Affirmation and Repentance
2009-02-24 by Dee Dee Haines

Standing on the windy corner in front of one of the most popular shops in Strand Street, Douglas, the Isle of Man, a young man is making use of a voice projector to get his message across:  “Repent!  Repent and listen to what God is saying!”  Those passing by are moving to the other side of the street.  Perhaps they are uncomfortable, hearing the message as judgment.  They only came to pick up a few grocery items, their expectation did not include this encounter.


Repentance is one of those hard words to preach.  Many of us will try to find a less startling synonym so that we don’t have to watch people shrink into their seats when we use the word again and again.  Some of us will explain that repentance suggests changed behaviour or a turning from the ways of the world to the ways of a loving God.


Is it possible that we have, as John O’Donohue suggests, fallen out of belonging?  And if we have, can we speak to our congregations about how the action of repentance can renew our sense of belonging?  Not only our belonging to God and community, but belonging to ourselves?


Many of us will make use of narrative as an important part of our understanding of practical theological methodology.  If we use story as a fundamental element in our shared life together, at some point, we will stop and ask ourselves, “When does a story become our own?” It is a point for preachers to consider.  How do we facilitate the opportunity for the biblical story to be owned by ourselves, and those with whom we partner in ministry?  When do we begin to understand the stories of our neighbours as our stories as well? 


I’m guessing that many of us will focus on repentance.  Heaven knows, we need to.  But a focus on repentance that does not first focus on the affirmation, declaration and blessing of the voice from heaven will struggle to be transformative.  Without that transformation, opening the door to belief in the good news may struggle to become “our story” as well.


What is God doing in the story when the naming and claiming of Jesus as God’s own takes place?  Even though Mark doesn’t mention the temptations of Jesus, many will assimilate the synoptic details into this story as a matter of habit.  To embrace today’s story in a way that communicates the humanness of Jesus and his ability to endure the wilderness experience is an opportunity to examine our own similar wilderness journeys, or those of our brothers and sisters.  How are we making those stories our own?


We often call our congregations to remember their baptismal vows.  I suspect we aren’t as diligent in remembering to make familiar the baptism declaration and affirmation:  “God claims us and cleanses us, rescues us from sin, and raises us to new life.”  (Methodist Worship Book, England:  Methodist Publishing House, 1999, p.63).  In all of my worship books from differing traditions, the promises come after the mighty and transformative declaration.  For some, that affirmation will not be what they are expecting from the sermon.  But it can be a blessed encounter, just the same.  And the call to repentance may be heard with changed ears.

The Things We Do
2009-02-23 by Dee Dee Haines

My name is Dee Dee Haines and I am a U.C.C. minister serving with the Methodists in the Isle of Man, a little bit of paradise in the middle of the Irish Sea.  The Island is rich in Celtic heritage, with rolling green hills, dramatic sea cliffs and a wind that blows like no place else on earth!


This Sunday when Emma Crystal Kermeen is brought forward for baptism, I will stand behind the font and pour out the words of the promise:  “This is the sign of the covenant that I make between me and you and every living creature that is with you, for all generations: I have set my bow in the clouds, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and the earth.” (Genesis 9:12b-13, NRSV) Falling from the lip of a simple clear glass pitcher, the waters of life will stream from three feet above the ancient font, echoing dramatically into the collecting basin below, creating an auditory and visual experience. 


We will also speak of other promises and the voice from heaven declaring, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”  (Mark 1:11)  The children will be sitting on the floor near the font, listening to the story.  Wide eyed and captivated by the words and corresponding actions, I will remind them that they are very important witnesses with a job to do.  Emma will not remember her baptism, but they will.  And they can tell her the story.  Who was there?  What did we do? What did we say?  And a question for us all: How did this “doing and saying” shape us as Christians?


Both texts, the covenant story from Genesis and the baptism of Jesus, are the kinds of stories that come alive in the rituals we practice in Christian community.  They are stories that are tied to memories and promises.  Words of covenant are offered at the threshold moments of our lives: births and baptisms, funerals, weddings, confirmation and communion.  They remind us of our distinct place in the world.


According to many anthropologists, our consumer culture is beginning to lack meaningful ritual.  Author John O’Donohue describes it this way:  “The commercial edge of so-called “progress” has cut away a huge region of human tissue and webbing that held us in communion with one another.  We have fallen out of belonging.” (John O’Donohue, To Bless the Space Between Us: A Book of Blessings (New York:  Doubleday 2008, xxxi-xiv).


On this first Sunday of Lent, many of us will have already begun a particular practice or discipline, marking the forty days as special, significant, different than those on either side.  Some people will forfeit chocolate, or some other food item from their diets.  Others may add a time of meditation or prayer to their regular daily routine.  Churches have their own ritualized behaviours during this time of preparation.  Preachers may want to consider asking questions about what we are "doing" when we add or subtract something as part of the rituals surrounding Lent.  And what does it mean? 


