Sunday #3 of the Lenten journey was all over the road. It began early as I had some preliminary arrangements to make at church #2. As M. was getting dressed, I was in the car on my way. I had studied the lectionary text for the week quite well and learned a lot on the way. To use the old evangelical term, I had been convicted for most of it, because I am in year 4 and I am looking for fruit. I can see it in myself, but that’s not what I am paid for. So as I prepared to preach on this matter, I had to look beyond my own shortcomings. It also seemed unwise to hammer the unfruitfulness angle, too. So I chose to preach on the manure. I had practiced preached it on Thursday. I tend to go without notes, so as I preached it on Thursday it came out very good. But I did not outline it immediately. So I lost the plotline. I tried to remember it, but it just wasn’t happening. It’s the “dog-eating-your-homework of preaching”. Even if the dog really ate your homework, you’re still responsible.
The sun being out has made a huge difference. I have felt it the past several days and it was evident on Sunday. People at church #1 were almost giddy, despite the fact the their attendance has been the best throughout the snow time. Preaching was okay. Communion was served and afterwords, as people were still knelt, I gave an impromptu instruction. (I always give a benediction to the communion, to signal people to stand up and make room for the next people.) The instruction was to realize that they have received a gift, a gift that many around the world are denied. It was a 2-second ad-lib, but it seemed powerful. It was from within me; it spoke to a temptation I saw in them.
At church #2, we are doing Black History Month in March, as snow buried most possibilities in February. We showed the “I Have a Dream Speech” as our sermon. I realized then that “I Have a Dream” is not a speech but a sermon and dividing MLK’s speeches from his sermons seems wrong. When King speaks of soul-force and quotes freely from the prophets, he is making spiritual declarations. The discussion that followed the video was enlightening. I am blessed to have been present. One woman, born in Japan, spoke of hearing about MLK’s death as a young girl. She explained that she didn’t think much of it until she came to America and married an African-American. Another parishioner told about being born in Rhodesia, a British colony now known as Zimbabwe. I never made the connection that she was born into her own circumstance that has been transformed greatly in the course of her lifetime. I know that pastors do well to tap into the wisdom within the congregation. But when one goes that route, one cannot fully predict the course it will take.
Church #3 was like a flower opening up after a long cold night. Its parishioners were the most snowed-in, living at the end of hilly streets and up obscure narrow roads. They began to trickle back to worship last week and a few more trickled in this week. I hope that next week is a full crowd. Preaching there was good. I could look at people, note their circumstance and preach accordingly. How do people preach to 500 people, most of whom they do not know. It would seem too easy to self-indulge that way. As I look friends in the eye, they–by their very presence and the relationships we have formed–keep me accountable to bring a word that is life-giving. It helps me know how to enter a passage, how to weave through the data to find the right course, and how to finish properly. It happened yesterday. For that I give all the praise to God.
The afternoon was dominated by a baby shower put on by M’s & my churches. The key word is overwhelming. I mean, so many people and so many gifts. It is well beyond what we have earned. Job asked why such bad things happened to him. I ask, why has such blessing come my way. Neither of us earned our lot.
Last night, as we surveyed everything and noted that we still have one more shower to go (#3 for me, #5 for M), we spoke about life on this side of the divide–the line between laity and clergy. I have half a thought to create a reality-show called “The Pastor” that chronicles the life and times of clergy. It would be easy TV fodder. The lows that we witness are the lows of death, sin, division, confrontation, etc. The highs we experience fall into the category of blessing. And even the mundane, when following the path God leads us on, is part of something awesome–the building of the kingdom of God. That’s good TV.
1a) Driving the Speed Limit–Three churches at 9, 10 & 11? Not even close. 1:4
1b) Foul language–Sunday drivers at 9:55AM and 10:57AM? Not even close. 1:4
2) Fasting Lunch–Wendy’s at noon. Baby shower pot luck at 2. Not even close. 1:4
3) Giving up Facebook–One for the win column. 4:4
4) Reading–When? 1:4
5) Something strictly between God and me–Only one for the win column. 1:4
6) Visitation–When? 1:4
7) Guitar–When? 1:4
Wow–worst Lenten day yet. But it was so full of blessing. Go figure.Image: “Baby Bird” by Madbuster75