Those Who Can’t Do… Preach

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It’s a funny thing we do, worship. It’s silly really. For an hour (or so) a week we go into a room full of stained glass and a giant cross and stand and sit and stand and sit in uncomfortable rows known as “pews”. Which I still to this day think sounds like a dirty word…

On the last day of UNCO15 East I was sitting in the back of the room behind a computer watching a room full of worship leaders worship collaboratively. I have always said that UNCO is some of my favorite worship I have ever experienced, but each time that has happened, I have been helping to lead the worship.

I was still “participating”, running the powerpoint, but I was reminded how strange and uncomfortable to sit through worship. I am always amazed when parishioners ask me “I don’t know how you do it up there”. The truth is, I don’t know how you do it. How do I stop from feeling uncomfortable? I “do” things. Worship especially. It’s uncomfortable, its vulnerable, it scary.

A friend who is a pastor said to me the other day that he had no interest in teaching people how to worship, if you’re in church you should already know. “I have no idea how to worship,” I retorted, “that’s why I lead it.”

I speak truth here. I often begin “prayers of the people” in worship with “Jesus taught us not only to pray for ourselves, but to pray for others.” I don’t know how to pray for myself, that’s why I pray for others.

There’s really not much more to it than that. I’m a pastor who doesn’t know how to worship or pray, that’s why I do it.

Because worship and prayer are hard. The faith thing? Those who can’t believe, pastor.

It’s too personal for me, this thing that is God, worship, faith. I have to “do something” to keep myself from becoming too open, too vulnerable, too moved. Too anything is bad. or is it?

I know a man who lived a tragic life, it was a heartbreaking story. A few of us knew it. He struggled. He was a single man in his 40’s that worshiped and found community in the church, we were his family. But still, in the midst of worship he sat by himself while everyone else sat with their families.

On Christmas Eve during Silent Night he would sob openly and loudly.

You can imagine the comments. This is everyone’s “favorite moment of the year”. This is “the most meaningful moment in all of worship” (pastor eye roll).

Sometimes he would sob alone, another year someone would wrap their arms around him, some of the people in the room “tolerated” it, others cried too, because his sorrow brought out their own. Others looked with empathy, but went about singing merrily.

Worship is uncomfortable, but it is so because (if we’re doing it right) you have permission to be exactly where you are in life at the moment you are experiencing it, to have permission to feel all the feels and think all the thinks. And you’re doing it in front of other people, in a stained glass room full of people.

If I don’t occupy myself in preaching, praying and logistics of worship, I would sob and weep openly.

Every pastor I know who has left church for one reason or another struggles with “attending” worship. Most parishioners I know couldn’t imagine “leading” on a weekly basis.

I need worship. My soul needs to worship. I need to sit and stand and sing and laugh when I say things like “Our scripture lesson this morning comes from the Gospel according to Mike.”

I need to celebrate wins with a community, I need to mourn my grief in public. I need to gather for an hour every week and pray for you, preach the Word of the Lord, administer the sacraments, and ask forgiveness on behalf of the world which is in so much pain.

Worship is terribly hard, if you’re doing it right. I’m not sure I am. And those who can’t do… preach.

Forgiveness and Reconciliation

Yesterday, through my great powers of manipulation, a small miracle, or perhaps just dumb luck, I somehow convinced our Director of Christian Education to preach on Rally Day (the day Sunday School returns). Because she is a people pleaser and cannot say no to me, (and because she somewhere must have a deep seeded need to be punished for something she did in a past life) Katie said yes. As if she didn’t have enough to do that day…(FYI- Katie is our Christian Educator, she is a Pastoral Counselor, and has the voice of an angel)

Anyway, Katie, a double PK (meaning both of her parents are ministers) did a beautiful job, really. And as she preached about forgiveness and reconciliation Using Matthew 18:15-20 she preached about how to be the church together, how to be communal. On one hand I felt proud of Katie, I felt happy for the congregation, and I admit, it was also nice to hear a word from our pulpit that is so similar to one I would have given, but as she preached, I felt myself being moved, being preached to, being “fed” by the word. (yes, “fed” is problematic for me, but it’s the only word I can come up with- hold on, I’ll get more coffee).

This is an interesting thing as a preacher. I preach to myself most often. It just happens sometimes intentionally, sometimes not. But I am preaching the word God is wanting me to hear. I often get comments on the way out the door like “You can stop talking directly to me now!” or “How did you know?” or “That was exactly what I needed to hear.” These are high compliments as a preacher, but what I really want to say is, “Yeah… that’s great, but that word the Spirit was bringing, it was for me too.”

But then Katie preached, and I heard the gospel in a new way, I asked her to send me the sermon, she did some good exegesis that I wanted to share:

In the Old Testament there is salach, which most of us would understand as pardoning or freeing from the constraints of guilt. Salach is the forgiveness that God offers as it is exclusively used in instances where God is the subject. Kipper or atonement is related to the journey from sin to forgiveness, again usually between a person or people and God. And then there’s nasa’, which is used in the context of expelling sin from the individual, usually by way of communal sacrifice.  Did we catch that? Individual sin, communal sacrifice. The remedy for one person’s wrongdoing is reconciled within community.

community prayer

Did you catch that? I talk a lot about community here on this blog, it is vital to my faith. But think about this: The way to be reconciled to God, to yourself, to your neighbor is through a communal act. Individual sin. Communal Forgiveness.

