Who Is My Neighbor?

With my coffee in hand, I spent this morning flipping through the pages of my Feasting on the Word commentary to study the Gospel Lesson for this Sunday only to discover that I’ve preached this one before. Of course I had. I couldn’t quite escape that feeling as I had started writing earlier this week but there wasn’t anything in my files. There was no manuscript to be found.

I finally did the math and realized that it was the summer of 2013 that this lection last appeared. This should have been obvious, but I was clearly under-caffeinated. Three years ago, I was pastoring the United Churches of Olympia. It was my first summer there, actually. And it was the summer that I had decided to preach without notes! A ha! I am, however, no good at getting up and speaking spontaneously. So there was definitely something written so I searched the archives of my blog and discovered this post.

I remember this vividly. I remember waking up that morning and reading the news. I remember the horror I felt so that I felt I had to scrap what I’d written earlier that week. I remember that I began that sermon from the aisle of the Sanctuary with a question. Or perhaps it was a statement. I inferred that every one gathered for worship that day knew what I knew. They had read the horror. They had seen the headlines and their outrage matched mine. But, they hadn’t yet seen it. They didn’t know that the verdict had been made the night before so that it took some time to get to the same place.

It’s something I often feel as a preacher. I feel the discord. I feel the tension as my heart and soul marches for justice through the words I proclaim. It’s not what they want to hear, those people in the pews. They want to hear good news. They want to be told it will all work out in the end. I want that too but it chills me to the bone to read these words again when in the last 24 hours the horror has hit again.

There are new names: Alton Sterling and Philando Castile. There are new names of beautiful hearts and souls that have been stripped and beaten and left for dead and it feels like words do not matter. But, they do. Words like these matter and if we can actually hear these words within the context of the Gospel then perhaps this parable matters too.

It matters to me.

It is not my words or even my interpretation of these words that matters but how we dare to answer the lawyer’s question. “Who is my neighbor?” he asks. There has never been a more important question. It is the question we must ask when we continue to label differences between us rather than insisting upon the humanity we share. We must ask this question again. We must continue to ask it until we — good white Christians — stop turning our backs on our black sisters and brothers.

Who is my neighbor? Three years ago, I concluded this:

The message is pretty simple (impossibly hard to do, but simple): if you want to feel God’s presence, if you really want to feel that kindness, you need to allow yourself to get uncomfortable. In the way this story goes, this sounds passive. You just wait for help to come along — and then when it finally comes from the last person on Earth you ever would have wanted, you receive it. I don’t want to sound too jaded, but you could be waiting a long time. What’s more: you’re not alone. There is someone else that is asking those exact same questions. There is someone else that feels as stripped and beaten as you do. Why are you waiting in a ditch by yourself? If you believe that change is possible, that we could live in a world where every neighbor might feel safe and protected, it seems to me that you can’t just wait around for someone else to inspire you. You gotta seek that out yourself. You gotta ask the questions that everyone is afraid to ask. That is how we will go and do likewise.

But, we haven’t. We haven’t gone and done likewise and so there has been a slow and steady loss of humanity because we haven’t made ourselves even a little bit uncomfortable. Now is the time. Get uncomfortable. Challenge your own arrogance and I’ll challenge mine.

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What Does This Mean?

Then “there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind.” Other translations describe it as a mighty wind. Or that it was a gale force. Not a calm, peaceful breeze. This wind is powerful. It’s violent so that I can only imagine wanting to call for Auntie Em. Of course, it’s not a tornado but a sound … like a violent wind. When all of the disciples are gathered together, this is what announces the day of Pentecost.

A sound … like a violent wind. There is no word for weather in the Bible, but winds were familiar. A change in the winds called forth the change in seasons. They didn’t understand that change any better than most of us understand it. For most of us, wind is mysterious. Wind is impossible to tame or even predict. But, when it changes, we know that something is about to happen, but what?

We’re just as uncertain as the disciples. We’re just as fearful as they were huddled together in one place trying to figure out what to do next. And then, there’s this sound and a rush of wind that “filled the entire house where they were sitting.” It becomes a presence that fills the whole space. It’s something that everybody feels but no one knows exactly what just happened. It happened and we can see that something has changed but no one seems to know what.

