Monday, 22 June 2009

Jesus Calms the Storm/Fathers Day

Yesterday I gave a sermon which combined the lectionary (Mark 4:35-end) with fathers day. I thought I might be pushing it but both were important and I think I managed to pull them together and pull it off. The feedback was really positive, clergy really liked it and so did the congregation (adults). Best of all the kids had fun and were moved by the physical experience and that means it will stay in their minds allowing the holy spirit to do it's work. So here it is in it's written form:

1. gospel reading and acting
Lay a huge blue ground sheet down the church aisle and ask the congregation what they think it repeesents. Get the kids to stand on the sheet as if in a boat. Adults hold the edges of the sheet and are in charge of the waves.

Read a rewrite of the gospel getting the waves to change as the story denotes.
"One day Jesus had been talking to a crowd of people all day near the Sea of Galilee. Jesus and his close friends, the disciples, decided that it had been a long day and that they where all really tired, so they got into a boat to sail to the other side of the lake.

Once in the boat, Jesus fell fast asleep from the rocking of the boat. He might even have been snoring.

It had been a good day and the sea was really still, the waves were gently beating against the side of the boat and the gentle breeze helped it move across the water.

All of a sudden the clouds turned grey, the wind grew stronger and the waves began to toss the boat about in the sea. A real storm was brewing.

The disciples became really frightened and feared they were going to drown. Jesus was still in the back of the boat, snoring his head off, fast asleep when his friends started to shout and tug at his clothes for him to wake up.

When Jesus woke up, he opened his eyes and sat up.
He looked all around him to see the commotion in the storm. He then stood up and to get things to calm down he said to the wind and the waves, 'Peace! Be still. Quiet. Be still.'

After the wind and the waves had calmed down, Jesus turned to the disciples and said, 'You did not need to be frightened of the storm. All you need to do is to trust me!'"

2. Then bring in the fact that today is Father's Day.
When we think about Fathers Day we think of our own dads and grandads; how they love us, guide us, make us laugh, look after us and rescue us when we need it. We thank God for the fathers in our lives and the precious gift that is fatherhood.

3. Remember that God is our father
Of course in this thanking of God, as in the Lord's Prayer opening "Our Father, who art in heaven…"; we are thanking the father of us all; God. The calming of the storm story shows that God, father to each of us, loves us, guides us and when we need it rescues us, even if only from our own fears.

So today we are joyful for the love of our fathers; those here with us, those gone before and the one father who we all share together.

4. Prayer
God, who is both a Father and a Mother to us,
we thank you for your love to us from before we were born;
your guidance and protection as we have grown;
your wisdom and strength when we have sought to be parents to others.

We take time today to bring to mind our earthly fathers,
to give thanks to you for all that they have done for us,
all that they have been to us;
to thank you for the good times we have shared together and to thank you for bringing us through hard times together.

There are also those here for whom memories of their fathers are painful, or for whom there are no memories at all.
Heavenly Father, may we find in you a loving embrace that more than makes up for the inadequacies of our earthly fathers.
Gracious Lord, no human father is perfect and we who are fathers today confess our failings.
We pray that you will help us to love our children as you love us, giving generously with wisdom and forgiving freely with justice.
In the name of your Son, our brother Jesus, we pray.

Sunday, 14 June 2009

Parable of the Mustard Seed: Growing in Faith

Today I took a great leap into the unknown, I met a need and allowed the Holy Spirit to work through me. Today is a day to be remembered.

Best to start at the beginning.
Yesterday afternoon I got a call from one of the church wardens "Emma, clergy A is ill and clergy B has a service elsewhere so we don't have anyone to give the 1130 Family Communion Service; could you do it for us?" My first question was one of legality, is it allowed? My fears were put asunder; I would use reserved sacrement and clergy B would discuss with me how the service would need changing. So as I managed to quash my fears and feelings of unworthiness I agreed.

The first thing I did was pray. I prayed for the strength to cope with this next step, for the inspiration to write a last minute sermon and for the peace to deliver the service. Then I took myself to the study, looked at the lectionary, prayed and after a couple of hours had an interactive all-age sermon written on the parable of the mustard seed, focussing on growing in faith.

