Crazy is Afoot. (2 Cor. 5:13-15)
I preached this sermon at Our Savior Lutheran Church in Chester, CA. and First Lutheran Church in Greenville, CA. on June 14, 2015 (Third Sunday after Pentecost– Three Year Series, B).
Crazy is Afoot. (2 Cor. 5:13-15)
Recently I learned a valuable lesson or rather relearned through experience a valuable lesson that I was taught in homiletics class while at the seminary — a situation I’ve found myself in repeatedly throughout the first year of my parish ministry. I learned that even the sermon’s sandlot is important.
What’s the sermon’s sandlot? Good question. Here’s the long answer.
On the Fourth Sunday of Easter I preached on the Epistle lesson, 1 John 3:16-24, specifically verse 20: “for whenever our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart…”
In the sermon I speak about how sins people commit make them feel as if they’re beyond forgiveness, that our hearts use those sins to condemn us, but that God is greater than our heart. I felt that that section of the sermon was particularly heavy and it seemed appropriate to me to include a contextual relief valve, you know, to allow the congregation a chance to come up for air. The plot of the movie The Sandlot came to mind.
If you recall in the flick, the pickle that the kids find themselves in is the result of Scotty Smalls stealing his step-dad’s Babe Ruth signed baseball. Well, I inserted this sinful scenario of stealing your step-father’s baseball that was signed by the Great Bambino, playing with it, and hitting it over the fence into James Earl Jones’ backyard where it was destroyed by his beast of a dog. (It occurs around the 9 minute mark in the audio file above.)
The little leaguers in the pews started to pay attention, some people — parents who grew up in the 90s — immediately got the reference, smiling as they realized that I was making a joke. Others, those who weren’t as familiar with the movie, continued to listen, perhaps a little confused about the amount of detail revolving around this particular sin, and that it somehow involved Darth Vader. I didn’t leave my hearers bewildered but for a brief moment before revealing that my knowledge of our sinful reality and 1990’s movie trivia had “accidentally” become intermixed.
That’s what I consider a sermon’s sandlot. Something included in a sermon that relates to the theme and appropriately fits the context, but that ultimately is of little to no theological significance. I could have just as easily left the joke out and no one would have missed it, theologically speaking. It’s the side note, a topical anecdote, or mention of something superfluous.
But as I said above, even the sermon’s sandlot is important. And here’s your pudding’s proof. When I slid into this particular sandlot, I took a member of the congregation with me. While I didn’t anticipate touching anyone’s life with the plot of The Sandlot, that’s exactly what I did, and with a rush of childhood memories. A member of the church had an experience shockingly similar to Scotty Smalls’, minus a blind James Earl Jones and a mastiff, and save a couple key differences.
When he was a boy he went to a “Babe Ruth” All-Stars World Series game. Having caught a foul ball and after discovering that Mrs. Ruth, Babe’s widow, was in the stands, he asked her to sign his trophy. She did and he took home a unique piece of sport’s memorabilia. As he explained to me in the days following my sermon, one afternoon when he couldn’t find a ball to play with, he took the Mrs. Babe Ruth ball, and with his dad’s permission and help he taped over the signature, enabling him to use it like any other ball. While he wasn’t familiar with The Sandlot, he relived that part of his childhood in the moments that followed my inclusion of the joke in the sermon. It was a moment that made the sermon real. It was also a moment of distraction. If the most pivotal Gospel moment of my sermon would’ve been directly after the sandlot he would’ve missed it!
Even the sermon’s sandlot is important. It’s a real life place of memories and connections, a place of communication and comprehension, at times trivial and lighthearted, but nevertheless important in the proclamation of God’s Word, which demands attention and caution. The sandlot may actually wind up being the place where the greatest homiletical gems of theological truth are caught by the listener or, to the preacher’s chagrin, where they’re hit over the fence unable to be retrieved.
The Athanasian Creed
I preached this sermon at Our Savior Lutheran Church in Chester, CA. and First Lutheran Church in Greenville, CA. on May 31, 2015 (Trinity – Three Year Series, B).
Defining the Terms in the Truth of Jesus (John 15:26)
I preached this sermon at Our Savior Lutheran Church in Chester, CA. and First Lutheran Church in Greenville, CA. on May 24, 2015 (Pentecost – Three Year Series, B).
The Open-Mindedness of Christianity (Luke 24:45)
I preached this sermon at Our Savior Lutheran Church in Chester, CA. and First Lutheran Church in Greenville, CA. on May 17, 2015 (The Observation of The Ascension of Our Lord – Three Year Series, B).
What do the words (and actions in the case of Timothy Leary) of Frank Zappa, Hunter S. Thompson, and Immanuel Kant have in common? They were all equally hijacked by the Holy Spirit to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ in this sermon. Want consciousness expansion, enlightenment, a mind like a properly functioning parachute? It only comes through the Holy Spirit working through God’s Word in and with the Sacraments as He creates faith in your heart.
