“What the heart loves, the will chooses, and the mind justifies.”

Clearly Cranmer was among the happiest of the reformers...

Clearly Cranmer was among the happiest of the reformers...

Thomas Cranmer was the Archbishop of Canterbury during Henry the VIII's reign. He saw a lot of craziness from the king of his time but he also saw a lot of craziness from the schism in the Church that has come to be called the "Reformation." 

Ever a student of his surroundings, Cranmer noted something about the human condition that recent Psychology and Behavioral Economics has come to ratify: “What the heart loves, the will chooses, and the mind justifies.”

As products of the "enlightenment" we like to think that we make rational decisions and that our decisions are guided by reason and understanding the facts of the matter. We hang our hat on the idea that if we could just get the other side to see the facts and use their reason, they too would see as we see. If only liberals could see the silliness of their desire for a greater national government! If only conservatives could see the irrationality of their position!

Cranmer understood that our mind is not doing the choosing. It is our heart and our gut. We use our mind to only justify our already desired choice. Much of our desire to "learn the issues" is the work to discover the "flaw" in the others position and to reinforce our previously held position. Open your heart and you will see where your decisions will take you. Perhaps more importantly, look at the heart of another and see that they too are just like you, just trying to choose and justify the longing of their heart.

Go easy on one another. 

Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Thomas_...

Easter Echos Genesis? Sure. But, Don't Overlook Exodus Echos.

It is a common (and frankly very good) on Easter Sunday to explore the echos of a new creation being born with the raising of Jesus Christ (here is a great sermon by my co-pastor on this very idea. Here is another sermon by a friend on this idea). The Gospel of John has many callbacks to the book of Genesis found in the Resurrection story. Here are a few of the more obvious: 

  • It was the first day of the week (in the beginning)
  • It was still dark (the light had not come yet)
  • Jesus and Mary (man and woman) are in a garden
  • Jesus is seen as a gardener (God as creator)

All of this, and much more in the story, points to the resurrection of Jesus marking the beginning of a new creation. If we are in a place where we long for a fresh start, a new beginning and a rebirth or renewal, then Easter as a new creation is Good News. 

I would take a moment to point out that Genesis is not the only book that the Resurrection story in the Gospel of John echos. Looking at the same story, but through the eyes of Exodus, we can see Easter as a new liberation. Here are some (possible) overt connections:

  • The whole story begins with the Passover feast (perhaps the most obvious connection)
  • At the tomb, there are two angels, one at the head and one at the foot, of where Jesus was laid (similar to the arc of the covenant with two angels forming the seat of God)
  • People bow down to enter the tomb (the High Priest would bow prior to entering the Holy of Holies)
  • There was a thick curtain that marked off the Holy of Holies from the rest of the sanctuary space (not unlike a tome with a rock placed in front of it)

Of course there are the other connections of Jesus to Moses in other parts of the Gospel, but none more world changing than the connection that, like Moses, Jesus liberates us. While the story of Moses highlights the liberation from slavery, the story of Jesus highlights the liberation from slavery to sin and death.

Yes, the echos of Genesis are present and strong in the Easter story, but don't overlook the Exodus echos. Don't overlook the Good News that God is not only doing a "new thing" but is also working to liberate us from the "old thing". It is very difficult to live in the new when we hold onto the old (thus Jesus tells Mary not to hold onto him in the Easter story). 

What Great Preachers Do

Great preachers not only tie together the head and the heart, but they also do two additional things that vault them to greatness. Most preachers have glimpses of Great, but very few can sustain Greatness for longer than a sermon or two. Great preaching is not elusive but Great preachers take the time to develop skills in two areas.

First, Great preachers do not give sermons -- they deliver them. The preacher who is giving a sermon is one who is prepared and well-spoken. The preacher who gives a sermon is one who even thinks about what the congregation needs to hear while prayerfully attuning to the work of the Holy Spirit. The difference in giving a sermon and delivering a sermon is all in how the preacher understands the sermon. Ask anyone who has ever delivered a baby into the world -- the baby is a living thing that has its own movements and actions that are outside the control of anyone else. Anyone who gives a sermon does not understand the sermon is alive and has breath. Delivering a sermon is being keenly aware and flexible enough to move with the sermon as it develops in the moment.

One of the most commonly known Great preachers was Martin Luther King. King knew that he was not giving a sermon but delivering one, which explains why he changed course in the sermon after hearing the voice of Mahalia Jackson shout out, "Tell them about the dream, Martin!" At that point, King's famous sermon began to live in the hearts of all who have heard it. It may be semantics, but there is a very real difference in delivering and giving a sermon, Great preachers know that.

The second thing that Great preachers do (that most of us do not take the time to develop) is something that every stand up comic or author has to have in order to "make it": a well-developed point-of-view (POV). Legendary comic Lenny Bruce had the "how far can we push the First Amendment" POV. The not-as-legendary-but still-okay comic Jeff Foxworthy has the "redneck" point of view. While the greatness of Maria Bamford has the "neurotic eccentric" POV down pat. 

Great preachers have a POV: Barbara Brown Taylor has the "sacred in the ordinary" POV. Adam Hamilton has the "speaking to new and nominal Christian group" POV. Fred Craddock has the "story-telling" POV, while MLK Jr. had the POV of "racial and economic justice." 

Being able to unite the head and the heart, and deliver sermons from a clear and consistent POV, is what moves good preachers into becoming great preachers. 

Teachers, Inspirers, and Great Preachers

Like any other person who has a craft they work to refine, I think a lot about the craft of preaching. I refuse to believe there are "bad" preachers. I believe that even the most difficult preacher to listen to has within them the Divine spark (because all humans do) and I can listen for that spark. 

While I do not think there are bad preachers, I do think there are three types of preachers which I label: Teachers, Inspirers, and Greats. 

Teachers are those preachers who are primarily interested in teaching. This style of preaching is gratifying because when you leave, you feel like you have expanded knowledge. Teachers include Seminary students and others who are learning new things they are excited about. Teachers also include those who find learning personally enriching. Teachers are good preachers. I am a teacher about half of the time. However, teachers can also be dry in content or, more often, operating under the Greek myth that knowledge leads to enlightenment. I learn a lot from watching the Food Network, but I am not any closer to being a chef. Knowledge of Jesus does not equate into being Christ-like. 

The Inspirers are preachers primarily interested in inspiring you to action. This style of preaching is gratifying because when you leave you feel pumped up or on a "spiritual high". Inspirers include those who are feel strongly that "faith without works is dead" and find being the hands of Christ personally enriching. Inspirers are good preachers. I am an Inspirer the other half of the time. However, Inspirers can be story-heavy and theologically light. Inspirers also can be overt with nostalgia or fear-mongering to manipulate action. Getting your "Jesus fix" each Sunday is often a nice way of being addicted to the evocative aspects of worship.

So of course the Great preachers interweave the head (Teacher) and the heart (Inspirer). This is more than obvious at this point. However Great preachers do two other things which are by far the most difficult things to do. The next post will expand on what the Great preachers do.