Monday, January 31, 2011

Readings Fiasco

I and only I am solely responsible for the following, which I report as a reminder of the importance of not taking everything at face value and of checking and re-checking information.

Looking up my lectionary in my Parson's Pocket Book (an English sourced annual diary-cum-note-taking-cum-lectionary-resource) I came up with readings for yesterday's sermon at a church which had graciously invited me. (Relevant explanation: I chose to go with the 'ordinary' readings rather than the 'extraordinary' = Presentation of Jesus readings).

Error #1: I accepted that the lectionary is the same the world over and looked forward to preaching on John 2:1-11. But it turned out (through conversation with a colleague who has a different diary but also with English based lectionary readings) that John 2:1-11 is not the reading set down in our NZ Lectionary (i.e. Matthew 5:1-12). It further turns out, as Bosco Peters' confirms, that nowhere else in the world has this particular C of E reading!! OK. I preceded to prepare a message with good content.

Error #2: when it came time for the OT reading I noticed that the reading was from 1 Kings 7:8-16. The reading should have been 1 Kings 17:8-16. But, you guessed it, on checking my emails, it was me who had sent 1 Kings 7:8-16. No, double-checking then, on my part. (Further, to make matters worse, after discovering the discrepancy between 1 John 2:1-11 and Matthew 5:1-12, I had confirmed that the readings were to be as I had sent them.) Fortunately I was able, impromptu, to make something of the 1 Kings 7 reading in relation to my 'main text', John 2:1-11.

I have learned some lessons this weekend!

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Preacher know thyself, thy temptations, and thy hobby horses

I preached today for the first time for several weeks (and for the first of a sequence of invitations in the next few weeks).

I leave it to the congregation concerned to appraise the actual sermon they heard, and God is my judge for what I delivered. Here I want to reflect on how I got to what was preached. I found as I was working on the sermon that I was doing something I often do in sermon preparation. It goes something like this:

(a) oh, I see X (within the overall course of the sermon) is a potential problem in respect of offering some thinking which is logically secure and pastorally responsible. (Often X is an aspect of the problem of suffering).
(b) what if a more than averagely learned, or more than ordinarily expected sufferer of life's tragedies is present?
(c) I had better make sure I say something sensible and sensitive in respect of X.
(d) oh, and I see that a related problem, Y, needs to be mentioned as well,
(e) Let me see ... First, ... Second, ... then this means (a) .... then, (b) ....
(f) Is this becoming too complicated? A long-winded complicated argument for the listeners to follow? Are those eyes of the congregation glazing over in my imagination as I think about delivering the sermon tomorrow?

I won't tell you when I felt that (f) was definitely in view, or when I determined that a fairly substantial change would and should be made to what I had prepared, but it was fairly late in the process of preparation.

My temptation, you see, is to become convoluted. It is all in a good cause (trying to honour the integrity of people's intellectual curiosity and/or pastoral needs). But (experience has often shown me) it is not good overall. Too many of the congregation are lost to the message when I give into the temptation and a complex sermon results.

What is your temptation as a preacher?  What do you need to discipline out of your sermon during the preparation stage?

Monday, January 17, 2011

You can tell when the hard yards have been done

Listening to an excellent sermon yesterday morning I appreciated very much that some hard work had gone into its preparation. There was simply too much detail in the explanation of the main scriptural passage for this sermon to be anything other than a well prepared one.

Incidentally by 'detail' I do not mean 'lots of information, ultimately tedious to have to listen to as it was listed for us.' Not at all: another sign of the hard work in preparation was the way in which the detail was presented. Not too much, not too little. Relevant to the passage, interesting to the congregation. Conveyed with a light touch. A minor rather than a major part of the sermon.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

A wider perspective on worship

Readers - I know of at least two of you, thank you - may be pleased to know that I was back at church this morning. No earthquake swarms and no travelling exigencies (see post below). A fine service it was and just what I like: a plain, standard, no frills (and no spills) Anglican eucharistic liturgy. But I got to thinking during the service.