I’m in the middle of reading Beauty: A Very Short Introduction, by Roger Scruton. Insert joke here about needing all the help I can get in the beauty department. Ha ha! I know, I stepped into that one. But seriously, Scruton makes an excellent observation about the presentation of beauty in relation to the sensation of beauty. The following quote got my mind jogging and I thought I’d blog it out.
“A beautiful face, a beautiful flower, a beautiful melody, a beautiful colour — all these are indeed objects of a kind of sensory enjoyment, a relishing of the sight or sound of a thing. But what about a beautiful novel, a beautiful sermon, a beautiful theory in physics or a beautiful mathematical proof? If we tie the beauty of a novel too closely to the sound of it, then we must consider a novel in translation to be a completely different work of art from the same novel in its original tongue. And this is surely to deny what is really interesting in the art of the novel — which is the unfolding of a story, the controlled release of information about an imaginary world, and the reflections that accompany the plot and reinforce its significance… To that extent a novel is directed to the sense — but not as an object of sensory delight, like a luxurious chocolate or a fine old wine. Rather as something presented through the senses, to the mind… When we refer to the ‘aesthetic’ nature of our pleasure in beauty it is presentation, rather than sensation, that we have in mind.”
This thought resonates with me on a number of fronts, as perhaps it does with you. When I read his words, as a creative person who has dabbled in a variety of art forms, I thought about the presentation of my art. In the order of his examples my thoughts went from my photography — “A beautiful face, a beautiful flower” —
to my rudimentary efforts in music — “a beautiful melody.” Admittedly, this is something I know very little about, but I can abuse a guitar and have attempted to write my own songs, primitive and simplistic though they turned out to be. I get the idea of presenting a beautiful tune. Most recently my musical endeavors propelled me to create something that some might consider a melody (though no one would dare call it beautiful) to accompany a spoken word poem.
From there I thought about the power of “a beautiful colour.” Scruton hit a familiar note, causing me to ponder the minimalist beauty of Johnny Scribble and his simplistically straightforward color palette. Is the presentation of Johnny a thing of beauty?
I don’t know. Maybe. It definitely causes sensory enjoyment. At least for me… and a handful of 10 year-olds.
Then Scruton delved into the realm of the written word. “But what about a beautiful novel?” With those words I pondered whether my novel, The Gift and the Defender, would be considered beautiful based on its presentation. I hope so. But what a thought! The novel is beautiful when we consider what’s really “interesting in the art of the novel — which is the unfolding of a story, the controlled release of information about an imaginary world, and the reflections that accompany the plot and reinforce its significance.”
And this thought was carried into the art of writing “a beautiful sermon.” My vocational mind buzzed as this example caused me to contemplate the beauty of the most important art form I’ll ever engage in. A beautiful sermon is similar to a beautiful novel as it is “the controlled release of information,” but instead of being about an imaginary world it’s fixed on conveying the life saving knowledge of Jesus Christ’s redemptive work on the cross for the forgiveness of sins. A true art! The homiletician must craft his words so that they speak the Gospel truth in a way that the preacher’s hearers can grasp while also remaining faithful to the Biblical text that’s the basis of his sermon. I’d like to think that my sermons are beautiful, however, the truth of the matter is, as a sinner, I can guarantee that they’re not as beautiful as they could be. My sermon prep is more often occupied with theological accuracy. But without diminishing the utmost importance of remaining faithful to God’s Word is there also a place for preaching the beauty of the cross in as beautiful a way as possible? I think so.
From the beauty of a sermon, Scruton moves away from art, extending his examples of beauty to include that of science. The sermon is a fitting bridge between art and science as it isn’t firmly placed in either category — while homiletics is an art, it is arguably a science.
The last thing Scruton’s words caused me to think about, as I’m sure you’ll relate, is how anyone in their right mind can find physics and mathematics beautiful, but hey, it takes all kinds, right?
Tell the Great Physician Where it Hurts
I preached this sermon at Our Savior Lutheran Church in Chester, CA. on February 25, 2015 (The First Midweek Lent Service).
Sermon text: Psalm 32
How to Remain Steadfast in the Midst of Temptation
I preached this sermon at Our Savior Lutheran Church in Chester, CA. and First Lutheran Church in Greenville, CA. on February 22, 2015 (The First Sunday in Lent – Three Year Series, B).
Sermon text: Mark 1:9-15; James 1:12-18; Genesis 22:1-18
The Authority of Jesus
I preached this sermon at Our Savior Lutheran Church in Chester, CA. and First Lutheran Church in Greenville, CA. on February 1, 2015 (The Fourth Sunday after Epiphany – Three Year Series, B).
Sermon text: Mark 1:21-28
Little Johnny Made A Poopy
I preached this sermon at Our Savior Lutheran Church in Chester, CA. and First Lutheran Church in Greenville, CA. on January 25, 2015 (The Third Sunday after Epiphany – Three Year Series, B).
Sermon text: Mark 1:14-20