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  • Three minutes to come up with a 'sermon'

    As posted earlier, part of yesterday's service was the challenge to come up with a mini-sermon during the time it took to sing a hymn, approximately three minutes.  The readings chosen - of which I did not have notice - were 1 Samuel 3:1- 10 and Luke 9: 10-17.  So here, in typed up form is roughly what I did.

    I did cheat slightly, and allude to the Johannine version of the feeding of the 5000, so children became central to both stories (a link to Operation Christmas Child which we were launching).

    From the Samuel story, I picked up the fact that to start with he did not know who was calling, assuming it to be Eli.  Once he had the knowledge of the caller's identity he had a choice - to respond or not.  Had we read on in the story, we would have heard the nature of the call, and Samuel had a choice whether or not to obey (it would have been pretty scary having to tell Eli some home truths).

    In the second story (according to John anyway) is a child with a 'picnic' (Sunday School interpretation) who is in a roughly similar situation.  Presumably he could have just eaten his food himself, but, it seems that once he became aware of the situation he gave, so far as we can tell, all that he had in response (parallel to widow's mite or woman with expensive ointment?).  How the miracle happened, we don't know, but what we do know is that out of this response, out of this giving of a little, there came so much abundance that twelve baskets were needed to gather the leftovers.

    How does this relate to us? All of us have in some way, like Samuel, come to know about important issues (Operation Christmas child, the situation in Zimbabwe, violent street crime in the UK, etc) and we have to make a choice as to how we respond.  We may not have much to offer - a tube of toothpaste, a teddy bear, a small amount of money to BMS or HMF - but out of that small, willing offering, comes an abundance of joy and grace.

    As God calls called Samuel, as Jesus told the disciples to feed the people, so the call comes to us today: how will we respond.


    It was a good challenge, and I guess a reasonable knowledge of familiar Bible stories made it easier than might have been the case had someone chosen an obscure passage from the middle of Judges or Leviticus, but it was one I'd be quite keen to repeat occasionally or, more creatively, to open up and invite congregation members to share what touched them in the stories and how it relates to life and faith.  Communal hermeneutics and homiletics - what do you reckon?


  • Glad that I live am I...

    Today's service was one of those where it felt good to be a minister.  Probably I should say I don't think I've experienced one where it felt bad to be a minister, but most of the time they just 'are' - neither especially good nor especially bad.

    It did not get off to a good start.  The stand-in caretaker and I arrived to find the school hall totally cluttered, with both fire exits obstructed (mutter mutter) and both fire extinguishers inaccessible (double mutter mutter; you simply cannot get away with such things when you have former professional risk assessors hiring your premises!).  The PA system we usually lash into had been removed/replaced, the screen was nowhere to be found and the place was a mess.  We set to and arranged some chairs in a circle. I then set up the 15" monitors I usually use for those who can't stand, and the laptop screen had to act as a third, and then plugged in my medium power computer speakers - necessary because we were using the Operation Christmas Child DVD (I could have lived without the technology for words because we always have some sheets as well...).

    We were thin on the ground - holidays and impending hospital visits meant several folk were absent, but one person who came last week had enjoyed it so much they came back!

    As we sang the various hymns and songs, I found myself mentally transported to various special or significant services or events.  Looking around the congregation, it was clear that some powerful feelings were stirred and the free flowing tears here and there suggested both safety and release.

    The two Bible readings chosen were interesting -  the call of Samuel from 1 Samuel 3, and the Lukan feeding of the five thousand.  It was fun thinking on my feet, during the three minutes it takes to sing a hymn, what I would draw from these as a 'thought' - but it all seemed to flow quite well and to connect with the launching of our shoebox appeal.

    At the close of the service, we held hands and said the grace and someone who always does this with eyes tightly closed actually half opened them!

    We drank tea, cleared up - leaving hall with at least one clear fire door (the other things were outwith our control to correct!)- and went home.  The caretaker thanked us for tidying up.

    I unloaded all the technology back into my office (most of it is mine anyway) decided I need to look on Ebay for another secondhand flat screen monitor and reflected that it had been a good service, and yes, it felt good to be a minister.

    For much of the afternoon the rain had hammered down, but as we left school/church the sky cleared and the sun shone.  As I sneaked off to the corner shop for some milk, I found myself calling to mind a childhood hymn (that actually makes very little sense when I stop to think about it) which seemed somehow to express some of what I was feeling:


    Glad that I live am I, 

    That the sky is blue.

    Glad for the country lanes

    And the fall of dew.

    After the sun the rain,

    After the rain the sun:

    This is the way of life

    Til the work is done.

    All that we need to do

    Be we low or high

    Is to see that we grow

    Nearer the sky.


