Tuesday, August 10, 2010

The Crafting of a Sermon - #2

Inside a prayer tent located in our church's sanctuary.
I have not pulled up my sermon today until now. But it has been in the background with occasional forays into the foreground of my day. Psychotherapeutically, today this sermon has been mostly "ground," and occasionally "figure." Yet it's there, humming in the background. I can't escape it, nor do I want to. I am ready to be fully embraced by it. To spend my days digging into and beneath and above these biblical texts is one of my greatest joys. I estimate I spend 10-20 hours a week on a sermon. These hours are my delight. I get to do this - incredible!

It's almost midnight, and I'm in the office in my home with commentaries next to me waiting to be eaten and digested. I'll take a peek, in just a minute, at Craig Keener's John commentary. But first I must mention that this is "anniversary week" for Linda and I. On Wednesday (August 11) we celebrate 37 years of marriage together. This morning we rode our bikes 5 miles to Lake Erie, and then back - 10 miles total. As Southeast Michigan connects with Lake Erie the terrain flattens out. Actually, we live in the flattest portion of the universe, "flat" being defined as "Monroe County, Michigan" (as in the sentence, "By 'flat' I mean what Monroe County, Michigan, is like.") The fools who declared "The earth is flat and if we sail on the lake we'll fall off the edge!" are from Monroe. Living here, who can blame them for thinking this?

As Linda and I rode bicycles to Lake Erie the only "hills" we met were man-made. Approaching the lake, the 1-foot waves appeared mountainous. All in all it was a wonderful ride, a great way to begin the day.

Tonight I made dinner for Linda - a steak from Whole Foods, baked potato with sour cream and fresh homemade quacamole, fresh-picked sliced tomatoes, and Colonel Sanders's coleslaw. At 10 PM I made a pot of coffee - for me. I can drink coffee and sleep very well. In fact, I think a good cup or two of coffee helps me sleep better.

After all that typing it's midnight! I'm looking at John 20:11-18. Bottom-line for me in preparing to preach is: simply reading, over and over and over..., the text to be preached on. Meditating on it; slow-cooking in it; allowing it to do something to and in me. Then, I turn to excellent commentaries, like Craig Keener on John. What does Craig Keener say about these verses?

Craig is a friend of mine. We share prayer requests with one another. To me, he's as brilliant a New Testament scholar as there is today. He's just...  very smart. And humble about it. When I read Craig's words I hear his voice talking to me. It's an authoritative voice, coming from a heart that converted from atheism to a deep love of Jesus. Commentaries are important in sermon prep. It's essential, to me, that the "commenter" loves Jesus deeply. That's Craig.

Mary "probably did not recognize" that the two white-garmented beings were angels. (John, 1188) I stop here. What's Craig talking about? I turn to the text and read: "Mary stood outside the tomb crying. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb and saw two angels in white, seated where Jesus' body had been, one at the head and the other at the foot. They asked her, "Woman, why are you crying?" "They have taken my Lord away," she said, "and I don't know where they have put him."

I never thought of it that way. But a new reading of the verses tells me that it seems Mary thinks she's talking to two ordinary people, and not to angels. She does not have a response of fear, which is typical of people when they see an angel. When John writes that Mary saw two angels this does not imply that she recognized them as such. But, one might object, they were wearing "white!" So what? I wore white a few weeks ago on Sunday morning and no one took me for an angel (although Linda likes to look at me). Keener says: "Worshipers wore white or linen in worship services," and priests generally wore white linen. So it seems that the mere wearing of white is not evidence that the white-wearer is an angel. I agree. I also agree that Mary did not recognize the two beings as angels. And I admit that I have never thought of this before. Here's part of the value of good commentaries.

The two angels wore white, and not black. Black clothing represented death; white clothing represented joy and celebration. Craig writes: "The white also probably fits John's 'light/darkness' motif, though the mention of white makes sense, as we have noted, even had he omitted the light/darkness motif." (John, 1189)

I'm stopping here for now. Can you see what's going on? How deep do we want to go? Right now I am thinking I will not bring up the "light/darkness motif" in this Sunday's sermon. It does not seem relevant enough. Maybe this will change as the week goes on?

Six days until I preach this message. There's a lot of groundwork to be done.