Tuesday, January 11, 2011

The Gospel of Life and the Gospel of Death

In "The Didache," which is a document of the very early Church (around 150 A.D.) it says: "There are two ways - the way of life and the way of death - and there is a great difference between the two ways." It goes on to set out the things of life and the ways of death.

I am struck today of how we in the Church need to return to a dynamic moral teaching, a moral teaching that arises from the truth of life and the love of life, and not from the fear of life. And, a moral teaching that takes a strong stand against the ways of death.

The ways of death are envy and haste and arrogance and self-seeking and hatred and unfaithfulness and lust and greed. The ways of life are patience and self-acceptance and love and forgiveness and simplicity.

I am sick of the ways of death and have increasingly realized that I have not been able to communicate the ways of life to many young people I have worked with over the years. More on this later. My dog needs to go outside.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Snow Days and Why I Haven't Grown Up

I am sitting here on Monday afternoon, with six inches of snow on the ground. My wife and I both got a "snow day" off from work. I have been out for a couple of walks in the snow.

But, last night I didn't know for sure, so I stayed up late to see if it was really going to snow like the weather forecast had said. I feel asleep around 1 a.m., woke up at 2:30 a.m. and saw a serious amount of snow on the ground. I love snow!

I remember so many good times when I was a child, checking the temperature, knowing it was well below freezing and then knowing that the snow that was starting was going to stick on the roads. We had four or five years of that when I was 8-12. And, we sledded and sledded until we were so cold and tired that we could barely walk home. Those were great times. As I got towards the end of middle school, it quit snowing, or at least that's how I remember it.

When it snowed a couple of weeks ago on a Sunday evening, I took off for a good long walk that night, because when it snows, I always want to get out into it.

I love the way it looks when it snows, and I love the way it smells and feels outside. I guess I have never grown up in some ways, and I'm glad I haven't. I took a small sled down part of my backyard - not any real sledding like I am going to be ready for if it snows again. But, I am still a kid when it snows. I am glad that I still feel that way about it. It makes me feel good about life.

What is Preaching?

I started preaching in early summer of 1989. I was 28 years old and had just become the pastor of two small rural Presbyterian churches in South Carolina. After 17 years of preaching each Sunday in three different pastorates, I have shared the pulpit with the Reverend Sonya McAuley-Allen since the summer of 2006. With Sonya moving at the end of this month, I will be preaching every Sunday again as before.

I have stacks of handwritten sermon notes from over the years. Even though I don't hand=write anything else, I still hand-write most sermons. It is just an old habit. One thing has changed in the past couple of years. Unless I think it was a particularly good sermon, I simply throw away my notes when I am done. I had previously kept all sermon notes. Over the years, a sermon has come to seem less about the notes written in preparation, and more about the communication (or lack) when preached.

And,sermon notes,even when I am preaching, don't seem like "the sermon" anymore. The notes are preparation, but not the only preparation for preaching. There is the readiness of the heart and mind and openness to the moment of preaching. For me, right now, I am hoping to communicate in a very basic way with those who are gathered with me for worship. I don't want to let worship services come and go without making a sincere effort to speak a true word. And, truth to me is beginning to seem like something very simple, even primitive. The many thoughts have to give way to one thought; the jumbled feelings have to give way to a peace that can hold all feelings.

When I reach this way of being during preaching, something good seems to happen. When I don't, even the most interesting ideas seem to fall not only on "dead ears," but to rise from a "dead heart."

Of course, there is always "life" in me - in my heart and soul and body. But, that "life" when cut off from the life of God, has a deathly character to it. Life with the character of death is anxious life, bitter life, envious life, despairing life. Life in union with God's life is creative life, peaceful life, hopeful and purposeful life.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

January 9 and Getting to Listen to a Sermon

It is Sunday, January 9, 2011, and I will be assisting with the worship service this morning as my co-pastor, Rev. Sonya McAuley-Allen preaches. Since I will be preaching the next two Sundays and since Rev. Allen is moving to North Carolina at the end of this month, this will be the last Sunday to hear Rev. Allen for some time. And, then we are back to my voice in the pulpit every week.

So, I look forward this morning. to listening, before I start speaking so regularly again during worship. It has really helped me to have someone else sharing the preaching these past couple of years, because it has reminded me that everything begins with listening, not with speaking.