And here it is, the words and the instructions for myself.

Sit the children around to hear the gospel reading.

Mark 4:26-34 (New Living Translation)
Jesus also said, “The Kingdom of God is like a farmer who scatters seed on the ground. Night and day, while he’s asleep or awake, the seed sprouts and grows, but he does not understand how it happens. The earth produces the crops on its own. First a leaf blade pushes through, then the heads of wheat are formed, and finally the grain ripens. And as soon as the grain is ready, the farmer comes and harvests it with a sickle, for the harvest time has come.”
Jesus said, “How can I describe the Kingdom of God? What story should I use to illustrate it? It is like a mustard seed planted in the ground. It is the smallest of all seeds, but it becomes the largest of all garden plants; it grows long branches, and birds can make nests in its shade.”
Jesus used many similar stories and illustrations to teach the people as much as they could understand. In fact, in his public ministry he never taught without using parables; but afterward, when he was alone with his disciples, he explained everything to them.

Bring out a piece of paper with pictures of four seeds, showing the different sizes of those seeds

Mustard seed size: 1.2mm plant height: 85cm
Poppy seed size: 1.5mm plant height: 75cm
Marigold seed size: 10mm plant height: 15cm
Sunflower seed size: 20mm plant height: 300cm av (record: 716cm)

As you can see there are four seeds here, even the biggest is still small.

In today’s gospel reading Jesus told us about the mustard seed, the smallest seeds in the lands of Israel.

Jesus tell us how this smallest of seeds, grows and grows and grows and grows to become one of the biggest of the plants in an Israeli garden.

So who would like to take this piece of string and walk to the back of the church with it to see how tall a mustard seed plant can get?
That’s 85cm tall, a very tall plant.

Now how about other small seeds. We have the poppy seed which is only a tiny bit bigger, how tall do you think that gets?
(ask child to take string towards back)
That’s 10cm shorter, just 75cm tall.

So how about if we get to slightly larger seeds, the marigold seed is still really small, how tall does that get? 15cm, a lot shorter than the other two.

And finally, how about the one I’m sure you’ve all planted this year, the sunflower. It has a huge seed, 20mm long and how long does the sunflower get? Well who will take it to the back, it gets to about 3m tall in good conditions (7m in world records). But it came from a big seed, not a tiny mustard seed!

And so we come back to the parable Jesus told us. Yes there are huge seeds that will grow tall above all other plants; but the mustard seed is tiny, like the seed of love Jesus planted in each of our hearts.

It’s tiny and yet it grows, and it grows and it grows (walk down to the flower at the end of the mustard string length).

This is how the seed of Jesus grows taller and taller in each of you.
He grows in our hearts until our knowledge of Him, our love of Him and our faith in Him is so massive that we know that “Nothing will be impossible in Jesus”!

Three children helped me with the pictures and the string, at the end we had a visual image of the way seeds can grow tall and the children were all standing by the heads of the flowers.

During the service we had three hymns which I was able to choose to go with the sermon, I chose from Junior Praise:
No 188 – One more step along the road I go
No 258 – This little light of mine, I’m going to let it shine
No 149 – Kum Ba Yah

The feedback on the service itself was that it was well explained to the congregation and that they were aware why I was taking it (clergy being unwell). That I made the necessary changes fluently and the congregation understood what was happening at all times. Overall the feedback was that the worship experience was enjoyable.

The sermon feedback was entirely positive with one exception which stated that the sermon did not match the gospel; I remain confused by this. The congregation felt that I had aimed at the right level by ensuring the children all understood and were involved, thereby allowing the adults to ponder on the issues further.

So what have I learned from this week and the preaching course last week?
I need to have a printed order of service for Laiety lead services.

I need not spend tens of hours writing a sermon; by following the process introduced at the preaching course I can trust the Holy Spirit to guide my thoughts and words to bring the message of the gospel to the congregation.

