The crowds were astonished at (Jesus’) teaching, for he taught…not as their scribes.Matthew 7:28
Dear Friends in Christ,
Several dozen times in the four Gospels the people around Jesus are astonished or surprised by what he said. With good reason: his faith and focus were unique. This inspires the question, has anything about the church story — the story of Jesus’ God and mission — surprised us lately? If not, are we doing it right? Are we seeing it all?
Allow me to refine the question, starting with a story. Some years ago an active leader in this parish gave me a great compliment. He said he’d been to various churches in various states and one thing he liked about the preaching here was that he didn’t need to edit what he heard, or he didn’t need to discount, avoid, or ignore expressions from the pulpit. This is touching praise because what comes from any good pulpit is part of a conversation, and not admonition or condescension. Unless it is self-critical. But after my heart was warmed, I worried. Am I not challenging myself enough? Are we the best Christians we might be already? Are we exploring God’s whole story? Shouldn’t some preaching make us uncomfortable?
One more story, then a proposal.
This is the story: on Re-Covenant Sunday in September the text and the sermon engaged the question Jesus posed to Peter: “Who do you say that I am?” Frankly, I engaged that topic to get us re-started for the new program year. There were six first-time visitors in the sanctuary that morning. One of them got up and walked out during the sermon. Two others left between the offering and communion. Is Jesus’ identity off-putting, or “Was it something I said?” I’ll never know. But unless we’re surprised or astonished here and there, we’ll miss God’s deepest offerings. Unless we wrestle with things that challenge us, we may not be exploring God’s whole story.
This is the proposal: I’d value your help in proposing sermon topics. I’d value your conversation on what you long to hear as comfort or challenge. I’d love to receive some ideas for things I may have overlooked or need yet to learn. Please send them in.
Once upon a time here and in other parishes folks would attend fundraisers and bid on a sermon topic. We used to raise money for a youth group here. Now, this offer is free: I’d like to know what you are thinking about and hungering to hear, whether it’s a Bible book, a mission/social issue, a spiritual practice, something that worries you, or almost anything else. Again, a good sermon is part of a conversation, so I’m asking what you’d like to talk about.
This fall likely I’ll talk about our Confirmation class, my upcoming trip to Selma and Montgomery, our energy to create a youth choir and a “once-a-month-everyone-come” choir, as well as the way of Thanksgiving, the miracles of Advent, the connection between Christianity and housing inequity, and the surprises of the daily news. I know we’ll focus on mission. And we have some baptisms, some new members, and several weddings in the plans. What would you like to explore?
Just so you know, the other three visitors from the first Sunday, along with others still, keep coming back. We are blessed with hard workers, mission energy, loving financial supporters, and a great group of colleagues. People keep coming back. Please also come and explore ideas and topics that (if you will) the Holy Spirit puts before us, so, tell me what you hear from Her, and we’ll find comfort and challenge together.
God’s peace to you,