, and the best response churchgoers can offer is an awkward, “meh.”
Yes, I’m cynical. And I think I have good reason to be so. Because the world is one big glaring contradiction – proclaiming a desire for peace, justice, and grace for others out of one side of its mouth and then pulling its knife out and stabbing those same people in the back. If this is the world Jesus died to save, then God has got to be pretty damn disappointed. I wish I could preach that this coming Sunday…..”Easter folks: God’s doing a take back on that. Because God’s re-thought that whole Good Friday and Easter thing and is instituting a re-evaluation period.” I wish I could just lock the doors of the church on Sunday, and bar everyone because really, none of us are worthy and that’s the only thing that’ll drive that point home to the self-righteous and pious. But people just wanna be happy….so, the upbeat pastor will be there. The positive, feel good sermon will get preached. The bad pastor jokes will flow….the show must go on.
As I sit here, caught in my own words this morning, I realize that this is exactly why Good Friday is for people like me. My cynicism tells me a great lie: “The whole world is ugly. Blow it up. Flood it again.” But such a notion needs to be put to death. The whole world isn’t ugly; contradiction is only a small fraction among the majority of humble, honest, and vulnerable “salt of the earth” people who live in it. The world has beauty and meaning. The world is worth saving.
Good Friday reminds the cynic that we indeed need saving – from ourselves.
There are some things in this life that I just cannot save myself from. No matter how hard I try, the weight of all that’s on my mind becomes too heavy to lift. I do need a savior, not a personal one to pay off the balance owed on my bad behavior account, but one who removes the cloud of cynicism so that I can see beauty and goodness in the world. I need a savior who will save me from my self-induced darkness and shed light on the fact that the real gift are those salt of the earth people who most of us are. Self-righteous piety, denial of ugliness, justification of self-preservation doesn’t win the day – rather, they get put to death on a Cross. Humility, vulnerability, honesty – our very humanity – is raised up from death. That is what is saved.
In a couple of hours, I go to lead worship services at my churches. Rather than do a sermon, I’ve chosen to simply have the Good Friday story read by those in my congregation, with hymns and chants in between. I’ll just be playing piano for the hymns. Maybe that is exactly all this cynical pastor needs to do on this day – hear this story about a God who saves the cynics – and saves all of us – from ourselves.