The use of illustrations and practical experiences increases the learning for children especially; they will remember the colour and sizes of seeds, height of plants and therefore hopefully the parable of the mustard seed.

This sunday has been one of considerable learning, mostly in my own abilities with the power of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Saturday, 6 June 2009

Preaching course

Today was my first LLM course in Oxford Diocese; planning and leading worship - preaching. Given by a vicar who I have always enjoyed listening to and whom I was therefore excited to learn from.

There were 11 of us I think, mostly authorized preachers with 3 LLMs and a few considering ordination.

We started by thinking about what preaching is with the following ideas:
- giving the word of God
- relating the bible to real life
- delivering a message
- moving a congregation closer to God
- teaching
- engaging
- bringing a view on difficult issues
- explaining complex topics
- getting the congregation to think and feel what God is saying to them

"we are a window, through Gods grace, between God and the congregation"

Then what is a preacher:
- they have convictions about God
- convictions about scripture - God gives the words
- conviction about church
- conviction about preaching

And balancing this they must remain a pastor - sermons will hopefully effect congregations and it's the preachers role to ensure they are looked after.

So once we were ok with what our role is we moved onto the ingredients of preaching:
- congregation: they all hear differently and understanding this is key
- preacher: they are part of the contregation and must stay as learners and listeners
- sermon: they contain words and messages that are to be heard
- presence of Christ: the Holy Spirit gives the right words from the preacher to the congregation

The preacher is part of the sermon. Their style, experiences, personality and life all colour the sermon.
The congregation however are the listeners; they own the sermon once it's delivered and this depends on their own filters, therefore impacted by their experiences and lives

Different models of preachers.
Steward - faithful, duty bound by calling, preaching whole word of God
Herald - proclaims the need and reconciles the world
Witness - called to witness of God, of Jesus' story and use the Holy Spirit
Father - pastor - root preaching in life, get into congregations' soul, gently lead, provide easy explanations, balance kindness and earnestness, live the Christian life and pray!
Servant - be humble with power of word of God, in cross of Christ and with power of Holy Spirit
Storyteller - poet - get involved in the gospel stories

What is a good sermon:
- engages biblical text
- proclaims gospel
- connects Gods word to life
- is well organized
- easy to understand
- engages imaginations
- is well delivered
- orients congregation to a life in Gods world

How to prepare a sermon:
1- read bible passage several times
2- pray
3- ask 3 questions
a) what was interesting
b) what didn't I understand
c) what might I include in the sermon

4- meditate on passage
5- study around the passage - concordances, lexicons and dictionaries
6- write an outline of 3/4 bullets
7- expand outline
8- review sermon with questions:
a) is it aimed at right congregation
b) why am I preaching
c) is structure right
d) what is God saying
e) have I used the right strategy
f) should I do anything differently

9-revise if needed
10- pray again
11- preach
12- review

And some tips for preachers:
- use a varied tone of voice
- use a microphone
- don't be afraid of gestures
- use notes but don't read; perhaps bullet points
- keep eye contact with congregation
- illustrate words with pictures, objects, technology or stories
- don't reuse a sermon

And after it's all done; review and get feedback from congregation and clergy.

We had a go at writing our own sermons on a section of Nehamiah which was really interesting in groups, made me wish I could always design sermons collaboratively.

All in all, it was a really interesting and succinct introduction which reassured me and gave me ideas. It's late so I'm off for now but I'm sure I'll be back with more thoughts later, not least on the essay.

Friday, 5 June 2009

And so it starts

At 10am tomorrow I go on my first LLM training course; preaching. I will post on that after the event, I have no expectations so am going with open eyes and heart.

In fact that's how I'm feeling right now; open. After several months feeling lost whilst the parish is in interregnum I have finally accepted that I have come to the bottom of my self reliance pot. And I have shared that with others. It may not sound like much but it's a big step in my self knowledge and acceptance. I can't do it all alone; I don't have to!

The key thing that was said to me and hit home was simple. I just have to keep following the path God leads me on, no more and no less.

So tomorrow I go on the preaching course. I go, I listen and I don't worry about the next steps; those will come in their own time.