This is the introduction to a sermon that I wrote back in 2009 while I was still pastoring in Maine. Oh, Maine. The next paragraph leads into talking about the stock market and the sudden downturn in the economy that hit that community and so many others hard. So that we could only wonder, Will it get better?  Will it get worse?

Sunday is Pentecost again. It is the day when we find ourselves as uncertain as the disciples again after hearing the rush of a violent wind. It still feels like we are at this moment. It still feels like we don’t know what will happen. We are still asking, Will it get better?  Will it get worse? It’s not the economy that worries us. Or at least, it doesn’t worry us as much as it did then. Things are supposedly better in the economic world. But, not in the political world. As candidates point fingers and galvanize their own support, it becomes clearer and clearer that we don’t really believe in the hope of Pentecost. We don’t believe that we can all come together. It’s not possible to hear the good news in another language. We can only hear it in our own limited view. This isn’t about political parties but “a notion that America belongs to one kind of person.” That is how it was said by Edison Davis in last week’s episode of ABC’s Scandal. Watch the clip of his rant here. That speech almost made me want to edit this sermon to highlight the divisions in our politics and in our church. But, I decided not to do so. I decided instead to center on the question that the disciples ask because it’s the question that I’m asking as the campaign trail narrows to two divisive candidates. Just as the disciples asked when the heard that rush of a violent wind and everyone started talking, I want to know: What does this mean?

What do you think? What does it all mean?

 

Jesus is…

In the midst of another holy season, my pastor invited us to ponder who Jesus is. The question stuck with me and inspired a whole preaching series on christological terms. It’s what has led us in the church I’m serving as interim pastor through Lent. Every week, as worship began, we’ve asked ourselves: who are we are who is our God? Today, between palms and passion, I dared to give my answer of who Jesus is. It was a service with a lot of scripture. Before the sermon, we heard both Luke 19:28-40 and Luke 22:39-23:25. Worship concluded in the poetry of Luke 23:26-49 but it the sermon that follows.


Jesus is… Jesus is… the one who leads us toward peace. The one that saddles his hope and his love upon a colt and parades his way into the city where he will die. Through the gate and into the city, with people on his right and on his left, waving palms and shouting, “Hosanna! Hey sanna! Sanna Sanna Ho!” 

“Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!” they shout without ever really understanding what they announce. Jesus is… the one who cannot be stopped. He will wash feet and break bread. He’ll pour just enough wine so that we do not miss how precious this life is. He will do all of these things under watchful eyes. He will do it without their blessing or even their understanding. He will turn tables and resist definition. He will not let their praise and their honor forget that God is a God of love. God requires love. God insists on love. God gives love especially to those who don’t seem to deserve it. 

  
Jesus is… Jesus is… the light of that love. He is the Light of the World. The one that removes darkness, exposes darkness and dares to declare even in the darkest places that there is light and that it is good. At times, he glows. He radiates that light so much that even his clothes become white as snow. Other times, that light is so faint and dim, like a candle blowing in the wind. In him was life, and the life was the light of all people, not to be overcome or overwhelmed but as steady as the light cast upon the sea by a distant lighthouse. Guiding us. Encouraging us. Seeking us out. Leading us to where we are called to be. Jesus is… the great light that shines in our deepest darkness.He is the true light, that just might enlighten everyone, that light that is coming into the world. That is already in the world. That can’t be contained by this world.

It is something that can only be understood in the face of death. Only as we wonder why any life or any hope or any revolution must come to an end can we glimpse the face of Christ who was in the world…even if the world did not know him. But, it was always there. He was always there. In the very beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. Jesus is… the Word, in your words. In our words as much as he might be in all our hopes and dreams. Jesus.. is the very logic of the divine. He is the flesh that reveals God’s deepest wisdom. He is the reason and the order of God’s love for this world and for its people. Jesus is… the articulation of that love. He is the very expression of the reason that God loves, but it is a reason without logic. Or without our logic. God loves because God loves. That love has no beginning and no end.

