2010-04-22 by Stephen Schuette

I appreciate these threads of information vs. experience and the sharing on these posts.  Thanks guys…

Along a similar line, I’m continuing to think about Revelation and this vision.  John certainly couldn’t sustain this by sheer willpower, this realization of creation centered and reordered in constant praise.  It’s a kind of forever-moment, a sign of what is enduring. But realistically that’s not the way we experience so much of daily life.  There’s trash to take out and dishes to clean and grass to mow and in addition all kinds of relationships that take work.  And let’s be honest, even the relationship with God can take work.

To praise God continually?  Nice thought.  But in spite of the realities and our lack of verity can it be more than a nice thought?  Can it truly be the moment out of which we live, a moment that supersedes the mundane and puts us in touch with glory?  John was certainly relating an experience.  The key may be, however, that it was not just an experience.  It was The Experience, unforgettable and so capturing the imagination that it would be a sustaining vision through the oppressions of a difficult age in Christianity’s early days.

It’s impossible to love anyone perfectly, always.  But I suspect that part of a successful marriage is claiming and remembering which experiences are defining for us.  I shared such a moment recently with a couple following choir rehearsal as we casually chatted.  They are going through a time of great stress - new job for her, work pressures for him, three children, her mother with a diagnosis of breast CA just learned about that day and how her various siblings were now reacting to that adding to the confusion. I saw the tired, worn expression on her face.  I said, “Spiritual hug.”  As she began to cry her husband embraced her with the real hug she needed and I stood there in the glow of this bright and shining moment amid all the challenges.

May we be graced with the ability to live out of such defining moments/experiences even as John chose to hold to this vision.  So it is that we dwell in the house of the Lord forever.

Information vs. Experience (con't)
2010-04-22 by Roger Gustafson

Our pastoral intern this year is from Ethiopia, and I’m learning a lot from him.  His nation’s experience of the Christian movement is very different from North America’s; Christianity survived – and thrived – during Ethiopia’s oppressive communist regime, while the faith has enjoyed privileged status here in the United States. 

We were talking about church leadership the other day, and he was asking about the qualifications of those serving on church councils.  We are a predominantly white, middle-class congregation in America’s heartland; many of our members cast their livelihood nets in the seas of mid-level management.  Our church council reflects that demographic. 

Qualifications?  Well, they have to be willing to ask the question, “What is God up to, and how can we help?” and then be able to follow through with some long-range planning based on the answers that we discern.  Specifically, they have to promise to “work together with other members to see that the worship and work of Christ are done in this congregation, and that God’s will is done in this community and in the whole world; to be diligent in your specific area of serving … ; and to be examples of faith active in love, to help maintain the life and harmony of this congregation.” 

“Oh,” he said.  “It’s different in Africa.”   

“How so?  What’s the qualification for congregational leadership there?”   

“There’s only one main criterion: ‘Can you preach God’s word?’” 

Forget about those agonizing discussions about the budget or about the appropriate age for first Communion or what color to paint the sanctuary.  “Can you preach God’s word?” 

How different would our church governing bodies be – in makeup and function – if that question was the qualifier for who leads?  The question addresses, of course, primarily an experience of faith, not knowledge about faith. 

What will we communicate this Sunday?

Shepherds I Have Known
2010-04-21 by Guy Kent

Acts 9: 36-43, Psalm 23, John 10: 22-30

There’s a pastor I know who has a reputation for preaching. He has a way with words. He has the ability to coin a phrase and reshape a familiar thought, to demand the listener’s attention. Every Sunday his church is full. Every year his church superiors get letters stating how important he is to the life of that congregation. He’s known among his colleagues, respected by those in authority.  When he walks into a room of preachers everyone knows who just entered.

There’s a second pastor I know who has not a reputation for preaching. He fumbles over his words. He tends to become academic in the pulpit and rare is the listener who follows his sermon to a logical end. Every Sunday the faithful attend as they have attended no matter who was the preacher for all the years of their membership. This preacher is barely known by any of his colleagues though he and the first pastor have served the same number of years, and, indeed, graduated from seminary in the same class. Those in authority are always on the lookout for where they can send him next. And when he walks into a room filled with preachers hardly anyone knows who just entered.

