Sunday, July 9, 2017

Burdens and Yokes (Matthew 11 16-30)

In this final week of field education at the Carlsbad-By-The Sea (CBTS) retirement home I prayed and thought about the sermon for the coming Sunday based on the Gospel reading of Matthew 11:16-19 and 25-30.

In our Gospel reading today there are two parts that identify both the rejection of Jesus, and how He can ease our burdens.

The people who are rejecting Jesus are like children who cannot decide which game to play and form teams or take sides.

Jesus compares this to how the message of both He and John the Baptist were rejected. John, focused on judgment and repentance which provoked strong reactions, while Jesus, like John, announces the coming of the kingdom of heaven but was not as harsh and abrasive.

The people He was addressing find reason to take offense at their messages and do not act like Christians. Like today, we too can reject the message and division can also show up in our day to day lives.

On the radio I heard a report that said we still have a divided society but whilst a few decades ago the divisions were about race or economics, todays divisions are mainly about which political party a person supports. They said that polls have identified people in one party are actually afraid of people in the other party. Political discussion, even between friends and family is causing argument.

Last week in the over 55’s resort where we are staying one political association had a list of all their members and had planted American flags in their front yards. Initially we thought this was just the Home Owners Association (HOA) being patriotic but then we noticed the flags were not on every yard.

In talking to someone we knew who had been in the resort many years, it appeared that the “flagless” were very upset because being without flags made them seem unpatriotic.
They also did not want to play the others game or be mistakenly seen as part of that group by planting their own flags.

Just little gestures like this without thinking of the impact on others causes divisions between friends and neighbors which may require some healing.

It is easy for us to forget that the game to which Jesus call us is not about division, but is about doing the work of God in the world.

In the second part of our gospel, Jesus mocks the religious leaders and the elites who oppose Jesus. They claim intelligence and wisdom which only blinds them to what God is really doing. These leaders place these heavy burdens on the shoulders of others but they are unwilling to help people cope.

Today, the world has become exceedingly sophisticated in laying heavy burdens upon us and constant marketing tries to make us believe we are deficient in some way. The largest companies in the world deploy psychology to encourage us to buy into a lifestyle or feel inadequate if we cannot or do not buy their products. And then there are the burdens and stress we impose on ourselves through “to do” lists and daily plans.

As in our world the people Jesus addressed were also weighed down by temptation to sin, oppressive rules and regulations so He invites them (and us) "Take my yoke upon you and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light"

It’s easy for us to interpret this passage as an offer from Jesus to take care of all our problems without us having to work.  Jesus is not saying that if we come to him and follow him we will be able to take off our yoke and walk through the rest of our lives completely unburdened.

When Jesus invites us to be “yoked” to him, to walk with Him, to learn from Him, to do God’s will with Him, Jesus is not asking us to take on more and more tasks. He is asking us to carry out our own tasks in a different way, with compassion, with empathy, humbly and with sisterly and brotherly love for the people we work alongside.

Here at CBTS we are so blessed to have a community made up of many Christian denominations, living, worshiping and praying side-by-side as a common body. We also have non-Christian residents who also need spiritual guidance and pastoral care.
At the start of this field assignment in pastoral care I saw the tasks as burdensome and difficult. I did not know how I would cope with providing pastoral care to a community I did not know or how I would react being placed in situations I was unprepared for.

On reflection I now know I had to learn to take on Jesus’s yoke and reflect His teachings as I carried out my daily tasks.  At the start and end of each day I had to pause, think, learn and most importantly pray.