So that it seems that God might be a chicken, foolishly opening her arms and expanding her welcome when it seems anything but wise. Much as we might refuse, much as we might think we know better, much as we might reject that love, the fact does not change: Jesus is… the Good Shepherd. Even with a hundred sheep or more to protect, he goes chasing after that one sheep that is lost and alone. He welcomes it home. He dares to claim that lost and sinful sheep to be a member of God’s family. Even that sheep is loved, embraced, affirmed, blessed and beloved. Jesus is… the one who gathers all of those broken and dejected people into his fold, declaring each and every one of them to be so loved by God. Others might mock or scoff. They may sneer and spit but Jesus is… the one who knows that we are like sheep without a shepherd.

And it is because of this that Jesus is… Jesus is… the Messiah. He won’t be a warrior or a king. He will demand justice not for the rich and powerful but for those who want to have life and have it abundantly. He will not kill and destroy for his is not that power. Love is not that kind of power. Jesus is… the anointed one. Jesus is… the restoration. Jesus is… the healer, the redeemer, the savior not just for individual souls but for the whole world. Jesus is.. the rabble-rousing, stern-speaking voice of redemption. It is voice that suggests, posits, even demands another way. There is more to this precious life than violence and fear. There is more than hatred and greed. There is more that love can do. There is more.

Jesus is… the Messiah. He is the hope. He is the love. He is the promise that love is greater than fear. Jesus is.. the force of God’s greatest conviction. Jesus is… that wonder-working, barrier-breaking, hope-restoring, healing and redeeming strength that dares to feed and forgive and bless the love that we are able to find in each other and in this world, because there is more. There is so much more of that love. There is more food to be shared. There is more healing to be done. There is more mercy to be granted. There is more hope to find. There is more love to give.

There are others that might say they know the way. Others that might claim that they can make this world great again. Other presidential hopefuls. Other emperors. Other kings. Other warriors that might lead by force. There are other powers that be. Others that might claim the title but Jesus is… the Son of God. He will not let others define what that means. He knows what God can do, even if we do not.

So that Jesus is… the one who goes to the garden alone. He is the one that prays in his own dark night of the soul. With hosannas still ringing in his ears, he will wonder what can be saved. He will wonder who can be saved while the disciples sleep. 

Jesus is… the one they arrest. He is the one condemned for what they can’t understand. He is the one that will be denied. They will say they do not know him. They had nothing to do with him, no connection to that kind of love. But, Jesus is… the one, maybe the only one, that will not forget that God is love. God requires love. God insists on love. God gives love especially to those who don’t seem to deserve it. 

No one really deserves it. No one deserves to be mocked and beaten. Wearing the shackles of human fear, Jesus is… the one who bears our sins. He washed our feet and he blessed our lives. He gave us food and wine. He healed our broken parts but we stopped him. We never quite believed that love was greater than fear. 

  

We are still trying to believe it. Maybe Jesus is… still the one guiding, encouraging and leading us. Maybe. But, when Herod asks him who he is, Jesus is… the one who did not answer. He is the one who did not speak. He did not speak. He did not try to explain. He was silent. Silent as the crowd shouted, “Crucify, crucify him!” 

Chickens and Shepherds

I don’t often post my sermons but after worship I was asked for the manuscript for the sermon I had just preached. I went way off script today — which I seldom do — so I decided to try to remember what in the world I said in the hope that it might be a word of hope for more than just this one soul. But, first a bit of background: throughout this season of Lent, we have been sharing in a question about who we are and who God is for us. There have been grand theological statements and countless metaphors as we have tried to ask ourselves about who and what Christ is in our lives and in the world. You can read more about that here.  This Sunday, we entered into the wonderful words of Luke 13:31-35 to imagine Christ as a shepherd. Before we read this good news, I asked the kids: how are shepherds and chickens alike? The sermon that follows is my best answer. 

Last week, in the sharing of our joys and concerns, a prayer was lifted in joy for something that was heard on the radio. It was my prayer, actually, and in offering that prayer I said something about how unexpected it is to hear about our faith on the radio. That led to another prayer about something that was heard on television and it was said again that it is a surprise to hear about going to church on television on the radio which made me wonder about what it is that we want for it doesn’t seem that the faith that Jesus imagined was for every body. It doesn’t seem that he imagined that it would change the hearts and lives of everyone that ever heard it but it was a choice. It was a choice that Jesus offered that boiled down to a simple question of what you want for the world and for yourself.

