Sunday, July 22, 2012

A letter for you...

This morning I preached a sermon that had been re-written on Friday because the movie theater shootings in Aurora had also shot down the festive tone of my sermon for Mary Magdalene's Feast Day as well as any other sermons being planned around town.  A completely minor consequence to be sure but one that affected preachers across area nonetheless.  People coming to church today collectively needed a deeper word in light of the horror and despair of so many people murdered and so many more wounded physically, emotionally and spiritually.

Today I am grateful for the many people sharing comfort and hope as we care for each other.  But I am especially grateful for Pastor Meghan Johnston Aelabouni's open letter to all who suffer from the shootings in Aurora.  Her words are heartfelt, insightful and elegant.  I quoted her in my sermon today because her way of speaking about, " God is able to reach into sin and death and pull out healing and life..." is simply stunning.  I encourage you to check out her full letter as she, like Mary Magdalene, points us to the "indestructible love of God."

May the Spirit of God fill you and hold you in grace and peace.

[Click on Pastor Meghan's name to link you to her letter.]


Monday, July 16, 2012

Calling the gender question...leads to new ones

I'm preaching this coming Sunday from Mary Magdalene's garden chat with Jesus (John 20:1-2, 11-18) and am so excited I can hardly take it!  July 22nd comes around every year as a Feast Day in honor of Mary Magdalene, the Apostle, and this year it falls on a Sunday.  In the last few verses of the story, Jesus (now resurrected) sends Mary to fill the disciples in on what he said and...wait for it...she does!  For me, both as a woman and as a preacher, it just doesn't get any better.

I took my enthusiasm and intensity on the topic to a weekly pastors' text study.  As group-leader-of-the-week, I laid out some thoughts and questions about Mary Magdalene's story, the various interpretations of who she is, and how this text might be preached on Sunday.  The conversation was open and honest and wonderful.  And then someone called the question that has been with me for days, "Do we lose something here when we make this more about Mary's gender rather than emphasizing her as a follower of Jesus?"

The problem is that in so many ways, the last few thousand years of the church and, by extension, Biblical interpretation have been absolutely about gender - which genders are good or bad or clean or unclean or given voice or not given voice or public or private or preachers or listeners or...  The list of how gender has formed, and been formed by, church and society is utterly exhausting.

Pat Keifert, one of my seminary professors, would urge us to understand the assumptions behind someone's idea before entering into the conversation.  He wanted us to consider what we were agreeing to when we began a disagreement.  Because often, even when we disagree, we are agreeing to certain assumptions about how the argument should go.  So, does calling attention to Mary as woman, or anyone as a woman, in addition to whomever else she be might be lock us into the disagreement in the exact spot from which we we are trying to move?  Or might it give us a starting point from which we are able travel to something new?

Sunday, July 8, 2012

To faith or not to faith...

I recently sat with a new friend who invited me to coffee by first asking, "How do you feel about disagreement?"  Mind you, his question came just a few minutes after I preached a sermon that included John 3:16 so I was utterly intrigued.  The next thing I knew, we were chatting over coffee and disagreeing about preaching.  What he asked, "Why don't Lutheran preachers exhort to faith?"  What I heard, "Why don't Lutheran preachers ask people to agree with an orderly list of theological ideas that equal faith?"  My response to his question is as simple as it is complicated.  "Preaching evokes faith," I said.

What's the difference?  The difference is a distinction about where faith comes from.  If I say that I agree with a list of ideas about God then faith is an intellectual "yes" that I dredge up from inside of myself.  However, faith generated by God, by the shattering of me in the shadow of the cross, comes from outside of myself.  [More about the cross in future posts].  In this light, a preacher points me to the cross and it is from there that faith is evoked, pulled, generated, etc., as a mystery of God's work in me.

Why does it matter?  Because it's about what God is doing, not what I am doing.  I can never do enough, say enough or be enough to make my way to God.  God is then the one who evokes faith.