This video is making the rounds, and should seem familiar to anyone who has ever preached a “Saturday night special.”
I don’t preach again until February 15, but I’m starting to work on it now. And I love those lectionary texts.
This video is making the rounds, and should seem familiar to anyone who has ever preached a “Saturday night special.”
I don’t preach again until February 15, but I’m starting to work on it now. And I love those lectionary texts.
Internet Archive has a tool that searches news broadcasts back to 2009, but since it’s fairly new, you may not have heard about it. Lots of uses, but I’m thinking particularly of those preachers who heard of, or were told of, a news segment but then don’t have access to it.
I thought a demonstration was in order, but so many of the searches were old or sad (funerals, vigils) that when I came across this 2014 Fox News segment with a Unitarian Universalist named John “Mac” McNichol, who is a living kidney donor, I knew I had to share it.
I was Googling for a set of 1939 orders of service from the Universalist National Memorial Church — where I was once minister and now, after a long break, am now a member — and found Sixteenth Street Architecture, a fine architectural survey of Washington, D.C. “avenue of churches” from just north of the White House to just south of Columbia Road, thus missing All Souls Unitarian, but capturing the recently-demolished brutalist Third Church of Christ, Scientist. (I blogged about it a few years ago.)
The section on UNMC is detailed and valuable, and includes photos of the construction.
There is a practical take-away from this historical episode; keep reading.
Abigail and John Adams, the departing ambassador to Great Britain, and John Murray, the Universalist minister, sailed together back to America on the same vessel, the Lucretia, in the spring of 1788. Unitarian Universalists today recall Abigail Adams’s recollection of Murray’s preaching, as recorded in her journal.
This is Sunday 27 April. Mr. Murry preachd us a Sermon. The Sailors made them-selves clean and were admitted into the Cabbin, attended with great decency to His discourse from these words, “Thou shalt not take the Name of the Lord thy God in vain, for the Lord will not hold him Guiltless that taketh His Name in vain.” He preachd without Notes and in the same Stile which all the Clergymen I ever heard make use of who practise this method, a sort of familiar talking without any kind of dignity yet perhaps better calculated to do good to such an audience, than a more polishd or elegant Stile, but in general I cannot approve of this method. I like to hear a discourse that would read well. If I live to return to America, how much shall I regreet the loss of good Dr. Prices Sermons. They were always a delightfull entertainment to me. I revered the Character and Loved the Man. Tho far from being an orator, his words came from the Heart and reached the Heart. So Humble, so diffident, so liberal and Benevolent a Character does honour to that Religion which he both professes and practises.
We usually think little of the Dr. Price in this passage, the Unitarian minister, Richard Price. At that time, he preached to the now-defunct Gravel Pit Chapel, but had previously preached to extant Newington Green congregation. He was followed at the Gravel Pit Chapel by Joseph Priestley, and was celebrated in his own right.
So we have two preaching forbears in this passage, but they have very different preaching styles, each with their own appeals. I suppose I’m more like Murray, feeling that the physicality of preaching can be harmed by the close preaching from a manuscript.
I do use a manuscript, but I use it as a preparation of what I plan to say, including any quotations I need and to keep me from failing if I freeze. I also include notes on how to preach the sections of the sermon. In short, if you read what I wrote, it would not be what you hear, and certainly not be “a discourse that would read well.”
And I doubt I’m alone.
The takeaway? I hate converting my eccentric preaching notes into a printed article. While often requested, it’s really a different art and a different work. At best, I might create an impression of the sermon that reads well. But it takes time; it’s not a matter of reformatting a word processor document.
Please consider that before making such a request of your minister. That time is probably better spent in other ways, or, at least allow funds in the church budget for a transcriptionist and a proper editor.
So, I’ll be preaching at Universalist National Memorial Church (UNMC) on September 21, and since I don’t preach much these days, I figured I had better start getting some words down now or else I’ll never be ready. Be prepared to see non-sequitur blog posts that link obliquely to that sermon until then; I do sometimes use this blog as a commonplace.
