So, I'm just going to say this - Preaching needs some of the passion of music. Please.
As I was sitting in worship recently, listening to the droning recitation of a portion of the liturgy, and I was thinking I'd rather be somewhere else. Like here. Ahhh.
The droning continued and I felt, well, void of passion. Then I was reminded of something I had read long ago by Nikos Kazantzakis.
“My prayer is not the whimpering of a beggar nor a confession of love. Nor is it the trivial reckoning of a small tradesman: Give me and I shall give you.
My prayer is the report of a soldier to his general: This is what I did today, this is how I fought to save the entire battle in my own sector, these are the obstacles I found, this is how I plan to fight tomorrow… ‘Leader!’ I cry. He turns his face towards me, and I shudder to confront his anguish.
Our love for each other is rough and ready, we sit at the same table, we drink the same wine in this low tavern of life.”
--“The Saviors of God: Spiritual Exercises” by Nikos Kazantzakis
What a contrast to rote prayer and preaching rhetoric. There seems to be some urgency missing.
I am truly a fan of Tolken’s "The Lord of The Rings" trilogy. I remember spending hours upon hours tucked quietly in my college dorm room, devouring words upon words, page after page as the fantastic saga unfolded and I journeyed with the heroes of Middle Earth in their quests for victory. In the films of the past two years, we have seen the cinematic adaptation of this tale, and I find myself equally enthralled again with Tolken’s message.
Be it the battles of Elves and Orcs, the magical sparring of light wielding Wizards, or the inner struggle of Hobbits and Golum, the quest and it’s urgency is the same: Avoid the malformed power of the ring until it can be destroyed, at all costs. The heroes know the importance of that last phrase, ‘at all costs.’ Each is willing to, and some in turn do, give their very life for this cause. It is a wonderful drama of the high cost of noble victory.
It is this urgency that I hear preached in the words of Nikos Kazantzakis quoted above. If indeed, as I believe is the case, we humans are in need of help beyond ourselves in order to fulfill the beauty of the human drama, and if we are destined to suffer and fail along the way without this help, then there is an equal sense of urgency about our quest as is that of the soldier and the heroes of Tolken’s tale. All the more, if the quest for this assistance is a path that is known by some and open to others, and yet is never made clear, how can the battle be won?
How tempting it is to sneak away into the safety of Bilbo Baggins’ shire (for ‘Adventures make one late for dinner”) or to hide in the security of the comfortable worship, for there we feel safe. Might we be missing the more important call for action?
I am committed to the journey toward The Divine and it is often too easy to pace through the routine of worship rather than be about the journey of faith. I suspect I am not the only one aware of the common droning of our prayers and the lack of dimension to our faith. Do I travel in too scarce a number today? Should we not pause by the road, and share a bit of the tale that has brought us thus far, the tale of passion and promise that drew us here long ago? Can we not beckon others onward to their journey as well? I am made to ask of myself today, “What report can I give to God, today?”
I set a 3 step personal goal to renew me, back in January. I've remained focused on them (most days anyway) and I'm finding that there is a refreshing boost that comes with these three simple life goals. The most wonderful thing is that they are something we can do a little everyday and they have a cumulative positive effect on everything! Even if we only succeed part of the time - it adds up!
1. Celebrate now - everything we do, each moment we live is too precious to be treated as a passing fancy, or with disrespect and worry. I will better live in the now.
2. Laugh harder - there are too many minutes between belly laughs so intense that they make me cry. I will laugh today.
3. Pray deeper - being gut level honest with God always helps me cut to the chase of prayer. I'll be quicker to ask, "What's your will, God?" I will pray deeply today.
I'm going to explain - once and for all - the TRUTH about the Easter story. Ready? I watched my 4 year old granddaughter dyeing Easter eggs this week and I was overwhelmed by the TRUTH of the Easter story.
Eggs are very fragile and must be handled with care - remember that.