Looking back over the past 12 weeks of this field assignment it was more “formation” than “education”. The education part was through the mentoring I received from various people on topics such as how to develop and deliver sermons, conducting services (of the word), providing pastoral care, and how to participate as part of the team within the CBTS environment.
In reflection some key topics I prayed about and discussed with residents in this community were:
·         Jesus draws near to us sometimes and we are unaware. He meets us in our visits, prayers and worship, and He talks to us in many different ways so we need to actively listen. He stays with us always, so we just need to invite Him in and be comforted,
·         People, like sheep, cannot be treated as tasks on a project plan. God is not on our timeline and schedule so although there are some things that happen as planned many do not,
·         With each exposure to God’s Word and presence in our lives, the Holy Spirit is actively changing us,
·         Looking back on all our life experiences allows us to recognize how we see and feel God’s glory in our words and deeds,
·         We are all within a sheepfold and are being guided to do God’s will,
·         Whilst in this world there are some mysteries we will never fully understand, but having some understanding of the Holy Trinity deepens our worship and helps us to be specific in directing our prayers,
·         We all have varied talents and skills but as we bring people to God we should also focus on making differences, even small ones, to one person at a time,
·         We need to welcome all strangers, support all our community members in what they are trying to do and carry out even the smallest of tasks in love,
·         There will be times we are fearful but we should remember the depth of God’s love, remember Jesus’s words “Do not be afraid!”, and pray until we focus on God and His will rather than ourselves,
·         Be aware of how the things we say and do can cause division within our friends and family and we may need to act or communicate in a different way,
·         Let Jesus lift that heavy burden from our shoulders by asking for forgiveness of our sins and for help resisting temptation to sin again,
·         We need to learn to take on Jesus yoke
·         Trust Jesus, share His yoke which is far easier than the ones we make for ourselves, and reflect His teachings as we carry out our daily tasks,
·         Preaching the Word should not be rushed and it is one of the most important things we can do each week.
If we do all the above I feel that we will start to love all our neighbors in thought, word and deed
I am very pleased that this field assignment has provided formation and has affirmed and strengthened my calling. It has now presented me with the opportunity to continue in service in the role of Chaplain at CBTS and as Pastoral Care assistant at St Michaels-By-The -on a permanent rather than volunteer basis.

Thanks be to God!!!

Sunday, July 2, 2017

Welcoming Change (Matthew 10: 40-42)

In this last week of my summer field education assignment at the Carlsbad-By-The Sea (CBTS) retirement home I prayed and thought about the sermon for the coming Sunday based on the Gospel reading of Matthew 10:40 to 42. The idea of welcoming strangers, how we work each day and how the unsung heroes in our community are recognized and rewarded started to form very early in the week.

At the Monday morning management meeting, Joan, the Exec Director, read out a card from one of the residents who had noticed that due to staff schedules all the Directors were volunteering to take on tasks outside of their management roles such as clearing tables, serving meals, staffing the front desk, helping put up and take down equipment for residents events. This card stated that this had been noticed by many residents and they were so grateful and blessed to have such a team helping them. The faces of the management team lit up and I could see that this is the type of reward that reflects a calling rather than a job. It meant so much to the management team it will make them even more determined to make sure any staff shortages did not impact the residents.