Since, wherever possible, I used the appointed readings from the Revised Common Lectionary (RCL), I figure I’ll start there. It’s not because they’re inherently magical, but the wide selection gets me out of my comfort zone, deposits me in narrative and releases me from that terrible problem: choosing what pearl of wisdom to preach on. Also, the Consultation on Common Texts, which produced the RCL, is one of the few places where Unitarian Universalist Christians are welcomed ecumenically, so I want to support that.
Now, the texts themselves. UNMC typically has two texts read, and the RLC appoints three, including a variant Old Testament lesson, both of which have their own psalm. So I’ll pick two of five options. (I don’t preach out of psalms as much as I once did.)
September 21, 2014 is the fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost, or in some traditions known as Proper 20. (I’m not a fan of the numbered proper custom, but that’s how you’ll find resources, so better to cite it.) Here are all the texts.
Having reviewed them before, I decided on the main (or “continuous”) Old Testament reading, rather than the alternative “thematic” text, which I’ll use in concert with the Gospel.
That gives me
Not sure which will be the main preaching text yet, but I may drop hints soon enough.
It was a good General Assembly, but for (me, anyway) the soft relationships defy programming. Trust and relationship building, arts of the ministry, stories that shape identity. Evidence about strength and weakness, and a willingness to address both. There was a spirit, and I don’t want to crush it with explanation. It was so good that I didn’t finish this thought on-site!
So, what’s the takeaway? Unclear. Perhaps we can experiment by spinning up some projects. Experimentation is also in the air. I mentioned Faithify for those that need funding, but sometimes there’s an itch that needs scratching at no cost than the doing.
I was lunching with a couple of colleagues in Christian churches who preach from the Revised Common Lectionary. We identified a need to share notes: ideas, themes, resources. Something simple.
Is this something you could use? Be interested in participating in? If so, please say so in the comments.
Happy Monday morning! An open post. Feel free to vent (or confess) and I’ll allow anonymous comments for this entry.
What preaching clichés annoy you the most?
Following up on the “Fifty Shades of Unitarian” post, here are the “The Unitarian faith set forth in fifty Unitarian hymns” affirmations or platforms: the faith each hymn supposedly upholds. And matching biblical passage, Conveniently, it plots out almost a year’s worth of sermons, too. (Or at least I can be forgiven what some preachers surely must have thought in 1914.) But if you do preach these, I offer no guarantee that your congregation will like them all. A few are worthy of salvage, but then again I’m a Universalist without a preaching ministry, so take that as you will.
Unitarians Worship The God Who Is Revealed In The Heavens Above And On The Earth Beneath,Lord of all being throned afar,Psalm 19: 1,,Oliver Wendell Holmes
Unitarians Affirm The Immediate And Constant Presence Of God,Thou Life within my life than self more near,Deuteronomy 33: 27,Psalm 90: 1,Eliza Scudder
Unitarians Affirm The Encompassing And Sustaining Guidance Of God,Whither midst falling dew,Isaiah 26: 3,,William Cullen Bryant
Unitarians Affirm The Unfailing Goodness And Mercy Of God,”Eternal One, thou living God”,Psalm 103: 17,,Samuel Longfellow
Unitarians Affirm The Continuous And Inexhaustible Revelation Of God To Men,From age to age how grandly rise,Revelation 21: 3,,Frederick Lucian Hosmer
Unitarians Affirm The Timeless And Boundless Revelation Of God To Men,Light of ages and of nations,Wisdom of Solomon 7: 27,,Samuel Longfellow
Unitarians Affirm The Revelation Of God In The Divine Order Of The World And In The Daily Faithfulness Of Men,We pray no more made lowly wise,Luke 27: 21,,Frederick Lucian Hosmer
