Monday, 19 July 2010

There are moments when I despise myself for being poetic rather than prophetic

This is a hard post to write.
Today I preached quite a good sermon but I'm not sure I preached the gospel.
I've just re-read my sermon and Julia Esquivel's phrase about the threat of resurrection has been going through my mind. I said reassuring things that could be taken one way or another - well the sermon was about ambiguity so this is perhaps not surprising! Have I preached when I only receive positive comments from the faithful?
In part of what she writes in Bread of Tomorrow Janet Morley says some critical things about how theology in rich countries tends towards poetry rather than the concrete and actual - particularly concerning the resurrection.
I am not sure that I threatened anyone with resurrection this morning, certainly I avoided the actual and I suppose I played the game of being well-behaved and writing something "pretty" or "impressive" and hoped somehow that people would read between the lines.
I think once, quite a long time ago, my preaching used to be more earthy and perhaps also more earthed.
This morning instead of choosing the "beautiful and powerful yet ambiguous" beatitudes I should have dared to choose to preach on Matthew 18:23-35, but I didn't. So here it is - I can't offer you the sermon I didn't preach but the text is pretty powerful in its own right. I can dream about what I might have said ... what I should have said. It would not have been poetic.
The Parable of the Unforgiving Servant
‘For this reason the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his slaves. 24 When he began the reckoning, one who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him; 25 and, as he could not pay, his lord ordered him to be sold, together with his wife and children and all his possessions, and payment to be made. So the slave fell on his knees before him, saying, “Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.” 27And out of pity for him, the lord of that slave released him and forgave him the debt. But that same slave, as he went out, came upon one of his fellow-slaves who owed him a hundred denarii; and seizing him by the throat, he said, “Pay what you owe.” 29 Then his fellow-slave fell down and pleaded with him, “Have patience with me, and I will pay you.” 30 But he refused; then he went and threw him into prison until he should pay the debt. normal; When his fellow-slaves saw what had happened, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their lord all that had taken place. 32 Then his lord summoned him and said to him, “You wicked slave! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. 33 Should you not have had mercy on your fellow-slave, as I had mercy on you?”
And in anger his lord handed him over to be tortured until he should pay his entire debt. So my heavenly Father will also do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother or sister from your heart.


Simon o0xley said...

Oscar Romero (whose most telling preaching was poetic) suggested that prophetic preaching is not the spoken words even of Archbishops but the lived out actions of the people.

One sermon isn't preaching - preaching is the total package of what you/we say,over many sermons, do and are. The gospel does offer comfort as well as kicking us in the guts!

Mavis said...

It is challenging for me to recognise and embrace the ambiguities in life. I loved the sermon - and it did not feel in any way like having my ears tickled (or whatever the Biblical phrase is) Sadly I can't say the same for the sermon I actually did hear which included God loving me even if I mistakenly put on non-matching sock

(my word verification is fanco which sums up well how I regard you - I am a fan and enjoy your company)

Hansuli John Gerber said...

Thanks Jane - the ambiguity is in texts, in life, and in ourselves. It's between keeping us going and standing in our way. Reading your post reminded me of the book Amish Grace (, and the story of the Amish who said that praying the Lord's prayer (where the request for forgiveness is in the center) ever day puts the need for forgiveness right into the center of their life. Mt 18 also contains the challenge of going straight to the person who has offended you. What that means in the context of dysfunctional institutions I still don't know for sure. Last but not least, forgiving yourself is as hard as anything...