Saturday, September 29, 2012

Sermon Conundrums

I'll be damned if I know what to do about these things.

We had a famous preacher at our Presybtery worship service this afternoon.  He preached what was, I think, an outstanding sermon on the Beatitudes.  I'm not entirely sure, because I missed a lot of it.

Because . . . 

He started out with an illustration involving a young man who had come to see him after a lecture one day, ostensibly to ask a question about the material.  A young man whose real question he didn't see or hear.  A young man who a few minutes later went up to the top of the building and jumped off.  He was the last person to talk with that young man.

I am the mother of that young man, or one like him; the mother who didn't hear or see. 

I can't say that I feel that I am one of those who mourn who are blessed, although I am certainly one of those who mourn.

I can't say that I feel that I am one of those who are the blessed poor in spirit as a consequence of reaching out to save other lives which might easily have been lost because of the one that was, although I have poured my spirit out and all over the place to care for those others.

I can tell you that when I ponder these things, I feel as if God inhabits some other galaxy, long ago and far away, and not this one.

I don't know what you do about these sermons.  I mean, I do know: Nothing.  I've heard at least one that was somewhat similar and, as today, I was stuck in a visible locale in the church, so there was nothing to do but grip the armrest and hope it would end quick.

It makes me really afraid to preach, as I wonder when I am the unwitting spear thrower.


  1. OMG - me too. I wonder that. And apparently I did throw a spear recently, but thats a conversation for another time. I'm sorry this happened. Any possibility of sharing some of your thoughts and experiences with this preacher? Or would it be too hard? Not worth it? I certainly wish that the couple I offended had been able to tell me what it was that I said....

    1. I'm not offended -- I'm just observing that preaching and listening to sermons is risky in terms of the potential for hurtful results. I can think of four sermons in the last four years that, had I not been a pastor or wanna be, I would not have gone back to church. And these days, I can see how easy it is to inflict such damage. I'll get over it, but will others when I, too, make innocent statements without ever guessing the consequences?

  2. I too have often pondered this same thing with illustrations or with theology which challenges foundational beliefs.

  3. Excellent point on theology -- when do our attempts to educate mess with people's cherished traditions and create more harm than good?

  4. I'm wincing and gripping the arm of the pew with you.

    I hang onto to Ignatius, and try to give the benefit of the doubt and pray that the same is extended to me in both these moments where we inadvertently trod on the wounds of others, or shine a light in someone's eyes that blinds rather than enlightens.

    And I've done it for sure. The time I used an example drawn from forensic chemistry -- a murder case -- in a class where one of my student's fathers had recently been murdered remains stuck in my brain.

    1. Yeah, that would be one.

      I know we can't know. And today I am much better able to focus on the rest of what was said over both Friday and Saturday. But, wow -- how quickly the wounds are re-opened.

  5. Robin, in your response to Michelle you said "how quickly the wounds are re-opened". This speaks to my own life as I have found this in my circumstance which is very different from yours but I'm surprised at times by the depth of my pain very suddenly. I am so sorry that you had to go through this.

  6. This is such an interesting dialogue, fraught as it is with sensitive issues. But if we can't discuss sensitive things - with love and compassion - here on your blog, Robin, where in the world can we do that?

    My perspective on this is only slightly different, and I say it with a deep connection to your feelings as well. Many are the days I have sat in the congregation and gripped my knees or elbows as I felt myself slashed by words.

    But what if we are called to speak the difficult or the challenging? Not the hurtful and spiteful, I'm not talking about that. I don't think of that as God's way (not in my universe of God)...but as Purple says about challenging foundational beliefs. What do we do when after careful scrutiny, reflection and spiritual direction we know that the next few steps are, indeed, going to challenge someone's foundational belief and that it is highly likely that there will be pain?

    For me there is a consciousness that I must tread very softly, and very very slowly. I think I also try to keep the interactions as private as possible. I don't know about public speeches (sermons included) where one does these challenges. It does seem to leave people so very vulnerable and without a sense of support.

    Like Michelle, I think of Ignatius and the limited experience I have with the Exercises. There is a necessity, it seems, to be willing to wade into this. But with a love and compassion (or is it Love and Compassion?) that is absolutely vital to the process.

    "when I am the unwitting spear thrower" -- such an amazing image, I will be pondering this one for days, maybe weeks.