We do not sin alone, even if the sin is to ourselves. Say I self hate, that still effects the community. Think about what self hate does to my work, my children, the people I encounter at the checkout line in Target. “Working on myself” is a communal act. We need the community to be free from sin. This is even easier to understand if I sin against another. Then I don’t just effect my bubble, I effect another’s as well.

It was a beautiful message, one worth sharing. One my heart needed to be reminded of, and one that we all need to remember. There is hope for me, me who tries to make it all happen myself. There is nothing wrong with needing others, needing them in order to reconcile with God, with my neighbor, and especially, with myself.

Thanks Katie, and Thanks be to God!

Poser

POSER (urban dictionary) n. 

1.one who pretends to be someone whose not. 
2. who tries to fit in but with exaggeration 

So for a while now the church and I have talked about putting my sermons on our website and in podcast form.  Now there is already a sermon on the site from last Christmas and for the last few weeks I have been trying to get a voice memo from my ipad (which I preach from) to the website.  This has been a surprisingly difficult task, although the most difficult part is remembering to push the record button…

Anyway, I finally did it on Sunday.  I didn’t get the scripture reading, but I did remember in time to begin the sermon… *sigh* but I realized now that it’s recorded, it will be out there for all to hear.  And for some reason I got really nervous all of a sudden.  I preach to approximately 100 people on any given Sunday, but it was not them I was nervous about. It is first, putting it on the internet full of people to critique whom I do not even know, which in my head I know not to pay attention to, but my real concern is my fellow preachers, colleagues, and friends. 

I know that it is a big presumption that my friends will even listen to my sermons, in fact I know my Best Friend Melissa doesn’t even read this blog (in all fairness I didn’t always read hers when she blogged). But I am worried that they will find me lacking, hearing me preach week in and week out.  

I know worship is an experience, and I myself am an experience- a whirlwind, a creative force, a freak of nature.  It is who God created me to be and I have simply resigned myself that no matter how many times I try to stay out of things, I will always enter into them.  God created me this nosy, bossy, dynamic, energetic, envelope pusher that I, sadly, fight against everyday.

What God did not create me to be was unauthentic.  It is not in my nature to be someone else and preaching is at the heart of that for me.  Preaching is the moment each week that I live into God’s call in my life… or not. And I am worried, I guess, that others will hear them and think, “what a poser.” 

I understand this is an irrational fear but there it is. So, the only way to get over a fear is to push through it, so here it is, my sermon from this week, the first of many of my heart that I lay at your feet: 

http://www.ashlandpc.org/celebration/sermons/ 

Getting ‘Right with God’

right-withSo I’ve been thinking about this concept about getting yourself on a “right relationship” with God.  What does that mean?  I hate to say it, but the definition is kind of the same as it is for porn, no one knows, but we all know it when we see it.  (BTW- I have never understood not being able to define pornography, it seems pretty obvious, but back to God.)

When I meet someone who is wholeheartedly in tune with who they are, who God is in their lives, and knows the struggles, ebbs and flows of spiritual lives I can see it a mile away.  Actually, I can feel it a mile away.  I am going to be so bold as to say I am one of these people, some or dare I say, most? of the time.  That is not a statement of ego, but an understanding of exploration in my life.

I ache to pray each day and I cannot stand it when “life gets in the way” or I am going through a time where I have convinced myself that my prayer life is not “important right now”.  There is a physical need, a hunger, a longing to worship my God and creator, to pay homage to her with my life, to understand him more fully, and to never, ever feel without their presence.

But I do have issues.  You remember the woman that Ellen DeGenerous called who “loved Jesus, but drank a little” (if you haven’t seen it, prepare yourself for the greatest thing ever… watch it here- starts around minute 2).  Anyway, I am confident in my spirituality, I don’t have it figured out but I love Jesus, I love who God created me to be, and I try as best as my broken self can to follow the call and will of God.

All that being said, perfection is far from my description.  I have broken relationships with people, there are things that I get on myself about, a “shame tape” that plays in my head.  I struggle with my weight, with being vulnerable, with anxiety, that people won’t like me.  All the normal things.

When I was in high school I was told that if I were right with God all these other things would fall into place.  A friend worked through her issues with her mom and dropped her weight, others got over their “disorders” when they had a profound experience of God in their lives.  But as I was thinking about this the other day I realized how unhealthy this style of thinking was.  It seemed to be just another thread of Prosperity Theology.

You know prosperity theology, prosperity preaching.  If you give money to the church God will bless you with a fancy car, a nice house, a perfect family.  Think Tammy Fay Baker. Anyway, I know plenty of people addicted to exercise and health food that aren’t anywhere close to understanding who they are and who God is in their lives, who loathe themselves, who struggle everyday to feel loved.

One does not automatically follow the other.

Should we take care of our bodies, our eating, anxiety, or narcissism, and seek help for these issues- absolutely.  But that does not get you right with God.  Neither does getting on a path to spiritual awareness turn you into a swimsuit model.

God, show me what is real, teach me your paths and your ways of peace in my heart, peace in my relationships, peace in the world.  I love you (and I drink a little). Amen.