Preachers, shoot that elephant!

By Joel A. Hess

A couple of weeks ago I attended a very sad funeral. It was for a boy who took his own life, as teenage boys sometimes violently and impulsively do when they think they are backed into a corner. The room was packed with kids, family, friends. They all knew he died. They all knew how he died. It was on everyone’s mind. Suicide does that. It forces everyone to stare blankly into the abyss. Though kids laughed and nervously carried on, no one can deny that there was, as they say, a huge elephant in the room. This was not just a sad death, but the saddest kind and the most difficult to comprehend: suicide.

For sure, such a funeral is not easy for even the most experienced pastor. Still, this poor, old chaplain pretended everything was just fine. He spoke about grief. He spoke about memories. Yet, he danced around the questions of how exactly the young man died. He mentioned God and Jesus and how God wants to help the mourners feel better. He talked about how even though the boy’s life was short it was full and we all should be happy. It got weird, quite frankly, as he danced around the severity of such a subject as suicide.

He didn’t talk about the elephant in the room. He failed to name names. It was like Voldemort to him. More importantly, he didn’t shoot that elephant with the promises of God in Jesus Christ. Jesus remained in the grave and off the cross. The elephant freely roamed just as he did before the sermon and trampled on the mourners as they went back to their homes. Preachers, do not be afraid to speak the name that shall not be named. And to specify, not only things like suicide, but also other sins that everyone knows about! Don’t be afraid, because you have the bullet to kill it, cover it, heal it. You have the words of eternal life. Jesus died for specific sins, and He rose again for specific deaths!

Many of you have attended such funerals. The preacher either fails to say death’s name, or they fail to directly conquer that foe with Jesus, or they fail to do both. The preacher seems almost afraid of saying the word because it may cause tears or offense. Yet, the word, the idea, the problem is on everyone’s minds! Preacher, you have been placed in that room to name names, call a thing a thing, speak the truth! So be direct, boldly point out the elephant, and shoot it with the Word of God!

Shooting the elephant in the room is not just for funerals, though. It’s for every sermon. I remember seeing posts warning preachers from talking about the presidential election. “I just want to hear about Jesus,” he said, or something like that. Well, yes, the preacher should definitely give his people Jesus. But if any preacher did not bring up the incredible anxiety of the election, he failed at his God-given task to shoot the elephant in the room!

It was on everyone’s minds. Don’t pretend it isn’t. You don’t have to pretend! Don’t dance around it. Don’t be smug and shove it under the carpet because the Word of God is “bigger” than the election. Name that elephant, put it in your crosshairs, and pull the trigger! God’s Word has direct bearing on how we deal with the anxiety of elections. Christ’s death and resurrection, repentance and absolution speak specifically to how we handle chaotic times. Your people don’t need you to get their minds off it by talking about something else. They need Jesus to kick the elephant’s ass!

Fellow preachers, shoot that elephant with the words of eternal life or it will follow your people home and crush their hearts.