From the Pastor
Last week, I was in Atlanta for the Festival of Homiletics, an annual preaching conference which featured a wide variety of excellent speakers. I’ve joked that to most people, the thought of spending every day for a week listening to preaching and lectures about preaching may not sound like much of a good time – but to this preacher, it was food for the soul and I was grateful to have the opportunity to go.
I firmly believe that preaching is a dialog that includes not only the preacher, the scripture, and God, but also the congregation. In the preaching moment, even though I do most of the talking, you’re part of the conversation, and I thought of you all often last week. In that vein then, I thought I’d share a few highlights from what I heard:
– Walter Brueggemann (an Old Testament scholar who has been hugely influential to me; if you’ve been around awhile you’ve heard me mention him more than once) spoke about the ways that “advantage” – or privilege – is disappearing, and how that’s unsettling for a lot of people, but that this shift is perhaps what God intends for us. He said, “the health of our society depends on acknowledging that our ancient advantage is taken by us from God… that we are inching toward a more level playing field” for everyone.
– Rolf Jacobson, a Bible scholar who often informs my preaching, talked about “the idolatry of holding on to our own despair.” That got me thinking: in what ways are we being unfaithful when we give up hope that something can change?
– Heidi Neumark (she has a beautiful book called Breathing Space, and a new book called Hidden Inheritance, in which she discovers that her grandparents were Jews in WWII concentration camps) challenged us to think about the implications of the language we use. Words and metaphors that dehumanize people lead directly to the normalization of violence against people. When it comes to speaking up against injustice, she said, “If we say something, someone may get angry, but it’s unlikely that anyone will die. If we keep silent, someone will.”
– David Lose – another scholar whose work I turn to regularly – said something similar in another sermon: The old saying that “sticks and stones can break our bones but words can never hurt us” simply isn’t true. Words, and names, matter and can wound. But names, Lose said, also have the power to heal, as when we are baptized and called God’s beloved.
– Grace Imathiu, a preacher I’d known of but had never heard in person before, offered what was probably my favorite sermon of the festival. Her reflection wound its way from the story of Pentecost back to the Exodus and back again to the future hope of the resurrection. On that day, she said, a new world awaits. “In the resurrection,” she said, in the closing lines of her sermon, “I can’t wait to see me in the mirror. And God will say, ‘you look just like me.'”
If you’re interested, I’ll be glad to share more, or to point you to some further reading by any of these writers. Thanks for being good preaching partners with me.
A Few Personnel Updates
At their May 15 meeting, the board approved promoting Melissa Guthrie to a newly created position of Director of Congregational Life. Melissa has worked for nearly four years as our Office and Communications Manager; in this new position, she will continue much of the same excellent work she does now, as well as give additional support to some of our ministry programs. Please join me in congratulating and thanking Melissa.
At the same meeting, the board gave approval for Amanda Kerr to serve as our ministry intern for the 2016-17 school year. This will be a part-time internship, in addition to her continuing work as our Youth and Family Program Coordinator, a role which will also be slightly expanded for the next school year.
I am grateful to work with such competent and faithful staff, and I’m excited for what lies ahead. -LHM