Today I was at a funeral in an offical capacity, so had dutifully "clericalled up." Someone I know vaguely from another context was there, and in the after service chit chat said, 'oh, are you a minister then?' The answer was, I'd suggest, just a teeny weeny bit obvious - I mean, would anyone in their right mind wear a dog collar for fun? Someone from church who was there said I should have said, "no I just like wearing fancy dress..." Hmm. Sometimes I despair!
I'm not much of a one for three point sermons, alliterative headers or indeed anything that neatly comes out of a book. I'm not much of a one for anecdotes or sermon illustrations either. I tend to be a pretty linear, scientific kind of a girl and that is how I tend to preach. But today I was playing with the texts I'm using on Sunday and although the sermon is not flowing (yet) the alliterative headings are!
Mark 1:16 - 20 - People
OK, so it's a statement of the obvious! Here we see Jesus' call to 'follow me' at its most general, issued to four fishermen - four people, in the plural. Jesus calls people. Yes, it's obvious, but it is also essential! And he calls not just individuals but groups of people to work together. And the call is to get more people. It is people-centric this calling business.
Matthew 16:24 - 28 - Priorities 1: Paradox
This calling is paradoxical - it turns things upside down. It is in losing your life (life - not merely existence but everything that makes it worth living) that you find it (evidently Matthean word change here). It is in ongoing (i.e. not one off) self-denial, even martyrdom (as in ignoble death) that value is found. It is also in some sense parousia focussed, but that's too Greek a 'P' for a sermon heading - but eschatology shapes the here and now.
Luke 9:57 - 62 - Priorities 2: Pilgrimage, Proclamation, Perseverance
Pilgrimage is a bit contrived as a heading, and so would be the alternative that came to mind, peripatetic. Unlike birds and foxes, for whom security and safety, as reflected in a physical home, Jesus is a stranger, a pilgrim, a peripateo for whom such things are not important. How much of our energy, personal and collective goes into security?
Proclamation trumps pastoral concerns, or so it seems Luke's version might be saying. Evidently the choice of tenses etc suggest the real imminent or actual death of a parent. There is never a good time to follow Jesus, there will always be good, pastoral reasons to stay put - but Jesus' priorities are other.
Perseverance - make your mind up and stick at it. Whether or not this is an allusion to Elisha seems secondary to the concept of turning back.
John 21: 15 - 22 - Personal and Particular
Too readily in the past I, and countless others, have appropriated Peter's call as our own or that of the church and missed the nuance towards the end referring to the 'other disciple.' This is Peter's call, not mine. There may be resonances, but they are partial. Peter's call is personal and particular; so is that of 'the other disciple'. So is mine, so is yours.
Like Peter, it is easy to look around and say 'what about her/him/them/that church?' when what Jesus is saying is 'as for you, follow me.'
Yesterday and today, unsolicited, I had people saying things that confirmed my own sense of what God is saying to me at the moment. Working with these passages this morning I found other hints (and if you know me you'll spot them in what I've written). The sermon I end up will be heard by the good people of Dibley, D+1 and D+6 on Sunday. Each congrgeation, and each person within them, is unique and precious. But to each person and, especially at this time, to each congregation the command is there: follow me.
Each service will include an opportunity to renew our commitment to following Jesus wherever he leads us - may God grant us the courage to obey.
Last night I watched the first part of the mini series 'Casualty 1907' which is set in the London Hospital (the facade of which is remarkably unchanged a century later) and which states itself to be based on real cases and records from the hospital books of the time. The opening titles included matter of fact statements about life in 1907 East London - things that are relevant to me because that's the year my East London Jewish grandmother was born. The life expectancy was 45 - my age now. One in seven children under five died. Gang rivalry and gun crime were rampant.
There were aspects of the story that must owe more to 21st century thinking - I'm not really convinced a nurse would be able to use the hospital telephone to call her doctor boyfriend at his club - but it was an interesting and fairly unsentimental protrayal of what life might have been like, at least in a rather soapy version of 1907 East London.