Unitarians Find A Revelation Of God In Nature,Mysterious Presence source of all,Psalm 104: 24,,Seth Curtis Beach
Unitarians Find A Revelation Of God In The Consciences And Hearts Of Men,O Thou whose Spirit witness bears; Within our spirits free,Romans 8: 16,,Frederick Lucian Hosmer
Unitarians Affirm The Revelation Of God In The Human Soul,The Lord is in his Holy Place,1 Corinthians 3: 16,,William Channing Gannett
Unitarians Affirm The Validity Of The Things That Are Not Seen,Father thy wonders do not singly stand,2 Corinthians 4: 18,,Jones Very
Unitarian Affirm That The Purpose Of Worship Is The Communion Of The Souls Of Men With God,Father in thy mysterious presence kneeling,Romans 8: 15,,Samuel Johnson
Unitarians Affirm That Prayer Is The Aspiration Uttered Or Unexpressed Of The Human Soul Toward God,Nearer my God to thee,Psalm 25: 1,,Sarah Flowers Adams
Unitarians Affirm The Reality Of The Inner Light That Lighteth Every Man That Cometh Into The World,Go not my soul in search of him Thou wilt find him there,John 1: 9,,Frederick Lucian Hosmer
Unitarians In Spite Of The Inscrutable Tragedies Of Life Dare To Believe And To Trust In The Perfect Wisdom And Love Of God,Thou Grace Divine encircling all,Psalm 23: 6,,Eliza Scudder
Unitarians Affirm The Limitless And Ceaseless Incarnation Of God In Men,O prophet souls of all the years,Acts 14: 17,,Frederick Lucian Hosmer
Unitarians Affirm That Inspiration Is The Unbroken Communication Of The Life Of God To The Open Mind And Reverent Heart Of Man,Life of ages richly poured,Matthew 10: 20,,Samuel Johnson
Unitarians Affirm That Salvation Is Not A Matter Of Belief But A Way Of Life,Christian rise and act thy creed,Matthew 7: 21,,Francis Albert Rollo Russell
Unitarians Affirm The Leadership Of Jesus Christ,O Thou great friend to all the sons of men,John 14: 6,,Theodore Parker
Unitarians Affirm The Humanity Of Jesus Christ,Our Father while our hearts unlearn,John 8: 40,,Oliver Wendell Holmes
Unitarians Affirm That The Permanent Influence Of Jesus Christ Is In Quickening The Spiritual Life Of Men,Immortal by their deed and word; Like light around them shed,John 8: 12,John 1: 4,Frederick Lucian Hosmer
Unitarians Affirm That The Spirit Of Christianity Is The Spirit Of Service,Thou Lord of Hosts whose guiding hand,Ephesians 6: 2,,Octavius Brooks Frothingham
Unitarians Believe That The Christian Life Is Not A Matter Of Name Or Form But A Habit Of Obedience To The Precepts Of Jesus,”The clashing of creeds, and the strife”,Luke 17: 20-21,,Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
Unitarians Affirm That Out Of Noble Memories Men May Build Their Finest Hopes,We come unto our fathers’ God ,Psalm 90: 1,,Thomas Hornblower Gill
Unitarians Cherish The Associations And Inspiring Traditions Of The Christian Life,O Light from age to age the same,Psalm 145: 4,,Frederick Lucian Hosmer
Unitarians Believe In Perpetuating The Sacred Usages And Institutions Of Religion,We love the venerable house Our fathers built to God,Genesis 28: 17,,Ralph Waldo Emerson
Unitarians Declare That The Rich Inspirations Of The Past Must Be Transmitted From Generation To Generation,Where ancient forests widely spread,Joel 1: 2-3,,Andrews Norton
Unitarians Value And Celebrate The Seasons Of The Christian Year (Christmas),Calm on the listening ear of night,Matthew 21: 9,,Edmund Hamilton Sears
Unitarians Value And Celebrate The Seasons Of The Christian Year (Christmas),It came upon the midnight clear,Matthew 21: 9,,Edmund Hamilton Sears
Unitarians Value And Celebrate The Seasons Of The Christian Year (Good Friday),In the cross of Christ I glory,John 12: 32,,John Bowering
Unitarians Value And Celebrate The Seasons Of The Christian Year (Easter),The Light along the ages Shines higher as it goes,Colossians 3: 1,,William George Tarrant
Unitarians Affirm That The Soul Of Man Is Prophetic Of A More Abundant Life,”Our God, our God thou shinest here”,Matthew 22: 32,Acts 17: 28,Thomas Hornblower Gill