We want many things. We want oh so much. It’s a word that finds our way into our speech often as it does in this few verses. In just four verses, it’s said three times. The Pharisees inform Jesus that Herod wants to kill him. By way of response, Jesus expresses his own wishes and desires. He tells the Pharisees, “Go, tell that fox,” that though Herod might kill the prophets, but it won’t stop Jesus from wanting to gather the people together under his wings. Of course, the people make their own desires known and Jesus knows it. He knows their desires, as he says, “But, you don’t want that.” [1]

They don’t want to be gathered together. They don’t need anyone to shepherd them together. They wished for something else. They imagined another hope. They believed in another possibility. They wanted another kind of God. And what about you. What kind of God do you want?

It’s the question that we keep asking throughout these forty days of Lent before we walk with Jesus into Jerusalem. Before we wave our palms and join the procession, before we stand beside the cross, we have to ask ourselves: what do we want?

“In this season of Lent, as we contemplate the ministry and passion of Jesus,” writes one biblical commentator, “we must also remember that rejection of his ministry comes with consequences of our own choosing.” [2] And so, we must be clear about what we choose.

We have to be clear about what it is we want. The people didn’t want God. They rejected Jesus. They wanted nothing to do with his open arms of healing and redemption. They didn’t need his compassion anymore than Herod. Herod’s best solution was violence. He longed for vengeance. Is that what we want? Are we so frustrated and angry at the state of the world that we long for someone to pay? Is our passion so ignited that sparks might fly at any moment?

We want so many things so that in all our wishes and desires, we end up making our own gods. We refuse the open arms of God. We don’t think it’s enough and instead we give power to the money we earn so much so that we refuse to share. We let our deepest fears transform into monsters that would otherwise terrify us if they didn’t ease our pains. We think we know better. We think we know best but we don’t. Not when we have forgotten where we’ve come from.

Rabbi Harold Kushner, the same man that wrote When Bad Things Happen to Good People, tries to remind us:

The earliest ancestors of the Hebrew people who gave us the Bible were nomads, owning no property, bound to no one location but traveling with their flocks and herds wherever there was pastureland for the animals to graze on. Sometimes this involved a journey of a few miles, sometimes it meant longer trips from drought-plagued areas to well-watered neighboring countries. Generations later, their descendants would become farmers and learn to see life in partnership between the hard work of the farmer and the grace of heaven sending the rain in its season. Later still, some of them would be artisans and merchants. Their understanding of religion would expand to include the ethics of honoring contracts and relating to workers and customers fairly. But they never forgot their origins, telling stories of Abraham, Moses and David tending their sheep. Long after they stopped being shepherds themselves, they retained the mind-set of the shepherd guarding his flock with love for every tender lamb, dedicated to protecting them from the world’s dangers. And in their poetry, they pictured God as a shepherd. [3]

And Jesus tells us that, like God, he will be the “good shepherd.” Like the shepherds of ancient Israel, he didn’t know where his flocks might lead. He didn’t know what to expect but he keeps opening his arms to them. He promises to guard every tender lamb from their fears and their greed by gathering them together “as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings.” He won’t be their monster or their warrior. He won’t fire angry words but will open his arms wide. He will be their chicken. No matter how much you or I might recall about our earliest ancestors, this is indeed a very strange choice. “But a hen is what Jesus chooses,” the preacher Barbara Brown Taylor goes on to say,

which — if you think about it –is pretty typical of him. He is always turning things upside down, so that children and peasants wind up on top while kings and scholars land on the bottom. He is always wrecking our expectations of how things should turn out by giving prizes to losers and paying the last first like in the parable of the laborers in the vineyard. So of course he chooses a chicken, which is about as far from a fox as you can get, who can only use her own body to defend. That way the options become very clear: you can live by licking your chops or you can die protecting your chicks. [4]

chicks-573377_1920Ruth Anne Reese brings these two options into our present, into our practice of Lent, by asking what we want, “Do we long to be like Jesus, to be able to find compassion for our enemies, even those who want to put us to death? In this world of religious and political violence, what does it mean to long for our enemies to experience Jesus’ compassion even as we ourselves have?” [5] What do we want for our world and ourselves?