Whilst one reply that says we are remembering the sacrifice of Christ is correct, it does not help us to understand what that means in our life together?  How do our practices form us in ways that are carried out into the wider world in the many places where we work and play?  How does the season of Lent shape us as Christians who now live in a world where many do not recognise the season as significant?  How do the other rituals in our life together, the official ones and the un-official ones, form us?  How does what we do, and the way that we do it, shape the practices themselves? 


Did the baptism and blessing Jesus received shape him in some way that shaped his experience in the wilderness?  Does our memory of the rituals of baptism and communion form us in ways that will help us in making choices that are life-giving for all?

This is, I think, at least one place to begin.


Thanks to Holly
2009-02-23 by David von Schlichten

Thank you to Holly Hearon, our guest blogger from last week, for her postings. Also, I thank Steve Schuette for his contribution. I would have contributed myself but was sick with the flu.

I look forward to more people entering the tub. Also, be sure to register for the Festival.

Yours with coughing and congestion,

David von Schlichten, Lectionary Blog Moderator 

When Encountering Wonder: Stillness
2009-02-20 by Stephen Schuette

Peter did not know what to say. So he did not keep quiet. He gave directions. He gave himself and his friends a task, perhaps to mask what
they didn’t know and couldn’t handle.
A lot happens because we don’t know what to say or do. Ever listen to a news analysis show? The more that is unknown, about the economy for instance, the more there is to be said.
Ever take an essay test where this applied? We all know what that’s called.
In a letter to Lincoln written the day following the Gettysburg dedication, Edward Everett praised the President for his eloquent and
concise speech, saying, “I should be glad if I could flatter myself that I came as near to the central idea of the occasion, in two hours, as you did in two minutes.”
Ever hear anyone say, “Don’t just do something, stand there?” But could that be what the voice from the cloud suggests in the command “.listen to him?”
Here’s patience.
Do you have the patience to wait
Till your mud settles and the water is clear?
Can you remain unmoving
Till the right action arises by itself? -Lao-Tzu, Tao Te Ching
(From Seven Spiritual Gifts of Waiting by Holly W. Whitcomb, p. 15)

God with us
2009-02-19 by Holly Hearon


Because 2 Kings and Mark both offer dramatic and engaging narratives I want to let the two texts do the storytelling. However, I want to frame the sermon with strong connections to our own context. Since the sermon focuses on a challenging question (where is God when all the good around us seems to be disappearing?) I want to begin with a personal example that lets me laugh at myself. As it happens, a good illustration arose this week:  I was playing a board game with my sister. Her first move resulted in a double score, compounded by bonus points. Despite my best efforts, I trailed behind throughout the game; that is, until the second to last move. By the luck of the draw, I was able to pull my score just beyond that of my sister, and win the game, at which point I shouted ‘there is a god’!


Now, I don’t actually believe that God had anything to do with my winning the game. But my spontaneous remark was a reminder of how often we use the circumstances of our lives as the basis for answering the question “Where is God?”  if I win, there is a God; if I don’t win, God has rejected me. If my life is secure, things are going well, and I’m feeling happy, there is a God; if I experience a disappointment, receive devastating news, or face difficult challenges, my relationship to God comes into question.


At this point I would transition to the experiences of loss that have recently devastated the congregation, recognizing that for many this may leave them feeling that God has abandoned them. Conversely, those of us who are doing well in hard times can develop a false sense of ‘God with us’. How are we to hold onto a sense of God’s presence when all the good that we have experienced seems to be disappearing? How do we develop an understanding of God’s presence that is not tied to our own personal circumstances?  (A good novel that addresses these questions is Dwelling Places by Vinita Hampton Wright [HarperSanFrancisco, 2006]).


The texts for the day speak to both of these experiences. Since I’ve already outlined the stories and the connections I find between them in my second blog I won’t repeat that material here. In reflecting on the two stories, however, I would observe that, just as we cannot expect to always live on the mountaintop, neither are we allowed to remain forever in our grief. God meets us in both places, but if we let those experiences define our relationship to God, then we will miss where God is leading us. Peter comes down off the mountain; Elisha returns to the Jordan and takes up Elisha’s mantle. Neither experience, however painful or powerful, should become the sum total of our understanding of God or ourselves, although they can give us important insights into God, ourselves, and our relationship to God.  Here I might adapt a quote that hangs on my wall from Daniel Berrigan, S.J.: “These many beautiful [and sad] days cannot be lived again but they are compounded in my own flesh and spirit and I take them in full measure toward whatever lies ahead.” What lies immediately ahead is Lent: the texts for the day remind us that God journeys with us, even when those things most dear to us are going away.


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