Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Moving in a new direction

Last night I had a wonderful conversation with the pastor who is to be my hostess and mentor for the church where I will be preaching. As a result of that conversation, I will be moving in a different direction with my sermon.

Historically that parish has had a difficult experience with a previous seminarian who came in with her own hidden agenda and dismissed the congregation as being ignorant because they did not like what she was doing. Their current pastor knew of this history and having herself done her Teaching Parish work there, has moved very slowly with regards to new things and only when those new ideas came from members of the parish not from the pastor. She advocates the wisdom of gaining the congregation's trust before doing anything new. Since I will not have this time to gain their trust, and since they are already suspicious of seminarians having been wounded by one in the past, my task is to be an ambassador of sorts in representing seminarians. Because I was so excited about the immersion experience she was able to persuade the congregation to own their gift of hospitality in welcoming me in spite of their fear and suspicions regarding strangers and especially seminarians. She is convinced that my presence will help dispel the previous experience that this congregation had. While this is a bit intimidating it does put my "welcome to WV" e-mail from their bishop into a new light.

Since technology is viewed suspiciously as well, I will not be incorporating technology into my sermon presentation, however, I will be using it to write the sermon and will reference where I read those things which I elect to share in my sermon. The launching pad for my sermon will be a quote from a letter to the editor that a friend quoted in part on Facebook. From his quote I was able to go to the library, find the magazine, photocopy it, and have a reference which connects the epistle lesson to the gospel and to the fact that the week I preach will be the week of Prayer for Christian Unity.

I also have resources which were downloaded from journals which have been scanned and transformed into PDF files which I was able to access online. These tools will be invaluable to me when and if I find myself in a rural context at some point that is not located within driving distance of a seminary library. Of course I will have to pay for such access in the future, but in the meantime I have this wonderful opportunity to review professional journals and discern which ones I go to often and then subscribe to them, or request such subscriptions as gifts in lieu of Christmas offerings.

I am also using online commentaries (; The Text this Week; Crossmarks, etc. Plus a fairly new commentary (Feasting on the Word). What I love about this commentary is that four different commentators are presented on 4 different aspects of each text: Theological, Pastoral, Exegetical, and Homiletical. On any given Sunday you have access to as many as 16 different commentators in crafting your sermon. I will be restricting my sermon primarily to the epistle lesson and the gospel lesson and using those to connect to the context of this parish which is a union church that was founded over 30 years ago. They acknowledge and use resources from both the ELCA/Lutheran and PCUSA/Presbyterian, and have adapted a worship service using elements from each.

It is a small parish with an average worship attendance of 35-48 depending on the weather and other issues. Since they do not use technology, they are suspicious of anything new, and they are especially suspicious of strangers and in particular seminarians. So my task as a preacher is to gain their trust before I even say a word. I must also hold their trust in preaching my sermon, and in not alienating them.

The context is going to be key to my sermon. Since they are a federated church they will appreciate acknowledgement of their unity (something infrequent in today's polarized world of politics and church conflict). Their willingness to set aside their own denomination primacy in favor of mutual compromise for the sake of the gospel is something to be celebrated, particularly in a world that has forgotten civility. This quote from the letter to the editor: "When Jesus said lose yourselves and follow me, maybe that means go from person to person, standing in their shoes, until you have lost your shoes and spend all your time in bare feet, hoping the person you disagree with will wash them," makes even more sense when you realize that the magazine and the writer of the letter are Church of the Brethren and of the Anabaptist tradition which counts the act of "foot-washing" as a sacrament along with baptism and communion.

Their pastor loves the idea of addressing the unity issue from 1 Corinthians 1 in tandem with the gospel lesson of being called to evangelism by Jesus. She has been gently guiding the congregation into the realization that we are all called to ministry, wherever God leads.

So now I will redraft my outline and goals for my sermon and move in a new direction, being faithful both to the biblical text AND the sermon context.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Commentary Sources

I am vacillating on using both the epistle lesson and the gospel lesson for the Sunday I'm preaching because it is the week of Christian unity and I am preaching in a union church. This is something I don't usually do unless the two texts are directly related but the quote that a friend reposted from a letter to the editor of "The Messenger" magazine last month does a great job of connecting the two texts.

