Finally, Writing It, Interim Ministry, Writing

Back at It

It's that time. It's Saturday morning, and I'm preaching tomorrow morning, and since I've been on vacation this week, I've got a sermon to write.

I don't usually arrange it this way–I prefer to have vacation begin after preaching and include the following Sunday–but for a variety of reasons, this was the way it needed to be. It's just harder to get the motor started after a week of idling.

This is also the first day I am full time in the newer of my two jobs. I've left the Freeport UCC and said all my goodbyes and passed along the necessary information to the long-term supply pastor who will be with them through the end of the year, at least. Today I am fully in the employ of Y1P, as their Interim Associate Pastor.

I'm still working out exactly what that job means. Interim ministry is a funny hybrid of pastoring and consulting, and it seems this particular interim will be those things but in a much different ratio, with the emphasis on making sure certain programs continue apace and the consulting more of a condiment than the main course or even the side dish.

This also means I'll be preaching much less often, and I have to wonder what that means for this blog, which was titled in such a way to suggest I would be engaging the lectionary with regularity. I saw it as a way to deepen my reflections and sharpen my writing, but I also saw it aimed toward the weekly sermon. 

Now, I wouldn't dare ask what's the point of it if I'm not preaching, since there is plenty of point to engaging with scripture, for all kinds of reasons. But there is a sense of loss for me that there will be no end-product, or no need for one, most weeks. This month, while my colleague is on vacation, I'll preach a lot, but after this month, it's once a month for the duration of this job (at least until he figures out any other time he's taking off).

I can't decide whether this just makes me sad, which is silly since I knew going in it would be this way, or whether I ought to see this as an opening to do other things with my writing. I'd like to think there is some deeper purpose to this particular direction my ministry is taking, if only for a year, that there is something I will learn that I needed to know.

But for today, there is a sermon to write. I am back at it.

Finally, Writing It, Interim Ministry, Rheumatoid Arthritis

Saturday, Early

I could be two different places today, but due to the wet weather and the need to have a voice for preaching tomorrow, I'm staying close to home. I feel frustrated by having a medical reason for this (the knowledge that I am more prone to become sickly due to immune-suppressing meds for RA).

Both the scriptures I'm looking at for tomorrow involve people expecting to do a particular thing and being frustrated by others. Before coffee this morning I tried to work through my decision for today using scripture as a lens, but that did not seem to help. No matter how I related myself to David, or Jesus and the disciples, I got the same answer: standing in damp grass/fog or being out all day in the rain (weather forecast different for the two locations/events) is not wise for a person with a final sermon to preach tomorrow.

Maybe that would be good sense even without the medical complications. And perhaps I should have been able to see that when the Clam Festival, the Bernese Mountain Dog Summer Picnic and the last Sunday at Freeport are all the same weekend, something would have to give.

And hopefully not me.

So, instead of driving 60 miles each way to the picnic and enjoying the dogs on a foggy morning in wet grass, I'll be home drinking coffee and finishing a sermon, and hoping the thunderstorms hold off for my Y1P folks working at the Clam Festival today.

And contemplating limitations, and their source.

Finally, Writing It

On the Bulletin Cover, a Poem

Early in the week, in that over-organized preparation period for an event we could not really prepare for at all, I picked out readings, wrote a liturgy and chose this poem for the cover of tomorrow's bulletin. I have no idea what I meant to say about it, but hope that posting it here will be a help to someone, or to me.

THE
RISK

You take a risk
when you invite the Lord

Whether to dine or
talk the afternoon

Away, for always
the unexpected soon

Turns up: a woman
breaks her precious nard,

A sinner does the
task you should assume;

A leper who is
cleansed must show his proof:

Suddenly you see
your very roof removed

And a cripple
clutters up your living room.

 

There’s no telling
what to expect when Christ

Walks in your
door. The table set for four

Must often be
enlarged and decorum

Thrown to the
wind. It’s His voice that calls them

And it’s no use to
bolt and bar the door:

His kingdom knows
no bounds of roof, or wall or floor.

~Marcella Marie Holloway

 

                                                                                                      

Finally, Writing It, Preaching

Arrangements and Engagements

For the next seven Sundays, First Parish will be worshiping in the downstairs meeting room, to save heating expenses. The church has two furnaces, and one heats the large sanctuary. Although I'm told this has been done in the past, it seems to be a dim memory, and we will no doubt have a variety of ideas about how to do worship and be worshipful in such a different space.

Tomorrow will be our shakedown cruise.

Unfortunately for this preacher, who would like to have everything in place and arranged already, this is also the weekend for our monthly Bean Supper, which we serve in that same space. So any arranging or disarranging will take place after the Supper and after the volunteers have *their* supper, which to this preacher feels a bit deranging.