    Most of the time life just ticks along, but today I am conscious of being glad to be alive.

  • It makes you wonder...

    Over the last week or so, I've seen a lot of trailers for Channel 4's dispatches programmes on gun and knife crime.  They are pretty powerful.  Usually they are shown alongside adverts for computer games with names like 'brawl' or 'shoot up everyone in sight til they are well and truly dead' (OK I invented the second one but you get my drift).  Is there something a bit awry here or is it just me...? (that's rhetorical btw)

  • Publish and be Damned?

    I hope not!  I have just decided, after yet another major editing session, that my paper for the university/July conference will have to do, subject to proof reading and reference checking.  Parts of it are still decidedly clumsy but the words needed to overcome that would push it past the limit.  New ideas - maybe better ones? - have come to me too late to include unless I do a massive rewrite and I just don't have the time.  C'est la vie.  It'll have to do - or not as the case may be.  (Daily confidence crisis looming!) Now I have to start on another paper for August.  Will this include the new ideas?  Probably not, because I've already agreed my title and have precious little time to write it in anyway.  Fancy choosing to take a two-week holiday in between deadlines, how silly is that?!  I think I'm sort of looking forward to presenting my papers - then either I find out who might be in the audience and feel a total fraud or find someone else is saying what I want to only far better.  Hey ho.

    Two years (almost) down, four to go...



  • Reading the Bible in Church

    This is proving a popular topic for Baptist bloggers and those who write letters to the Baptist Time at the moment.  I have to smile a very wry smile, and wonder what C H Spurgeon would have made of the more conservative churches whose overt use of the Bible is minimal whereas the more middle-of-the-road and liberal churches retain traditional patterns with reasonable chunks of Old and New Testament each week.  Sorry CHS, my old mate, the downgrade wasn't where or what you thought it was!

    A lot of what has been shared is the "how much" rather than the "how," and I suspect that the latter is important too.

    When I first arrived here, one of my weekly tasks was to advise the church secretary of the readings for the morning service so that details and page numbers for the 'pew Bibles' could be included in the notice sheet.  The demise of the notice sheet, and the building, and the morning service for that matter, meant that that stopped, but we continued to announce the page number along with the reading for a while.  Then it became quite clear that no one uses the pew Bibles - some people bring their own, but most are content just to listen (and if the reader chooses a particularly odd translation we all have to!) so we reverted to simply announcing the book, chapter and verses.  I have retained this as we've moved over to PowerPoint (other, apparently superior, projection software is available). 

    One of the worst uses of projection software, in my view, is to show the Bible passage.  I cringe at some of the breaks that result, mid-sentence, between slides, and the blandness that results.  If people are going to read the words, then let them read a real live Bible (or use their own electronic one if that's their thing).  There is, I think, something vital (as in lively) about finding the page, learning to track down those three-page minor prophets or epistles, seeing how this passage sits in the middle of other stuff and maybe doesn't even match the heading the translators have chosen to use (and which some people actually think are there in the Hebrew/Greek - aaaaargh).  If you have a real Bible, and keep it open, then you can see if what the preacher says is valid (or valid-ish anyway) and if the sermon gets too dull start reading around for yourself.  I have a habit of looking up the odd verses people seem to love throwing in now and then, to see if they really do connect.  All of this makes the Bible more 'alive' than just hearing or seeing it on a screen.

    I also think it matters who reads it - in a kind of anti-clerical way.  I always experience a gentle seething when I am in a church that permits only the most senior cleric to read the gospel.  If it happens that I am in a context where I can subvert this, I do, assigning the priest the psalm or epistle, and giving the gospel to a lay person.  It is rare that I read the passages I am about to preach on in the service; I prefer to hear them afresh read by my congregation.  I am blessed to have over half my members on my readers rota, and most read pretty well.  My logic is more than mere participation, it is also about ownership of what is being shared.  The Bible is not the preserve of the preacher, it is everyone's.  If I had children in my church who were learning to read, I'd be hoping that they'd want to have a turn too.  I was, I think, seven the first time I read in church.  I read Psalm 100 from a children's Bible, and not that long afterwards John 3:16-17 from the KJV.  I doubt anyone heard me, and I probably stumbled over some of the words, but I'm sure it was a formative experience (why else do I recall it?).  If I'm honest, I am also very open to dramatised and paraphrased Bible readings, so long as they are used appropriately and don't constitute the only engagement we have with this book we claim is so special.

    I hope that this interest in Bible reading in churches becomes more than a passing fancy, more than a few whingers like me moaning about what we regret.  I hope that, instead, it impacts those who have the potential to influence others - the Baptists who get centre stage at big Christian events and have the opportunity to demonstrate what it means to be a Bible-loving people.