Read a book while it is being written, write a sermon as it is preached

Sylvia Hartmann is an author who is writing a book. Not a big deal, loads of people write books.

But Harrmann is using Google Docs to write her latest book, The Dragon Lords. Which means that everyone who clicks on her link to the manuscript - found here - at a certain time of day will be able to see her literally type each letter and watch the story unfold before your eyes.

You will be able to read a book as it is written.

What a great idea and what a great way to read/encounter a book.

To me this is an example, in part, of what it means to have a dialogue sermon.

In a dialogical sermon, there is a primary focus for the conversation and the preacher functions like a guide. As the focus is presented then people are asked to contribute to the creation of the sermon as it is being preached. Where most people will see a conversation others, with the eyes of Gospel, will see a sermon being preached.

For me, the metaphor of a journey does not "work" well to describe the spiritual life, but it does work well for describing dialogical sermons.

The preacher is the guide who asks the community to walk with them for a while. As the community walks together, people will notice that there are other paths to walk down. Through the conversation people may walk down paths and even run along rabbit trails. This can look or feel messy or even as though we are "not going anywhere". The guide has faith that the community will discover together where God is calling them to walk.

Other than helping the community move along the path(s) of conversation, the guild is also the one who is trained to see other paths and trails that the community has missed. Because of the guide's training and education and experience, the community trusts the guide will show them things they otherwise would have missed. (This is why sermon preparation for a dialogue sermon can be much more rigorous than a traditional monologue sermon, because you have to be on the look out for the non-obvious of you will not be able to point the overlooked trails out.)

When an author invites people to read a book as it is written it can be a scary thing for the author because of the level of vulnerability the author puts herself in. Hartmann is allowing many people to see her process, her edits, her mistakes and even provide feedback and input into the creation of the story. She is open to what the community has to say and is able to discover what the community's gems are and integrate them into the story.

Frankly, if that is not a way to do a sermon, then I don't know what a sermon in a community would look like.

We do not have time to rush

There is a difference between being rushed and being urgent. but we sometimes think they are the same thing.

The word, “rush” comes from a Old French word ruser

meaning “to dodge”. When we are in a rush we bounce all over the place. We move from 

breakfast to class to home in order to grab that thing you left behind to work to meetings to volunteering to practice to dropping off the kids to the gas station to make that phone call to picking up the kids to medical exams to back to dinner to bed to sleep. And in all our bouncing we are dodging all the places where Christ calls us to be.

The thing about the act of dodging is that to dodge means you are reacting. Like in the game dodgeball. You do not dodge until someone has thrown the ball. Dodgeball is a game of dodging and reacting.

How many of us live our lives dodging and reacting?

The word urgency comes from Latin and it means to press or push forward. Notice that to press forward means you are not jumping all over the place. To move forward means you are moving in a specific direction with the intent to press on in that direction. To move forward means that you can handle things that come up but they do not deter you from your mission. When Jesus stopped to heal the bleeding woman (Mark 5), the little girl died, but Jesus continued to press forward and healed the little girl.

You can tell when you read the gospel Jesus is moving with urgency. Jesus is clear that he is going to Jerusalem. Jesus is clear that he will be killed, which is why he is able to predict his death three different times. Jesus knows the direction he is moving and he moves with a sense of urgency.

Jesus does not dodge a question. He does not dodge authorities. He does not dodge an opportunity to help those in need. He does not dodge Pilate. He does not dodge the mob sent to get him. He does not dodge his betrayer. He does not dodge the cross. He does not dodge death. No!

This is a very large reason I am a follower of Jesus Christ. Christ brings clear direction in a world that is bouncing all around. Jesus teaches a way of life that is filled with purpose. Christ allows us to say no to certain things without guilt because together we are moving in a specific direction. Jesus empowers us to no longer dodge the difficulties of life but to confront them. Being a follower of Christ is to live so urgently that there is no time to rush.

Called to go sermon

Generally, creating a manuscript for a sermon is not something that I am used to. But due to a number of efforts to try to become a better speaker and writer and preacher and teacher, I am working on the discipline of manuscripts. Below is a manuscript that still has a lot to be desired. 

Today we begin a four part sermon series about God’s call in our lives. We will take four stories from Scripture that tell of someone receiving a call. We will then explore how that call story from so long ago impacts our lives. This week we will explore the call of Moses and how we all are called to go. Next week we will explore the call of the disciples and how we are called to follow. The following week we will explore the call of Abram and how we are called to be a blessing and the last week of the month will explore how we are called to be blessed by looking at the call story of Mary the mother of Jesus.

As we begin this series might we turn to God in prayer for guidance and illumination as we encounter the Scriptures.

