Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Biblical Potluck

A minister for whom I was to read the scripture for his sermon delayed giving me the reference until, minutes before worship, I asked again. “Oh, I’m glad you reminded me,” he said, “Let me find it.” And he began thumbing through his Bible for the reading with which he seemed to have spent little time.

Another minister once told me he had tried “that meditation and prayer stuff,” but rather proudly announced he had never really “got it.”

A Roman Catholic priest for whom I served as his first Protestant friend began looking at the texts and preparing for his Sunday homilies on Wednesdays rather than Saturdays, he said, because of my influence.

The pastor whom I credit with my becoming Presbyterian in college had an intelligent, deep spirituality that blossomed in solid preaching and social activism. He wrote his sermons in phrases, as if they were poetry, and I am grateful he gave me a few of his manuscripts upon retirement. One especially memorable sermon was about “The One Remembered Line” we sometimes take from a sermon that gets us through the week.

A college religious studies professor remarked to us, his students, that in his first parish job description, he insisted on having twenty hours per week for reading, study, reflection, prayer and sermon preparation. Another professor admitted becoming increasingly hesitant to enter a pulpit, believing more and more that preaching is such an awesome responsibility, something I couldn’t altogether understand then but a feeling with which I resonate with age.

And the activist pastor I first worked alongside after graduation from seminary explained to me that he woke daily at 6 a.m. for two hours of prayer, reading, and silence, having been reared a Quaker.

While “acknowledging his [or her] poverty,” Pope Francis writes, “The Sunday readings will resonate in all their brilliance in the hearts of the faithful if they have first done so in the heart of their pastor.” He quotes Thomas Aquinas that preaching should be “communicating to others what one has contemplated.”

He encourages preachers in the practice of lectio divina, a mindful and prayerful reading of scripture. During the men’s monastic retreat I attended a couple of weeks ago, we practiced lectio divina with John 14:1-14, a text which Jesus begins, “Let not your hearts be troubled.” The phrase I gravitated to was Jesus saying “I will take you to myself.”

When that was the gospel the following week, I, as guest preacher, invited Ormewood Park Presbyterian Church to do lectio divina with the text, providing a copy for everyone, giving a chance for each to share the phrase that spoke to them. I knew this scripture would resonate in the heart of a congregation that faced so many recent challenges.  I explained that, were Sunday worship reinvented, this might be a desirable practice.

Giving it still more thought, it occurred to me that Sunday texts could be assigned much like a church potluck. Instead of last names beginning with A-F bringing salads, they could read the Hebrew lesson in preparation for worship. Instead of main dishes, G-L might contemplate the Psalm for the day, while M-R could reflect on the Epistle lesson. And instead of bringing desserts, S-Z could meditate on the Gospel.  To be fair, a congregation should rotate the assignments. To be honest, I have experienced abundant as well as sparse church potlucks, so it depends on the spiritual investment and generosity of the congregation as to how this will turn out!

Often we want church leadership “to do it all for us,” rather than doing our own spiritual work. But my experience is that people attracted to spiritual formation are eager to do their own work, in the spirit of the apostle Paul’s advice to the church of Corinth:  “When you come together, each one has a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation. Let all things be done for building up.”

For me, the “punch line” of the men’s monastic retreat came when our leader, Carl McColman, who has written his own excellent and readable The Big Book of Christian Mysticism, recounted once being asked by an interviewer on a program, “If you could recommend only one book on Christian mysticism, what would it be?” To which Carl responded, surprising the host, “Why, the Bible, of course!”

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1 comment:

  1. Quickly.
    I have had wonder FULL worship and growth experiences among groups who share with each other what they can bring to our times together.
    I have felt utterly intimidated at times when too many thought they "brought the gifts of discernment and interpretation" in response to what others shared.
    "I will take you to myself" does "it" for me everytime.