Are we more comfortable creating our own gods or do we really want to be transformed and changed by the one who opens his arms to us?

It is our choice. It is your choice. You can be anxious. You can be deathly afraid of making the wrong choice. You can mourn all that has gone wrong so that it seems the only logical choice is to become a fox. But, Jesus chose a mother hen as an image of his love. Greed nor fear nor even the need for stability would lead him. Only love. Only the kind of love that opened his arms ever wider to let the world in.

We can fret and worry about what we cannot control. That’s a choice. You can make that choice but is that really what you want for yourself and the world? Do you really want more fear than love? Do you really want your anxieties to rule your days? Or do you want love to open its arms to you? Could that love you want and need be the shepherd of all you days? Could you make that choice today?

 

[1] Reese, Ruth Anne. “Commentary on Luke 13:31-35.” Working Preacherhttps://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=2770. Web. 29 February 2016.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Kushner, Harold S. The Lord is My Shepherd: Healing Wisdom of the Twenty-Third Psalm. New York: Knopf, 2003. Print.

[4] Taylor, Barbara Brown. “As a Hen Gathers Her Brood.” The Christian Century. Print. 25 February 1998.

[5] Reese, Ruth Anne. Working Preacher.

 

 

 

The Birth of Hope

I’ve been thinking a lot about hope — where it comes from and how we find it. Because it seems hard to find right now. Any proclamation of hope feels nonsensical. It feels trite and ridiculous. Or worse, it’s so obscure and distant that it’s impossible to claim. I find this unacceptable and it seems to be most of what I hear. What good is the possibility of hope if you can’t imagine it in your own life? What good is the promise of good news if it seems to come to everyone else but you? 

I would say: diddly squat. And yes, there are terrible things in the news. There is so much violence and destruction but it’s not the headlines that have me thinking about this possibility of hope. It’s the church I’m pastoring. I am their interim pastor. I am walking with them through a season of ministry where everything is uncertain and unknown. I’m wondering with them about what ministry looks like in a rural community where nothing much seems to change. It’s all fine and good to say that there is hope for the church. I would tend to agree. There is lots of hope for the church universal — but what does it look like for this teeny tiny church in the countryside? 

I don’t tend to post my sermons here but this one is still working on me. I’m not writing anymore. I’m not editing the words that I preached this morning from Micah 5:2-5a and Hebrews 10:10-15 but they are challenging me. We’ve spent most of Advent in this church asking questions inspired from the prophets. This week is no different. There is a question at the heart of this sermon that I’m still trying to answer. It isn’t resolved yet. Perhaps because Christmas hasn’t come yet. There is part of me that wants so very much to expand on those last two paragraphs because it feels like there is more there. There is more to be said as hope is born. 

So here is a sermon about that hope that is coming.lights-788903_1920

 

Imagine that time before the old agreement, before there was a new plan to replace the old. Imagine, if you can, such a time and such a place where there is no need for anything new. There is no technology or theology to be improved. It is just the people in their old ways looking for love, hope and peace.

Imagine a time when you and your clan are without a home. You’ve been pushed out and left in the wilderness. You can’t go to the temple. You can’t worship as you always have but it’s what you want most. When everything is so new and terrifying, you and your clan want nothing more than to worship.

So it was in the Diaspora of the Jews. They couldn’t get to the temple — the place where all worship happened, the place where God lived. And so, they did something different. They didn’t abide by the blood sacrifices that had made a comeback in those days when Mary and Joseph are making their way to Bethlehem. They had to do something else in their exile. They had to find another way to worship. So, the rabbis led the people in worship as together in the wilderness “they offered prayers, songs and offerings in synagogue worship services.”

Did their worship change because their situation changed? Did their relationship with God change because that was God’s will? Or is this just how change happens? Do our old habits always give way to new ways of worshipping and living and hoping? Aren’t we always hoping for more?

Micah speaks to exactly that desire. To displaced, confused, wandering people who know more violence than peace, he gives them hope for something more. Something more than what they’ve known. Something more than what they’ve seen.

So that, as Nancy Taylor says, “Micah captures the ache with which we live each day and the hope that is in us for a future that only God can deliver.”