As I reflected on this week Gospel, I thought that the passage is not talking about anybody in particular but about all the anonymous people who work hard, carry out God’s will but get little recognition. In our three small but powerful verses this week we see:
·         Anyone who welcomes you welcomes me, and anyone who welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me” has a focus on how we see Jesus in all the strangers that join our community, how we welcoming Him and let God into our lives. There is an emphasis on inclusion of all, and of building up a group of strangers into a welcoming community of neighbors,
·          “Whoever welcomes a prophet as a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward, and whoever welcomes a righteous person as a righteous person will receive a righteous person’s reward” is explaining that those welcoming, providing hospitality and support to any of God’s workers will receive the same reward as the person they are supporting. Here at CBTS we have many people working and being seen by the residents but also we have an army of people working in the background. Despite not being seen the residents know they are there and value what they bring to the team effort. The thoughts and thanks expressed in the card that Joan read out at the Directors meeting was also an expression of thanks (a reward) for all the team, seen and unseen. Joan intends to read this card out to all the staff at the next employees meeting. Apart from being paid this is exactly the reward that all the employees are striving for,
·         And if anyone gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones who is my disciple, truly I tell you, that person will certainly not lose their reward.” provides a strong conditional statement of the actions we all take on a daily basis. There may be people who seek to do something great but overlook what they accomplish by their countless small deeds undertaken with self-sacrifice and love. The size of a loving deed is not what counts the most it is the motive behind it and the sacrifice that accompanies it. God notices every good deed we do or don't do as if He were the one receiving it.
When I observed the welcoming, the small deeds, support, and rewards it takes to build and maintain our community at CBTS I was reminded of St. Paul’s statement in Romans 12 that the body is comprised of interdependent parts that cannot function alone.
For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith;  if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach;  if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead, do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully
Later in the week we had a Chapel Committee meeting about the weekly worship service and I was pleased to notice that the members were now comfortable with me and trust me to the extent that they felt they could suggest changes. These included such changes as having someone from the community witness something in their life rather than my homily each week, multiple people reading the prayers of the people, some new Lesson and Psalm readers, and including a violin solo at the offering.  Unfortunately, as the team now trusted me they were also comfortable with disagreeing with change. It reminded me that St. Peter and St. Paul did not always agree on many things, and I suspect their supporters (their unsung heroes) also disagreed with each other.
Peter insisted that the early believers must follow the old ways, must be circumcised, and must adhere to the Jewish Law as defined in the Torah. Paul’s vision led him to proclaim faith in a risen Christ and urging believers to conform their lives to Jesus’s New Covenant. What they had in common, though, was that both understood that the welcome of God was an invitation to a place in God’s kingdom.
At this time in our maturing CBTS worship community we are also seeing the same sort of division between people who do not want change and others who want to expand what we are doing spiritually and in worship. As this is a multi-denominational community we do have some people who are conservative in their religious background gravitating to what they know and others with a more evangelical background wanting a less formal and changing environment.
My role in this situation is to bring them all together the best I can as a welcoming and worshiping community irrespective of their backgrounds and the deeds they do, especially those on the Chapel Committee who others look up to.
Jesus didn’t say that we have to agree on everything, but He did tell us to be welcoming.
Here at CBTS we are so blessed to have a community made up of many Christian denominations, living, worshiping and praying side-by-side as a common body.
As with St. Peter and St. Paul, we won’t all agree on everything and we may agree to disagree on some things on our faith journeys but we are called to be welcoming.
In my sermon at the end of the week I urged the community to:
·         Welcome all you meet, including strangers,
·         Support all community members, irrespective of their ability, in what they are trying to do,
·         Carry out even the smallest of tasks in love and look forward to God’s reward.
As we do this each week I can see that we do love all our neighbors in thought, word and deed!.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Fearless Proclamation (Matthew 10:26-39) - Don't Be Afraid

This week at the Carlsbad-By-The Sea (CBTS) retirement home I started the week with an early Monday morning men’s’ breakfast meeting. The topic of conversation was the news that weekend; the fire in London, the collision of the US Navy Destroyer and various other disasters and threats to life and liberty.

It was amazing how much fear and worry the newscasts are generating these days, even though the events are happening thousands of miles away.

As I started to read, pray and research the Gospel passage this week a key idea was starting to form. It was about both fear and comfort. As Jesus is preparing the disciples to continue His ministry the Gospel text warns them of whom to fear and of the upcoming conflicts between followers of the Old Testament laws and Jesus’s new covenant.

When He talks about setting a “man against his father” or “daughter against her mother” He is using those words to describe setting one generation who follow the old laws against the new generation who are following His new covenant. This warning of conflict seems difficult to understand and is disturbing to some residents at CBTS who try to relate it literally to their own family conflicts.

But the passage also tells them of the great depth of God’s love for them and reminds them of where their focus and trust should be. Importantly it contains both a warning, “Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul: rather fear him who can destroy both body and soul in hell” but also comfort in “So do not be afraid; you are of more value than many sparrows”.

It was a warning to be afraid of the wrath of God but not to be afraid of anything that man can do and this is still true for us today.

During my pastoral care visits this week I noticed that the stories on the news were used as a discussion opener into what was going on in the world. Then this leads into things they are fearful about in their own lives. This is usually more personal and related to health and family but often comes back to the question “Why does God let bad things happen to good people?