My goal for the next seven weeks will be learning to preach without being so dependent on my manuscript.

There, I've said it.

If you read me, you know I'm a writer, a writer who preaches. Now, people who hear me preach often express surprise that I am using a manuscript, so my relationship with it may be more discreet than I realize, a silent partner in the preaching engagement. But I've heard enough preachers I respect say they feel closer to the congregation without a manuscript that I feel I must give it a try, and what better time than in a new worship situation?

Which all sounded good until today.

So. I'm writing, but I'm also outlining. I will not have a pulpit. I don't even know where I will stand or where I would put a piece of paper.

Do preachers write notes on their hands like middle school students?

I would also like to mention we are in for a snowstorm tonight. How this will impact both the rearranging after supper and the engaging of the Word tomorrow, we shall see.

Finally, Writing It

First Thoughts on a Saturday Morning

Time to make the sermon.

But first, a poem:

Loaves
and Fishes

This is not the age of information.
This is not
the age of information.

Forget the news,
and the radio,
and the blurred screen.

This is the time of loaves
and fishes.

People are hungry,
and one good word is bread
for a thousand.

–David Whyte

Whyte's poem, along with a conversation about miracles Light Princess and I had in the car the other day, got me thinking about the Paul Simon song, "Boy in the Bubble," particularly the line, "
These are the days of miracle and wonder," and it led me to this Call to Worship:

CALL TO WORSHIP

LEADER:       These
are the times of miracles and wonders.

PEOPLE:       These are the times of loaves and fishes.

LEADER:       These
are the times of handing out grocery cards.

PEOPLE:       These are the times of emptying gas tanks.

LEADER:       These
are the times of miracles and wonders.

PEOPLE:       These are the times of loaves and fishes.

LEADER:       These
are the times of too much information.

PEOPLE:       These are the times of grief and shock.

LEADER:       These
are the times of miracles and wonders.

PEOPLE:       These are the times of loaves and fishes.

LEADER:       These
are the times of trying to get away.

PEOPLE:       These are the times of taking a
"stay"cation.

LEADER:       These
are the times of miracles and wonders.

PEOPLE:       These are the times of loaves and fishes.

LEADER:       This is
the time for breaking bread and for
sharing the cup.

PEOPLE:       These are the times of miracles and
wonders.

LEADER:       These
are the times of loaves and fishes. Let us worship God together.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Finally, these are the times of miracles and wonders, for me anyway, and today I'm going to try voice-directed software for writing, well, composing, my sermon. We'll see how it goes.

Finally, Writing It, Matthew, Mothering

For #1 Son: Do Not Worry About Tomorrow

(In a moment of high preacher irony, the text that has meant the most to me all my life is on the calendar for tomorrow simply because we had such an early Easter, and it may be years before it reappears as Epiphany 8, but I will not be preaching it, as we are headed to that Non-Contiguous New England State to see #1 Son graduate tomorrow morning. The famous Commencement speaker, whose presence means we will also be joined by the Secret Service, will probably not address this text, either, but it really would make a great topic for a Commencement Address.)

Matthew 6:24-34

6:24 "No one can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.

6:25 "Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?

6:26 Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?

6:27 And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life?

6:28 And why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin,

6:29 yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these.

6:30 But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you–you of little faith?

6:31 Therefore do not worry, saying, 'What will we eat?' or 'What will we drink?' or 'What will we wear?'

6:32 For it is the Gentiles who strive for all these things; and indeed your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things.

6:33 But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.

6:34 So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today's trouble is enough for today."

So…

Do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own.

This is not my nature. I guess you know that, since you and your brother often refer me to the Onion headline "Area Mom Freaking Out For No Reason Again." My nature is to fling myself headlong into the multitude of possibilities for the future and to worry creatively and almost aggressively about each and every one. Over the years I've spent many hours pondering these words from the gospel, and I hope some of my thoughts will meet you where you are today. It's a collection of sayings rather loosely tied together, but that only makes it more like most graduation speeches, which try to pack a lot of advice about living into a very small package, thought usually larger than these verses. I'll try to follow their flow.

First, the passage cautions you to be clear about who you serve.

When you make decisions about your life, who are you trying to serve? The gospel gives you a choice, God or wealth, but it's not that simple, really. I would say that God stands for the things we are truly called to be while wealth stands in for not just money but the standards of the culture and the demands of other people. You are an artist, an actor. By your very nature you are counter-cultural, just as the people following Jesus were in the beginning. They walked away from what other people expected and took on a journey that led no one knew where. Discipleship begins with an impulse toward authenticity, and so does the creative life.