Unitarians Affirm The Spiritual Idealism Which Is The Inspiration Of A Happy And Serviceable Life,O Lord of life thy kingdom is at hand,Galatians 5: 22,,Marion Franklin Ham
Unitarians Affirm That Religion Is The Consciousness Of The Presence Of God,O God whose presence glows in all,Micah 6: 8,,Nathaniel Langdon Frothingham
Unitarians Affirm The Brotherhood Of Man,”When thy heart, with joy o’erflowing”,1 John 4: 20,,Theodore Chickering Williams
Unitarians Desire To Establish On Earth The Divine Commonwealth Of Righteousness And Peace,Father let thy kingdom come,Romans 8: 19,,John Page Hopps
Unitarians Propose To Seek First Not Numbers Or Riches Or The Approval Of Majorities But The Kingdom Of God And His Righteousness,O Thou in lonely vigil led,Acts 24: 14,,Frederick Lucian Hosmer
Unitarians Affirm The Freedom Of The Truth And The Constant Renewal And Expansion Of Religious Thought And Life,O Life that maketh all things new,2 Corinthians 3: 17,,Samuel Longfellow
Unitarians Believe In The Promise Of The Coming Of The Kingdom Of God,”Thy kingdom come,—on bended knee”,Matthew 6: 33,,Frederick Lucian Hosmer
Unitarians Dedicate Themselves To The Cause Of Truth And Freedom,Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord,John 8: 32,Psalm 20: 5,Julia Ward Howe
Unitarians Welcome The Inspirations Of Patriotism,’O Beautiful my Country!’,Isaiah 54: 14,Isaiah 33: 6,Frederick Lucian Hosmer
Unitarians Believe In International Peace And Goodwill,God of the nations near and far,Matthew 5: 9,,John Haynes Holmes
Unitarians Believe In The Ultimate Triumph Of Right Over Wrong And Of Goodwill Over Fear And Hate,”Hear, hear, O ye nations, and hearing obey”,Luke 2: 14,,Frederick Lucian Hosmer
Unitarians Desire The Reunion Of Christendom In The Unity Of The Spirit Rather Than In Uniformity Of Belief,The ages one great minster seem,Romans 12: 5,,James Russell Lowell
Unitarians Believe In The Fellowship Of The Church Universal,One holy Church of God appears,1 Corinthians 12: 4-5,,Samuel Longfellow
Unitarians Believe That The Discipline Of Pain And Sorrow Is Part Of God’s Plan For The Upbuilding Of Character,My God I thank thee may no thought,Hebrews 12: 6,,Andrews Norton
Unitarians Believe That Through Sorrow And Bereavement The Soul May Be Purified And Faith Quickened,”O Love divine, that stooped to share”,Hebrews 12: 11,,Oliver Wendell Holmes
Unitarians Believe In The Immortal Life And In The Progress Of Mankind Onward And Upward Forever,I cannot think of them as dead,Psalm 23: 3-4,,Frederick Lucian Hosmer
Unitarians Believe In The Fellowship Of The Life Eternal,It singeth low in every heart,John 14: 2,,John White Chadwick
Unitarians Believe That The Life Of The Spirit Should Be A Progress From Good To Better From Mortality To Immortality,”This is the ship of pearl, which, poets feign”,Romans 8: 2,,Oliver Wendell Holmes
Even though you occasionally hear about Unitarian or Universalist preachers using a lectionary — indeed, a handful of churches have a well-established lectionary tradition — most UU preaching is topical, with the sermon and other observances hanging off of a holiday. If there is one to be had. Otherwise it’s Preacher’s Choice: which can be magical from a great pulpiteer, but too often the effect is uneven or eccentric.
In which case, it makes sense to rehabilitate the observances commended by the Universalist General Convention generations ago. In any case, it provides an excuse to put an idea on the calendar, and that can be one less blessed thing to think about.
Links refer to prior blog posts on the subject; for Japan Sunday, you might read ICUU or IARF. Presented here are set opportunities for new member welcome or recognition; religious education; child dedication or baptism; remembering the dead in our circles from the last year; the common origins and destiny of humanity; our foreign work; and (well) Christmas.
The notes I used when I preached at Universalist National Memorial Church on Rally Sunday, September 8, 2013.
Let me be clear, this is a new-year sermon.