One Friday night I was being rolled down the hallway of Emory University Hospital on a gurney. I remember thinking to myself, “I’m in a movie.” Because the lights overhead were passing by as they did in so many films I’d seen. I was conscious of the panic in the doctors who had been performing a procedure on me that had gone badly wrong. And now we were headed to surgery, open heart surgery. Suddenly the passing lights in the ceiling were obstructed by the face of that second preacher. “Hold on,” he said, “everything’s going to be okay. Let’s pray.” And he prayed in a huffing voice as he tried to keep up with the speeding gurney. I remember thinking, “Where the hell did he come from?” And then I was in surgery and everything was black.

When I awoke from that surgery my wife was holding my left hand and that first preacher was holding my right hand. My wife was crying; the first preacher was saying, “’Bout time you woke up.” And he smiled a reassuring prayer. I went back to sleep. When I awoke my wife was in the chair on my right and he was in the chair on my left.

A week later, at home, I got ready to go for a walk as part of my recovery. I headed down the driveway just in time to meet an unfamiliar car coming up. Inside was that second preacher. He went to walk with me and when we got back to the house he prayed, again, with me. When he left that day I remember thinking he couldn’t preach his way out of a wet paper bag, but boy could he show Jesus in his life.

That night the first preacher showed up at my house. He brought some Chinese food with him. We sat in the dining room laughing and remembering the past while looking forward to the future. He left about eight, and I remember thinking he wouldn’t be getting home until after eleven.

Years later I sat again in a hospital. This time I sat in a “family room” next to the room where my wife’s dead body lay. The first preacher showed up within hours of her death and he stayed there until he drove me home. And when I got home that second preacher was on the front porch waiting. Both had driven halfway across the state to be where they were. They directed the visitors to me. They talked to the family. They handled all those horrible details. And when my children arrived they gathered them into the warmth of their care.

Today’s Psalm is about that Shepherd. It carries me back to those days when a really polished orator and a somewhat fumbling preacher gathered me into their care.

Whenever I’m at a meeting of preachers and either one walks into the room, I know who they are for as surely as Peter, through Christ, raised Tabitha I was raised from the depths of my suffering. And in that raising I knew the living Christ.

GoodPreacher Seminarian Sermon Award
2010-04-21 by David Howell

Donna Olivia Powell is the winner of the 2010 GoodPreacher Seminarian Sermon Award. She receives a complimentary registration to the Festival of Homiletics, a room at the Scarritt Bennett Center, and $200 in expense money. Runner-up Sarah Pomerantz receives a one year subscription to

Read the 2009 and 2010 seminarian sermons:

GoodPreacher Seminarian Sermons 2009

GoodPreacher Seminarian Sermons 2010

Information vs. Experience
2010-04-21 by Roger Gustafson

The Judeans want information from Jesus: “If you are the Messiah, tells us plainly.”  There they stand, recording devices in hand, waiting.  But Jesus isn’t offering information; he’s offering an experience.  Big difference. 

At the beginning of John’s Gospel, Jesus tells the Baptist’s followers who want to know about him: “Come and see.”  That’s a standing invitation in the gospel, to enter the experience of Jesus and see for yourself who he is.  That’s how the learning is to be gained, through the heart, not the head. 

Therein lies the more subtle “stone in the road” in this text.  Jesus is more than a title; his significance cannot be captured in words and concepts.  His identity must be experienced, and he – not we – is in charge of that experience. 

This is not to soft-pedal the role of the intellect in faith.  All of our faculties are gifts from God, and we are to employ all of them in faithful living.  After all, Jesus himself reinforces the Shema of Deut 6:5 as “the first and greatest” command.  There are variations in the Synoptics’ report of Jesus’ words, but each of them includes “with the mind” as one of the ways in which he says we are to love the Lord. 

But in the years following Jesus’ Resurrection and Ascension, the Christian movement did not grow because the Church’s creeds were convincing; it grew because Christ-followers stood up in the midst of a culture of oppression and fear and said, “We live differently.  Come and see how we live.”  They offered not information but an experience. 

What are we offering in our churches?

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