Sunday, February 20, 2005

Word for the Week

Trying something new. Bear with me while I explain why, and how.

Most of you know that I am unemployed at the moment. I haven't been doing any pulpit supply either, so I haven't been writing any sermons. But a pastor without a sermon is like a politician without bacon; it simply isn't done.

Writing on a scriptural text week in and week out can be a drag. But it also gets into your blood, becomes a root around which your life grows.

It's not actually the research and wordsmithing that pastors miss when there's no sermon to deliver come Sunday. It's the sense of writing to a community, of sussing out their needs and seeing what scripture has to say to them.

This isn't the place to go into detail, but many preachers discover that using the lectionary--a three-year cycle of scripture readings--is not the shackle on that process it might seem.

In fact, the lectionary has a way of creating happy accidents.

You see connections you wouldn't otherwise, you hear a hidden word. It speaks to you in surprise, and in the familiarity of returning to a treasured text.

But to paraphrase Karl Barth, if you preach with a Bible in one hand, you should have a newspaper in the other. Good preaching connects the Good News with the news, period.

I was thinking about these things last weekend when an idea hit. I'm without a pulpit, but why should that mean no preaching? There's a world of people out there hungry to hear something other than condemmnation from scripture. They're hungry to hear something that makes sense in a world that is both brutal and achingly difficult to understand.

So why not write a sermon for the people who are not in the pews? I have no pulpit, you have no hard wooden bench ruining your back. It's all good.

So here's how the game works: 500-600 words, usually on a text taken from the lectionary cycle, with an eye to current events. Brief prayer at the end. Pretty simple, right?

If I get really good at this, I might try to syndicate it as a column.

Dream on, monkeypastor.

Well, anyway, we start off with a bang. John 3:16 is one of the world's best-known pieces of scripture--even if most folks only know the first half: For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son.

The second part is more difficult: so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.

That goes against the grain of American's "tolerant traditionalism." What, there's a litmus test before you can get into Heaven? Shouldn't everyone get to go?

But there's no way around it, not in John. He wants to know, right now: are you in or are you out? Do you believe, or don't you?

It's that "belief" that grinds. We're used to hearing that as a creed: either you accept the proposition that Jesus of Nazareth was the Son of God, or it's the lake of fire for you.

There's no shortage of narrow-minded preachers willing to hammer that point home, either. Some of them are well-intentioned, some are just plain mean and partisan.

Belief in Christ Jesus for many of these folks has come to be defined as assent to a restrictive vision of family life: Mom, 2.5 kids, Dad definitely in charge. Belief has become a contested ideology, the hopes and dreams of one group set over and against another. Either you believe in what is right, and act accordingly, or you do not, making yourself an enemy of those who do. And enemies cannot be tolerated.

So, if you're gay or lesbian: you can't be tolerated.

If you stick up for gays and lesbians, you can't be tolerated.

If you stick up for stupid little cartoon sponges and bunny rabbits that stick up for gays or lesbians or even take notice of them--you can't be tolerated.

Never mind that sexual orientation and family and friends are not abstract principles, but ways of life, people to love and touch. (Cartoons are another matter altogether.) It's important to define who's in and who's out.

Isn't that what belief is all about?

In a word: no.

For John 3:17 says, God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.

And as another famous verse from the same gospel says: God is love.

So this is belief: find yourself a baby. Pick it up. Give it a hug and a kiss, maybe a little airplane ride around the room. Hold that baby in your arms and love it up, in other words.

Did you do it? Did it feel right?

Would you be willing to sacrifice your life, if it meant that baby could live? Would you be willing to stick with that kid through thick and thin as they grew and became their own person?

Would you be willing to love that kid no matter what?

If you answered yes to all those questions, then congratulations. You now believe in love, which means you believe in God. And since the love of God became real to us in a baby, it's fair to say you now believe in Jesus.

Welcome to salvation.


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