The Easter story is played out in the liturgical year between Maundy-Thursday and Easter Sunday. On the surface it is the tragic story of how a God-Man was betrayed by those he loved and the religion he upheld and then put to death. It is also a story with a surprising ending. Within three days of his death, his friends and disciples (the ones that were still alive) began to talk about how he wasn't dead anymore. Thus began the story of the resurrection. Soon thereafter talk began about how his resurrection was more significant than just the restart of his life; it has a Divine statement about what God had done with God's relationship with humanity. These two affirmations - the resurrection of Jesus and the change it made on the human-God relationship is where Easter gets, well, weird and downright unbelievable.
Before you send over a lynch mob or psychiatric squad, let me explain. I read a wonderful post by Amy Julia Becker over at "her.meneutics" about the difficulty of explaining Easter to children. As I read it, I thought, "Children? I can't explain it to myself!" I like what Becker says, "One of the reasons I have trouble explaining Easter to my children is that I have trouble explaining it to myself. Even the New Testament writers couldn’t find adequate words or images to explain what happened that weekend in Jerusalem. While the facts remain easy — Jesus died on the cross, and God raised him from the dead — understanding the significance of those facts remains a challenge."
The real truth of this religious event is that we can't explain it at all. We can proclaim truths we believe - but Easter is a mystery and mysteries can't be explained very well. Mysteries are the shadows and wisps of our faith. They are iconic and archetypal. Mystery comes into our lives when our reality falls short and we are struggling to communicate and understand things beyond our common reference. Filled with grand images, haunting tragedy and unbelievable beauty, mysteries inspire and taunt us. In the art of storytelling, these are the stories that weave contradictions and have unexpected turns. In the wonder of religion, these are the moments when we stand on the edge of what we can understand and gaze out into the abyss and try and glimpse God. Easter is the realm of mystery.
I was mowing the lawn this weekend. Pushing an old mower up the backyard hill, lost in the noise and smell of the gasoline engine grinding grass and kicking dust. As I slowed my walk to turn the mower, a dragonfly flew in front of my face and hovered. I'm not sure how I knew to do this, but I let the stop on the mower go and as the engine jerked to silence, I lifted my hand toward the insect. It landed on the top of my hand and rested. I could then see it had caught a small worm. I watched as the dragonfly ate the worm, taking in the life and nourishment it provided. I was amazed at the smoothness of that moment, the way I was allowed to witness a microcosm of life, death, life - resting on my hand. He finished his meal and flew off. I resumed mowing and feeling, strangely enough, graced by what I had witnessed. How many people can say they have had a dragonfly use their hand for a dinner table? How strange that into the loud and coarse environment of mowing the lawn, a delicate life had come to be seen?
Mystery is fragile - like the Easter egg and the dragonfly- and we do well to hold it gently and take what it offers.
At its best, our religion calls us to stretch our minds and spirits, to look and see and grow belief based on solid thinking and delicate mystery. Easter seems to challenge our norms and reality a bit more than other days. Perhaps one of the reasons church is so well attended on Easter is that many of us know this on some level. Perhaps in our return to the cross and tomb we are hoping for a gentle surprise, a delicate encounter with the truth about life, death and life.
He is risen. He is risen indeed.
5 Simple Ways to Get a Better Sermon!
Long has the myth been shared that "You can have a pastor or a preacher, but not both." Some of us preachers can really preach. Some of us preachers wouldn't know homiletics if it followed us home to dinner. No matter which preacher you have, here are 5 ways you can get a better sermon.
1. Read the scripture for the day ahead of time and give yourself some time to think about the verses. What would you preach about?
2. During the sermon, take notes of important points or favorite stories during the message.
3. Compliment - specifically - the preacher about one of your favorite parts of the sermon.
4. Go to lunch with other members after worship and talk about the message. What did you like? What meant the most to you?
5. Read a book about preaching (anything by Fred Craddock is good).
What you'll begin to notice is that magically, your preacher will begin to get better. You'll learn more, understand more and be more excited. Don't expect the preacher to do all the work. It is YOUR faith, after all.