You may hear another new year’s sermon in January, or at the beginning of Advent, but today is Rally Sunday and in our corner of Protestantism, it’s when the churches come back to full activity. It coincides with the new school year – back when the schools opened after Labor Day.
It has distant echoes of successful summer work at the farm. A change like harvest; with mixed images to life and death.
Of course, it’s easy to take the metaphor too far, but there’s a value – even joy, even a blessing – in marking New Years. The world’s Jews have just observed Rosh Hashanah, for instance.
But a new year is also an implied threat. A new start means change, and as we know, not all change is good. Birthdays can remind us about loose skin and loose teeth and lost ideals.
This important fact cannot be understated. I’m happy in my marriage, work and home life, and I have a string of settled habits to prove it. There’s my favorite brand of tea, and a familiar path to work. I have a go-to place to order my clothes and shoes, when they need to be replaced. My husband Jonathan and I have the same basic order at our favorite Sichuan restaurant; being regulars, the waitress anticipates our order.
This might sound like boring routine to some of you, and perhaps it is. But stability allows for growth, contentment and happiness. I don’t have to think about some things that don’t need to be thought about. What can be wrong with that?
And I’m not averse to a risk, not afraid of a bit of experimentation – but I have standards for acceptable risk, and don’t stray from them. I used to think I was adventuresome, but that’s simply not true, and I’m OK with that.
I’m happy. Crises are few, resources are sufficient and I’ve lived long enough to know – or to think I know – what’s important and what’s not.
Not to brag, but to simply recognize (with a dose of thanksgiving) that I think my life is going pretty well right now, and perhaps I shouldn’t say any more. I don’t want to press my luck with you. I only want to set a scene.
Perhaps you, too, feel this way about your life. Or you did at one time.
If people live in an accustomed equilibrium, and it has its own rewards you can see why change need to prove its worth. It can even be a threat. After all, a comfortable, convenient seasons of life can be very short, and remembering harder times can wake them still feel very fragile.
Looking back, through my mind’s eye, to some of the people I’ve known – some still with us and some now gone – and I know they would have given anything for ordinary, boring, stable, peaceful happiness.
And perhaps that’s your story now because there too much – well, too much life going on right now.
Revolutionaries in every age know that, if you want to change the government, you need to appeal to those who have the most to grain in the new regime.
And if the current situation is really bad, anything will seem better. Even the unthinkably costly – one’s freedom, one’s home, one’s life — has the merit of being different than what exists now.
But it needn’t go that far. Like other important parts of our life — being born, falling in love, experiencing loss, approaching death – coping with the changes of life welcomes a theological response. And finding a healthy theological response in one of the reason’s this church exists.
Which brings us to that plain and obvious truth: Change is inevitable.
Whether desired or not, change is inevitable.
It comes for individuals and communities alike. We respond to changes outside us, and our responses change how we act. Even refusing to change makes us change.
The rent goes up: we move or economize, for instance. Family members get sick: we change our plans and routine to accommodate then. Government policy shifts: we rally supporters or re-frame further action.
This new year, in the autumn, is less about the endless possibilities of new life, and more about gathering harvests and taking stock of what we have done, and how far we have gone. How far we have gone, and what we hope to do or be, and how much time and energy we may have to accomplish it.
And for many of us who live in Washington, whose lives connect and revolve around issues of public policy, we know all-too-well that the product of our life work can be eroded or even swept away by powers and circumstances we cannot control, and may not even understand.
Everything that’s born must some day die. Willful passivity is no escape.
But we do have resources to make the best of it? And what about those challenges from scripture?
These are some of the images that speak to us from scripture. The two big images that pop out of the lessons today are (first) that God is like a potter who can choose to work on us, or discard the work put into us, and (second) that the basis of relationship an ideal follower of Jesus should have is as a student – “disciple” literally means “student” – who disowns family.
If you want to empty a church, start with this passage from the Gospel of Luke. In the beginning of the passage, Jesus was speaking to “large crowds” – and not like a celebrity motivational speaker. The gospel says these large crowds traveled with him. They were a community, and Jesus’ threatening message was about the basis and limits of that community.
