Posts Tagged ‘preaching’

Green Apple on BooksI have not always been an avid reader of books. I’m generally hesitant to enjoy anything that is demanded or expected of me – maybe I’ve got unexplored authority issues to go along with the numerous issues I’ve already discovered about myself – so the western educational system naturally ingrained in me a hatred of literature. College didn’t help anything as I was so overburdened with reading that I had to do, that I never made time for any reading I would want to do. I told myself that after my institutional education was done I would read more and love it. Amazon and I are pleased to affirm that I do.

Over the past couple weeks I’ve been reading a book called “Salt, light, and a City”, and truth be told, it’s been a good book. It’s a helpful look at the ecclesiology (beliefs about church function, structure, etc.) of a number of theologians across the broad spectrum of Christian belief. It’s been wonderful to read and be challenged by theologians of Catholic, Orthodox, Reformed and Evangelical perspectives. The broader our scope of influences the better the chance we’ll actually wind up with the truth as we allow God to give us wisdom and discernment.

I certainly didn’t agree with some of the perspectives that I read, but I could understand where they were coming from at least. The one thing that made me cringe time and time again was the Latin. I can’t count how many times I had to read about the “missio dei”. I haven’t done a scientific study, but I have not met a person to this point who lists Latin as their language of choice. I give the author a great deal of credit for at least being wise enough to include the English translation in brackets for the numerous Latin phrases. It’s more than can be said for many works of theology.

If theologians want to be helpful to the church, they have to stop writing in Latin.

Seriously. Stop it. It’s not helpful. Not even a little. Stop. Just stop.

I understand that Latin was the language of the church and the bible for centuries. It’s not anymore though. One of the major factors motivating the reformation was to get the word of God in the language of the people. It makes no sense for our scholars to decide to stay behind. If scholars want to help the church they should likely speak its language. Leaders in general need to learn how to speak the language and dialect of the people following them if they hope to take those people anywhere.

Pastors could need to learn to keep their Greek and Hebrew word studies in their studies and out of their sermons. Nothing kills a room quicker than starting to drop “parousia” on a Sunday morning. We need to let those deep studies inform what we preach, not be the preaching itself. If we haven’t understood things well enough to be able to explain a Greek participle in usable terms, than we probably haven’t understood it well enough to teach it.

The problem is I think is it’s good for the ego, so it continues. Everyone likes to think they know something that others don’t. There’s power in it. There’s no place for the ego in ministry though. The servant of all and least of these needs to be concerned with people and not prestige. Let’s work to keep our “sarkos” in seminary, and just worry about being Jesus in the flesh in the world.

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Well, today was my turn to preach again, and as always I love the process of getting there and delivering the message.  I always feel blessed to have the opportunity to study and prepare for a week and then share what I’ve learned and been challenged by with a few hundred people on Sunday morning.  This morning was Galatians 3:6-9.  I was challenged again this week that the heart of God’s covenant with his people isn’t just about blessing his people, but making them a blessing to all those around them.  I always think it’s interesting how we can turn Jesus message of hope for the whole of creation and turn it solely into a message of personal salvation.  Our culture is becoming more and more social and community oriented and yet the message many of our churches are trying to sell is that Jesus came to save individuals.  Now it may not be completely untrue, but I think there’s so much more to it than that and maybe a revisiting of how we’re packaging Jesus message to our culture is probably warranted.

All that being said, now that the task is done for another week, I’m finding myself in a far from unfamiliar place.  Kind of like that smell that your pillow takes on when you don’t wash it for a while but you just get used to.  It’s not a good smell, and realistically you’d be happier without it, but it’s not altogether nauseous and so you just get used to it.  It would take quite a bit of work to do the wash when you have other things in life to accomplish so you just kind of carry on and live with it.  That’s what my post sermon blues are like: it’s not altogether debilitating and I know they’ll pass so I just kind of learn to deal with them.  With great regularity after preaching I find myself quite exhausted for the rest of the day and am left with an overall bedgraggled feeling: a kind of mix of weariness, insecurity, and depression.  This is far from an overwhelming feeling but it often does color the rest of my waking hours with an hue on the blue part of the spectrum.