Lord open our hearts and minds by the power of your Holy Spirit, that as the Scriptures are read and your Word proclaimed, we may hear with joy what you say to us today. May our response bring glory and honor to you. Amen.

Exodus 3:10-14

10 So come, I will send you to Pharaoh to bring my people, the Israelites, out of Egypt.’ 11 But Moses said to God, ‘Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh, and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?’ 12 He said, ‘I will be with you; and this shall be the sign for you that it is I who sent you: when you have brought the people out of Egypt, you shall worship God on this mountain.’
13 But Moses said to God, ‘If I come to the Israelites and say to them, “The God of your ancestors has sent me to you”, and they ask me, “What is his name?” what shall I say to them?’ 14 God said to Moses, ‘I am who I am.’ He said further, ‘Thus you shall say to the Israelites, “I am has sent me to you.”’

Moses asks God, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh?”

Indeed! Who is Moses? He is just a guy who got lost in a mountain looking for a sheep and stumbled onto a burning bush and kicked off his sandals.

Oh no he is not. In case you and apparently even Moses forgot, Moses is the adopted son of a former Pharaoh who was raised by the court of Pharaoh after being saved from the river by the daughter of Pharaoh.

Who is he to go to Pharaoh? Who is he not to go to Pharaoh? He is among the few people in the known world who could actually go and request an audience with Pharaoh.

Because of his life, knowledge, access and position Moses might have been the only person at that time who could have gone to Pharaoh. And perhaps it was because of all this that God called Moses to go to Pharaoh.

Perhaps one could argue that Moses was called because he was the only one who could do it.

Moses was the only one who was equipped with the gifts and graces and talents to go to Pharaoh for this task. Moses did not have an apprentice or an understudy. As far as we can see in the story, Moses was the only option God had. There was no plan B.

Later in Exodus, 4:13, Moses asks God to send someone else. But there is no one else that can do what Moses can do. There is no one else. This might explain why in the very next verse it says “the anger of the Lord was kindled against Moses.” God had not plan B. It was Moses who would lead the people or the people would remain enslaved and the status quo would be unaltered.

If we were to skip ahead to the moment when Jesus is ascending and he calls the disciples to go into the world proclaiming the Gospel, Jesus did not have a plan B. There were not some other disciples just waiting in case the original group did not respond to the call. No, either these disciples were going to spread the Good News of Jesus Christ or the Good News would not be spread.

Either Moses will lead the people or the people will not be lead out of slavery.

There was no plan B.

When we are called by God to go, friends we must understand that there is no plan B. Either we go, or the status quo is unchanged.

There have been many painters in the world who have painted any number of pictures and images. But the fact of the matter is there is only one Starry Night. (Show image on screen). Vincent Van Gogh was the only one with the exact gifts, graces and talents to paint this. Starry Night was either going to be painted by Van Gogh or it was not going to be painted at all. Fortunately for us, Van Gogh heeded the call and painted.

We ask little children what they want to be when they grow up. Recently Gavin Cox, one of our children, told me that when he grows up he wants to be a ninja. And we smile at this answer, but perhaps we ought to be laughing at the question.

What do you want to be when you grow up is not really a question that Christianity asks. In fact in the early 15th century, Christians actually made up a word in order to express a better question. Rather than asking children what do you want to be when you grow up, Christians would ask,  (quod est vocatione) “what is your vocation?” The word ‘vocation’ comes from the Latin vocatio which means - a call.

Christians recognize that we are called by God to do something for Kingdom of God not just personal fulfillment. We understand that people should not have jobs but that people should live into their calling. Moses had the job of a shepherd but his calling, his vocation, was to lead people from slavery. You and I may have jobs but we also have a calling. Jobs can be fulfilled by any number of people, but callings are only fulfilled by the one who is called.

Christian Theologian Frederick Buechner (Beek-ner) said that our vocation is where our greatest joy meets the world’s greatest need.

So I ask you, what is your vocation?
Where is God calling you to go?
Where is God calling Saginaw UMC to go?

May we be like Moses, and come to embody our vocation from God; to go into the world and live faithful lives living out our calling. May we be like Moses who had the courage to risk his job in order to seek his calling. May we come to embrace the reality that God has a call on our lives, that you are gifted and graced to live into that calling, that no one else in the world will be able to respond to God’s call but you, and may you come to discover there is no plan B.

We are God’s plan.

Children's Sermons revisited

A few weeks ago I posted about an idea to shift the focus of children's sermons.

This is still a work in progress (you may see there are still five slots open for suggestions and modifications). I have made a public google calendar with the different focus for each children's sermon.

Here is the html link.
And, below is the calendar just embedded into this blog post.

I would love to hear comments you might have. Is there something you would add? Is there any thing you would remove or change? (Please note that on the first Sundays of each month we have communion and so we do not have children's sermons on those dates.)