Follow-up and revisions to this week's sermon...

I affirm the wisdom of the Body of Christ.  I come from a tradition that practices a radical sense of the incarnation - congregationalism - in which we believe that with prayer and patience the Holy Spirit will lead us as a body into the wisdom of the Lord.  In this, every one's insights are essential.  And this has some very important implications for me as a pastor.

+ Sometimes, for example, the theologian in residence (aka my wife Dianne) talks with me about an up-coming sermon - and if she sees a red flag will often suggest a wiser alternative.

+ Sometimes, too, people from the congregation read my sermon notes in advance of worship. From time to time, they have asked for clarification or even challenged my vision.

One of my goals - and I have never found a way to make it happen - was born in the worker-priest movement in Europe and the industrial USA after WWII.  It was common for these priests to prepare a Bible study on the passage for Sunday and then hold a conversation mid-week with the workers and their families of the congregation.  Like Ernesto Cardenal at Solentiname, the shared conversation became the heart of each Sunday sermon as the wisdom of Christ was made flesh by the gathered body of believers.

In this spirit, I need to make two changes to the sermon notes I was going to share this Sunday because more light has been shared - and I am grateful.  First, in an illustration based on AA, I was reminded that this spirituality has its own unique limitations as well as benefits, yes?  In many ways, it is great for men, but not always what the doctor ordered for women.  What's more the implied relationship with God in the AA paradigm is top/down rather than congregational or communal.  To that end, I've made the following change that I hope is more helpful and inclusive:

You see, the first clue to living into God s grace within our suffering begins with God and God’s nature: not ourselves – not the emptiness – not our fears or addictions; we start with God the Creator who gave life and shape and form to heaven and earth. It is not coincidental, you know, that our friends in various recovery ministries begin their journey of healing from the hell of addiction with three steps that say: 

1) We came to own that our lives had become unmanageable. 

2) We came to see that we needed God’s help.

3) So in community we opened ourselves to the presence of healing and hope from God and one another.
At the core of this confession is an awareness that God not only has something better in store for us than we can ever cook up all by ourselves – God’s creative love as Genesis puts it – but that God can meet and embrace us even in our most ugly, depraved, shame-filled and wounded places. We may run and hide away from God’s grace, but God’s love is bigger than our pain.

I have also been told that not everyone easily follows my less than linear approach to preaching.  What seems like three clear points to me - with examples and commentary - can come off as circuitous to others.  So, for this message I'm preparing a worksheet to handout afterwards having to do with applying the spiritual resources I discussed in my message.  They include:

+ Begin with God rather than the wound.  Based on the wisdom of Genesis 1 the two practical steps here are as follows:  a) Start each morning with a song/act of praise to God; b) Use a clearly articulated summary of God's loving nature to guide you in prayer every time you start to feel overwhelmed, afraid or shamed.  Three good summaries of God's loving nature would include the Lord's Prayer, the Statement of Faith of the United Church of Christ or even the Jesus Prayer.

+ Trusting God is an experience NOT an intellectual construct.  We cannot talk ourselves into experiencing God's grace nor can we study our way into intimacy with the Lord.  We have to practice being open - and practice, practice, practice.  Centering prayer is a tool, using our breath for grounding is good, too. (breathe in:  God of Grace - breathe out:  Give me peace.)

+ Practice seeing God's evidence in the ordinary.  What is God saying to you through the TV? Music? Your dreams?  Are you paying attention?  Are you able to see the miracles and blessings in addition to the pain or wound?

I hope this makes my work not only better but more real to the body of Christ I serve and celebrate.  We shall see, yes?


Black Pete said…
Ain't it great to live a with a very fine theologian?
RJ said…
Oh my yes... ;-)

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