Only God can deliver this future that is more than what we’ve known and more than what we’ve seen. Only God can imagine such a future without being too bogged down by our sins. As the birth of hope is so very close, coming we hope this very week, we might not want to talk about our sins. But, we must. We have to talk about this for just a moment because these five verses in Hebrews demand it.

Imagine that time before the old agreement, before there was a new plan to replace the old. Imagine, if you can, such a time and such a place where there is no need for anything new except for the fact that everything has changed. Nothing is as it was so that everything around us is changing. And we bellyache. We moan. We protest. We demand God for hope and this is our sin.

As Sister Simone Campbell told Krista Tippett on American Public Radio’s OnBeing, “our sin is our obsession with security.” We have so convinced ourselves that “everything ought to work out perfectly for us. That we ought to have every conceivable drop of oil ever that we’d ever need any time. That we have to have electricity…” she goes on. There is a long list of those things that we need and want. We think that our hope will come from these things, these little guarantees from the long list of our needs and wants. But, hope does not come from a place of security. Hope comes, instead, from the wild surprises that God continues to point us toward.

So, let’s get specific. The prophet Micah points us toward Bethlehem. He pinpoints a place on the map where no one ever thought anything would ever happen. Still, the prophet directs our attention to a specific place — right there, he says, in Bethlehem — and tells us to look for that something more that we’ve always wanted. He zeroes in on our aching longing, turns us around and pushes us toward specifics. Not vague possibilities or warm feelings. No, he says that from this exact place, hope will come. A leader will come “who is to rule in Israel, whose origin is from of old, from ancient days.”

So, let’s get specific about where and when and even how we see hope being born. For that hope will not only be born in a stable in Bethlehem. Micah assures our displaced, confused, wandering hearts that this hope —God’s hope — was not a one-shot deal. It is a hope that is always coming to birth. Again and again, God surprises us. God’s hope shows up in unexpected places asking us to believe that it’s possible.

Imagine that hope has a name and a face. Imagine that it have a body. Maybe even your body. Imagine that you could be faithfully obedient to that hope within you. And that it could so change what you know to be true and what you see in the world around you, that hope within your body. Or maybe not your body. Maybe you don’t feel it inside you but it has another name and another face.

Yes. Let’s get specific. Let’s pinpoint the exact where that hope is being born right now. Let’s not talk about vague possibilities or warm feelings but ask ourselves this: where exactly is hope being born right now?

Does hope have a particular name and face? Does this hope being born have a body that doesn’t fit with our expectations? Is hope in this time and place found in a Syrian refugee or the Mexican immigrant wandering in the desert as Mary and Joseph did so many years ago? Is the hope that might change all that we know being born in Paris right now? Or will it be found in a Muslim woman’s eyes blinking through the hijab that otherwise hides her face? Or is hope coming right here on Ridge Road?

Get specific. Pinpoint exactly what it is that you God see doing for God has promised that this hope is not a one-shot deal. It is always coming to birth. The question is: where do you see the surprise of hope?

The Time Has Come

201412547f33f67b137As you may have seen over and over again, I have been filling in as Guest Minister at Community Congregational Church in Short Hills, NJ.

I preached this past Sunday on John 17:1-24. You can find the audio — and even a video to watch — of the sermon I preached entitled The Time Has Come on the church website. Please click here. 

This sermon is part of a summer preaching series exploring the Pathways to Christ. The theme for this week was In Christ I am… Accompanied

This was my very last time in this beautiful worship space but be sure to check out upcoming opportunities for worship and service on the church website.

Remain in Love

201412547f33f67b137As you may have seen over and over again, I’m filling in as Guest Minister at Community Congregational Church in Short Hills, NJ.

I preached this past Sunday on John 15:1-8. You can find the audio of the sermon entitled Remain in Love on the church website. Please click here. 

This sermon is part of a summer preaching series exploring the Pathways to Christ. The theme for this week was In Christ I am… Secured

If you happen to be in Short Hills, or even nearby, please join us! Worship is at 9:30 am.  Here are some directions to find the church. Tomorrow is my last time in this beautiful worship space and I’d love to see you there.