I plan to use both some online resources and one of my favorite hardbound commentaries including and Feasting on the Word, edited by David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor.

Power Point: is this the latest battle in the "worship wars" ?

As I read last night's assigned readings I was struck by how similar the power point discussion is to the worship wars albeit the tone is not always as antagonistic. Having been a church music director for many years I have seen the good, the bad, and the ugly on both sides of the issue. Just like in the battle between traditional and contemporary worship music, traditional churches feel very threatened by technology. In agreement with Quanbeck regarding the poor use of this media by many preachers and teachers and in the class presentations of students I have observed. As a visual learner myself, pictures with text are helpful, but I don't like it when every single point of a presentation is printed on the power point slides. That defeats the purpose in my opinion. I would no more do that than to print my manuscript and pass it out to the congregation before preaching it. However, I have always found it helpful to receive in the church bulletin or see on power point, an outline of the sermon with fill in the blanks on key thoughts or concepts. This helps the listener hone in on what the preacher's main points are. Andrew Root makes similar points in his article supporting the use of power point by preachers.

I disagree with those who protest against the use of power point because they contend that the preached word is solely to be heard and not seen. Not all of us receive information aurally and are able to process it. I suspect that many who say they did not get anything out of the sermon would have an entirely different and positive experience had that sermon been accompanied by visual aids via power point or some other manner such as bulletin inserts.

Monday, January 3, 2011

When God Calls-Matthew 4:13-19

Matthew 4:13-19

13He left Nazareth and made his home in Capernaum by the lake, in the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali, 14so that what had been spoken through the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled:
15 ‘Land of Zebulun, land of Naphtali,
   on the road by the sea, across the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles—
16 the people who sat in darkness
   have seen a great light,
and for those who sat in the region and shadow of death
   light has dawned.’
17From that time Jesus began to proclaim, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.’

Jesus Calls the First Disciples

18 As he walked by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the lake—for they were fishermen. 19And he said to them, ‘Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.’

When one has discerned a call from God the details are not always clear. When Jesus called Peter and Andrew they were fishers. They knew and understood how to make their livelihood by fishing. When their worst day ever of fishing occurred they grew frustrated. Then Jesus, who was not a fisher but a carpenter turned itinerant preacher, intervened, telling them to put their empty net on the other side of the boat, not a huge distance. Suddenly the empty net was full and teeming with fish. Clearly Jesus had intervened not only by filling the net but initially by preventing the catching of fish after a whole day of fishing in order to make a point. Jesus uses what these men are familiar with - their own vocation - fishing. He would make them fishers of people, from now on they would catch something that matters even more than their livelihood. 

I'll be preaching on this text from Matthew 4 on January 23 in just a few weeks from now in Church of the Covenant, a union church of a Lutheran (ELCA) Church and a Presbyterian (PCUSA) located in Grafton, WV. I'm heading down on Saturday to spend two weeks emerged in the context of a small Appalachian town parish to be immersed in the distinct Appalachian content of West Virginia, a place I hold near and dear to my heart as I was born in South Charleston and have roots in WV going back to the early 1800s. 

My hostess for this upcoming immersion is the Rev. Jacq Campbell who has promised to show me some of the many exciting contexts of rural and small town ministry in the area. And she has invited me to preach on my last Sunday there.

My preliminary thoughts are to connect the idea of call and vocation (something near and dear to Martin Luther and John Calvin--the respective "fathers" of Lutherans and Presbyterians) with the lives of the parishioners. In what ways does their own vocation relate to their call to serve God. What illustrations would connect the gospel and evangelism to their lives from their own livelihoods/careers/vocations? If Jesus uses the image of catching fish and catching people, what might he use to illustrate what you are doing as a tool and an illustration for what you might do for God.

I hope to incorporate some technology in this sermon that will include the actual voices and images (perhaps video interview clips) of different members in the congregation reflecting on this issue and sharing their thoughts, as parts of this sermon. I have no idea if the church has projection equipment but I think I may be able to borrow some from the synod office.