There is a very wide church scene in Christchurch, NZ. Many Anglican churches, with varying attendances and varying commitments to a plain, standard, no frills Anglican eucharistic liturgy; many fine Catholic churches, some with very high attendances; some strong Presbyterian and Methodist churches (but diminishing numbers of the latter); but the prize for attendance and vibrancy, I believe, goes to a number of independent, or quasi-independent churches which, by all accounts, are pentecostal-cum-evangelical in flavour. And whatever goes on their services, I am certain it is not a plain, standard, no frills Anglican eucharistic liturgy.

Thinking about this, it is no surprise that a variety of worship preferences exists in our society of many flavours and fashions (think the multitude of sports and recreations one can participate in these days compared to forty years ago; or the options in careers, to say nothing of the wisdom that says each and everyone of us will have five careers in our lifetime). Whatever the virtues of sound Anglican liturgy properly performed, in the remainder of my lifetime it is unlikely to assume some kind of dominance in worship among Christians in NZ. I certainly hope its role grows stronger than what it is, and I imagine that such growth would be accompanied by continued growth in the Roman Catholic church in NZ. But will the dominant 'bloc' of larger churches in Christchurch be Anglican/Roman Catholic in my lifetime? I suspect not.

So my thinking continued along this line: what does it mean to be Anglican in respect of worship, living in communities such as Christchurch where some clear and strong voting with their feet is taking worshippers in large numbers to pentecostal-cum-evangelical independent or quasi-independent churches? Is the most important thing the 'Anglican liturgy'? Should we broaden our style of worship services and develop the content of our liturgies to better capture the imagination of worshipping Christians? Some in our midst, of course, are already doing this (with, I hasten to observe, mixed success as measured by attendance; also, I hasten to add, in many cases with a clear sense of using the flexibility of worship style and content available according to our formularies and canons).

The answer to my last question may mean that the most important thing about being Anglican is that it is an inclusive church of the people (think back to the church of Cranmer and co being self-consciously the Church of England, meaning all England). To this aim 'Anglican liturgy' may take second place.

Much can be discussed here. Is a church of the people necessarily a church which compromises liturgical principles handed down through the ages? In the long term will a church with sound liturgy be more inclusive of more people because it will last longer. There are churches in Christchurch, after all, which seem to have great numbers today but were not even in existence 30+ years ago when I were a lad: will they still be with us in 30 years time? (They might be: one of the largest churches in Christchurch when I left as a young adult remains the largest church today).

A final thing I thought about: in yesterday's paper a young, energetic couple were pictured in a church advertisement, as pastors of one of the growing independent churches. The husband is the son of a vicar. I do not know all the reasons why this pastor is not a vicar himself. But it does make me wonder whether we ought to be a church with enough width to incorporate him into our college of presbyters. Perhaps God is working on that :)

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Liturgical Hopes for 2011

I have actually had two Sundays in a row not going to church. Scandalous, I know. In weak defence I proffer 'earthquake swarm' and 'travelling exigencies' as reasons for not making it to corporate worship in a building unlikely to fall on my head :) But perhaps, from time to time, a few Sundays away from liturgies reminds me of what liturgies offer. In this case, I have missed the rhythm and order which Sunday liturgies contribute to my life and the life of my family. Then there is the missing factor of the special confrontation liturgy in a corporate setting offers: in the midst of God's people, God is present in a special manner which confronts me with how I am living my life. This past week, I realise, I have lived committing sin and omitting obedience (thankfully liturgy offers confession and absolution). I have not been as attentive as I might to Scripture through my personal reading (thankfully liturgy offers proclamation of God's Word through reading Scripture and preaching). And, certainly, my mind has not thought of all things which could be given thanks for and prayed for (thankfully liturgy offers opportunity for thanksgiving and intercession).

Where the liturgy is a eucharist then there is also opportunity for that which otherwise I am forbidden to experience alone: the symbolic participation in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ through bread and wine in shared feast of thankful memory of Christ dying for the sins of the whole world.

My liturgical hopes for 2011 are simple: let me and others in Christ's body meet with the living God together through what we do and say. And may what is said and done, especially by the leaders of liturgy not (even 'NOT') inhibit that meeting!