What I'm Writing
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 5: Pick a focus text. I usually use the Old Testament text to point to the New. Meaning, I am reading the Gospel, standing in the place of the Old Testament. Or, sort of, kind of, if you squint. like the informed listeners of Jesus’ day.
For example: in the parable, Jesus is describing the actions of a farmer, who chooses not to pull the weeds before harvest time for fear of damage to the wheat. Now, my family has been dairy farmers for generations. Something doesn’t sit right about just letting the weeds be, free to steal the nutrients from the soil away from your good crops. Here’s the rub: would they, those old listeners, have felt the same way?
That’s what commentaries and scholarship is for.
Last Thursday, I was flip-flopping back and forth between talking about parables and thinking about dreams. The commentaries I consulted left me feeling a little dry.
Step 6: Go online! There really are a great many good resources online.
I tend to check out WorkingPreacher, whose Craft of Preaching video casts are great!
My latest tool: google.com/trends
Looking at the word: dreams/Google score.
in dreams 100
the dreams 95
dreams lyrics 70
sweet dreams 65
my dreams 60
broken dreams 30
What’s that list mean? Drill down a little. These are song lyrics; probably. But, I’m more interested in seeing the tone of the searches. Are they hopeful? Sweet dreams beats broken dreams. Tuck this away: people searching for dreams, might be following songs, music, or creativity.
And, I wonder, what would the music have been like for those angels Jacob saw? Enter: sense of sound.
Another great one: google.com/trends/correlate
Correlated with dream
Analysis: dream is paired most strongly with home and business, and then some money thing, and then concerns about health and fitness. Sounds right. Success. Money. Beauty. And, then travel. I’ve played around enough to know, that these are not real high correlations, at least in the world of Google correlate.
So, see Jacob, there, on the plain. And, see him dreaming, and he’s dreaming of a place to call his own, a home, and a place to be accepted. And, with that I have found a key to connect our current people, those who will be here on Sunday, with the wider world.
I won’t take you down the same track with the Matthew text, but it could be done in a similar way by picking out the key themes and drilling down into them.
The preaching challenge is always a couple fold: first to make the stuff in the bible have any sort of sense and then to make people actually care about it.
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?
This is part of an occasional series on practices, which might be helpful for your spiritual path.
One of the keys to living a simpler life is finding the right balance in how you spend your time.
Here’s the simplest priority setting process I know, which I have adapted from Richard Foster’s Freedom of Simplicity.
Three Marker Test
Foster recommends you ask a few questions before you cut.
1. What do I want? (Sometimes, asking, why do I want that?)
2. What am I longing for?
3. How is God inviting me to say yes to this season of my life?
I’d add a couple more.
a. What would you do if you really had the freedom to follow your dreams?
b. If you’re a bit older, how might your younger self have imagined you today?
Each time I stop and consider my time and the way it is used, I find out something new about myself and who I am becoming. I often use those same big pieces of paper to create timelines, looking backwards at the year that was. It always helps me focus.
Obviously, I’ve just suggested you take your schedule and make some radical changes. Many of us, probably have things in our schedule, which we don’t want to do, but still need to do. The point of the little exercise is less to end up with a perfect schedule and more to move towards discovering what matters to you and prioritizing that.
Finally a quote from Foster: “If your season of life has changed; you might experiment with radical change.”
What might radical change look like for you?