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Block of a Writer

Occasionally, I suffer writer’s block.  I do not enjoy this.

Since preaching is one of my favorite things***, every time this happens, it freaks me out.  I start having nightmares wherein I show up at church, and forget my sermon, or I discover my sermon has turned to gibberish, or WORSE YET, the congregation stands up, and starts walking away, en masse, like a herd of marauding cattle while I am frantically trying to preach at them, and I must chase after them.

Preaching anxiety dreams are the worst.

But no matter how anxious I get, staring at that foreboding blank screen, something always comes out, sooner or later, once I get over myself.

In my experience, writer’s block around sermons usually has to do with an inner fear about saying something that I’m afraid to say.  It’s about fear, that most original of failings.

What do others do about this?

The preachers I admire most have been those who, even at cost to themselves, remained true to themselves and what they knew of God and Christ in the pulpit.  It’s easy to name drop the people who did this, from a safe distance of history–Martin Luther King, Jr., Dietrich Bonhoeffer, William Sloan Coffin, Archbp. Romero, and sort of gloss the fact that 3/4 of those guys were martyred.  (Also….they’re all guys.  Sigh.)  And really, it’s one thing to make one grand sermon, go off and do your thing.  It’s another to get up week after week, and, in the midst of a relationship with a congregation, continue to dare to bear witness to the Spirit moving in new and unexpected ways.  I daresay that one is more difficult.

***Other favorite things:  dark chocolate with sea salt, new shoes, ranting.

ANYWAY!  Enough of my philosophical ramblings.  Here’s what I ended up preaching.

 

October 23, 2011

Ordinary Time, Proper 25

Matthew 22:34-46

In high school, when I graduated, I gave each of my group of friends

a list of “Megan’s Rules of Life.”. These were not especially profound;

mainly they were one liner jokes that we had compiled amongst ourselves

over the years. Quotes we thought were funny, odd warnings off of

packaging that didn’t make sense, things like that. I had entirely forgotten

that I had done this, when about a year into seminary, a high school friend

that I had lost touch with, sent me a Facebook message telling me she had

found her copy, and laughed for about half an hour.

I can’t explain what drove the 17year old me to do this, except that high

school makes sense to very few people, and probably it was an attempt to

break down this confounding world into little, understandable, and

controllable parts. Don’t use Silly Putty as ear plugs! Do not use a hair

dryer while asleep!

This is generally what rules do. They build a structure in the world, something to hang onto.  Which is why they are loved by toddlers.

What sort of structure that turns out to be– whether stifling or enabling,

depends on the rules, and the spirit in which they are observed.

Object lesson: observe Jesus. We’ve finally come to the end of this

long argument between Jesus and the Pharisees, temple authorities and

scribes. They’ve argued about authority, they’ve argued about Jewish

Torah, the law, they’ve argued about the line of obedience to the Roman

emperor and God. And now, for the biggie: which of the law is the

greatest? In other words, summarize the whole law, Jesus, in 10 words or

less. Of all the 613 laws in Torah that count, pick the most important.

This actually was a hotly contested topic in the Jewish writing of the

day. Any rabbi worth his salt had an opinion. It would be like asking

someone who followed basketball who their picks for March Madness were.

Arguments went on for days, and records of what they said can be

googled, if you are interested.

What Jesus says is fairly mainstream. Love God! This is a popular

commandment, and no doubt. But he does something unexpected, and

that is add another commandment without pausing. When asked to pick

the one great commandment, he picks two. Love God and love your

neighbor.

He doesn’t exactly follow the directions, but it’s instructive. For

Jesus, the two are intertwined. To love God is to love your neighbor, to

love your neighbor is to properly love God. You cannot do one without the

other.

Just look at Leviticus. Look at Deuteronomy. Generally, these are

thought to be books unfit for stirring reading, and many of us avoid them at

all costs. But  listen to Leviticus. God says “you shall be holy as I am holy. I am the Lord.

You will not hate, you will not slander, because I am the Lord.”

In other words, your job, as the chosen people is to act as God acts.

God is kind to the poor and the widow and the orphan and the alien in your

midst? God upholds righteousness and justice? Therefore you will do

those things, as well. Your every action is a reflection on God.

The Israelites were keenly aware that they were living as a minority

population among powerful people who didn’t worship their God– they got

invaded and conquered about once every two weeks. Judah is worse than

Belgium in this respect.

And as a minority, they understood the law as a way to show the rest of the

world the character of the God they knew. God was just: so would they be:

the law would teach them how. God was pure: so they would be: and they

would have ways to make sure of that. God was loving, and they would

make sure of that too.

And for us, the same principle holds true. Jesus tells us, love God, love

your neighbor. Now, as Christians, we are not being invaded by anyone.

No matter what they tell you on the local news, no one is attacking us.

More people self identify as Christians in this country than with any other

religious group.

But we still have work to do. The reign of God has not yet arrived. I merely

point you to the world did not end on Friday for one. And also, I point out

that when the average person walking down the street in Flagstaff thinks of

Christian– chances are, they don’t think of unconditional love of neighbor,

or service, or even Jesus. Chances are they think of Westboro baptist

church, televangelists making millions scaring people, or whatever Harold Camping, the  Rapture preacher just said.

We have some work to do. Not to get everyone to come to our church,

though, hey, I wouldn’t mind, but because none of those things I just listed

have anything to do with what you or I know to be actually true of Christ.

And more importantly, we cannot expect people to believe us, when we talk

about a God of love when people kill in the name of that God. We cannot

expect people to believe in a God of justice when his name is invoked to

perpetrate injustice, and we cannot expect people to believe in a God of

compassion when his name is invoked in the cause of hate. People are not

that dumb, when it comes down to it.

And so the charge for you and I it turns out, is to live every day like our faith

in a loving God makes sense. We who have a relationship with Christ, that

gets us out of bed in the morning, that animates our lives, the only way to

convincingly share this with a world steeped in brokenness is to live out

what we know of God in Christ: love, justice, healing, welcome. So that

the world may see in our actions small glimmers of a divine love.

Because if the world is going to believe in anything, let it believe in what we

show it, let it believe in the reality of a God who loves it, of a God who

came to dwell with it, in the possibility of a creation redeemed that it sees in

us. If the world can believe in anything, let it believe in what it sees in us.

Amen.

 

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About megancastellan

Episcopal priest, writer, wearer of fancy shoes.

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