The Spiritual Discipline of a District Superintendent
2009-07-06 by Pat Harbison

      My name is Patricia Harbison and I am an ordained elder in the United Methodist Church currently serving in my sixth year as a district superintendent.  What an amazing experience of learning and inspiration blessed me at the Festival of Homiletics in May!  I left Atlanta even more convinced that God was calling me back to the local church where I would be privileged again to preach every week. (Hopefully, next year??) 
      When appointed to the superintendency, I had hoped  that my devotional life might improve.  I readily confess that when serving in the local church, much of my Scripture reading and meditation was practical - always utilized to prepare a sermon or Bible  study.   Without the urgency of 'Sunday's coming' I thought that I could engage in a purer form of lectio divina.   I even thought that I might actually practice the discipline of journaling, something I never seemed to be able to do for more than an entry or two.  But instead of improving, my personal devotional life suffered.  I let the demands of 'urgent' (the church conflicts, pastoral issues, etc.) squeeze out the necessity of the 'important' (my own spiritual health).
     A year or so ago, keenly aware of the inadequacy of my spiritual discipline I tried once again to journal.   Given the gift from a retreat leader of a journaling technique that seemed to come easily to me, I opened the lectionary for the first time in a long time and a daily discipline developed.  By the end of the first week, I was listening to Scripture  in a way I had never heard before.  I still am amazed at the grace of God letting me hear God speak through the words of Scripture. 
     The 'technique' is simple:  I read the lectionary passage in several translations.  Then I write in my own words what the text is saying - not interpreting but noting translation differences and rephrasing for my own understanding.  Often my focus turns to a word or phrase that I hadn't noticed or emphasized before.  Sometimes it takes several slow readings before something rises out of the text that stirs my mind or touches my heart.  Out of this relaxed listening and as a gift of grace flows into the next step of connecting the words of Scripture to my own life, to current situations, and/or to the state of the church.  This 'application' morphs into a written prayer that wraps up the journaling for the morning.
     I give  thanks to God for the renewed guidance, encouragement, inspiration and understanding that has grown with this discipline.  Not only has my spiritual health improved, but I have become more effective as a spiritual leader.   When called upon with short  notice (Sunday at 9:00 a.m.) to  fill in for an ill preacher, or am unexpectedly asked to 'give a few words,' I am equipped with insights from the lectionary readings which can easily grow into a message.
     As a district superintendent, I have learned from necessity to preach with little time devoted solely to sermon preparation.  When in the local church, I began early Monday morning with exegetical study and had a decent outline by Thursday, letting the sermon sit idle on Friday and then diligently absorbing the message on Saturday so that I  could deliver the message on Sunday without over reliance on a manuscript or notes.   Now, because of listening to the Word every day, my 'preparation' time is reduced, although I know my preaching will improve significantly when I add prep time to my current discipline.
     This week, I plan to share my journal entries which follow the technique described above.  I hope that this might inspire you or even help you  to listen more clearly to what God may be saying to you and to your congregation through you as you prepare to share the Word.  



Safiyah and the Communal Individual
2009-07-03 by David von Schlichten

Thank you to Safiyah, our guest blogger. Safiyah has provided us with many rich postings. I am delighted with the thoroughness and detail. I need all the help I can get, because I am a bit stuck this week. Thanks.

Of special note in the postings is the idea of the blurring of the boundaries between individual and community. The two run together, contrary to the American obsession with the individual.

Malcolm Gladwell, in his engrossing new book "Outliers," addresses this issue. He looks at what makes extraordinary people extraordinary, and part of his conclusion is that the individual genius is actually a product of many communal factors. You cannot have a Michael Jackson, for example, without the support of, say, family, friends, teachers - someone, some group. 

Of course, this communality is essential to the Church. The Church is the God-guided people, not the individual.

HELL: This Sunday I am beginning a sermon series loosely inspired by Dante's "Divine Comedy." I will spend three weeks telling of a journey through hell, followed by four weeks in heaven. I will indicate that the journey is fictional but that the lessons are biblically true. Beyond that, I'm not sure what I'm doing. And it's Friday already. Therefore, with special fervor I am


David von Schlichten, Lectionary Blog Moderator

Friday: We are in this together.
2009-06-30 by Safiyah Fosua

I think I just answered one of my questions from yesterday. Perhaps it is not all about us.  By this I mean, perhaps, in our culture of individualism we have been duped into thinking that success is entirely in our hands.  This line of thought leads us to think that it was up to David to hold on tight, to weather the storm of criticism alone, to stand doggedly in the middle of the stream – well you get the picture!  Sure enough, the call did come to David, but the fulfillment of God’s dream took the efforts of an entire village.

As I mentioned on Tuesday, I am not sure that I can indict the nation of Israel for not going with David instead of Saul’s son; they had too much precedence in the models of monarchy of the neighboring peoples.  They went for the familiar and it took a lot of time and a lot of blood for them to come to the conclusion that God had a better way.  But, along the way, if we look carefully, we see signs that God continued to be at work in spite of their dullness.     

Without the support of the tribe of Judah, would David have been able to hold onto the knowledge that he had been anointed as king by the very reputable prophet Samuel?  Who hasn’t seen someone deny what they knew and had experienced as truth in the confusing environment of persecution?

Without the obedience and risk-taking of the prophet Samuel, there would have been no anointing.  I see Samuel’s anointing as a key part of David’s self-awareness.

Without the doubts and questions of good people who had been loyal to Saul’s sons, how could the tide of public opinion been turned to examine David as a serious candidate for kingship?

Without the conference that brought the elders of the 12 tribes to consensus, there could have been no request – and the list goes on.

We are all in this together.  One individual among us may receive a guiding vision of God’s direction but it takes all of us to successfully answer that call.  So, now, does the call come to an individual or to the community of the faithful or to both?

Questions for further exploration (2 Samuel 5)
2009-06-30 by Safiyah Fosua

  1. Is it possible to be so certain that you are called to do a thing that you are willing to be an outcast for the sake of that calling for an indefinite period of time?
  2. Am I certain enough about anything in my life to be willing to expose myself to criticism or ridicule or even death?  Do I believe anything strongly enough to stand in front of a tank like Tank Man?   Or to swoop a helicopter into the line of fire like Hugh Thompson  Or, to die protesting in the streets like Neda Soltani
  3. Would (we) I have been willing to “take the heat” or sit in an uncomfortable position for the seven years that David reigned in Hebron or am I (are we) more likely to stay within the boundaries of the acceptable and the predictable?
  4. What is needed to be able to weather the storm that rises from an unpopular decision?

Safiyah Fosua

Thursday: Check Your Ego at the Door
2009-06-30 by Safiyah Fosua

When Quincy Jones produced the fund-raising hit “We Are the World” with a choir of recording superstars, it is reported that he told them:  “Check your ego at the door!”  I remembered this incident when I read in the New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary today that the elders of Israel approached David and asked him to be their king AFTER all of Saul’s sons were dead.  So, I did a quick search and found that Saul and three of his sons died in battle (1 Samuel 31:2).  His remaining son was Ishbaal (sometimes called Eshbaal or Ishbosheth) who failed miserably and was killed in his sleep by two of his captains (see )


It was only after the ALL the legitimate heirs were gone that they appealed to David.  The New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary, Volume 2 describes a delegation of groveling desperate people finally coming to David hoping to persuade him to be their king.  I am not sure that my ego could have stood it! -- Safiyah Fosua


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