Today we live a culture of hate, terrorism, crime, disease and many other fears that are very real to us individually. If we discuss specific individual events and want to know why a particular thing happened, we won’t be able to provide an adequate answer. 
When asked, I found I could not adequately answer the question. I do not know God’s mind and see what He sees. 1 Corinthians 13:12 says, “Now we see things imperfectly, like puzzling reflections in a mirror, but then we will see everything with perfect clarity. All that I know now is partial and incomplete, but then I will know everything completely, just as God now knows me completely.”
In discussing this with residents this week I found they are not looking for a theological answer (even if I had one) and any reasoned response would be inadequate. What they needed is the very real and comforting presence of Jesus Christ in their lives and I tried to provide some comfort by being present and talking through their fears with them.
There are so many worries about health, family and individual circumstances each visit is different and I found the only way I could respond is to be present, actively listen and let God guide me in what to say and when to say it.
Fear and worry do have an impact on our decisions, the way we act and it can also paralyze us into not doing something. But most of our fears are the result of us focusing on ourselves. If we focus on God then He has the power to help us overcome whatever we might be facing.

But what if we could live fearless? What if we could face our fears, confront them and overcome them?

Our lives should not be a series of fear filled events that we lurch through but should be a joyous celebration of God’s Glory and the love God has for us in every event. When researching fear and comfort it appears there are three keys to overcoming our fears: 
·         First, we must profess our faith in Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior.
·         Second, by carrying out God’s will, we keep our eyes focused on His work rather than the problems we’re facing
·         Third, praying without ceasing, for others and ourselves
Prayer to the Father, through Jesus the Son, in the Holy Spirit is a great gift that God has offered us so I would encouraged you to use it individually or with others

In the sermon at the end of the week I asked the congregation to change the way they act. If they are fearful or in a situation that makes them afraid:
·         Remember the depth of God’s love
·         Remember Jesus’s words in our Gospel today, “Do not be afraid!”
·         And… Pray until you focus on God and His will rather than yourselves.
I pray that by the grace of God we do not let our circumstances, challenges or fears cause us to doubt God’s Word or stop praying

We all want our lives will be a celebration of God’s Glory and love for us rather than lives of fear! 

Sunday, June 18, 2017

The Lord of the Harvest (Matthew 9-35 to 10-8) – Growing the CBTS Team

This week at Carlsbad-By-The Sea (CBTS) retirement home I started the week with an early Monday morning breakfast meeting. I had been invited to present my history and what I was doing at CBTS to a Men’s Group of about15 residents.

This gave me the opportunity to meet more people outside of Assisted Living and the Care Center where I normally minister. All the attendees, although between 80 and 102 years old, are in what is called independent living.

I was able to connect with them, personally invite them to the Brotherhood of Andrew “Steak & Stein” night at St Michael’s and elicit their help in introducing me to people who may appreciate pastoral care visits or assistance in attending the Sunday service or bible studies.

This was a great start to my studying and reflecting on the coming Sunday gospel passage about “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few”. On Tuesday I was still reading, reflecting and praying for the ideas for my sermon. As often happens I woke at 3:00 am on Wednesday morning with the idea of the harvest workers being “equipped” but not being “prepared”. After arising and jotting down some notes I then went back to a deeper and less anxious sleep.

In studying the passage this week I thought about how in my personal life God has equipped me with certain skills and talents and also how I am being prepared (formed) for ordained ministry.

I reflected on how when Jesus saw the crowds He described them as being harassed and helpless, wandering aimlessly like sheep without a shepherd. 

He was moved with compassion for them and said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are fewAsk the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into His harvest”

If you think of the disciples He called to be His harvesters you could not call them a secular power team. They were not successful academics, businessmen or leaders.

Just look at the disciples. Peter will deny the Lord three times and Judas will betray him. Two held positions in the Roman occupation opposing Jesus, Matthew was a tax collector while Simon was a "zealot" working against the disciples. The others were fishermen or laborers.

Later, even St Paul, who was highly educated in the Torah, had a trade as a tent maker and worked with his hands to support his own ministry. 

But when Jesus assembled His disciples He told them to go to the lost sheep of Israel and:
  • Preach that the ‘The kingdom of heaven is near”,
  • Heal the sick, 
  • Raise the dead,
  • Cleanse the lepers, 
  • Drive out demons.
In other words He asked them to do all the things He did during His ministry. He sent them out like sheep among wolves; needing to be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves.

