One of my favorite classic movies is The Court Jester starring Danny Kaye. Melissa and I watch it two or three times a year, particularly when we need to laugh. (Which has a curiously high correlation rate with my returns from Presbyterian General Assembly Council meetings.)
The movie is set in Medieval England with a Robin Hood like scenario. Hawkins (Danny Kaye) and maid Jean have just discovered a way to sneak Hawkins into the castle controlled by a usurper king. They are readying Hawkins to go in under the guise of a court jester when maid Jean informs Hawkins one of their spies, a confederate, is already in the castle. She withholds the name from Hawkins for fear that if Hawkins is exposed he might be compelled to divulge confederate’s identity. The following dialog ensues.
Hawkins: “I’d like to ask you one question. After months of pleading for just this kind of action, what makes you think that anybody…anybody…could force me to reveal the name of our confederate?”
Maid Jean: “Because they’d put you on the rack, crack your every bone, scald you with hot oil and remove your nails off your fingers with flaming hot pincers.”
Hawkins [In a shaky voice]: “I’d like to withdraw the question.”
I have been making the case that each Christian is called to be priest, prophet and king to the world. We are called to creation stewardship, Kingdom service and employment of gifts. This requires our ongoing spiritual transformation.
The thing is that spiritual transformation sounds like such an uplifting and intriguing experience. Spiritual formation does have times of great solace and inspiration. But it has also been my experience that spiritual formation will cut every sense of security out from under you and leave you completely disoriented. It will pick you up, slam you down, and press your face into the mud, until you recoil into a corner and cry out, “Daddy where are you?” It will break you to the core…and then do it again! It can be the spiritual equivalent of being put on the rack, cracking your every bone, scalding you with hot oil and removing your nails off your fingers with flaming hot pincers. Like Jesus said, we get to pick up the cross daily and follow him.
Furthermore, when you do experience spiritual growth and begin to truly reach out as priest, prophet and king, some are going denounce you, spew their derision on you and spit in your face. Others are going to try to co-opt you and mollify your exuberance. Others will simply abandon you. We are the body of Christ and that means we also inherit the sufferings of Christ. With that said, let us now do a recruitment drive. “Okay. Who wants to sign up?”
The reality is that the romance of it all sounds quite alluring. We are inspired by the possibility of doing great things for God. Then we encounter some of the brutal realities of spiritual formation and conclude, “Hey, wait a minute. I didn’t sign up for this! I don’t really want to be priest, prophet and king anymore. Just give me a pastor who can medicate the empty spots in my life with give some inspirational advice and comforting platitudes to get me through the week.”
Meanwhile, there are pastors who have entered the ministry with the idea of developing a warm cozy family where everybody likes him or her. There was never any intent of doing the work of transformation in the life of the body. Other pastors come with a mission of transforming the people by their own power and charisma. (I have one pastor friend who says he keeps turning in his application to be savior of the world. God keeps returning it saying “Sorry. The position is already filled.”) Some, have come in with more balanced visions but each of these later two groups of pastors eventually become worn down by the stiff-necked resistance of their congregants. They become discouraged and either just do what it takes not to rock the boat or they disappear from pastoral ministry. They didn’t sign up for the pain they get either. I have met many of these pastors and a dim flicker still exists for a vision they once saw but they have become conditioned not to get their hopes up.
Toward the end of Woody Allen’s movie Annie Hall, Alvy (Woody Allen) tells a joke about a man who complains to a psychiatrist that his brother thinks he's a chicken. "Well, why don't you turn him in?" says the doctor. The man replies, "I would, but I need the eggs." Pastors are the chickens and the congregants love their eggs. And any pastor who is ready to quit being a chicken had better be prepared for the smattering of eggs in his face.
G. K. Chesterton wrote that “The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting. It has been found difficult; and left untried.” We need pastors who are ready to break their “chicken” addiction. Not necessarily with a big fanfare, mind you. (Envision incoming eggs.) But maybe in the sense of finding just a few people they sense God is fanning the flames in and then pouring themselves into the discipleship of those folks.
But even more importantly we need people who are not pastors to catch the vision of what it means to be priest, prophet and king in the world, and be willing to pay the cost. They need to identify themselves to pastors and seek out others to band with who are willing to pay the cost. The awareness of their presence would embolden the hearts of some pastors enough to resist their own coronation by the people who keep crying out “Give us a king!”
The Gnostic influences at work in our culture, the consumerist approach to being the Kingdom of God, the attitude of a culture that resists pain and suffering at all costs, and just plain old human sinfulness and laziness, all mitigate against the transformation of the people of God into his body, doing the priestly, prophetic and kingly work God has placed before us. We keep trying new techniques but I wonder if Jesus words from Mark 9:28-29 might not be prophetic for our circumstances:
When he had entered the house, his disciples asked him privately, "Why could we not cast it out?" He said to them, "This kind can come out only through prayer . (NRSV)