Grace and peace to you

Posted on May 2, 2018

For most people I would believe that new years is that time of the year where people begin to reminiscence the most. For myself as a pastor in the United Methodist Church my new years is July, the suspicious time of the year where the bishop moves the chess pieces around to try and win this game called "church in 21st century." There is something about looking back at the memories of the past that help us springboard into what will come next. This is no different in the church.

Any preacher talking about a Hebrew Bible (Old Testament) scripture will undoubtedly reference the text as "this is what it was like long ago" so that we can "appreciate the progress that God has made in our present reality" and thus "we must not stay in the past lest we fall back from what God is doing in the future." In fact, these are quotes from an assortment of sermons I have delivered to you all at various times of the year from Hebrew related scriptures.

I've been going through my sermons a lot recently (mostly for a paper for school) trying to identify where and how my theology has changed over time. It's been fascinating journey, although I admit failure to stay consistent. I regret this is many ways because I fear your personal understanding of God has been scatter shotted by my teachings from the pulpit. Had I had more time with you and I could do it all over again, I would probably use series preaching more often and have Bible Studies and discussion groups run alongside these series for those who wanted to engage more in what was talked about. I apologize for not doing that, but I suppose that's the reality of having a student pastor. I'm like a puppy trying to figure out how to swim.

My sermons (and by extension my overall theology) has gone from overly positive/prosperous teaching to my most recent months which are incredibly critical of church structure. The issue with the positive/prosperous is that it is not a Biblical teaching because it doesn't account for the harsh realities of pain in our lives, random occurence of tragedy and where God is in all of that. The issue with the overly critical sermons is that they can be soul draining for parishioners to hear week after week about how the world is crappy and the church is crappier. People come to church for their souls to be refreshed and to experience the voice of God...messages like these can be a prophetic challenge, but even in scriptures the people turned from the prophets when they couldn't listen to more doom and gloom. They needed things like the psalms, and the celebration writings, and other things like that.

It is probably not hard to notice from your angle, but I have completely hated being in the church (emphasis on THE, not any one specific) since South Africa. So the closer the week gets to sunday the more moody I get and if I so happened to have not written my sermon by the time these mood swings happen then low and behold you get a prophetic "I hate church" sermon. All of this ranting aside to say that our understanding of God, and how we talk and think about God is influenced by our emotions. My curious question for you this month is to reflect upon all the sermons I have delivered to you. What were your favorites? Why were they your favorite? Did they make you feel good or did they help you grow? Or both? Secondly, how have you noticed your emotions impacting how you view God? In times that are critical, what practices can you do to help diminish the negative emotions to think about God in a better light? Have you ever tried Lectio Divina? That's a personal favorite. Taize? Meditation? Hymn singing? Our world is a scary place friends, and being able to articulate God in a way that is both hopeful and honest to scripture might be the key to helping other fearful people give church a chance. Thanks for sticking with me on my own learning journey. I'm confident I'll look back in 30 years upon my time here and laugh about how poor I was as a leader, but it will be experiences like these that give me the roots to grow to the person I need to be.

Shalom,

Nick