As we know Jesus was divine but they were not. So this must have been a difficult task for them, especially with the earthly skills and talents they had been equipped. He also told them not to carry any money or other clothes as they needed to be worthy of their provisions. In other words they should work for their keep, using the skills and talents that God had equipped them with.

Although they were equipped with skills to make a living as they ministered they did not have experience of what they were being asked to do. As their teacher Jesus had also been preparing and forming them from followers into apostles with the spiritual gifts they need to take on the role of harvesters.

He told them “do not worry about how to respond or what to say. In that hour you will be given what to say. For it will not be you speaking, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you”.

When we think of harassed, helpless sheep without a shepherd, we could be describing our society today. Ralph Waldo Emerson, an American essayist, lecturer, and poet once said, "People are living lives of quiet desperation."

In Jesus' day the population of the world was approximately 150 million people. Today's world population grows 150 million every two years. The world's population exceeds 6 billion people with the population of the United States over 300 million. 

Within this world of 6 billion people many are desperate for meaning and purpose, distraught by the evil and destruction in the world. The harvest is a lot more plentiful now but what has this to do with us today?

We are expected to resemble Jesus in word and deed. To be sent by Jesus is, in some sense, to be sent as Jesus. We can pray for more workers, laborers, servers, and givers but we must do more than pray.

We need to go into the harvest of people “living lives of quiet desperation”. Our job is not to save the harvest - that's God's work. Our job is to tell people about the Lord and help them know Him. Without us going there will be no knowing. If we don't go, who will?

One of the greatest wrongs we can do is to stay silent. People often say, "I'll let my life be my witness." This is a subtle false teaching that has us believing that we can go to church rather than go and take the gospel and our witness outside of the church.

Over the week, during my pastoral care visits and meetings, I looked for the skills and talents of the residents and thought about who would be good harvesters who could make a difference.

In the middle of the week my ministry took a tremendous turn for the better without me actually or consciously doing anything.

I had a call from Bob who wanted an electronic copy of the “Sizzle & Stein” flyer so that he could distribute it and invite all the male residents, not just those who attended the Men’s Breakfast.

Then John contacted me and asked if I could help with a project he had started. He is installing Echo Dots in all the apartments of people who are not mobile and need a way to contact others and keep their minds active. He suggested that the people who are receiving the Dots are just the people who would benefit from pastoral care visits. He asked if I could help him with this project as it would also give me the opportunity to meet people I would not normally see.

Then Norma asked if she could give me a list of people she is concerned about and who she thinks would like visits and encouragement to attend services and study groups. When Trish and Don heard this they also asked if they could add to that list. With the people I am already being asked to visit by CBTS management my list is growing to include input from the residents themselves.

In all these events I noticed that the ministry had turned around from one where I offer my services to one where people are actively requesting help. Everyone making suggestions are offering to introduce me to others and also spread the word about the Sunday service, the 3 Bible study classes, the daily “praying with others” sessions and pastoral care visits.

This struck me that we have started to have harvesters, other than me, reaching out into their community and spreading the word.

Being a harvester is very difficult, especially as there are so many people, the harvest is so vast and the needs are so overwhelming. Many of the people I meet at CBTS are equipped with talents and skills but during this week I have learned that the growing CBTS “harvest team” are also being prepared by God to help bring in the harvest.

In the sermon at the end of this week I asked the congregation to focus on making differences, even small ones, to one person at a time.

I pray that by the grace of God this small team will grow and harvest our field at CBTS and beyond.

Saturday, June 10, 2017

The Holy Trinity (Matthew 28:19) – Can We Explain This Mystery?

This week I was told that it is the “Newbie” who always gets allocated the task of preaching on Holy Trinity Sunday. As I am the only one preaching at Carlsbad-By-The-Sea (CBTS) I allocated the task to myself.

As I prayed on the Gospel passage and the theology of the Holy Trinity this week the idea of improving prayer in our lives loomed large. In my pastoral care visits and in the Bible Study class later in the week this idea became clearer.

