I spent much of the day reading various “sermon resource” websites as I continued to reflect upon the lessons assigned for this week and the circumstances which will still be swirling about when it’s time for me to preach in less than two days. Frankly, I was looking for some help, but none was forthcoming from cyberspace for me. Apparently many of the resource pages were written well before last Sunday night. Most of them probably offered interesting exegetical commentary, but I couldn’t get interested. Maybe this is a function of being an overtly “heart” person. I’m too conflicted to plow ahead and build a sermon that doesn’t speak to the confusion I’m left with after a week of confusing news. And as much as I love my mother, I’m not convinced that what people will want on Sunday morning is a healthy dose of Hallmark sentimentality. I did read one preacher’s blog who touted his pride about not bringing “political” issues into the pulpit. I couldn’t help but think, “How do we leave people’s lives out of the pulpit?”
I suspect tomorrow will be a very long day. Sunday’s coming. A terrorist is dead. We are still at war. Offering a sweet sermon on Sunday about a mystical and mysterious Jesus who floats, untouchable, above the grime of human failure seems like the ultimate exercise in gnosticism. And so, while I don’t know what I will say just yet, I’m prepared that I will say something. In anticipation of that event (and in response to the anonymous letter quoted in yesterday’s post), I have included a note to parishioners in the Sunday bulletin about the sermon. This is something I’ve never done, but this seemed like a necessary thing. It is reprinted below:
This is an unusual circumstance. I don’t usually include “liner notes” about the Sunday sermon as a part of the bulletin, but this has been a difficult sermon to prepare and a difficult week in which to prepare it. In fact, I’m writing this note to you all on Thursday afternoon, when the sermon is still very much “under construction”.
Sermons are all contextual. They arise out of the preacher’s prayer life, the common prayer life of the parish she/he serves, the study of the sacred texts of Scripture and conversations about those scriptures with others. But all of this praying and studying and talking happens in the midst of life as it is lived. We cannot come behind the walls of the worship space and seek to shut out the challenges, ambiguities and evils that exist out in the so-called “real world”. Even if the preacher tries to pretend that what’s in the news doesn’t impact the people in the pews, everyone can still see the elephant in the room, no matter how hard we try to ignore its presence.
Through the years, you’ve been a gracious group of preaching partners (because without a congregation gathered there is no sermon). You’ve patiently listened as I have sought to find my voice as your rector. Sometimes we have disagreed on how to interpret a passage of scripture or how to respond to difficult issues in the broader culture. This is a part of communal life and I am grateful for the ways we have engaged each other when there were those moments of disagreement. As I reflected over my preaching here, I know you’ve listened to me talk about the wars in Iraq/Afghanistan and the human tragedy present in natural disasters (Hurricane Katrina, the Southeast Asia Tsunami, the Haiti Eartquake and recently the situation in Japan). You have listened as I have challenged us all concerning our call to serve the poor who live within just a few miles of our red doors. You heard the raw emotion of a heart broken after the shootings in Tucson. You remained patiently engaged with me as I offered what I hope were Gospel-based sermons on two occasions during the recent protests in Madison. We’ve been through lots together homiletically!
And so, I was taken aback earlier this week when I received a letter from an anonymous author that seemed to indicate I would not engage in a conversation concerning the U.S. action in Pakistan a few days ago which led to the death of Osama Bin Laden. Because the letter was anonymous, I’m not certain if it was even written by a parishioner. But I have become convinced through the years that we preachers are called to offer to our parishioners our best effort at how Christians are to make sense of such events both in light of the Gospel and as a community of people who purport to follow in the way of Jesus. Today’s sermon will not be about Osama Bin Laden, though the events of this week will likely be referenced. The sermon will seek to be a reflection on the lessons we will hear together in the liturgy. The sermon will attempt to tease out how our faith calls us to live toward Resurrection even in a world that continues to appear to be enslaved to the twin powers of Sin and Death.