The Ultimate Word

"The ultimate Word is not a paragraph but a person. If Jesus is the Word of God incarnate, then the heart of proclamation is personal and relational, not propositional."

Marjorie Hewitt Suchocki * God, Christ, Church, page 135

Monday, May 25, 2009

Transitions...


Dear Friends,

Something unexpected happened in this sermon.

I had done my work in advance of preaching. I had the text written. Then, on Sunday morning, I woke up a 3 a.m. and threw it all out. I deleted the file that I had worked on, and decided to start over.

It just didn't feel honest. I didn't feel comfortable getting up in front of a congregation and saying the things that I had planned to say.

I don't remember exactly what was in the original sermon. I just knew it wasn't honest.

So, by the time church started, I entered the pulpit with about a page and a quarter of handwritten notes about the kinds of things I thought I might like to say.

By the time it was all done, I didn't remember what I had said, I just knew that I stood by whatever it was more than if I had said whatever had been on paper before.

Thank God my parish has a recording system!

I've listened to the recording, and converted it to a transcript for those who might prefer to have the sermon that way. But I'm also experimenting with putting up the audio of the sermon. It seems particularly appropriate this time, since it truly lived as a spoken word before being printed.

It was a terrifying experience. There are certainly thoughts I would have liked to develop more, or subtle word changes that I would have preferred, but all in all, I thought it came out okay. I hope that, if there are others of you out there who have had similar experiences, you will help me to reflect on this experience through your comments and emails.

It reminds me of my friend Katherine Hancock Ragsdale. I've heard it said that she advises preachers to put aside their prepared manuscripts and to attempt to preach "from a prepared heart". Though this was not a conscious attempt at taking Katherine's advice, I think that's what I accidentally did.

Like I said - it was terrifying. But I hope to turn this into an experience from which I can learn.

Thanks!




24 May 2009
Easter 7B
John 17:6-19
Acts 1:15-17, 21-26
(transcript from audio)

Assist us mercifully, O Lord, that, among all the changes and chances of this mortal life, we may ever be defended by your gracious and ready help. Amen.

We are entering, what I think it would be fair to call, the Pinocchio days of Easter.

You know the story: Pinocchio was this puppet. He was a puppet that was so dearly loved by his creator and his master that this creator and master prayerfully wished with all of his heart that Pinocchio might become a real boy.

If you know the story of Pinocchio, then you know that pretty much the whole story takes place in the course of his transition from puppet to boy. There’s a little bit of story before the transition, and there’s a little bit of story after the transition; but the real meat of the matter happens in the midst of the transition.

Like Pinocchio, we, too, are held in transition. In the calendar of the church year we are in the post-Resurrection days and the post-Ascension days; but we’re still just short of Pentecost.

We’re still hanging in the balance of that transition.

Jesus isn’t with us – at least not like he was before. The Holy Spirit is not yet with us – at least not like she will be.

Transition can be a scary place – especially when you have to live in it for a little while. It’s the process of passing from the known to the unknown. It can also be a very exciting place. A process of passing from the known to the expected.

I’d like to briefly tell you a little story about one transition in my life.

A few years ago – before I had seriously begun entering this process moving towards ordained ministry – I was in the midst of a lot of transition. A friend of mine, recognizing this transition in my life, wanted to help me through it. She wanted to be a kind of guide for me in the midst of it. So she sent me on a retreat to the Society of St. John the Evangelist in Cambridge, Massachusetts. It’s an Episcopal monastery. And when this friend told me that she wanted to send me to a monastery, I thought she was crazy. I graciously agreed, but then, as I thought about it, I was thinking, “What in the world could she have in mind?”

I went during the fourth week of Advent that year. Now, it’s always cold in Cambridge, Massachusetts in the fourth wee of Advent, but this was a particularly cold Advent. I moved slowly into the rhythm of the life in the monastery. I began to take in their cycles of praying and waiting and praying and waiting.

The stillness began to move through me.

Each day I developed a little routine of my own before Morning Prayer. I would get very bundled up and I would get a tall cup of coffee; and I would go outside and sit on the banks of the Charles river and I would watch the sun rise.

Between the cycles of praying and waiting and praying and waiting, I found stillness. And like a metaphor for that stillness I saw it being recreated in the river in front of me. Over the days the river slowed into frozenness. And each day I would watch the sun rise and watch the night become day. And it occurred to me that I could get to know God even in the middle of transition.

As the water was transitioning to ice- as the darkness was transitioning to light- I heard God.

This morning, the lessons that we read are also stories of transition.

In Acts, we hear that Judas has died. And Peter, taking leadership among the Christian believers, leads the people of Christ into a discernment process of their own – finding someone to fill the shoes of Judas.

I didn’t check this with the Search Committee or the Vestry, but I expect that in our own discernment process we did a little more than cast lots.

They entered themselves into prayer, and they left it to what many on the outside would have assumed was chance. They waited to see where God was leading them, and to whom God was leading them.

In the other lesson we heard this morning from the Gospel According to John, we hear of another kind of transition. Step back a few days in the story. Jesus is about to go through a transition of his own: from his earthly life among us to the life that he still shares among us.

He was about to die and the first thought that came to his mind was us. He entered into prayer and asked God to be with us and to lead us. The seventeenth chapter of John is almost like Jesus’ love song to us.

In the end, all of these stories of transition – the ones in all of our hearts and the ones that we hear today – tell us a bit more about how to bring God into our own lives. We tend to look for God in the stillness and the known and the steadfast: “Christ the same yesterday, today, and forever”. And though Christ may be the same, we are not. We are people of change. And in the midst of these changes, God is being made known to us anew each day.

As I think back to the story of Pinocchio, it occurs to me that through the course of the story Pinocchio’s master and creator becomes his father. The creator and the created emerge from the transition in a new and intimate and deeper relationship than they had previously imagined possible.

May it be so with us. May all of the changes and chances of our own lives bring us into deeper, closer, and more intimate relationships with one another and with God. Amen.

2 comments:

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

A brave, bold proclamation of the Gospel, Jon. You tell part of your story, part of the church's story and part of the story of Jesus. Just as it should be. Welcome to the transition of your ministry, Pinocchio! Just remember what happens if you don't tell the truth.

Jon M. Richardson said...

:) Thanks, Elizabeth. Good word play :)