Tuesday, June 29, 2010

The sermon scraps are a bit lean this week . . .

I just realized that I didn't blog this week. I didn't preach, so I didn't have any sermon scraps to share with you. So what to blog about . . .
Well, as a description to this blog, I wrote that these were the "ramblings of a young pastor living into her call." So I thought I might ramble a bit today. Yesterday I had a wonderful sacred moment. I was in the sanctuary of the Bend church, playing with Julie. On Mondays I bring Julie to work with me. There are several reasons why, but mostly, because I often visit with Don and Charlie on Monday afternoons, and they love having her over (I'm also invited, but they really love her). I have noticed that Julie doesn't let me work for too long. I have a tendency to sit at my computer and write or research, or do whatever I'm doing, and not look up for a while. At Ministers' week at Perkins last year, Dr. Miles told us we are not made for long-term intense focus (like the focus needed for hunting). Instead, we are supposed to give that kind of focus for short periods , and then take breaks. Julie makes me take a break every so often, either a small one to throw her ball, or a longer one to take her outside.
Yesterday, I was sitting along the chancel rail playing fetch with Julie. It occurred to me that some in my congregation would think it wrong to play fetch with my baby in the sancutary of their church building. They might believe I was acting irreverently, that this kind of activitity was not right in such a holy place. Then I began thinking about Br. Mark Stamm, and the Blessing of Opening day service we had a Perkins Chapel in my last year at Perkins. There were those who asked, "a whole service to celebrate opening day . . . of the baseball season. . . really?" I may have been one of those people. Dr. Stamm reminded us that baseball is 'America's Past-time." He asked why God wouldn't want to bless something that our nation seems to enjoy. He asked, if this activity is so "secular," that God would not bless it, should we be doing it? And of course, we came the conclusion that God could and would bless baseball. Isn't there something biblical about recreation and rest?
As I sat throwing the squeeky tennis ball around the sancuary, I could see that Julie really (I mean REALLY) enjoys fetch. The sanctuary at the Bend Church is a great place for fetch. Occassionally the ball will bounce off of one of the pew backs (or corners or arms, etc.) and jet off in a completely unexpected direction, giving my little dachshund the perfect opportunity to use her hunting genes. Yesterday, as I sat the cushions at the chancel rail and watched Julie run back to search for her ball and bring it to me, with her tail wagging, I knew she was having the time of her life. I knew this was a sacred moment for her. She was doing what she loved, and she had her mama's full attention. As I sat and watched her, and threw the ball around, I loved watching her having so much fun. I wondered if this was anything like the joy God feels when we are joyful. I believe God desires our joy. Jesus said that he came so that we may have life and have it abundantly. Abundant life means that we are who God created us to be, or at least on our way to being what God wanted to us to be. God created us for joy. In those moments when we experience abundant life, I believe God experiences it with us -- that our joy mirrors God's joy. Yesterday was one of those moments for me.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Days of Elijah, Part III: More sermon scraps

I'm not sure I said what I wanted to say in my sermons this morning. In looking at the text (1 Kings 19: 1 - 15a), one might have assumed that I would focus on the sheer silence where Elijah found the Lord, but that seemed far too familiar (and often incorrectly interpreted). That one verse has been misused and misunderstood for too long. It has led people to believe that God's revelation only comes in quiet time -- we're only with God when we are by ourselves. While I have spent hours in silence before God, that is not the only place / time where I encounter God. I have felt God's presence in a crowd, while watching a movie, at a concert . . . You get my point. God finds us where we are, where ever we are. It reminds me of that wonderful camp song, "I have decided to follow Jesus." That song is wonderful, until we get to the 3rd verse, which repeats, "the cross before me, the world behind me." The song pretends that Christ is our escape from the world, but Jesus did not "escape" the world. Jesus was in and is in the world. The cross itself is in the world. Being a christian is not soley about retreating. Don't get me wrong; retreat is a big part of the christian life, but it is not the sum total of the christian life. Retreat is supposed to refill us for our christian life.

On to my second thing . . .
During my benediction, I asked the congregation to pray for someone there, and to ask someone to pray for them. I wasn't kidding. I hope some took it seriously. Asking someone to pray for you, asking your peers to pray for you takes a great amount of trust. When someone else prays for you, it is a vulnerable feeling -- you feel open, exposed. Furthermore, the act of praying for another is an act of compassion. When we agree to pray for another, we learn about who they are. In some sense, we take ownership in their lives. What I mean is this, if I am asked to pray for someone who has no money for groceries, perhaps I am also supposed to play a part in answering that prayer. As one who now knows of a need, I can and therefore should do something about it. I have said before that we (christians, the Body of Christ) belong to God and as such, in some way we belong to each other. We are supposed to hold each other up, hold each other accountable, cry with one another, and laugh with one another. Your joy is my joy. Your pain is my pain. and so on . . .

Anyway, these are my ramblings for the week. I hope you enjoy.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Sermon Scraps from 6/13: The Days of Elijah, Part II

Today I preached on 1 Kings 21: 1 - 21a. The thing about sermon research is that there are always more jewels than I can or should include in my sermon. For instance, in this week's scripture, I was quite interested in the vegtable garden. Why would Ahab want a vegtable garden? I love gardening, but it seems a bit random within in the text.

In Deuteronomy 11: 10 tells the people, "For the land that you are about to enter to occupy is not like the land of Egypt, from which you have come, where you sow your seed and irrigate by foot like a vegetable garden." One of the commentaries I read pointed to this verse, indicating that the same phrase (gan hayaraq) is used both in 1 Kings and in Deuteronomy. I believe words like garden and herb would not be rare in the writings of an agricultural society, but his point is well taken. Perhaps we are supposed to read that Ahab's desire for the garden was not purely asthetic. Perhaps we are to read into this text, something akin to the uses of nagas or hanogsim or taskmasters (slavedrivers, etc.) at various times to describe the "unrighteous" kings. This is to say, perhaps, we should read that Ahab's desire for a vegtable garden is actually a plan to enslave his people, to force them to work in his garden, the way the enslaved Isrealites were forced to work by their Egyptian slavedrivers or hanogsim.

So what does all this mean for us? I'm not entirely sure. The writer of 1 Kings was no fan of the Northern kings, but that does not mean there is nothing for us to learn. Maybe we should be reminded that greed often leads to oppression. Ahab was blocked by his desire for the Naboth's land, and it seems that this land would have been used to further oppress his people. Even something as innocent as a vegtable garden can be an instrument of oppression. Maybe we learn that we should always examine our desires--in what ways can we be corrupted to participate in systemic oppression?