It sounds selfish, I fear. I remember my grandmother, when I made a choice she didn't like, saying snappily, "Suit yourself!" Her tone said, "And don't come crying to me when it doesn't work out!"

I want to tell you something different. If you're trying to please someone else, you'll end up pleasing no one.
If you're working to acquire things or status, the way you collect
prizes in a video game, you will find those achievements lack any sort
of deep satisfaction. Yes, it's convenient to have a cell phone or or a laptop, and I certainly hope the day will come when you buy your own and it's not my responsibility anymore. But if you know who and what you are serving, if you are clear about that and can find a way to live into it, the rest won't matter.

Hear what I am not saying. I am not saying the rest will come to you, I am not saying that if you follow your heart you will get the small electronics, too. I am saying that whether you have them or not will not matter if you are serving the truth of who you are, of who God made you to be.

The second lesson of this passage is "Take your time."

One of the things worry does is speed us up, getting our thoughts spinning and our feelings rising and plummeting, making us feel out-of-control when really the only catastrophe is in our minds. You are an actor, and you've studied singing, too, and you know the power of breath. Without it, you cannot do your work! Without it, you cannot take your time. Slow down and breathe. Find your center and imagine the next step in your life the same way you work through the scenes in a play.

Collaborate with yourself, including your fears but not letting them take the lead. You may sympathize with them, as you would with a weaker performer, but do not let them be the focus. Find a way to work around them, the way you work with a scene partner who cannot meet you fully. Your fears are part of you, but they are not all of you. Take your time and work with them and see if, by attending to them, you haven't given them all they needed.

Third, "Know your beauty."

When you were a baby, my mother held you in her lap and said, "He has dancer's feet." I know it's been years since you took a dance class, but watching you scale the scaffolding in "Big Love," I saw that big, graceful cat who lives within you, whose paws move effortlessly, not needing to think about where to land the way most people have to think about their feet. You have a way of moving gracefully that you probably cannot see yourself. Employ that flexibility, because it is truly beautiful.

If your body is agile, how much more agile is your mind! I am continually amazed at the things you remember and the way you form ideas and the ease with which you coordinate them. Grace, flexibility, ease, intelligence–oh! and humor! You are so funny! From the earliest times in your life you have combined an oddly driven solemnity with a wicked twinkle in your eye. You know what matters, and you know what needs a hole poked in it, and you even recognize them when they appear together. That's a gift.

Fourth, "Seek ye first."

I'm cutting the phrase short deliberately. My idea of the kingdom of God, of God's commonwealth of love, is one in which enough people have found themselves to make a better world, a world in which all people have that opportunity. Try and find yourself, even when you don't like what you see at first. Am I holy and committed or am I driven and selfish? Or am I both, one might ask? How does one inform the other? When does the good quality so rule me that it becomes a bad one? How can I nurture the seeming weakness into its opposite strength?

We are full of these opposing energies. The important thing is to know with what we are working, to become aware of the limitations and the opportunities that are simply part of who we are.

Finally, as my old favorite King James Version of this passage would say, "Sufficient to the day." Do not worry about tomorrow, or next fall or next year, my dear one. This will all sort out in time, and to put too much emphasis on them now will only take away from the beauty of this day. Your little sister, in her concert a few weeks ago, sang a setting of another text from scripture: "This is the day that the Lord has made. I will rejoice and be glad in it."

As your mother, I rejoice in this day, a culmination of many years of your work and my own, a snapshot of a young man about to enter the adult world, ready or not. And the truth is, we are seldom ready for what is coming next, whether or not we have worried about it. Life continues to surprise us, with amazing delights and terrible disappointments and even easily-managed transitions that we never expected. It may not feel like it's possible now, but I believe you will make the next leap of life gracefully, authentically, perhaps nervously, but most of all in the fullness of who you are today, this day, dear one, that the Lord has made.

Finally, Writing It

It’s Later Than You Think

We had a long drive back today from visiting #1 Son at college and seeing him in a play last night. My sermon, underway when I left and much thought about, is a little further written since I returned home. But I am facing what I so often face in the preaching life: all the other parts of my life claim their time, too. I feel a bit envious of those pastors I've heard of who would go into the study and close the door and not come out or see people or do anything else until the sermon had been finished.

I am forced to the conclusion that these particular preachers are less likely to be doubling as homemakers/mothers/dog walkers, etc.

Enough. Back to it. My mind is on being chosen by God and the part that acknowledging our chosen-ness plays in feeling that way. Sermon will be posted later (maybe much later, we have a bean supper to attend).