I think it probably stems from the perfectionist part of me that wishes a few thoughts had come out better, the self-conscious part of me that wonders what people thought of what I said, the defeatest part of me that wonders if it really made any difference, and likely just the overall physical exertion that comes from verbally “opening a vein and bleeding for the congregation” for half an hour as I once read it put.  I know that with some sleep and a “day off” tomorrow the world will look much different, but tonight I’m sitting here typing, getting ready for bed, drinking a decaf mocha and listening to Alanis Morrissette’s acoustic re-recording of her “Jagged Little Pill” album.  I know I’m dating myself with this, but I still think it’s one of the best albums recorded.

With that I’ll bid you farewell, adieu, and all that other stuff.

hats.gifWhen’s an associate not an associate?  When he’s the only one around!  If you haven’t figured it out yet, I’m the associate in quesiton here.  My official job title may be as an associate pastor, but when you’re the only pastor around all those titles and job descriptions go out the window.  For the forseeable future, I am THE pastor at Bridgeway Community Church.  The senior pastor hasn’t left, but he has been without a voice for the past two weeks and has taken holidays for the next two and a half weeks in an attempt to resuscitate his vocal chords.  I’ll tell you, it’s pretty adventurous trying to carry on all the youth and young adult ministries that usually fill up my entire week as is while trying to get a sermon together each week, plan the service, and ultimately be responsible for anything else that may happen in the church while Cliff is out of comission.

There are usually a week or two during the summer when Cliff is away on holidays that I’m responsible for everything while he’s gone, but during the summer the youth and young adult programs are on hiatus so it’s not so bad.  These next few weeks though should be quite the challenge.  I just hope and pray that Cliff heals up fully and soon.  Anyone who knows me knows I like to wear hats, but if you try to wear too many hats at once it looks pretty silly and it can really give you a headache after a while from the added weight and tightness growing around your head.

I’m enjoying the opportunity to get to preach more, but trying to get things together while doing all the regular work and preparing to speak at the MB Saskatchewan youth conference on Mar.14-16 feels pretty heavy right now.  I have no doubt that it will all work out and come together, but in the meantime this blog may come in very handy as the cathartic end to my cataclysmic days.

lectionary-ses.jpgEver have one of those “it seemed like a good idea at the time” kind of moments?  That’s what I’m rumblin’, bumblin’, stumblin’ my way through right now.  Before I explain my canundrum though let’s step into the wayback machine and travel about 6 months into the past.  The year is 2007.  The Boston Red Sox are preparing for the playoffs as the Evil Empire attempts to make a feeble final month rally to win the A.L. East, the Chicago Bears are naively talking about building on their solid 2006 season, and Rhianna’s “Umbrella” covers the airwaves as tearful drops of frustration soak the faces of real music fans everywhere.  Meanwhile, I’m at a staff meeting where we decide that it would be a really cool idea to try to follow the traditional church calendar for the next year and preach through the lectionary as we follow it.  It would be so great to not have to “hum and haw” over what to preach about next and just follow what the church has traditionally studied throughout it’s history.  It would give us ties to our roots, give our church a greater appreciation for the rich history our faith has, ensure we touch on all the main topics in the bible over the course of the year, and selfishly allow us to be somewhat subversive by Mennonite standards as we preach through the liturgical lectionary in a non-liturgical faith tradition.  Oh, what rebels we would be!

Well, it’s current day again now – January 2008 – and the thrills of rebellion have dimmed a bit as the realities of preaching through the lectionary have set in.  It hasn’t been all bad by any means, the last couple passages I got handed I actually worked with reasonably well, but this time is a desperate struggle.  I realize that I haven’t personally given birth to a child yet, but I think this process has been similarly painful as I attempt to give birth to this message that right now feels like a pair of 16lb. breach twins – duty and necessity – being delivered “naturally”.

I’m preaching on Sunday and the process of preparing for it has been extremely trying.  I’m supposed to be preaching from John 1:29-42.  You know the passage where John declares Jesus to be the “Lamb of God” after he hears the voice of God and sees the dove rest upon Jesus.  He then goes on to declare Jesus as the “Lamb of God” to Andrew and Peter and they decide to follow Jesus as their Messiah.  It’s not that this story isn’t important, but I’m just not so sure what I’m supposed to do to “preach” it other than just read it as it is.  Unfortunately just reading it as it is only takes about 1-2 minutes and that would leave our service ending far too early, and some may suspect that I’m just wrapping things up early so I can watch the NFL playoffs pregame show.  I could go into some deep study about the historical and theological signifigance of the name “Lamb of God”, but really, that’s not likely to change anyone’s life or even interest many of them.  I couldn’t even blame them for being bored and sleepy if I were to break out a message like that.  The angle I’m running with right now is the “where/how do we find God”.  John struggled with recognizing Jesus as God until it was supernaturally revealed to him, and it took John pointing Jesus out to Andrew and Peter before they caught on.  Similarly, different people “find God” in a lot of different and weird ways and we need to be open to accepting and experiencing them ourselves; looking for God in unusual places.  I’m not totally appauled with this angle on the passage, but I certainly don’t feel good or excited about it either.  It feels kind of contrived.

