I must admit, as a Presbyterian pastor, I have a difficult time with this section of the Rule. I must also admit there have been congregations where almost nothing I said was heard. I do not think this should make me judgmental about them. I can never judge the state of anyone's salvation. That belongs only to God. But perhaps I should question if I have ". . . bestowed all my pastoral diligence on a restless, unruly flock and tried every remedy for their unhealthy behavior, . . ."
My impatience with congregants not listening was certainly greater in the years immediately following my graduation from seminary, and my ordination. That is the time when we as pastors think we know everything. Our first parish quickly cures us of this delusion, although, I admit, some of us are more hard headed than others; myself included. My cousin, a Lutheran pastor expressed the same feelings. He told me, "in my first parish a sign in my study read, 'Win the World for Christ.' In my second call the sign read 'Win the City for Christ' My third study contained the sign, 'Win the Block for Christ.' In the next call my sign contained the words, 'Try not to lose too many.'"
Over the years I have learned, and still are learning, I may or may not be responsible for congregations not hearing me when I proclaim the Gospel. In some cases what I took as my not being heard, was instead the Spirit taking my words, and others ears, to deliver a message different than the one I intended. In other cases, what I felt called to preach was truly not being heard. In those cases it now seems best to, with God's help, decide if my presence in those congregations fulfills any function at all. If not, I must, again with God's help, decide if I should simply shake the dust from my sandals and move on. But there have been cases, probably too many, when something inside me tells me to change what I had intended to preach. I believe those occasions are decreasing. At least I pray, Lord, that they are decreasing and will continue to decrease.
However, there still are times when I neglect to listen to that inner voice. And there are times when my hardheadedness simply leads me to preach what I want to preach! I cannot bring myself to believe those times will negate what God did for me when Christ shattered the doors of death. But I also believe there are things when not preaching what I am called to preach, will require me to admit my guilt before the Throne, and acknowledge I can only remain in God's presence because of God's grace
Reb Zusia of Anipoli told of what he believed about the questions God will ask us. He said, “when the day comes that I must account for my life, I will not be asked: ‘Why weren’t you Moses?’ I was not equipped to be Moses. But I dread the question, ‘Why weren’t you Zusia?’" I agree with Rev Zusia's words. When I stand before God, admitting I am a sinner, God will not ask why I was not Billy Graham or why I was not any of the spell binding preachers of any age. I fear I will be asked, "why weren't you Pastor Frank? Why weren't you Brother Oscar? Why didn't you preach what I put it in your heart to preach?" To those questions there can be no answer, no explanation.
Although I will have no answer to those questions, I am still confident that our God is a God of grace and love; one who will allow me to remain before the throne despite my sins. But in the days while the Holy One allows me to draw breath and proclaim the Gospel, I need to remember this admonition from Benedict's Rule; to preach what is put in my heart to preach, even if this means my original sermon hits the waste basket on Sunday morning. I must remember to be true to who I am, and give thanks for God's grace, and remember this admonition from Benedict's "little rule for beginners."
Thank you, Lord, for your incredible grace. And thank you, Father Benedict, for your words and your Rule's reminders.