In my visits when I asked residents what the Holy Trinity meant to them most had an understanding of “One God as three distinct Persons (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit)” but when asked if they could tell me more, I found there was no deeper understanding and they did not know why they should care.

This week I came to realize that an understanding of the Holy Trinity is vital for us to know what God is like, how he relates to us, and how we should relate to him.

In my studies I found that the actual word “Trinity” is not explicitly mentioned in the Bible, but there are a few passages in the Bible that refer to the concept of the Holy Trinity.

One is in Mark 3:16, when Jesus is baptized “As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.”

Another is in Matthew 28:19, our Gospel passage that week “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit

Other Bible passages make it clear that all three Persons are 100% God and are equal in power, love, mercy, justice, holiness, knowledge, and all other qualities.

Next I had fun looking at how the early Church tried to explain the Holy Trinity by stating their beliefs in the Apostles Creed and how attempts to further define the Holy Trinity failed miserably and became Christian heresies.

There are quite a few but here are some of the most popular heresies about the Trinity:

  • God was one God who just appeared in three different roles ( Modalism),
  • God the Son and God the Holy Spirit are subordinate to God the Father in nature and being (Arianism aka Subordinationism),
  • Jesus was a purely divine being who only had the “appearance” of being human and that he only appeared to suffer on the cross (Docetism),
  • Jesus was a purely human figure but had charismatic gifts which distinguished him from other humans (Ebionitism),
  • Jesus was born totally human and only later was “adopted” by God either at his baptism or at his resurrection (Adoptionism),
  • Father, Son and Holy Spirit together are components of the one God, only becoming fully God when they come together (Partialism).
These heresies resulted in different sects within the church following different theologians, all claiming that their beliefs were the only true ones. This caused the church to splinter, so in response the Church developed the Nicene Creed. This Creed may be unpopular with some denominations but it does expand on the theology and make it clearer.

Someone once told me that if you spend more than 5 minutes trying to explain “How” the Holy Trinity works you are very likely to commit a heresy. In my own theological reflections I concluded that “How” the Holy Trinity works is still a mystery which I will never try to explain but we are able to understand this theology better if we identify “What” the Holy Trinity does.

So, if we look closely the individual but equal persons of the Holy Trinity have different tasks:
·    God the Father is the ultimate creator of the universe, who initiates divine revelation, salvation and Jesus' human works.
·     God the Son, Jesus, is the Word made flesh, sent by the Father and made the ultimate sacrifice for us. In this selfless act Jesus becomes our Savior and we became His brothers and sisters. Therefore, like Jesus, we became Sons and Daughters of God the Father
·     God the Holy Spirit is the means by whom the Father created and maintains the universe. The Father, by the power of the Holy Spirit provides divine revelation, salvation, and Jesus' works.
But why should we care?

When we are baptized in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit we become adopted children of God (sons and daughters), united with Jesus (brothers and sisters), and we receive Holy Spirit. Without this balanced view of all three persons of the Trinity, we can misinterpret the work of God in this world.

For instance, if we emphasize the God in the Old Testament, and subordinate Jesus and the Spirit, then we come away with a picture of a God of wrath and judgment, who has little compassion.

If we emphasize the person of Jesus to the exclusion of God the Father and the Holy Spirit, we miss out on the fact that Jesus was sent to redeem the world and restore our right relationship with God.

If we emphasize the charismatic gifts of the Holy Spirit, it is easy to lose sight of God as Creator, Son as Redeemer, and the role that the Holy Spirit played and is playing in both of those aspects of God’s work.

This balanced view allows us to celebrate God in our lives and in our community by:
·    Recognizing we are all are created in God's image and destined for a relationship with the Father,
·     Acknowledging Jesus as our Savior and Brother, making us all Sons and Daughters of the Father, so that we can live a welcoming and inclusive life with others who may be different from us,
·     Accepting the Holy Spirit to help us proclaim the gospel, perform good works and do the will of God.
So, in my studies, talking to CBTS residents and theological reflection this week I learned that understanding the persons of the Holy Trinity will deepen my worship and help me to be specific in directing my prayers, especially as I pray to the Father through the Son and in the Holy Spirit.

