There have been many times in my life as a clergy-type that people have placed me (at least in their minds) on a higher level than themselves. This is particularly true when they’re dealing with spiritual matters, but it also seems to bleed over into other parts of their lives as well. It’s pretty amazing how often I’ve been deemed to have expertise in fields at which I’m totally incompetent.
The moment they stuck the title, “Reverend,” in front of my name, I was perceived as being all-knowing, all-wise, and all-powerful (at least by some). The entire scenario puts me in mind of the Wizard of Oz. The Wonderful Wizard gave the scarecrow a diploma, and the man of straw was instantly brilliant. He gave the Tin Man a clock (imbedded in a heart) and tears began to flow. He bestowed the Cowardly Lion with a medal of courage, and all timidity was gone.
“One day I was a normal sinner…”
I’ve never quite gotten the whole reverend thing. One day I was a normal sinner like everyone else. The next day I was “The Reverend.” The weird thing was, it wasn’t because I got a diploma (or clock, or medal for that matter). I was merely hired by our District Superintendent to be a pastor to a particular flock, and everyone began calling me reverend.
If you look up the word in a dictionary, you’ll see that it means “worthy of reverence.” If you look up the word, reverence, you’ll find that it means “honor or respect felt or shown.” Webster and the boys always add the phrase, “title used for a clergy person.” In other words, it’s become automatic over the years. You no longer have to earn the title, you are simply endowed with it in the hope that someday you’ll grow into its full meaning.
You’ll be happy to know that, since they’ve begun calling me reverend, I’ve gotten the proper diploma. I’ve also gotten a clock (although not encased in a plastic, red heart on a chain). Truth be told, I haven’t received any medals as of yet, but stranger things have happened. My day may be on the horizon.
“You can call me Ray!”
I sincerely doubt if anyone ever really earns the reverend moniker. It’s like when Jesus said, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone.” (Luke 18:19) He could just as easily have said, “Why do you call me reverend. There is no reverend but God alone.”
In many instances (maybe in most), I’m just as confused about things as you happen to be. As someone once said, “I’m just confused at a higher level.” You can call me Reverend, The Right Reverend, His Holiness, or What’s-His-Face. It really doesn’t change anything. Another person famously said, “The ground is level at the foot of the cross.” We all bow in awe before Jesus.
Remember what the Apostle Paul once wrote. “Let God be true, and every human being a liar.” (Romans 3:4) Just don’t call me that, please.
[Dave Zuchelli is a graduate of Pittsburgh Theological Seminary and is currently the pastor of Smith Chapel, in Great Falls, VA.]