But we hear these words differently than the first hearers would. The potter’s transforming art surely was more like we’d see an architect or engineer today. And the requirements of family unit then must have made Jesus’ demands particularly threatening, perhaps as a test or lesson.
Let’s consider the part of today’s gospel reading that causes the most heartburn:
Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple.
But the direct way’s not how I think that should be read. It certainly isn’t the way it has been lived among faithful Christians for millenia. So, what do we do?
The approach to scripture in the liberal churches requires us to inquire broadly, even using our imagination and personal experience. Sometimes, we need to look at scripture sideways. If we don’t or won’t approach scripture broadly, it’s too easy to treat the Bible as a cookbook for lunatics – easy to discard as irrelevant – and we’d all be poorer for that.
Let’s take a slightly less alarming line from the same passage:
So therefore, none of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions.
Of course, some people have given up all their possessions, retired from the world and followed Christ. Or they gave up all and dedicated themselves to lives of perfect service. The early ascetics in the desert come to mind in the first case; Mother Theresa, say, in the second.
But they are so far in the minority that if these alone are Christian than there are nearly none in the world. (Some would agree with that assessment.)
In any case, we can change what acceptable behavior means. Slavery was once accepted; now it’s viewed with horror. The same goes for infanticide. Growing, if imperfect consensus, worldwide is for cooperative action in international conflict, democratic participation and accountability in government and access to basic education. And if the realization of these goals seems laughably far off, think about the state of affairs 50 years ago. Or 500 years. Or 5,000 years. The hard work is changing behavior in a way that means more blessing for more people.
I say this to remind us that we do not live in the same moral worlds that Jeremiah or Jesus lived in. I think we’re in a bigger, and in many ways better world than then.
Jeremiah’s ministry ended 2,600 years ago; Jesus’s about 2,000.
We do not just live in the same world as they do. Times changed.
For people new to Universalism, know that the affirmation of faith we read together a few minutes ago descends from one more than 200 year ago – I’ll link to it in the web version of this sermon, to be found later this week at the church website: universalist.org.
It ended on this high note:
“holiness and true happiness are inseparably connected, and… believers ought to be careful to maintain order and practice good works; for these things are good and profitable unto men.”
Holiness is a closeness and likeness to God, perfected in our behavior. We cannot be God, but we can can respond to life in God-imagining ways, and enjoy the true happiness that results from it. We can be wise and constant, a source of blessing, seeking and active. And minding God’s arc of time: expectant yet patient.
Jeremiah’s parable of the potter and Jesus’ call to follow him are both challenges – and not subtle challenges – that this closeness and likeness to God requires definitive and deliberate action.
Now, how do we put this into practice?
For one thing, we rely on other people to gauge what’s important and valuable – sometimes as a good example, sometimes bad.
The collective experience informs our personal experience, and – and this is a hallmark of the liberal church — our personal experiences – plural – inform our collective experience. The flow of influence is both ways.
The first response to change – wanted or not – is adaptability.
Adaptability for each of us personally. Adaptability in our households and family life. Adaptability in this church. Adaptability in this city and the nation. Together, this will make the world better than if we let the ages wash over us, helplessly.
That means looking to the various specialties we know in other parts of our lives – organizing, project management, communication, art, business, medicine, and others – with what they have to teach, not only how we run our church but about how we identify what’s important.
Another response is expressing what we believe in a plain, direct and lively way. This seems pretty basic, but like any developed culture, high-level theology has a specialized and often very technical language that can hide and confuse understanding instead of bringing clearer insight. If we talk about God, if we talk about our relationships, if we talk about our worship, if we talk about our lives, if we talk about our fears in a specialized language, it’s easy to believe that the answers we develop here are profoundly different than found in other
parts of our lives.
Speaking clearly and meaningfully about God and Jesus, human nature, the world and the future, sin, community and the future is longhand for the work of theology. It’s not short, but it’s something each of us can understand.
And we can use this voice as a tool for better theological life.
As I said at the start, I hate change, but that itself may change. A new day will come – a new day always comes – and we need to be ready for it.
Faithful and eager, prepared and awake.
Ready to be rallied for flexible and practical and public expressions of how faith should be lived. Join me, join me this Rally Sunday.