I has given me the impetus to set up daily “Praying with others”  sessions in the CBTS chapel so I can provide the residents with guidance, a space and and regular opportunity for them to pray with me, with others, or alone .

The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit, be with you all. Amen

Monday, June 5, 2017

Simply Sermons (Acts 2:1-21) - Pentecost

My blog this week, although called “Simply Sermons”, maybe should have been called “Struggling With Sermons”.

It was Pentecost so we had a lot of Epistle, Psalms and Gospel material to work with.

 A few weeks ago when I was preparing to write my first sermon I consulted my Spiritual Director, my Sponsoring Priest and two other experienced preachers from St. Michael’s on how they develop and preach their sermons. The take away from that week were:

·         Read the passages over and over until you understand them,
·         Pray for an “Idea” or “Theme”,
·         Pray for an “Introduction” that would grab the attention,
·         Pray for the “Key Messages” you would like to convey,
·         Pray for the “Conclusion” and “Sending Actions” you would like as a result,
·         Create a document template for the week that is landscape format, Arial 16 point and only uses the left hand half of the page. When you draft the sermon and print it you will have space on the right hand side to make revision notes,
·         Draft the sermon on the document template,
·         Read it, re-read it, re-read it and then read it again,
·         Practice aloud as though you are speaking to the congregation and remember to time it,
·         When ready, cut the pages in half which provides approximately 1 minute of sermon delivery per page. This is important when you are trying to limit sermon time due to the age and physical condition of the majority of the congregation,
·         When preaching remember that the congregation want to hear your message and are not there to criticize your sermon,
·         And……… lastly, enjoy it as this is a great opportunity and honor that God has given you!

So I started this past Sunday’s sermon by praying and decided to concentrate on both the Gospel (John 19:20 to 23) and the Epistle (Acts 2:1-21) passages.

By Wednesday I was feeling that I did not really have an idea and I was not being guided. I had drafted my sermon but it covered:

·         Jesus breathing on the disciples saying, Receive the Holy Spirit”,
·         Jesus prophesied the disciples would be sent out to preach to people of many languages when he said “As the Father sent me, so I am sending you.”,
·         Pentecost occurring on Shavuot, the Jewish “Festival of Weeks” which celebrates the time when the first fruits were harvested and brought to the Temple, and also celebrates the giving of God’s law (the Torah) to Israel at Mount Sinai,
·         A personal experience that I had in the Navy with fire and rushing wind,
·         The Holy Spirit descending on the disciples as fire and rushing wind. This is a great example of God showing us His glory,
·         Filled with the Holy Spirit, the disciples started speaking in tongues so all could hear and understand the Word,
·         St. Peter’s important sermon as he emerged as the leader and the “Rock” that Christ’s church would be built upon.
On Thursday I prayed for an idea again and the theme of “Community” kept appearing. I did not want to rewrite my sermon so I resisted. No matter how I resisted the idea would not go away.

So, I was feeling a little frustrated but aware that if I went ahead with my original sermon it would not go well. At this time I talked to a fellow SfM student, Susan Green, who kindly offered to review the draft for me. She reviewed it and suggested it may not have a clear idea, there were too many messages and the personal example I had inserted was distracting from the key messages.

I rewrote the sermon using some of the existing material but focused on the new idea of Pentecost being the birthday of the church, St Peter’s sermon starting the church community, and how we have a spirit filled community at Carlsbad-By-The-Sea (CBTS).

As I developed the introduction, key messages and conclusion it flowed and I really felt it was guided by the Holy Spirit.

I have learned this week that the process of writing and preaching is difficult and there is a lot of praying involved. You have to pray on the passages and the event until God gives you an idea that you can own, expand on and deliver.

Plus, for me although it may only take 10 to 15 minutes to deliver the sermon, the research and preparation take approximately 4 hours. This is double the industry standard for developing training courses at 8 hours development for 1 hour of delivery.

This is something that cannot be rushed and I do need to spend the required time as preaching the Word is one of the most important things we can do each week.

I am now looking forward to writing my sermon for Trinity Sunday!!