Part 1: the beginning. Part of an occasional series about the nuts and bolts of church work. I’m always interested in learning more about how people work, write, and create. I offer the following up in the hope that it inspires your own preaching efforts, or at least is marginally helpful.
Step 1: Select a text, or texts. Unless I feel compelled to speak about a particular issue, or topic, or theme, I usually follow the Revised Common Lectionary. (Know, should you choose this route, that there are pros and cons, either way. The Lectionary dodges the really difficult texts far too often. Your own choices might do the same.)
Our text this third week of July: Genesis 28:10-19 and Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43.
Step 2: Find the texts in the bible. I prefer books to Kindles, because the books tend to have better footnotes. Read the footnotes. Can’t tell you how often those little things have sent me in interesting directions. I have a shelf full of five bibles: NIV, NRSV, Good News, Message. (In case you’re counting; that’s two different versions of the NRSV. I do love footnotes.)
Here’s what I found doing this step for Genesis: this represents Jacob’s first encounter with God, place could also mean shrine, which linked in my head to a great post on stadium vs sanctuary, documentary hypothesis tells us that the “J source” may have added to the conversation and expanded v.15.
Now, Matthew: it’s a parable. Footnotes only go so far.
Back to Genesis: 28.14 is a promise, it’s not a ladder so much as a step, the words, “he had a dream” jumped out at me.
Step 3: Pray. I usually try to do this first off, but it usually happens after I get a little more clarity about what I am thinking about/working with/dealing with. I’m not really sure if God appreciates focused prayers, but I know it helps me to have a little bit of a direction to face.
My prayer goes something like this: help me God to find the way forward. Open my eyes and ears. Grant me strength for the journey.
Step 4: Commentaries. I don’t have the luxury of having a complete set of any particular commentary series. I tend to find them in second hand stores and used book stores. I figure the books that come into my life are the books I need. This means I have a pretty eclectic mix of stuff to begin with, which combined with the typical pile of library books I have lying around, becomes a pretty strange brew.
I’ll continue this post series tomorrow, but for now, here’s where I’m at.
As I type these words, my father has just been admitted to a hospital in a city, which feels very far away. Earlier, I was playing around on Hootesuite, trying to make some sense of the Twitter verse.
And, I entered in a search phrase, “please pray.”
And, I have been watching as people, I don’t know, can’t know, call across the distance of cyperspace asking for prayer.
There is something in this listening, which is close to prayer and close to discernment.
Prayer requests used to be local, or so large they made national news, but now in the comfort of my dining room I can watch the prayer needs of thousands scroll through my feed.
And, they call out for a response.
Figuring out that response is the work of discernment.
Learning to listen, that is the first skill.
So, as an experiment, take a few moments, and enter, “please pray” into the search bar in Twitter.
Sure, some will be for things like, getting a new haircut, but most will be for very real, very clear needs for love, for support, and for connection in a difficult time.
Here’s my point: the internet erases the distance between each of us. We all know this, but what is becoming clear it might also erase some of the distance between people and God.
That’s my hope, at least.
So, dear readers, how has the internet informed your prayer life?
Have you found yourself typing “please pray” into your feed?
And, you can thank your neighbors for it!
Phyllis Tickle and others have described a great emergence of new faith happening in our time. For those of you not paying attention to this sort of thing: think a church shake up akin to the Great Reformation that birthed Protestant Christianity.
Here’s my nut shelf version of that history: one expression of Christ’s message; bad. Multiple messages work better. All the power in hands of the clergy; bad. Instead give the people a chance. (Enter, Martin Luther.) And, now, enter the new emergence and the rise of Spirituality, the Nones, and all the rest.
Here’s my problem with all of Tickle’s critique: it leaves you hanging. Something needs to be done, but, history will tell us what that needed to be.
And, now, the neighborhood speaks, and says, you Christians aren’t living up to what you say. Because, this to my mind, is what is happening now, given our hyper connected, inter connected, and always aware world. The warts that used to be hidden behind church walls are now on full view for all to see.
Warts in this case being code for: hypocrisy, clergy sex abuse, shame, all manner of sin, and beyond basic ignorance. Not to get all cynical here, but if you ask someone why they don’t go to church, they likely have a pretty good reason.
So, from where does our help come?
Here’s my idea: our neighbors.
I believe that it will be the love of our neighbors, both towards them, and from them that, will set the church back on its hopeful, cheerful, joyful, God inspired path.
If you read enough “church success stories” you will discover, while it might be some awesome new programing or inspired leadership, the real truth comes down to neighbors taking charge of these old God outposts, these local congregations, and making new meaning for them.
Our neighbors, both local, and not so local, already know what they need to find our collective message hopeful and inspiring. I don’t for one minute believe that God is currently absent from their lives.
They are looking for Good News.
Here’s my message, my thought, trust that if we let our neighbors love us, not as we in church love ourselves, but as God does, then the world will be forever changed.
Can I get a witness?