Sunday, August 30, 2009
I spoke to her and her husband as they took their usual backrow seat in the Sanctuary. She was not the first for worship as eight others had already gotten settled in their front-of-the-church seats. When she greeted me she bowed her head in what I have to come to understand as a traditional eastern greeting. As I moved on to the narthex, I noticed that as soon as she sat down, she bowed her head in an obvious posture of prayer. It was so out of the ordinary that I just stood for a moment watching. When she finished her prayer, she opened her Bible to read. Later in the day I mentioned what I had witnessed to Yoon, our Minister of Music who is Korean by birth, and she told me, "In our culture people arrive early so they can pray before worship."
It is no wonder that there are such great stories out there about the power of the Korean Church. What I have also learned about the Korean Church from Yoon is the practice of "Dawn Services." In the Korean culture the church gathers every morning for a 4:30 AM Prayer Service and this is followed by other services at 5:30 AM and 6:30 AM.
It is strange that I preached about visions this morning. I have often wondered what a praying church would look like. I saw a vision of it today as I watched a woman sitting in her pew praying and heard a story from another woman about people on the floor before God at 4:30 every morning.
When in seminary, we called them "Saturday Night Specials." Most of us had rather hectic weeks of wearing too many hats at the same time. Going to school full-time, serving a church part-time, and being a husband and (as it was for many) father all the time could make for a very full week. It usually meant something important suffered. What suffered was often our preaching. Writing sermons was different from writing a paper for a professor. Sermons were not subject to grading pass or fail. Congregations were much too kind and merciful to pass such judgments on the preaching. "Enjoyed the sermon, Preacher," was about all the front door crowd ever offered.
Those hectic busy weeks often meant that sermons got written on Saturday night. Anyone who has preached and certainly anyone who has to listen knows Saturday night is too late to be writing a sermon to be preached the next morning. But, alas, it is not a perfect world and many an imperfect sermon has been carried into the pulpit with a hope and a prayer that it will be better than it should be.
Tomorrow I carry into the pulpit one of these "Saturday Night Specials." I actually started the sermon work on Monday and worked on it through the week. While it has not suffered from a lack of time and prayer invested in it, there still seemed to be something missing as I came to the moment of holding it in my hands on Saturday evening. When I printed the sermon before midnight took us to Sunday, I wondered if what I did took care of what was missing. To be honest, I am not sure. It is one of those days when I know if it (the sermon) happens, it will be because the Spirit intervened to do what I have been unable to do. Of course, any preacher knows this thing about the Spirit is always true, but sometimes it is more evident.
Thursday, August 27, 2009
Some years ago I came upon the idea from somewhere of praying a Psalm a day. Of course, it took some time as there are 150 Psalms! One the reasons I started this discipline was to experiment with praying the Scriptures. At the time I found myself reading about this kind of praying, but it was not one I had ever really practiced. The Psalms seemed like a good place to start since so many of them are directed toward God.
I discovered many things during this prayer journey. First, I did learn how to pray the Scripture. Practice is always more helpful than just reading. Secondly, I got acquainted with some Psalms to which I had never really given attention. I learned that some Psalms are sections of the Word to which I often return. For example, as a result of the praying the Scripture experiment, Psalm 143 became one that I pray often. When I am drawn toward offering prayers for healing, Psalm 143 is a place I go. Verse 3 teaches me to pray, "Lord, this child of yours feels like his/her life is being crushed in the ground, take this child of yours out of the darkness into Your Presence where spirits can be renewed." A verse like verse 7 encourages me to pray, "Lord, act quickly. Please do not delay. Speak your loving and healing words to this one who longs to hear and know them and do it now."
More than anything else, this praying the Scripture experiment some years ago taught me that there are many ways to pray. Certainly, it is not necessary to learn new ways to pray. We can continue to pray as has been our custom. But, there is something renewing about having different conversations with God. There is something powerful about opening ourselves up to something which has the potential to put our prayers more in step with the heartfelt desires of God our Father.
Wednesday, August 26, 2009
Recently I have been reading three different books at the same time. Oddly enough, they all ended up being finished within a few days of each other. As I thought back over this season of reading, I wondered if there was anything the three of them held in common.
The first was a book by Ferrol Sams, a Georgia author, and "The Widow's Mite and Other Stories" was the name of the book. It was given to me years ago by a friend who knew I had gotten hooked on reading this particular author. Some might say "The Widow's Mite" is a bit too earthly and profane for a preacher, but they would be wrong. I love the way Sams tells stories about growing up in the clay hills of Georgia, but most of all I love the way he makes me laugh. Ever seen someone reading a book who just suddenly bursts out in laughter. There is a picture of me reading Ferrol Sams!
The second book read was "An Hour Before Daylight" by Jimmy Carter. Actually, it is an autographed copy of this book given to me by my Mom. In it, he, too, tells about growing up in rural Georgia. To read the book is to read many things I remember about my childhood in South Georgia, but Carter also caused me to realize that no matter how tall we stand on the earth, it is a good thing to put our hands in the earth every now and again. It helps keep life in perspective.
The third book is certainly different from the Sams' book. Written by his son, the book is entitled, Hudson Taylor's Spiritual Secret." Taylor was a middle of the 19th century missionary to China, a country which was then closed to the gospel. One of the great stories of the book centers on a conversation between Hudson and a new convert who upon being told that the gospel was hundreds of years old asked, "Why did you not come sooner?"
While the books had little in common, each provided important things...laughter, perspective, and inspiration. It has made for a good season of reading.
Sunday, August 2, 2009
Just when you think you have seen it all, you see something new. After all these years of Table Gatherings, I really figured there was nothing new to see. This morning I was reminded that the possibility for surprise still exist. It came through a young boy receiving communion. He came in with the Children's' Church group so he was probably five or six years old. I really did not notice him until he got up with all the other children to leave. As he was walking away from the Table, he carried with him a hunk of bread and a small cup of juice. My first thought was, perhaps, a bit unholy for such a moment, but there it was, nonetheless. "Leaving with a take-out," is what I immediately thought! Of all the ways I have served Holy Communion and seen it served, today was the first time in my experience it was done by "Take-out!"
It was obvious what the boy was taking away from the Table. I could not help wonder what the rest of us take with us as we leave. I wondered if some were taking renewed hearts, strengthened spirits, or bodies made whole by the grace of God. I wondered if some were taking with them an awareness of divine forgiveness and a love that would spill over into the lives of others. I wondered if some were taking out a new connection with Jesus.
I also wondered if some might be taking nothing out with them as they left. Some may have come to the Table and left with nothing. I hope that group was a small group. I think the young boy had it right. We are supposed to take something out of the Sanctuary and away from the Table. Perhaps, it is not carried in our hands, but surely it will be seen, even though taken out in our hearts.