The real shame in all of this is that preaching – studying and figuring out how to effectively share what I learned with others – which used to be one of my greatest loves has now become a somewhat odious task.  I’m not passionate about preaching this passage.  It doesn’t really touch anything in me.  I feel somewhat disingenuous standing up and preaching this message with conviction when I don’t really have a whole lot of conviction about it myself.  If being a preacher were just a job and you just had to be a convincing public speaker to do it, I think I could do this passage some justice.  After a hundred plus sermons under my belt I know how to deliver a message, but to me preaching is about baring something of myself and sharing it with others.  I’m not so sure I’m at that point with this sermon.  It just doesn’t resonate.  It just isn’t sitting right.

So, I guess the lesson to be learned is the old proverb “the grass is always greener on the other side”.  Preaching the lectionary sounds great for the reasons I listed before, but it can be real handcuff too when the passages you’re “tied to” don’t really seem to have much to them.  Which, when I think about it, is a real shame because God’s word through the Bible has such a great story to tell.

Well, I guess I better get some sleep so I can finish off that sermon tomorrow.  If only I could really hop in that wayback machine so I could make a cake with the key to these homiletical handcuffs in it and send it care of “me”.  That way I could spend this time bemoaning the fact that I’m not sure what to preach instead of I’m not sure how to preach it.

eyore.jpgWell after about four days apart, I finally got to go visit my wife for about 24 hours.  And before your mind goes on all kinds of rabit trails, no it’s not because either of us are incarcirated, it’s because she is living with my parents in Regina now until the baby comes as I explained a little while ago.  So since I’ve got home I’ve been in this kind of tired/sentimental/nostalgic mood that hits me sometimes.  I’m sure there’s a lot of good reasons for it coming: tired from preaching yesterday, tired from travelling, baby on the way and life changing, missing my wife which leads to me thinking about and missing all kinds of people, and many other psychological phenomena that I have no business analyzing.  None the less this is where I find myself: looking through picture albums from college, wondering where people are now, being in wonder of where some people managed to be now, listening to the travel mix from the boys Banff 2002 trip, plugging in the “rainshower” air effects air freshener from my dorm room, and sipping my peach beverage as I type.  I even had Stagg chili in a can for supper.

I realize that change is a part of life and you can’t live in the past, but there are definitely still times like this where I look back with pretty rose colored glasses and wish that for even a day or two that I could relive that college life with all my old friends, in my dorm room with every one of my worldly posessions within arms reach, and without all the responsibilities that this pastoral life I’ve chosen brings my way.  Sure there were papers to write, books to read, and RC/RA responsibilities to handle but really, those are easy to gloss over.  Somedays I really tire of expectations.  Somedays I really wish that I just lived an average life with few to no expectations on my from the outside world just being me and living life from day to day without responsibilities.  I know that it’s crazy and impossible, but I still dream about it from time to time.  Like I’ve said before, don’t get me wrong, I enjoy the life that I God has blessed me with here and I enjoy ministry, but somedays I think it would be nice to take time off from being pastor Ben and be able to just be Ben the college guy again with my video games, my music, my friends, and my best girl by my side, I’d sing, sing, sing . . . okay sorry I got it confused with the Monty Python Lumberjack song in my ramblings but you get my point.  I miss having friends around, I miss the freedom to just do as I please for the most part, I miss having friends to just do as I please for the most part with, I miss SWONE.

Like I said, there are likely a lot of things precipitating this mood, but it exists none the less.  So I will continue listening to old music, looking at old pictures, smelling old air fresheners, and sipping my peach beverage until it passes.  Ironically, the “We Will Be Young Forever” song from Dance Dance Revolution just came up on the playlist.  So many hours wasted pushing those buttons.  I wish I had those hours to waste all over again.  I’d do exactly the same thing.