Learning to Preach

17 February 2019, St. James United Church of Christ

Blessed Are the Self-Insufficient

   This is one of those passages that makes you want to get up and do a little dance, right? I mean, woah, we are healed! Unclean spirits: out! Poor? Blessed! Hungry? Blessed! Hated? Blessed, and Hallelujah! I mean, who could live in a better world, right? Like, shake it out!

   “All in the crowd were trying to touch him, for power came out of him and healed all of them.”

   Except for me.

   If power had come out of him and healed me, the voice inside me that says, “Wait a minute,” wouldn’t be there anymore. I wouldn’t experience this passage as another struggle between the person who got up and left the church some forty years ago and the person who can’t bear to stay away.

(Read more here.)

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4 November 2018, All Saints Day, Middletown Presbyterian Church

John 11:32-44

“Will He Wipe the Tears Away From Every Face?”

   Good morning. I want to start by thanking all of you for inviting me to be here, as you start a transition from one phase of your church life to another. I’m in a transitional phase myself, having finally embraced a call I tried to silence for thirty years, because it didn’t fit with how I understood the world. When it finally became clear that God wasn’t going to be quiet and leave me alone, I enrolled in seminary, at the age of 56. Now I am overwhelmed by questions that I can’t begin to answer, but asking those questions in the company of people like you is an important part of learning how to do this work, so I thank you for the chance to be here.

(Read more here.)

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14 October 2018, St James United Church of Christ

Mark 10:17-31

“Hearing David Weintraub’s Feet”

  No one likes the gospel passage we just read.

   Rich people don’t like it because it says they have to give up their money — there’s no way to pretend it doesn’t — and poor people don’t like it for very long because if they get what they want, which is the rich people’s money, then the inversion principle at the end of the passage flips them over into what they don’t want.

   You lack one thing.

   What do you lack?

(Read more here.)

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29 July 2018, Sherando Presbyterian Church

John 6:1-21

“How Many Are Enough?”

   “Six months’ wages would not buy enough bread for each of them to get a little.”

   That detail sticks in my mind. I work in a profession that pays poorly — farming — but if we’re talking about providing a simple meal for 5000 people, spaghetti and garlic bread, even I probably make enough money in six months to pay for that.

   Most of you probably make more money than I do, and all of you together make a whole lot more, but however much you make, however much you’ve paid, it hasn’t been enough to keep this congregation alive. So I guess it isn’t about spaghetti and garlic bread. Or about money.

(Read more here.)

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22 July 2018, Sherando Presbyterian Church

Mark 6:30-34, 53-56

Shepherding Today

   The Revised Common Lectionary does something that puzzles me today: it cuts 19 verses from the middle of the story and spackles over the empty space as if those verses had never been there. Why, I have to wonder? Surely the Lectionary knows that, if I’m following the Lectionary, I must be sufficiently invested in the literature of the Bible to notice that jump. In fact, it probably assumes that either I’m carrying the omitted material around in my head already, or I’m going to go back and look for it.

   Why don’t you do that now. I’ll pause here for a moment while you take a look at what’s been left out: Mark chapter 6, verses 35 through 52.

(Read more here.)

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8 July 2018, Mt. Hope Presbyterian Church

Mark 6: 1-13

On Going Home

“He left that place and went to his hometown.”

   Whenever I go home, I drive past all the places where I used to live and think of what I hoped for when I lived in those places. Sixteen places. I look at the windows of the rooms where I used to sleep, and I wait for light to strike the glass at an angle that will break the glare and let my gaze go through to where I lay twenty years ago, or thirty years ago, and thought about the future. I want the boy who lived in those rooms to get up, come out, and offer me his hand. I want him to tell me he’s glad I’m the man he’ll become. Getting him to do that is harder than I would have imagined when I lived in those rooms. His hopes are high, and he’s so certain of them.

   Will Jesus do that when he goes home? Would the boy he was be glad to meet the man he has become?

(Read more here.)

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1 July 2018, Sherando Presbyterian Church

Mark 5:21-43

Who Touched me?

Last week I mentioned the literal translation of that first command God gives to Abraham — “Walk toward your self” — and I imagined Abraham making good use of a prayer like the one Francis of Assisi is said to have prayed: “Who are you, O God, and who am I?” 

   Connecting those two questions to each other unsettles my perception of my self, I suggested, and my perception of God. Who am I, that God should tell me to walk toward my self? Someone other than the person I usually feel like, apparently — the person I was in the life I used to be living. And what does telling me to walk toward myself suggest about God?

   This week I want to begin with a comment from the theologian Richard Rohr, who works in the tradition of St. Francis. “The single true purpose of mature religion is to lead you to your true self,” Rohr says. “Every sacrament, every Bible story, every church service, every sermon, every hymn, every bit of liturgy is for one purpose: to help you experience who you are in God and who God is in you.”

   If that isn’t happening here, we should all spend Sunday morning someplace else.

(Read more here.)

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24 June 2018, Sherando Presbyterian Church

Mark 4:35-41

Walk Toward Yourself

   One of my seminary courses focuses on techniques for increasing your awareness that God is present, or even just that God exists. I forget that. I’m a seminary student, and I forget that God exists every day. One of those techniques is to bring God into whatever task you’re performing by repeating a centering prayer while you work. Eventually, the thinking goes, you will perceive God even in those parts of your life when you used to perceive only your own needs, or the needs of your employer.

   I decided to try that last week. While sorting cherries, I repeated this simple prayer: “I’m with you” — or just “with you,” over and over, the you being God. I believe that’s true — I’m with God — but it’s a truth I have to cultivate or it gets buried under everything I have to do.

   With you.

(Read more here.)

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3 June 2018, Sherando Presbyterian Church

Acts 8:26-40

So What’s the Deal with Jesus?

   This story brings us up against the fundamental question every Christian has to answer sooner or later, which is: So what’s the deal with Jesus?

   Most of us don’t face that question very often, because we travel in circles where most people are pretty much like us, and in that context basic premises are taken for granted. When we do run into people who are not like us, conversation usually doesn’t reach the level of “So what’s the deal with Jesus?” Not for me, it doesn’t

  But isn’t that question always looming in the background — when we ask a blessing on our food, or think about our children, or lay ourselves down at the end of another day — 21,275 days behind me now, with maybe 10,000 left, if I’m lucky.

   So what’s the deal with Jesus?

(Read more here.)

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Rumblings

Hope, Humour, and Other Eschatological Goodies

Walking Toward Yourself

Who are you, O God, that you should tell me to walk toward myself, and who am I that I should be walked toward?

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