Thank God for Ritual

This prayer arrived too late. I saw it in my email when I pulled into the church parking lot. I smirked at the title of the post. Oh, Martha, I thought. (She penned that prayer and happens to be an old friend from Maine so that I can say things like “Oh Martha” when looking at the email on my phone.) But, I didn’t read it. I didn’t allow myself to indulge in all of those paralyzing thoughts that agonize a preacher on Sunday morning.

I had read through my sermon that morning. I had edited it some. It wasn’t great. I knew it wasn’t great but it was better than I remembered. It was better than I thought it was when I first allowed it to rest. And then, I got up to preach that sermon.

roll-725577_1280The words caught in the back of my throat. It wasn’t easy. It wasn’t smooth. It felt as though I was arguing with myself — and maybe I really was. Maybe that’s the sermon that I needed to hear. Maybe what I really needed was to hear myself not make sense so that I could hear a good word from God. But, then, I felt badly for these people. That’s what I was thinking about as the words stuck like cotton in my mouth. with this terrible drivel from the preacher that morning. These poor, poor people, I thought when I saw the table set before us. At the center of this worship space — in the middle of the circle in which we sat — was a table set with bread and juice. Set with the gifts of God for the people of God.

So that when I got up to offer the invitation to the table, these words are something like them stumbled off my tongue:

Ours is a tradition that most values the proclamation of the Word — the reading and preaching of scripture — above all else. It is the central point of our worship. It is what we wait for. It’s what we come to hear. This is bad news for the preacher on the day when God doesn’t quite give her a sermon of such caliber. When the words don’t come together in the preaching, when the words are so garbled that we can not taste and see the good news revealed in the words of Scripture, it is hard to uplift that value of the  proclamation of the Word. On those days, it might be best to embrace the other side of our tradition that doesn’t focus as much on proclamation as on ritual. For here we are to share in this ritual of the table. All that we have heard in Scripture today is revealed in this feast. This is the bread of life. It is the food that endures that is before us at this table. It is all that we need and all that we want.

Somehow these words led into the Words of Institution which was again not as I had planned. In my last church, when I had found myself tongue-tied or sometimes just because I wanted to know that I wasn’t the only one at that table, I called upon a moment of profound meaning for me in seminary when my preaching professor invited the whole congregation to share in repeating the Words of Institution. Not by rote. Not as preachers might do it. But, to tell it slowly with small prompts that coach the congregation along so that they might tell the whole story.

In this church, where I find myself as Guest Minister, they are not used to talking in church. They will greet each other at the appropriate time but when I invited them to speak these words, they were so quiet. I could barely hear them. They whispered the words as if they were unsure that they could dare to tell this story themselves. But, these are the gifts for the people of God: this bread, this cup, this table, this food that endures for eternal life. There was a quiet holiness that day. It was the kind of holiness for which I can only be thankful for ritual.

Thank God for ritual.

No Spoiler Alerts

201412547f33f67b137As you may already know, I’m filling in as Guest Minister at Community Congregational Church in Short Hills, NJ.

I preached this past Sunday on John 6:24-35. You can find the audio of the sermon entitled No Spoiler Alerts on the church website. Please click here. 

This sermon is part of a summer preaching series exploring the Pathways to Christ. The theme for this week was In Christ I am… BlessedThis is perhaps the truest thing that I know to be true about the gospel. We are not alone but ever interdependent. I can only hope my words preached this truth.

If you happen to be in Short Hills, or even nearby, please join us! Worship is at 9:30 am. I’ll be there for the next three Sundays and hope you’ll join us. Here are some directions to find the church.

Twelve Years

201412547f33f67b137As you may already know, I’m filling in as Guest Minister at Community Congregational Church in Short Hills, NJ.

I preached this past Sunday on Mark 5:21-43. You can find the audio of the sermon entitled Twelve Years on the church website. Please click here. There’s also a video if you follow that same link.

This sermon is part of a summer preaching series exploring the Pathways to Christ. The theme for this week was In Christ I am… Fragile — though I was preaching on the theme In Christ I am… Empowered. Because I apparently wrote down the wrong thing. So it goes.

If you happen to be in Short Hills, or even nearby, please join us! Worship is at 9:30 am. You won’t see me there every Sunday but I hope you’ll join us. Here are some directions to find the church.