What it left me wondering though, was a bit more generic, about the relationship between historical facts and fictional portrayal, and, at least to an extent, how and when this crosses over from being 'history' to 'historical fiction/drama.' And then, beyond that, what the impact - potential or actual - is on the reader/viewer. Setting 'Casualty 2007' alongside 'Casualty' doesn't entirely work because the latter is much more obviously soapy, though now and then it does explore issues in enough depth to make the viewer think or the BBC put up a help line number. There is at least some expectation that drama will engage us beyond mere entertainment. There are also things that don't change - at least as portrayed by the BBC - hospital infections, tensions over finance and complicated human relationships, to name but three.
Historical drama isn't history, but good use of historical resources give it credibility and the potential to prompt more critical engagement with ideas. Is there a sense that this is on a spectrum (my favourite model!!) which has dry, dusty, historical facts at one end and purely fictive speculation at the other? Might it be that if our denominational history shunted more towards historically informed story telling it might engage more people and, just maybe, that being a tad more entertaining and tense it might lean towards educational engagement too? This is not an original idea, real historians (though largley outside the UK) have been playing with it for decades, but it has made me wonder... And should the BBC want a starting point, I'm sure the Horsley Down story, so beloved by our denominational historians, would lend itself to a week or three of dramatisation!
Today we took church to the sheltered housing complex. Granted a significant few church folk we absent, being away on holiday or attending to major family issues, but all in all, including guests, forty of us managed to fit into the lounge, three times adding a new front row in the process and then having a 'behind the speaker' row because there was nowhere else to fit chairs in what is a rather oddly shaped room. A couple of folk joined us part way through the service and one arrived just in time for tea - innocently enough, and was thrilled to be given a plate of sandwiches.
About 15 of those present were from our lunch club and, apart from one, have no other church connection. It was touching, though not surprising given the hymn choices, that many of them felt safe enough to weep a little during some of the singing. It was also great that a couple of them steadfastly stood for all the hymns when even my own folk remained seated. It was pure joy to see them enjoying fellowship with chapel folk.
At the end of the event I was asked by my retired - but still keeping the books for 3 months - treasurer if there were any expenses to be met. I was thrilled to be able to say no, that everything had been given (wow, what a change from four years ago!) but actually here is some money one or two of the guests had insisted on giving it us as a thank you for their tea.
It was a day of hard work. No sane minister loads their car with chapel crockery, plated sandwich teas and folding chairs to go out to lead worship. Few congregations have folk who will up sticks and go to a different venue in lieu of their ordinary service. And I guess there are few folk in sheltered housing who leave worship with tomorrow's tea plated and ready to put in the fridge. It was good, and it made my soul sing.
This morning in a moment of madness, I decided to start writing my paper for the BHS Conference/University of Manchester. I have about 500 words, none of which I like very much (though the quotes are good!) but at least it's a start. I particularly like three articles by Henry Wheeler Robinson in early editions of Baptist Quarterly that say stuff I want to say, only better, and 80 years ago. The good thing is it gives me a peg to hang my arguments on of 'renewing the vision'
Here is a lovely bit from BQ 2 p112, which ends a discussion on the importance of denominational history
"Other values of denominational history... I must not dwell upon - the correction of sweeping generalizations, repeated from book to book, the illumination of the general historical background of the age, the way in which some incident of the past becomes a symbol and apt expressing of permanent truth, like John Robinson's famous word about the more light and truth from the Bible. But I think the responsibility lies on all who are concerned for the study of our denominational history to convince men of the value of that study by their own use of it, in something more than a merely antiquarian interest."
H Wheeler Robinson The Value of Denominational History, Baptist Quarterly 2 (1924-25):100-112
In highly technical speak 'Yay!'
If the BHS can convince people of the value of studying denominational history by the use to which it is put - in more than merely antiquarian ways but instead as a resource to aid theological reflection on the health of the church - then this vision will not simply be renewed but revitalised. And if I can actually manage to say this in a non-boring way in my paper, I will be well pleased!