Monday, March 28, 2011

Preaching Before and After

Most of us have before and after experiences in our lives:  those experiences that mark a dramatic alteration in our perception of who we are, how the universe is, and who God is.  They seem to have to do with death, a lot of the time, and sometimes with conversion.  They are not necessary instantaneous, road-to-Damscus events, although sometimes they are and it's in the unfolding of them that we realize how much we have been changed.

I have had three such experiences:  the deaths of my mother and brother when I was seven, the year in which I made the Spiritual Exercises, and now the death of my son.

I've been doing a lot of supply preaching, meaning filling in where various churches have an occasional or regular need.  The biggest challenge in supply preaching lies in not knowing the congregation: who the people are and what their cares and concerns are, as individuals and as a community.  The second is that they don't know me; I'm not one of them, and so no shorthand applies.

In a couple of weeks I'm returning to a church close to home where, after several visits, I have made some connections. I'm thinking about preaching the Old Testament text, the "dry bones" passage from Ezekiel.

Two years ago, I was asked to read the Scriptures during my home church's service, and the dry bones vision was one one them.  I looked at it in horror and was about to pick up the phone to say that they would need to find someone else, when it rang; the church administrator was calling to say that they had made a mistake and that I would be reading something else.

Now those two years have passed, and I can both read it and preach on it.  I think.  Because this church and I know one another, the sermon may be more personal than anything with which I would usually be comfortable.

I'm pretty sure that Lazarus, the other main option, is still out of the question for me. But the dry bones; maybe there I have something to say.

A lot to ponder.

The hand of the Lord came upon me, and God brought me out by the spirit of the Lord and set me down in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones. God led me all around them; there were very many lying in the valley, and they were very dry. God said to me, “Mortal, can these bones live?” I answered, “O Lord God, you know.” Then God said to me, “Prophesy to these bones, and say to them: O dry bones, hear the word of the Lord. Thus says the Lord God to these bones: I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live. I will lay sinews on you, and will cause flesh to come upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and you shall live; and you shall know that I am the Lord.” So I prophesied as I had been commanded; and as I prophesied, suddenly there was a noise, a rattling, and the bones came together, bone to its bone. I looked, and there were sinews on them, and flesh had come upon them, and skin had covered them; but there was no breath in them. Then God said to me, “Prophesy to the breath, prophesy, mortal, and say to the breath: Thus says the Lord God: Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe upon these slain, that they may live.” I prophesied as God commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they lived, and stood on their feet, a vast multitude. 

Take that, O death with your sting.