Friday, June 26, 2009

Words from Soren Kierkegaard

"It takes moral courage to grieve; it requires religious courage to rejoice."

-Soren Kierkegaard, The Journals

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

You Can't Preach a Word You Haven't Heard

As I prepared to preach this past Sunday, I had worked through a couple of passages, and written up my sermon notes two or three times. But, still I wasn’t ready to preach, and I could tell it. Then, on Saturday, it hit me: “you can’t speak a word you haven’t heard.” I had this message about how the Gospel had been corrupted into a human-centered, guilt-focused, and forgiveness-obsessed religion that had lost the vitality of “following Jesus’ way on earth.” I worked from the scriptures where Jesus calls those who hear him to follow, to deny self, to take up the cross, to serve the humble. And, I had a pretty clear word to say. But, I hadn’t heard it within myself yet. I do this often with my preaching. I reach an understanding in my mind about something, and I don’t realize how badly I need to hear the word I am about to speak. It is like I unconsciously struggle to find what I need so badly from God, but the last part of the struggle, the real breakthrough, is when I understand that this word is first of all for me. That is, I need it worse than anyone. Often I don’t have the breakthrough until a couple of days after I’ve preached something. I started to realize on Saturday that I needed to hear this sermon about following Jesus, about getting out of the cycle of confession and pardon and moving to repentance and obedience. And, I have realized even more late this Monday night, how much I need to look to the path Jesus walked on earth. But, it is a peculiar thing how my mind is working on something that my heart needs, but so often the “word” doesn’t break through to my heart and into my life.

This week is a striking case. I have circled around this theme of moving away from a self-focused, guilt-focused religion to a God-focused, deed-focused way of life. I can think of a number of sermons that have touched on this theme. The sermon I preached on the book of James and a “religion of deeds.” Another sermon I preached from Hebrews about the way of Jesus, and yet another sermon where I focused on spirituals and Paul’s saying:”I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and him crucified.”

In some ways, this has become the theme of my struggle of faith, the theme of my life, is to find my way to this full word that I have come to know in part. It is like a lighthouse off in the distance that I keep sailing towards. I get up close enough to it at times to really say something that matters, and then, strangely I sail back out into the darkness again. And, each time I see that lighthouse again, it is like I am seeing it, discovering it for the first time.

On one hand, I get up on my soapbox about this theme, as if I have some idea that “will save Christianity,” and restore truth to preaching, etc. But, my daily life is along the lines of the very ways I criticize in expressing my ideas (which I do think are a little more than simply “my ideas”). As much as I criticize a religious life that is caught in the cycle of confession-pardon, and doesn’t open out to repentance-obedience, I appear to be caught in that very cycle of confession-pardon, and only be able to imagine the open and free life of faith which is the way of real turning from sin, towards God and following the way of Jesus on earth. Late tonight, as I listened to our worship service that I recorded this past Sunday, I started to feel something, imagine something, yearn for something. Instead of thinking about the concept of “following Jesus,” I started to get some feeling for it in my heart. I got some sense of the mystery of it, the newness of it, the hope in it. Instead of singing the words “I have decided to follow Jesus,” I am moved to sing: “I have decided to look for Jesus in the world around me, in the people I see, in my inner life, in the scriptures, as I pray.” And, that other hymn we closed with on Sunday helps my heart sing what it feels: “Seek you first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness. And, all these things shall be added unto you. . . . Alleluia, alleluia. . Ask and it shall be given unto you. Seek and you shall find. Knock and it shall be opened unto you. Allelu . allelu –ia.” And, the thing that really stays with me from that song is that beautiful “Alleluia” part –I think they call it a “descant.” When you sing it with others, it is beyond thought and just lets your heart relax and your spirit unite with others and open to God. I am thinking that that is what it means to follow Jesus.
June 23, 2009, 3:57 A.M.